Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

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Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby kristasis » Mon Jun 28, 2010 5:23 am

Hi everyone :)

I am just thinking about how I am going to carry my money around with me on my trip to Mexico and Central America (JXS) 46 days. I hope someone could please address my questions :)

1. Is it best to have it all in US dollars and then change this over when in each country to the local currency? Or have some in local currency before leaving home etc?
2. If I was hoping to have around $1800USD with me (overall savings for costs while on the trip, food, souviners, optional activites etc) should I take a large amount of this in cash or travellers cheques? Or should I rely on ATMs? I feel like I am paranoid about ATMs (even at home here in Australia - not that i've had a problem at home), but with being overseas, I worry about the ATM eating my card... is this a possibility? What are ATMs like in Mexico and Central America? Are the reliable and easy to use? I also hear that there are fees associated with withdrawing cash from ATMs overseas, so am I better off the take a large amount of cash with me and put it in different places? (Some in a money belt, some in daypack, some in backpack, some in pockets, some in hotel safe etc???) But my number one concern is my card getting eaten! Sorry if I'm paranoid! It's always been a fear of mine. I would hate my card to get stuck and have no access, especially with language barriers etc.

I hope someone can please give me some advice. Thanks :) Krista
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby eric » Mon Jun 28, 2010 8:48 am

NO!

Don't think of walking around with that sort of cash!!!

As a few recent posts you need a few 100 USD as emergency use, 50's at the largest, 20's are best.
I also take a few 1's 5's & 10's. ALL must be in 1st class condition, no marks, tears or too many folds.

Reliance on plastic card: VISA most acceptable, others may be a bit more time consuming to find a machine.

Yes: don't risk 46 days (lucky you) on just 1 card. You do need a plan B. (Advice from others PLEASE).

Don't think of getting currency from home for each country. With the possible exception, if you can do it easily, and if you are starting in Mexico, then some Mexican Currency as a starter. But not the 500's - difficult to deal with - from memory 200's & 50's are more easy to deal with.

Over to everyone else.

Regards

Eric / London / England
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby Zuleika » Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:30 pm

TOTALLY agree with Eric - you do need to take a contingency fund of a few 100 dollars in cash. But that is it - and don't spend it unless you really need to. I usually have $400 -$500.

Use the ATMS. In terms of cards - take a debit card for your everyday spending as these generally charge much less to withdraw cash than credit cards. Your debit card should have something like maestro or switch or visa debit on it - I had maestro which was accepted everywhere.
Then you need at LEAST one credit card - I usually take two in case one doesn't work. You can have it pre loaded if you like.
I always have a back up credit card. This means I take both a visa card and a master card as back up. Then even if you cant with draw cash at least you can pay for things on them.
As for fee's - however you exchange money there are usually fees associated.

Make sure you tell your bank companies where/when you are going so you don't have the card stopped by their security.
Make sure you take the bank abroad phone number with you in case you need to contact in emergency. And give them your mobile/cell number to contact you too. Make a note of all your credit card numbers, sort codes, security codes and start/end dates - you may need them if you have to phone. Email them to yourself is an easy way of doing this.

When I lost my credit card in the middle of India - the bank company had one couriered out to me within 3 days for FREE - great service - make sure your companies - at least yr credit company - does this - then it wont matter if the ATM does swallow it!!!! Just phone and cancel it and get a new one.
If it puts your mind at rest - I have travelled extensively, long term and through over 50 countries and never yet EVER had my card swallowed. Lots of times it might not work - more often because the ATM is out of money than anything else. Dont forget your PIN either!
Getting your card eaten is NOTHING compared to getting ALL your spending money stolen.
"Live the life you love, Love the life you live"
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby graybeard » Mon Jun 28, 2010 5:36 pm

The only time I have been on an international tour when someone had a ATM card eaten was when they had forgotten to notify the card company of their travels prior.

Naturally, as part of the card's "security", the card company called them at home to see if they were indeed out of country. Yup, that worked out real well. :roll:

As noted, have back up cards on different banks and accounts, both Visa & Mastercard, Debit, credit, etc. (Debit tend to have fewer fees, at least the US based ones.) Do NOT carry them all on you at once when on your daily meanderings. Some of the ATM machines can be very fussy, or just plain taking the day off. But, still the best way to go. Avoid lots of small withdrawals as the fees will eat you alive.

OK to be paranoid. After all, THEY do watch you. And THEY are really, REALLY bored. :mrgreen:
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby eric » Tue Jun 29, 2010 12:00 pm

There seem to be some "Pre loaded" plastic cards around.
Ie the equivalent of the old Travellers Cheque.

You put money onto the card in advance, & use it as a DEBIT card until it runs out.
Seem to be a variety of charges etc etc with these.

Has anyone experiences of these (good or bad) they would like to share?

DON'T write anything bad, naming names, etc or you may be sued to your last dollar
by an upset card co!!!! Life is too short for that.

Think long & hard before you write. Anything bad just in general terms - eg " I had a card & the useage fees were too large, it wouldn't work in country XXX".

Regards

Eric / London / England
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby katb » Tue Jun 29, 2010 2:19 pm

I'm im Central America at the moment and have managed to take money out of ATMs in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala with no problems. However some people in the group have found their cards only work in certain ATMs so have had to search out the right bank. Lots of the ATMs are the kind where you don't actually have to let go of your card, you just quickly insert it into the reader and remove it before you enter your pin, so no risk of it eating the card.

I'm not using a prepaid card here but did have one that I used in Europe a few years ago, I only ised it to withdraw cash, not to make purchases. Had no major problems, it charged a set fee per withdrawal so I used to take out €200 or so each time. I woukd just check whether you can get your money back if you lose the card or it gets stolen.

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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby kristasis » Thu Jul 01, 2010 1:25 am

Thanks very much for all of your advice. It is great to hear that there are pre paid cards (sounds like a good way to carry the money around). Katb, could you let me know the name of the bank/company that you had used in Europe? Thanks :)
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby nikimarcotte » Sat Jul 10, 2010 9:38 pm

i did the carrying the US cash and was lucky to have no issues...worked awesome though....travellers cheques were a pain in the butt, had to find banks during their hours lots of times in smaller centers they still wouldn't cash more than a hundred or so per person. we also had lots of problems with people not being able to find atms' with money in them...this may have improved in the last 7 years, but we would have 2 people pull out cash then have to find another atm..and some places only had a couple....did a lot of lending between people on our tour, then paying back when finally got to cash travellers cheques or found an atm that worked. i now carry a decent chunk of US cash,(not all on my person all the time of course), 2 different debit cards for different accounts, 1 visa, 1 mastercard...too many random things can happen, but definitely call your credit card companies before you leave the country and tell them exactly when you will be gone and what countries you will be in...my mastercard was cancelled for me by my bank while i was in turkey after 2 weeks of travelling and purchasing stuff along the way but i forgot to call them. however, my visa just froze my card until i called them and proved it was me using the card. i have also known people to lose their cards in an ATM....so not an unheard of fear...some hit the wrong numbers for their pin because the pin pad was oriented different, others, just tried to use a machine that didnt' have thier symbol on it.... if you are in the area for a business day you may be able to get the bank to retrieve your card for you from the atm...but also had places where by the next business day you were in another country, so had to just cancel it and chalk it up to an experience...another one, cancelled his card and got his bank to send him another, but because we kept moving and central america didnt' exactly keep up some days...it took him a month for his new visa to catch up with him. so always good to have backup.
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby cedwards1 » Sun Jul 11, 2010 11:53 pm

I just got back from Mexico/Guatemala/Belize and took with me a travel Mastercard with my regular Visa/ATM card as back up. I used the travel card to get money out at every ATM and had no issues whatsoever, other than local bank imposed limits. This is the second time I've travelled with a travel Mastercard and have been really happy both times (the other time was the USA/Canada so I was a little wary of its acceptance in Central America). The withdrawal fees on it are way lower than fees using your regular account and you can lock in your exchange rate to USD when the AUD is up.

I usually take a combination of USD (with also an emergency $50 hidden in my backpack next to a copy of the passport!), travel card and regular cards for just-in-case but rarely pull them out. I'll be heading back in 6 months and will do exactly the same. Not many places accept credit cards so be prepared to be constantly pulling out cash. Also in Mexico the ATM's give you $500 and $200 notes but noone wants them - break them at any opportunity you can get i.e. restaurants.

Hope this is helpful - Cat
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Re: Money (Particularly ATMS) in Central America and Mexico

Postby counterfugue » Fri Aug 20, 2010 1:56 am

I agree with everything above. Just a couple of quick notes now that I'm back from the Volcano trip.

1) Visa seemed to be more usable than MasterCard for our group. Some ATMs did not accept MC.

2) There were fewer opportunities to pay by credit card than I expected. Carry cash.

3) Dollars are accepted in more places than you'll expect.

4) I generally walked around with $20-30 US, and $30-50 local currency, plus another hidden $100 US stashed in the room in my big bag. (And I split up my cards -- one Visa card on my all the time, and one Visa in my big bag.) Only one or two people used money belts. No issues carrying money in pockets -- just make sure the pockets are not easily "pick-able".

5) Travellers checks. One guy had them. He couldn't give them away. Pain in the butt.

6) Our group did a LOT of cash swapping, which helped a ton. If you all get along and trust one another, it's makes everything smoother. It keeps everyone from going crazy trying to find ATMs at that moment. (For example, if one person is low on cash, another person can loan him $ until they travel to a bigger city. Or one person might need local $$ for something and can trade with another person for $US if that person has more available.) By the middle of the trip, we all owed each other money -- it was like a bookie ring, but we all got along, so it was kind of funny. But also very convenient.
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