Cozumel Money Matters
should I bring with me to Cozumel?
Some American dollars in small denominations for tips and the occasional cash purchase.
An ATM card (a debit card, one that takes money from your checking account) to get Mexican pesos for cash purchases from ATM machines -- don't forget your PIN. There are machines all over the place. 3 banks on the downtown plaza, an HSBC on the corner of Ave 30 and Calle 11. There are also two ATM's in the front of the Chedraui grocery store on the ocean side . We like the Banamex machines downtown and in the Chedraui and the ATM in the HSBC. Why? Because you can SWIPE your card at these machines.
A credit card for making credit purchases and for emergency use at ATM machines to get cash. Again you need your PIN to use it to get cash, although not for credit purchases. (There's more on credit cards below.)
Some American dollars in large denominiations for a few dollar purchases and emergencies. Dive ops and other tour providers usually prefer to be paid in dollars.
We don't recommend that you exchange money at the airport or hotels because rates are not in your favor. Likewise the Cambios (changer booths) are not the best, and the banks can be even worse, in addition to having long lines and odd hours.
It's much better to get Mexican pesos at an ATM machine with your ATM (debit) card. You need your PIN to do this just as in the U.S.
Since the exchange rate is currently around 11.3 pesos to a dollar, think of a peso as a U.S. dime plus 13%. So if I want to get fifty U.S. dollars worth of pesos, I multiply by 13 and get 650 pesos. So I enter 650 as the amount of pesos I want..
The exchange rate you get is, surprisingly, better than you will get at the change booths (Cambios) or at bank windows where you can exchange dollars for pesos. In fact the rate is very close to the rate we get when we wire large amounts of money to our Mexican bank account in Cozumel.
HOWEVER, DON'T USE YOUR CREDIT CARD TO GET CASH AT ATMs. Just as in the U.S., you will be charged a large fee (like 5% of the amount) just to use the machine. In addition, you will be charged a rip-off interest rate on the cash you receive STARTING WHEN YOU GET THE CASH.
Tip: Be aware that there will be a charge of between $.75 and several bucks on every ATM withdrawal you make. Our US bank allows us to draw out a maximum of $5,000 pesos per day. If you want to withdraw more than the highest choice they give you -- $2000 pesos or a little over $200 US -- hit the button that says Otra Cantidad (Other amounts) and then plug in the amount you want.
We would advise using an ATM machine in one of the downtown banks and during business hours. That way if something goes wrong, you can immediately pop into the bank and get them to open up the machine and take care of it. There is a Banamex, a Bancomer and a HSBC bank with ATM machine within a quarter block of the clock tower at the downtown plaza. There is also a Serfin machine in their bank two blocks south of the plaza on Avenida 10.
About Credit Cards
Use your credit card only for credit purchases where they are accepted, which is only by the large stores like the Chedraui and the stores and restaurants within a few blocks of the water.We would advise not using them any more than you have to as you will pay at least a 2% surcharge and often as much as 4%. Also we have some concerns about the security of credit cards here. The handling of the receipts is sometimes slacker than it should be at places like the grocery.
In addition, you should check which cards are accepted in advance, since many places that do accept credit cards only accept selected one. The best bet for credit cards is American Express, but Visa and Mastercard will work at many places too.
Unlike the U.S, Cozumel has a mostly cash economy, which is the reason you see those armored cars rolling around the plaza in the early morning. They are delivering cash to the banks, which in turn will be paid out to people to run their businesses.
Tips on Buying
First, you will lose money every time you exchange money. Close to the waterfront, where things are usually quoted in U.S. dollars, you can ask what the peso price would be but it will generally be to your disadvantage to pay that way.
On the other hand, away from the waterfront where things are priced in pesos, you will lose money if you pay in dollars. That is the reason to have some of each. Pay the way the item is quoted.
Dollar-denominated items: Stores and restaurants near the water. Diving, fishing, snokeling, and other tourist-only services. Peso-denominated items: Stores and restaurants away from the water. Supermarkets. Taxis. The ferry to Playa del Carmen.
Miscellaneous Money Matters
Taxi fares are regulated and drivers are supposed to carry a published rate sheet with them. But to keep everyone honest, it's always a good idea to ask what the fare will be before you get into the cab. What you say: Cuanta cuesta a (how much to..) KWAN-tah QUES-tah AH--and then your destination.
Tipping: We tip the same as in the US and it's much appreciated in a country where 3000 pesos/month (around $300 US) is considered a good wage. 15% in restaurants--20 if service is exceptional. Tip luggage handlers $1-$1.50 US per bag. Tip maids. Suggested rate at rental villas is $10 per bedroom per week just to give you an idea.
Bargaining--forget trying on the waterfront. They know more cruise passengers will soon be along so why should they try harder. Plus most of these places aren't family-owned so there's usually no one on the premise authorized to make deals. See our Shopping page for more info.
If you want to bargain, try the perpendicular to the waterfront side streets and streets back a block or more from the waterfront. Here the rule of thumb is to offer 1/2 the asking price and compromise somewhere in between. For best bargaining, go near the close of the day--from 6:30 to 8:30 when the cruise passengers are back on the ships and shop owners are looking a little harder for sales. (You may want to check our Tips on Bargaining page.)
Don't bring any American checks- you won't be able to use them. Travelers checks are OK as an alternative to cash dollars, but they aren't as universally accepted as they are in the U.S and you may have to go out of your way to get one cashed especially if you try to use it in a small store or back-in-town restaurant.