News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.

The Secret to Money Exchange in Mexico City

By Fritz Schtickelmeyer

This week, I’ve reconfirmed an observation I’ve made on many occasions in this city.

The best place to exchange money in Mexico City is not at any branch of one of the nation’s big banks, nor at any casa de cambio (currency exchange house) in the Centro Historico or Zona Rosa.

Nope, the best place to exchange your currency is at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport.

Two of the many Casas de Cambio at Terminal 1. (Photo: Fritz Schtickelmeyer)

Two of the many Casas de Cambio at Terminal 1. (Photo: Fritz Schtickelmeyer)

This is completely contrary to the accepted wisdom on exchanging money. Airport currency exchanges houses are generally notorious for offering rates far off the official market rates.

But Mexico City International — particularly Terminal 1 — is the exception to the rule.

Returning to Mexico City this week from a trip to Europe, I took a few moments in Terminal 1 to take note of what it costs to exchange money.

Looking at just the most common currency — U.S. dollars — I found a range from 11.40 to 11.80 pesos when selling dollars, and 11.73 to 12.35 when buying dollars.

The spread on the buy/sell rate was generally about 60 points (ie, 11.40 buy, 12.00 sell), though in some of the terminal’s casas de cambio, the spread was miniscule — a mere 15 points, and as low as 10 points in one outlet (see photo above).

This is unheard of at any bank in this city, where the spread is more typically in the range of 75 points, and can often be 90 points. (A good example of a bad place to change money: Scotiabank at Reforma 222, which consistently has a 90-point spread.)

And if you are coming to the airport to exchange money, don’t just stop at the first outlet you find. Take five minutes to take a little walk past the multitude of casas de cambio — it pays to shop around, as you can see by the range of rates I mentioned.

In my observation this week, I found the best cluster of exchange houses was on the lower level, by the international arrival zone.

Thanks to competition, this is where you’ll get the best rates.

Other Popular Currencies

I specifically noted the US dollar to peso conversion, because that’s what most of us are exchanging in this city.

But this is also the best place to buy and sell Canadian Dollars, Euros, or British Pounds (the next three most commonly exchanged currencies in this country).

However, you will find more variation on the rates on these currencies. This is where shopping around really does pay.

The buy rate for the Canadian dollar ranged from 11.30 to 12.00; the sell rate ranged from 12.20 to 12.65.

And the Rest

Beyond these currencies, many casas de cambio in the airport do buy and sell a much wider variety of other money: the Swiss Franc, Japanese Yen, Chinese Yuan, Australian Dollar, the Brazilian Real, Guatemalan Quetzal, Costa Rican Colón, Venezuelan Bolivar, or the pesos of Colombia, Chile, or Argentina. A few outlets even buy and sell the Cuban tourist pesos here.

I also learned something that further confirmed what one of my colleagues noted previously: The real street value of the Argentine peso is dropping precipitously, and it’s being noted beyond Argentina’s borders.

Looking at the rates at three exchange houses dealing in Argentine pesos, I found their peso selling for 5.5, 5.95, and 6.72 to the U.S. dollar.

Now, keep in mind that the official value (ie, the manipulated government rate) of the currency this week is about 5.15 to the dollar.

But the reality is, there are very few buyers for this currency; this is a market where almost everyone wants to sell their rapidly depreciating pesos.

And this is where the numbers get more shocking.

The rate for those selling Argentine pesos: 11.7, 12.94, and a whopping 23.0!

Even at the low end (11.7), it means you’re paying a 127% premium above the “official” rate. And that’s as good as you will get here.

So, you might not get a good deal on your Argentine pesos at Benito Juarez International, but then again, it’s tough to find a good rate on that currency anywhere these days.

But for the other big currencies, this airport really is the best place in town to exchange your cash.

About Fritz Schtickelmeyer

A veteran journalist, he's reported from across the globe. For a brief time, was a high school teacher in Minnesota.

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