When I first moved down to Baja, the idea of converting dollars to pesos at a specific exchange rate
baffled me, continues to baffle me.
Possibly there are others like me who like the idea of visiting Tijuana but would like a few more tips before grabbing their wallets and heading this way.
I’m pretty sure this will be easy for most of you.
Paying with Dollars
The biggest thing to remember is almost everyone, literally 98% of stores and vendors, will accept your dollars if you are willing to take back change in pesos. At that point, you are depending on the other person to calculate the conversion rate for you, unless you are able to calculate it quickly in your head.
If that’s you, congratulations! If that’s not you, try to be prepared with pesos so that you don’t have to worry about any mental math. And if you can practice some mental math before…
Understanding the currency exchange is simple if you start at the ratio of 10 pesos = 1 dollar and then cut that total in half.
Example: The item costs 200.00 pesos
- Drop a zero = $20.00
- Divide in half = $10.00
The actual live currency rate as of this post, is more exact at 200 pesos equalling $10.37. Check to see if it’s changed.
Download this app to your phone before you go: XE Currency Converter
Rates and fees are slightly better than the airport if you change your money at any of the “Casa de Cambio” locations throughout the city.
I prefer to change my money directly at the border before or after I cross, if I’m walking pedestrian style.
If you can’t do that, visit an ATM and pull out pesos directly, as the machines are friendlier than some of the help at the change houses. Not exaggerating!
( But can you blame them? Who actually enjoys sitting behind a bulletproof, glass shield all day…just waiting for someone to complain about the exchange rate? #notmyideaoffun )
Download Google Maps before you go: Search ‘exchange’ or ‘cajera’ or ‘atm’
Cash is Still King
I would say at least 50% of the vendors I visit these days, are able to process debit cards. You can almost always count on large chains to process your credit card, with the rare exception of there being an internet issue that won’t allow the bank connection.
Many small stores, cafes or restaurants do not pay the extra fees for credit cards, so having a reserve cash supply has saved me more than once.
The scenarios I ran into issues trying to pay with a debit card:
- Internet connection at the store (or possibly the connecting bank), was down and the transaction couldn’t be approved. This happens the most often in all scenarios.
- Vendor Wifi connection was having disrupted, usually caused by missed payments or local electricity outages.
- Fraud detection placed on my card (which happens very frequently when traveling over international borders) so card declined, which resulted in me leaving behind a full cart overflowing with groceries, and me apologizing in my limited, broken Spanish, quite embarrassed way.
- And last, oops! I forgot I don’t have money on that card…here let me pay cash.
Small Bills, Always
Learned this the hard way after finally blending in with other locals, you should always bring small bills and coins if possible.
This is not the United States, where vendors are always prepared with almost any denomination of change.
Here, if your total is 175 pesos and you pay with a 200 peso bill, you will likely be asked if you can provide the 5 pesos change to help them conserve their “monedas”.
Expression of the Day
…which is what you’ll hear a lot of locals saying if they have to pay with a large bill and can’t come up with coins to help. Do what you can to help the vendors and bring small change.