Cozumel and Currency: Which Cash to Have on Hand?

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When traveling, it’s nice knowing you have some viable cash in your pocket.  Since so many visitors are from the U.S., it leads many to wonder, do businesses in Cozumel accept U.S. dollars?

Upon arrival to Cozumel from the United States, you can relax knowing that US dollars (USD) are commonly used here. But that’s not the end of the story…

The US Dollar is recognized by nearly everyone Cozumel, and is readily accepted as payment in Cozumel and nearby Mexico tourist areas like Playa del Carmen and Cancun.  However, it’s far better to use the official local currency, the Mexican peso (MXN). Pesos are easy and safe to get from several secure bank-owned ATMs in Cozumel, and will make your various daily transactions easier and less expensive. You’ll always get the best possible rate on prices and services by avoiding conversion rates.

Whether paying in cash, or using your credit card, try to adapt and convert dollars to pesos in your vacation transactions. 

Knowing a few safety tips, below, for getting pesos from local Cozumel ATMs or cash exchange houses will give you peace of mind. 

The US Dollar Works in Cozumel, But…

As stated above, the US dollar is a common form of currency in Cozumel. You do not need Mexican pesos to visit Cozumel, and many travelers don’t bother to exchange their US dollars for pesos.

Taxis, restaurants, beach clubs, and diving/snorkeling operations in Cozumel will all accept US dollars, though if you are receiving any change in cash, you will likely get pesos.

Using Mexico’s official currency, the Mexican peso (MXN) and/or converting dollars to pesos, however, will almost always get you a better rate on costs and services, and avoid any stress and confusion at the point of purchase. 

Visitors from other countries, however, are not so lucky.  This is not the case with other forms of currency, such as the Canadian Dollar, nor the Euro. 

Cozumel Welcome Checklist
Cozumel Welcome Checklist

Frequent use of the USD is likely due to the proximity of the two countries, and even more so the fact that millions of American tourists come to Mexico each year – especially to the beach areas in northern Quintana Roo, Mexico, including Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel.  

According to the Mexican Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR), as of 2019, the U.S. made up approximately 50% of all international air arrivals to Mexico, followed by Canada at approximately 21%.  (see 2019 statistics report, here).  

Many hotels, dive shops, restaurants, and excursion operators, even list their prices in both pesos and U.S. dollars to make it very easy on American tourists.  People from the U.S. can tip, pay their cab fares, and make most purchases using USD.  

When I buy my groceries at the local supermarket in Cozumel, the cash register automatically rings up items and shows the grand total in pesos and the converted total in US dollars.  

Please note: this is not true of every supermarket or business on the island, but very often is at least in the ones that are close to the Ferry and Cruise ports, as well as the busy downtown. 

Surely this is to make it as easy as possible for visitors to relax, but also to spend their money with the greatest of ease.

So how much is $100 dollars in Mexico? Approximately 2,000MXN pesos. (see more specifics, below…)

When in Cozumel Use the Mexican Peso

Now to the real point:  Just because you can use your U.S. dollars here in Cozumel, doesn’t mean you should.  

For one thing, many of the local Cozumel prices are set and posted in pesos – think restaurant menus, food stands, taxi fares.  They do not fluctuate according to the daily exchange rate.

In other words, if you use Mexican Pesos ($MXN) while in Cozumel, you can plan out your budget and your purchases in advance with greater certainty, because you won’t experience a rise and fall in the daily exchange rate and get charged accordingly.

In addition, if places go to the trouble of printing bi-lingual menus – which many in Cozumel do – the corresponding prices in dollars may have been equivalent at the time, but as markets change, those local prices are often favorable to locals using the peso.

Lots of tourists like to insinuate that this is unfair, and yet think about how you would create a menu with constantly fluctuating prices in a foreign currency?  Or signage? Or price tags? And so on.

Stores and restaurants don’t re-label everything, every day. But the international exchange rates do change. That’s life. 

It also makes sense that the prices are consistent if you’re taking the trouble to use the local currency.

Many establishments will convert your bill totals on the spot, using their posted rate and a calculator. They always show you their calculations while they’re performing the conversion, to stay on the up and up.  

Be aware, most businesses in Cozumel post the exchange rate they are using at the moment – usually, it’s one of the first things you’ll see as you enter, so look for it.  That rate may not be the up-to-the-minute rate you’d find on the live Foreign Exchange Market (Forex), but they are clearly posted for all to see (sometimes, it’s better!).  

Common $MXN bill denominations spread out on flat surface.
Most commonly used Mexican pesos bills.

Basic Cheat Sheet on Mexico’s Pesos to Dollars Conversion

While we know exchange rates fluctuate by the day, the rough exchange has been pretty consistent for several years now, hovering around 18-20 Mexican pesos for one US dollar.

Pro-tip #1 on Cozumel’s currency: Get familiar with the most common cash denominations you’re likely to see (note picture just above!), and how much those Mexican peso denominations are in your home currency.

Review these a few times on the plane, and you’ll be good to go!

For example, for a quick cheat sheet for remembering how many pesos are in a dollar and the local cash denominations, here are the most common bills you’re likely to use day-to-day in Cozumel:

  • How much is 20 Pesos (or “$20 MXN”) in Mexico? = about $1.00 USD
  • How much is 50 Pesos in Mexico? = about $2.50 USD
  • How much is 100 Pesos in Mexico? = about $5.00 USD
  • How much is 200 Pesos in Mexico? = about $10.00 USD
  • How much is 500 Pesos in Mexico? = about $25.00 USD

Or, in reverse:

  • How many Mexican pesos are in a dollar? = about 18-20
  • How much is $10 USD in pesos? = about 200 MXN
  • How much is $20 USD in pesos? = about 400 MXN
  • How much is $50 USD in pesos? = about 1,000 MXN
  • How much is $100 USD in pesos? = about 2,000 MXN
  • How much is $200 USD in pesos? = about 4,000 MXN

Getting Pesos from Cozumel ATMs: Safe, with Common Sense

Don’t let all this worry you.  Converting dollars to pesos is easier and safer than ever, as you can go to one of many, bank-backed ATMs in the downtown area to withdraw cash, simply using your home ATM card.  

Large and familiar bank names like HSBC, Santander, Banamex (part of Citibank) and others are part of interbank networks you already know, like Cirrus and Plus ATM consortiums.  Just look for the familiar logos.

Cirrus and Plus ATM logos

Pro Cozumel Currency tip #2: As in any other town in the world, do not use the stand-alone, private and super sketchy-looking ATMs you might find on random street corners.  These are far more prone to scams of various kinds. Just avoid them.  

Pro Cozumel Currency Tip #3: When traveling to Mexico, let your bank and credit card services know where and when you’ll be traveling so that they won’t mistakenly freeze your cards if they start seeing foreign transactions. 

This is not as much of a concern these days, as financial institutions usually have ways of confirming with you on the fly. Nevertheless, it’s always a good precaution, especially if you are a nervous traveler.   

An added bonus with direct ATM withdrawals in Cozumel is that you usually get the best exchange rate possible because major bank-owned machines tend to dispense the amount that is close to current exchange rate, calculated in real-time.

Now, you may have your own bank fees and withdrawal fees if you don’t have a card that is optimized for foreign travel, but the withdrawal itself is at a good rate.

Use the Best, Easy Pesos-to-Dollars App

All this is informative, but doesn’t always help when you’re standing in a store trying to convert pesos to dollars on the spot, right?!

The easiest way to plan ahead and figure out how many pesos are in a dollar in real-time is to use a top currency exchange app on your phone.

My absolute favorite one is the XE Currency app: get it with this link right here

Pro Cozumel Currency tip #4:  Prior to your trip, download the helpful and respected phone app, called the XE Currency exchange app.  You no longer have to keep track of the day’s rate with this clear pesos to dollars app.

With a few moments of setup, you can always know the current exchange rate in the palm of your hand, and then simply calculate expenses accordingly (give or take the venue’s posted rate – see above).  

Screen shot of XE Currency mobile app

This app makes converting dollars to pesos so easy, too, especially when you’re out shopping or eating and just need a quick rate conversion or to find out something like ‘how much is 50 dollars in pesos’? or similar questions that will arise when traveling. I still use the EX exchange app on a daily basis.

How Many Pesos Should You Have With You in Cozumel?

Lots of new visitors just want to know how much cash they should bring to Cozumel? What’s a good daily budget?

I’d say it depends a lot on how many people, where you’re staying, and what kind of eating and drinking you like to do.

If you’ve pre-booked your hotel and main activities like diving or land excursions, the remaining cash expenses will be meals, cabs, local souvenir shopping, and various gratuities and tips.

Breakfasts and taco places will be on the cheap, of course, like $5/each person per meal, and then there are plenty of restaurants for dinner where you could spend $10-40USD/per person, pretty easily (or more).

The good news is that a lot more restaurants and businesses in Cozumel now have those handy mobile credit card readers that work with our phones, so you can put more and more on your card (just tell them to charge you in pesos at the time of transaction).
And please and tip in cash – either in pesos or dollars – if you can.

Please note: more and more local shops, bars and restaurants are able to process credit cards, but not all places accept credit cards (think smaller, mom-and-pop places, especially). Just a reminder, so remember to ask first.

Taxis only take cash, for example, and if you’re using them a lot that might add up.

It’s always best to have small bills – it’s surprisingly hard to hang on to small bills around here, at least for me, but often the taxis and even smaller stores don’t have a lot change, so it’s kind of a drag if all you have are $500mxn bills (= about 25USD, and the most commonly dispensed from ATMs).

That might be one reason to get pesos before you come – just ask for small denominations – 20s ($1), 50s ($2.50), 100s ($5), and 200s (10 bucks).

Otherwise, as stated above, it’s just easiest and and you’ll get the best rate if you withdraw pesos once you arrive from one of the major bank ATMs at our large supermarkets right in downtown Cozumel, like Chedraui or Mega, or a few major bank branches that are around town – look for HSBC, Santander, Banamex, etc.

Cozumel Cash Exchange Houses 

If you prefer to deal in cash, it is also very easy to find and utilize one of several cash exchange businesses on the island.  

Just ask for a “casa de cambio” (exchange house) and you can exchange currency, by showing a valid passport and paying relatively small transaction fees.  These services are friendly and easy, but unlike ATM withdrawals, you may experience higher fees and a different exchange rate, as there is usually a lag of a day or so.  

Credit Cards and Electronic Payments Common in Cozumel Now

Of course, credit cards have been used for a long time in Cozumel Quintana Roo, Mexico, just as they have everywhere else in the world. 

However, in recent years, credit cards have become even more widely accepted and usable in even the smallest and most remote of businesses.  

Online internet and mobile services have dramatically improved in Cozumel in the last few years, there are more viable “coverage areas” so more and more of the remote beach clubs and restaurants have reliable service.  As the quality and affordability of mobile data and WiFi coverage on Cozumel Island increases, the use of cards and other forms of mobile electronic payments has become more common. 

Please be thoughtful, though, and have some back-up cash on hand!  

Sometimes the delight of having a cold beer at an awesomely remote beach-side hideaway very logically requires an equally “unplugged” transaction!

You just kinda never know, here!  Always best to be prepared.  

Cozumel: Strong WiFi and Getting Better 

The wifi in Cozumel is good, and getting better all the time. Most cafes and restaurants around downtown Cozumel offer free wifi to customers, as well. Just ask them for the password (contrasena in Spanish) after you order.

Many transactions on the island can also now be done via PayPal or Stripe, as well. I myself make appointments for haircuts and massages using Facebook and PayPal.  Venmo, on the other hand, is not used in Mexico.  

The bottom line is, if you do a little homework before you arrive, and keep some cash on hand, you should have no problem navigating payments in Cozumel.  

And once you understand how to convert dollars to pesos and have your local mexican cash in hand and are prepped and ready, it’s time to explore all the cool things Cozumel is known for and plan out some fun activities around the island, like seeing Cozumel’s unique Mayan ruins or taking advantage of the island’s world-class scuba diving.

Learn all about those, and more, by browsing through our related pages on how to safely take a Cozumel taxi, some of the best things to do in downtown Cozumel, and where to find Cozumel’s awesome sea turtles.

Bienvenidos! and Have fun!