If you’re planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta you’re going to need to know what currency to use. Otherwise, you risk not being able to spend your money or spending more than you should.
Having traveled to Vallarta several times has helped me learn exactly what currency Puerto Vallarta uses and how to use it wisely. That’s why I want to share my best money practices with you.
What Currency Does Puerto Vallarta Use?
Puerto Vallarta primarily uses the Mexican peso (MXN) as its currency of choice. US dollars (USD) are also accepted by many local businesses, but you’ll get more for your money if you use pesos. Making purchases with pesos is the best way to maximize your money’s worth in Vallarta.
The Canadian dollar is also widely accepted in the Vallarta area, however, to get the best bang for your buck, you’ll want to use Mexico’s native currency.
Is it Better to Use Pesos or Dollars in Vallarta?
It’s best to use pesos in Puerto Vallarta. Though US dollars are accepted at most places, pesos will make your money go further. Plus, you don’t have to do conversions in your head every time you buy something. But, US dollars are good if you want to leave a tip.
If you’re wondering how pesos make your money go further, I’ll explain. There are a couple of things to consider that make using pesos the better option.
If you exchange your dollars for pesos when the conversion rate is high, you’ll get more for your money. For example, if 1 dollar equals 22 pesos, that’s a high exchange rate. Hence, your dollar is worth more.
But if the exchange rate drops (it often does) to 18 pesos, your dollar is instantly worth less. So, by exchanging pesos (especially when the exchange rate is high) you are mitigating the risk of your dollar being worth less.
That said, it can go both ways.
If you exchange money when the rate is lower, but then it increases after, you missed out on an opportunity to stretch your dollar further.
The point is that one peso is always worth one peso, whereas the value of the dollar fluctuates up and down nonstop.
Looking at a 5-year chart, you can see that the average low is 18 MXN per 1 USD, while the average high is 21 MXN per 1 USD. Hence, you could be getting an extra 3 pesos for every dollar you exchange if you do it when the rate is high.
One thing you might notice is that not everyone will offer you the same exchange rate. Even the exchanges themselves have different rates.
In general, exchanges near the most touristy areas will have the worst rate, and exchanges deeper into the city or further up north will have the best rates.
Exchanges might not be the only place where you get pesos for your dollars. Although nearly every restaurant, street vendor, and the market accepts dollars, they’re not going to give you dollars back if you need change.
No way! They’re going to give you pesos. And they’re going to do so at whatever exchange rate they want.
It really depends on the situation and where you’re at. You might find that someone is willing to give you cash back at a fair rate or even comparable to the exchanges. But, you could run into someone who gives you less, hoping you don’t notice.
That’s why having pesos on hand is always the better option. That way when someone tells you the price is 200 MXN (let’s say that’s equal to $10) you can give the exact amount, versus handing them a $20 bill only to receive $8 back.
Two dollars might not seem like much, but when it happens multiple times it starts to add up.
Should I Get Pesos Before Going to Puerto Vallarta?
You don’t need to show up in Puerto Vallarta with pesos in hand. Once you arrive, there are plenty of exchange houses where you can get pesos. That said, it’s still wise to bring some cash with you for convenience. Many places accept credit and debit cards too, so it’s worth carrying.
If you’re still worried about showing up in Vallarta without pesos, stop worrying. It’s really not necessary. If you’re staying at a hotel, it’ll more than likely have an ATM you can use to withdraw pesos using your bank card.
However, it’s possible that you won’t be able to exchange your cash for pesos until you visit an exchange or bank. For the record, I prefer using an exchange over the bank.
The banks are generally pretty busy whereas at the exchange you can walk right in and get your money.
Of course, this depends on whether it’s the low or high season, in addition to which exchange you use. But, whenever I go, I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes before I was assisted.
Do I Need to Bring Cash?
It’s recommended to bring cash to Puerto Vallarta. You’ll need it to pay for the ride from the airport if using a taxi or shuttle service unless using an Uber. Also, it’s better to exchange cash for Mexican pesos, as opposed to using an ATM, which may incur a fee for currency exchange.
Additionally, using your card to pay for food and activities in Mexico will likely result in a foreign transaction fee, so it’s always best to have cash on hand in case you need to pay for something and you don’t have pesos or the place you’re at doesn’t accept cards.
To be fair, the foreign transaction fee isn’t terrible as long as you aren’t doing multiple transactions or racking up big bills. Most banks will charge you a 2-5% fee on each transaction.
But, if you’re traveling to Vallarta on a budget you should probably avoid using your card as the fees can add up quickly.
Believe me, I found out the hard way the first time I visited PV.
How Much Cash Should I Bring to PV?
You should bring at least $40 for each day you plan on staying in Puerto Vallarta. This should be enough money to cover your food, transportation, and entertainment for the day. This does not include the price of your accommodation or excursions you might want to book.
Also, you should never carry more money than you plan to spend for the day. If you know you’ll be out all day, bring all the money you plan to spend for that day. If you’re going out to eat, only bring enough to cover the cost of your meal. Planning ahead ensures you only bring what you need.
My recommendation when carrying cash on you is to store it in several places on your body. Don’t just keep it all in your wallet or purse. If you have a secret pocket, tuck some in there. Wearing socks? You can put some cash in your sock.
Anything you can do to split up your money will help prevent you from losing it all if something bad does happen, such as getting robbed.
Can I Pay With US Dollars in Puerto Vallarta?
Many places in Puerto Vallarta will accept US dollars (USD) as a payment method, especially in tourist areas. You can pay with cash or a card for most transactions. That said, it’s worth paying with pesos to get the most out of your money, as some may give you change at a low exchange rate.
This is especially true if you are staying near any of the main tourist areas (hotel zone, Malecon, romantic zone) as most businesses in these areas will gladly accept USD.
Keep in mind that these are established businesses. If you’re buying from a street vendor, for example, they accept dollars but they aren’t able to take cards.
To be honest, I can’t think of a place I’ve been to in Puerto Vallarta that didn’t accept US dollars.
Just make sure that you have cash on hand as there are some places that might not accept cards.
The better question is why would you pay with dollars if you know that pesos are the better option?
I think the answer is convenience.
I get it.
Not everyone who travels to PV wants to exchange their money for pesos—especially if they don’t plan on coming back any time soon.
If that sounds like you then I suggest exchanging money in smaller increments.
That way you can spend it all before getting more and you won’t end up leaving Mexico with pesos you can’t use.
If you simply don’t want to go through the hassle of exchanging money you can get away with using USD for your entire stay.
But, I wouldn’t recommend it.
How Do You Exchange Your Money for Pesos?
Here are all the ways you can exchange your money for pesos.
Exchange money at your bank before traveling
You can easily exchange dollars for pesos before your travel date at your local bank. To do this you need to have an account at the bank, then you can place an order, and finally, you can pick it up in person at your bank.
Also, make sure to bring your ID.
Keep in mind that your local bank will likely give you the worst exchange rate with added fees, so it’s not the best option.
Send yourself money using an online service
There are numerous online services you can use to send yourself money to Vallarta, and then pick it up in pesos once you arrive. Xoom is my favorite service for doing this.
Basically, you create an account, choose your pickup location in Vallarta (you can pick it up at Elektra, BanCoppel, Banorte, and even Walmart), and then send the money.
This is safe because in order to pick up the money you have to provide the ID you used to send the money along with the authorized transaction number.
Plus, the fees are pretty good and the exchange rate is established when you buy your pesos on Xoom, not when you pick it up in Mexico.
Just make sure to send your money a few days in advance as it can take a bit before it’s available.
Use the airport exchange
If you are desperate to get pesos once you land, there are exchanges located conveniently inside the Puerto Vallarta airport.
That said, airport exchanges have the worst rates. The difference in exchange rates can be significant (up to 20% difference) when compared to a local exchange outside of the airport.
As a result, you should really only use the airport exchange if it’s an emergency.
Otherwise, you’re better off waiting until you get to your hotel or Airbnb to find a better option.
Use an ATM
If you’re staying at a hotel it will likely have an ATM you can use to withdraw pesos. Although this isn’t the best option, it’s convenient.
Just remember the exchange rate might not be as good and you’ll have to pay an ATM fee (usually a couple of dollars) along with your bank’s foreign transaction fee.
But if you need cash fast, ATMs are always a viable option.
Visit a local exchange
Last but certainly not least, visiting a local exchange somewhere in the city is the best option in my experience. In fact, I use to only send money to myself using Xoom. But after trying out the local exchanges, I haven’t turned back.
Using a local exchange will guarantee you get the best rate possible, with little to no fees.
Also, it’s instant. You walk in, show your ID, hand them your dollars, then they’ll give you pesos and a receipt. Simple, right?
Additionally, most exchanges will have an ATM you can use to withdraw money from your bank. I prefer these ATMs over the ones you’d find in a hotel as the fees can be more reasonable.