Pointers for Using an ATM Card in Mexico

A Mexican peso coin from 1982.

  • Notify your bank well in advance of your travel plans. It is common for a bank to freeze a bank account if withdrawals start occurring in a foreign country.
  • In México an ATM is called Cajero Automatico (automatic cashier). Some small town banks do not have a Cajero Automatico. Look for the sign.
  • Small towns frequently have too few banks and too few Cajero Automatico machines to serve customers. Long lines and emptied machines are common. Plan accordingly. Mondays, Fridays, holidays, and the 1st of the month are often busy times for a Mexican ATM machine.
  • Small tourist towns and gringo enclaves are especially taxing on the town’s few ATM machines. If a town has only one bank and lots of tourists you can be sure the Cajero Automatico is going to be strained, and frequently out of money.
  • Cajeros Automaticos are bilingual.
  • Error messages are quite common in small towns. Don’t be surprised to see your Saldo Disponible (available bank balance) at being $00.00, or Contact Your Bank, or La Red No Disponsible (the network is down). Just go to another Cajero Automatico. If it too whines and complains, the area network is down or electronic traffic to the US  is at a high level. You’ll have to be patient. Go to an Internet cafe and review your available bank balance online. This will reduce your racing heart rate.
  • Sunshine can play pure hell on the screen of an ATM machine. The screen on an old ATM machine may have been faded over time. When direct sunshine plays on it, the writing almost disappears. Be careful. If your US bank card service detects too many botched attempts, they may freeze your card.
  • Extract your receipt and your ATM card. Occasionally an ATM will deliver fewer pesos than asked for and show a correct number for the amount of pesos delivered. The last time this happened I was given 2,000 pesos instead of 5.000. The receipt showed 2,000, an actual money count showed the machine had delivered 2,000 pesos. A trip to an Internet cafe showed my bank balance had been deducted the equivalent of 2,000 pesos.
  • Count your pesos while facing the machine to maintain privacy. Put your money in wallet or purse before turning around. This minimizes interest of curious bystanders.
  • Robberies at Cajeros Automaticos occur just like they do in the US. The procedure to minimize ATM foul-play is simple: Conduct your business in daylight. Don’t set yourself up by taking a long, lonely walk after you get money. Use a cab, or make sure your intended route is not deserted.

 

WHAT TO DO IF THE MACHINE SWALLOWS YOUR CARD

 

Aren’t you glad you brought a backup ATM card? Go into the bank branch. Point toward the ATM if your Spanish is weak. They’ll get the drift. Next, extract a folded piece of paper out of your wallet. It is a color laser copy of the ATM card that was swallowed. For some reason showing a beautiful image of an ATM card gets the bank personnel into high gear a lot faster. Expect to be told to come back later or even mañana to retrieve your card. Swallowed cards are retrieved much faster from an ATM located inside a bank than a card that was swallowed at a remote ATM.