We Use Cash – Pesos – at Lake Chapala
Forget the checkbook and get over the credit cards. You'll want to get used to using cash (pesos) when you are here at Lake Chapala. Once you get past the border, goods are priced in pesos, and most businesses refuse credit cards, traveler's checks and dollars (either US or Canadian.) They just take pesos.
Payment for almost everything here (gasoline, groceries, restaurant meals, purchases, and even telephone and electric bills and maybe even your hotel) is in pesos – cold, hard cash still changes from hand to hand.
Our maids, gardeners, mechanics, carpenters, construction workers and most other Mexican workers all are paid in cash. Few have bank accounts in which they could deposit our checks. Also know that most Mexican banks won't accept a US check for deposit; those that do put a two to three month hold on the funds.
Consider this: if I did pay my maid (or another worker) with a peso check written on a Mexican bank account, she would have to find the time and pay the bus fare to go to Chapala, stand in line at the bank and then ride the bus back home. No wonder she wants cash payment!
Most shops, stores and supermarkets require payment in cash. Some stores that can accept credit cards will give the customer a discount for using cash.
We can't mail our utility bills to the office with a check enclosed. We go to the phone company, the cable company and the electric company (or other payment center including Walmart) to pay those utility bills in cash. We pay the propane delivery man when he is at our house refilling the stationary tank or delivering full cylinders.
While some renters can write a dollar check on their back home bank account for their monthly rent, they'll find that the rest of the month the checkbook just gathers dust, along with their credit cards.
Getting All that Cash
So, now that you are convinced that you’ll be using pesos instead of checks or credit cards, how do you keep your pockets filled with cash?
Using the ATM
At first, you’ll use your ATM Card. There several cash machines in the area now, here’s a list of some of the locations:
- Ajijic -- The bank on the plaza, Farmacia Guadalajara, Plaza Bugambilias, MultiVa, El Torito.
- San Antonio – Walmart, Domino’s Pizza parking lot, SuperLake grocery store
- Chapala – In all banks, Soriana
- Jocotepec – Banks, Farmacia Guadalajara
Remember that what with the extra demand from Mexican tourists on weekends, especially on holiday weekends, and because several larger area businesses pay their employees via ATM cards to avoid having a large cash payroll, machines are sometimes empty quickly or not able to connect electronically with your bank.
Some full time residents prefer to avoid the ATM fees (both on the machine here and/or those from the bank back home) or the chance of a machine malfunctioning and either “eating” the card or failing to dispense the correct amount of money, they look for alternate methods of obtaining cash for daily use.
Some residents open accounts in local banks and at Lloyd’s from which they can draw pesos. In either case a rather large amount of money must be deposited into your account so you can cover the checks you deposit to replenish the account. Local banks and some investment companies put holds of 30 to 90 days on US dollar checks and other requirements and procedures that make getting cash a time-consuming process.
The Convenience of Intercam
Later you may want to do what we have -- open an account at Intercam (the office is on the highway in Ajijic next to the OXXO). Once you’ve provided the company with copies of the required documents (passport, immigration document, lease or deed and utility bill) and a single deposit into a savings account, you can write checks at the office on your back home US dollar bank account and receive cash on the spot – no muss, no fuss, no holds, just exchanging a dollar check for pesos.
Keep a Stash of Cash
When cash is your only option, you’ll find you’ll want to keep more than a petty cash stash. We recommend you keep enough cash for a week or two of living expenses tucked away at home so that if you are fighting a bout of bronchitis you’ll have enough to send a neighbor for medicine and pay the maid and gardener.
Where to keep larger amounts of money? You may choose to have a simple lock installed in the top drawer of a heavy piece of furniture, slip it into a select box in the pantry or freezer, or tuck it into the toes of your good shoes in the back corner of the closet.
Installing a Safe
Just like north of the border, some folks here choose to install a small safe in a secure location. A safe that bolts to a shelf or can be cemented into a wall is the best location. We’ve found that floor safes installed in the back corner of the closet may not be discovered, they also are not easy to use. Folks wearing bifocals find that it’s hard to get the dial into focus, that they are blocking the small amount of light that makes it way into the far reaches of the closet and that it gets more and more difficult to get up and down to access the safe. As a result they just don’t use it as much as they should.