Funny Money: Mexico Cracks Down on Dollar Use for Cruise Visitors

November 1, 2010
(10:00 a.m. EDT) -- Planning a cruise that calls on Mexican ports?

Here's a heads-up: you may find things a bit different now at tourist attractions, restaurants and shops in popular spots, from Cabo San Lucas to Cozumel, that once freely welcomed U.S. dollars -- thus saving cruise passengers the hassle of exchanging currency.

New laws geared toward stemming the laundering of drug-related proceeds went into effect in mid-September. The result? In certain states (including Quintana Roo, home to Cozumel), businesses can accept only $100 per transaction, according to a report in USA Today. Furthermore, the government "has capped the amount of dollars foreigners can exchange for pesos in Banks & Money Exchange Establishments to no more than U.S. $1,500 per month," reads an official statement by the Mexico Tourism Board, which did not respond to requests for a comment.

Plastic-hounds need not worry: there's no cap on the amount travelers can withdraw from ATM's or charge to credit cards. That's a good thing because the regulations are creating a bit of confusion, and you may find that some Mexican business owners have stopped accepting U.S. dollars.

For instance, Cruise Critic member karfest posts, "I just got back from a quick trip to Manzanillo and found that our supermarket no longer accepts US dollars and Home Depot will only take up to $100 USD. I was told that many tourist shops have quit taking USD as well because the banks are cracking down on how much they will exchange." However, downsized reports that after a sojourn in Cabo, "we had no problem with any purchases the entire week … using either US$ or Pesos."

Our advice: Tuck a wad of small U.S. bills into your wallet before you depart, but also plan to withdraw pesos using your ATM card in a Mexican port of call, and keep a credit card handy. The most expensive way to convert your cash is onboard, so try to avoid that option.

Have you visited the region lately and come across these new restrictions? Join in the conversation here.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor