Coronavirus Fear Has Devalued the Mexican Peso and That Means It’s a Good Time to Transfer U.S. Dollars

As a retired American living in Mexico, I carefully watch the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and Mexican peso and I take advantage of significant changes in the rate that will allow me to receive more pesos for the same amount of dollars.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about just going to the ATM in Mexico and getting pesos out with my U.S. bank card. Although that’s okay, it won’t really save you a lot of money in the long run.

What I’m talking about is maintaining bank accounts in both the U.S. and Mexico and only transferring money between them when the exchange rate is to your advantage. The bigger the advantage, the larger the transfer.

It’s basically like waiting for a big sale before going shopping, but instead of food or clothes, you’re buying money.

Exchange rates are constantly influx; however, dramatic changes over a short period of time are typically preceded by some significant news event or situation. The latest such event is the Coronavirus.

In the course of a couple of weeks, fear and uncertainty over the spreading virus has caused investors to invest more in stronger currencies such as the U.S. dollar, Japanese Yen and Swiss Franc, and less in currencies like the Mexican peso. This had the effect of increasing the value of the U.S. dollar while simultaneously devaluing the Mexican peso.

Take a look at this:

Back on February 18th, the exchange rate was 18.55 MXN / 1 USD. On February 28th, it was up to 19.73 MXN / 1 USD. That’s a big change in only ten days.

So what does that mean in real money? Well, it really depends on how much you want to transfer. At the exchange rates shown, if you had transferred $5,000 USD it would look something like this:

That’s an additional $5,900 pesos (or about $300 USD) in your pocket just because you waited for a good exchange rate before moving your money.

Choosing the Transfer Method

Monitoring the exchange rate is only one part of maximizing your money. The next step is choosing the correct transfer method to ensure you’re getting the most money possible.

Bank Transfers

There are exceptions, but in most cases this is the worst option available. International wire transfers are a huge revenue source for large banks and they make their money through high fees and/or poor exchange rates.

Even if your bank says that international wire transfers are free, I guarantee that you’re losing money on the exchange rate. It pays to compare your bank’s rates and fees to those offered by third-party services.

Third-Party Services

These are companies who will handle the bank to bank transfer for you. For most people, this is the best option and will result in more of your hard-earned money ending up in your pocket on the Mexico side.

We’ve used several different services over the last five years, but the best one that we have found is Transferwise. They offer the actual bank to bank exchange rate and their fees are very low. In every side-by-side comparison that we performed, Transferwise gave us the most pesos at the end.

Let’s Wrap This Up

No one can predict with absolute certainty where the dollar will end up peaking against the Mexican peso. That’s why my advice for anyone looking to transfer dollars into pesos, is to watch the exchange rate carefully and follow the financial news. With a little luck and some perseverance, you’ll be able to get the most bang for your buck.

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Updated: 02/28/20

About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

33 Comments on "Coronavirus Fear Has Devalued the Mexican Peso and That Means It’s a Good Time to Transfer U.S. Dollars"

  1. Do you recommend a bank in Mexico?

    • If you don’t have a resident card, CiBanco is your best bet. Last I heard, they are still allowing people to open accounts with just a tourist card, many other banks do not. If you have a resident card or citzenship, BBVA is a good choice because they have plenty of branches and ATM’s. They also have a fantastic online portal that allows you to generate debit card numbers for purchases so the business doesn’t have you’re actual debit card number. That helps prevent fraud.

      • I just heard of someone on the west coast of Mexico who got an account at BBVA with his wife when BBVA offered their preferred Customer Program with an English speaking representative. (2008?). They learned this year only the husband can access the account as he has a Resident Card. His wife who is on a tourist Visa does not get access. We will be checking this out. It’s certainly a concern.

        • I haven’t heard of any policy changes and I couldn’t find anything on the BBVA site or on the Banco de Mexico site to indicate a regulation change.

  2. Excellent advice! Thanks Paul!

  3. Great post. Just as I was wondering about the same thing.

    Is it wise, then, to have a bank account with a bank in Mexico, such as HSBC or Scotiabank?

    And to purchase an apartment or a house, and a bank transfer is necessary, which method would you recommend?

    I always read your blog.

    Thanks for all the great info.

    Rob Baxter

    • If you plan on living in Mexico or spending a significant amount of time here, it helps to have a Mexican bank account to be able to take advantage of fluctuations in the exchange rates and for the ease of paying people or businesses. Mexican banks have fantastic online portals.

      Without a Mexican bank account, large transfers, like those that are typically done for real estate, are done directly from your bank to the recipient’s and the exchange rates used are typically not the best.

    • HSBC was involved in laundering billions of dollars in the US and other countries (it was one of many other US banks). A few years ago they dropped exchanging dollars in mexico altogether. Not sure if they’ll allow wire transfers

  4. I appreciate the lead to an alternative transfer service, Paul. I’ve been using Xendpay for quite awhile, but I like to review annually. FWIW, first transact on Xendpay is free with unlimited amt. Perhaps you can take advantage. Saludos y usted mantenga el buen trabajo.

  5. As a Cdn living in Mexico for 3-4 months each year, I wondered about opening a bank account with just my tourist card. Can you explain the process to do that? Also does Transferwise work between Cdn and Mexican bank accounts? Thanks

  6. I made two transfers this week using transferwise.com for a new car purchase. Need one more transfer hopefully in the next three days. Changitos!

  7. Do you know if TransferWise can make deposits to my Intercam Banco peso account? My Intercam account executive says no but I get the feeling he’s giving me the runaround. I’ve seen some comments on expat groups that say yes, so i don’t know what to believe. Thanks.

  8. FYI, at Lakeside, I know of at least 2 banks that will open accounts for people with only visitor visas; Intercam and Multiva. Agree, Transferwise is a good online exchange company, but there are many out there.

    My 2 cents re currency exchange rates – definitely better now then 2 week ago. But who knows if the current “Corona Currency Effect” is nearly done, or just getting going. I always recommend taking advantage of the higher peso deposit interest rates (about 7%) with some of your money since that also reduces your “currency risk”. This risk occurs when your income i.e. Social Security or Canada Pension incomes are in a different currency then your expenses (MXN pesos). Holding some peso deposits reduces this risk – plus you earn 3-4X’s more income in pesos! Cheers Paul.

  9. I’ve lived here for 20 years and get along just fine keeping my money in BofA in the US and using my bankcard fee-free ATMs anywhere in Mexico at BofA correspondent banks (currently Scotia), and if there’s a problem of any kind I can call BofA 24’7 and hands-on immediate customer-friendly service in English that resolves the issue in my favor. Conversely, Mexican banks are unreliable, have poor to mediocre service, Mexico has no FDIC equivalent for Mexican bank accounts, and, in general, I cannot even imagine a situation where I would need a Mexican bank account.

    • That’s one way to do it. Personally, we love the banking here. The online portals are very secure and quite impressive. I have more security protocols on my Mexican account than my American and timing transfers to take advantage of exchange rates puts tens of thousands of extra pesos in our pockets.

      One more thing. Mexico does have their own version of FDIC, it’s called IPAB and it insures accounts up to approximately $2,500,000 pesos.

  10. The Peso’s devaluation has Nothing to do with Coronavirus, at least not directly. The Dollar index (USDX) has hit record highs as of last week, other currencies (yen, euro) have also reflected thier weaking compared to the dolar.

    As far as usage of banks in mexico, ask you US bank what arrangement they have (if any) with mexican banks or with other Remittance Network Members (supermarkets, convenien e stores or utility companies).

    If you are trendy and risk prone, try Bitso which is a mexican platform for buying criptocurrencies that allows you to use US dollars to aquire the criptocurrency of your choice and then buy pesos. The commissions are less then does paid via exchange rates.

    • According to the financial papers in Mexico, the dollar strengthening suddenly and the peso devaluing is all part of the same chain of events caused by fear over the Coronavirus. Investors are skittish and in uncertain times they invest in stronger currencies like the U.S. dollar, Japanese Yen or Swiss Franc. That means losses for countries like Mexico as money moves away from them.

      Thanks for the tip on Bitso, I’ll check that out.

  11. Paul, I’m selling some N95 masks that I’ve had for several years. Special price for you – $10 USD ($200 MXN) each!

    Seriously, I think your headline misplaces the credit (blame?) for the recent devaluation of the peso. Here’s the first paragraph of a note from the foreign exchange mailing list I subscribe to (https://www.earnforex.com/news):

    With the latest economic data coming in mixed, the public and investors may be becoming increasingly impatient with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s policies. A cyber attack on the nation’s economy ministry did not help spur confidence in AMLO’s government either.

    • The economic papers throughout Mexico attribute the major fluctuation in the peso value compared to the dollar on the Coronavirus. Here is just one example: https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/mercados/Peso-acumula-caida-de-81-centavos-por-el-coronavirus-dolar-en-19.37-unidades-20200227-0081.html

      Of course, the economy has not been doing as well here under AMLO but this change was very fast. As fast as the sudden losses in Wall Street, which by the way, are being contributed to many of the same factors.

      I’m no economist, but I was relying on Mexican journalists that do specialize in the economy when I came up with that title.

      • While I won’t completely impugn the Mexican periodistas, one has to wonder how much of a hand the government has in these reports, with CoVid-19 being a convenient scapegoat for what others are blaming on government polices. Now, if reputable news organizations outside Mexico independently confirm the stories, that’s another matter.

        I am concerned about CoVid-19 being found in and spreading through major Mexican tourist areas like the Riviera Maya. It’s a veritable petri dish, with people from all over the world visiting frequently. In Cozumel, where we live, the cruise ships disgorge up to 25,000 people ***per day*** into our community. If/when CoVid-19 arrives here, that *will* have a serious impact on the Mexican economy.

        • I agree that the economy here in Mexico has not been strong under AMLO; however, those were the same policies for the last three months and the peso has been the strongest it has been against the dollar and many other currencies in a very long time. That was bad for folks like me who need to convert dollars into pesos to live. What the financial papers in Mexico are saying makes sense because this sudden drop in the value of the peso coincided with the Coronavirus situation, which by the way, has also been blamed for the losses in the stock market.

          I do share your concerns with the Coronavirus making it to this part of Mexico. Millions of tourists from all over the world come here every year. It almost seems inevitable that it will show up here at some point.

  12. I’ve used TransferWise successfully to transfer money from a US Bank to Intercam (dollars to pesos) in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. Not a problem.

  13. Replying to Bonnie’s question, “As a Cdn living in Mexico for 3-4 months each year…does Transferwise work between Cdn and Mexican bank accounts?” Yes it does! We moved money from Tangerine last year for a RE purchase using TransferWise. Can’t advise you on opening a Mexican account with a tourist permit,gas we’re permanent residents.

  14. Great move! Enjoy spending some of this “windfall” on a “cool one or two!”

  15. Terry Prichard | March 3, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Reply

    I have a dollar account at Bancomer in Mexico. Do you know if I can use TransferWise to move funds from my bank in the US to my dollar account at Bancomer? I asked TransferWise but have not received a reply from them. A wire transfer from Wells Fargo to my Bancomer account will cost $45 US and the exchange rate is only 18.6 as of March 3.

    • That’s an interesting question that I can’t answer. I am curious why you would choose to keep a U.S. dollar account at a Mexican bank if you are still maintaining a U.S. account, with what I assume has based on your question, the bulk of your money.

      Bancomer does offer the option of a U.S. dollar account but that type of account only allows you to take advantage of exchange rates when you take pesos out. That would be the equivalent of using a U.S. debit or credit card in Mexico when the exchange rate is to your advantage. You’re missing out on all the extra pesos you would have by converting dollars into pesos and depositing them as pesos. There’s no reason to pay attention to exchange rates when you have that type of account because you aren’t converting any currencies during the transfer.

  16. Geraldine Maltman | March 7, 2020 at 11:45 pm | Reply

    Hmm not sure I agree, I have one pension come in to BBVA Bancomer in pesos from UK, then another one come in to Actinver in US dollars, again from UK, where I have a personal service and great interest rates and can convert to pesos when the exchange rate is good, Actinver just send the money to BBVA when I request.

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