All you need to know about Iberian America

The Politics of Getting Change in Mexico

Published December 1, 2021 in Mexico - 0 Comments

As I wrote here, handling change in Mexico is an annoying feature to life here.

It’s not that bad but sometimes it does border on ridiculous.

For example, as I wrote in that article, you have the odd situation with large corporations like Walmart or OXXO never having change for 500 bills.

Imagine that – large corporations worth millions or billions of dollars not having change for 500 peso bills or 25 bucks?

I always assumed that perhaps it’s because of security reasons so that anyone with a gun can’t walk in and steal a bunch of cash.

That makes sense.

But we’re only talking change for 25 bucks here.

Not enough to steal to be buying Lamborghinis.

And other popular spots in Mexico seem capable of accepting 500 pesos for small purchases like Casa de Toño.

In fact, Casa de Toño is one of my go to places for when I need to break a 500 peso bill.

They’ll even break it for purchases of just 55 pesos worth.

So if they don’t have problem accepting 500 pesos, why can’t OXXO and especially Walmart (worth billions) not accept them?

Regardless, it’s a part of life down here.

Nobody likes the 500 peso bill.

When I went out to a few bars with a Mexican chick named Angie a few years ago, she had to withdraw money from an ATM machine.

Yelled out “NO!!!” when the machine only gave her 500 peso bills.

Nobody likes the fucking 500 peso bill.

Still, in continuation of the previous article cited on this topic, there’s a tiny detail to life down here that I commit to as it relates to getting change for bills.

It’s so irrelevant that you’ll be wondering “why am I reading this?”

Well, I find it an act that I commit to frequently and so it’s relevant to my life.

A very small and almost irrelevant detail to my life in Latin America but one that is part of my life anyhow.

The Show

Not too long ago, I walked into an OXXO by Politecnico area of Mexico City with a 500 bill.

Now, as I said, we know that they don’t like taking these.

They’re not as generous as Casa de Toño where you can break it down with a 55 peso purchase.

They will take it though but you usually got to punch close to a 200 peso purchase to get the job done.

Since I’m taking a brief break from drinking starting yesterday as I have joined a new gym in the next area of Mexico City that I’m moving to, I know that I can’t break the bill with another brandy bottle of El Presidente.

So I’m wondering how am I going to do this?

It’s a situation that involves complex mathematics that even Einstein would have difficulty solving.

I got an empty jug of water in hand.

Need to replace that.

The damage?

46 pesos.

A little bit light.

So what do I buy then to get the price over 200?

Well, carrying 20 liters of water is going to a lot to carry anyhow so I can’t carry too much else.

I didn’t have a backpack on me but I had a jacket with two decently sized pockets.

And two pant pockets.

It’s what we got to work with, gentlemen.

Not really being down for any candy since I don’t like sweet things too much, I figured I’d buy some tea at the very least.

Two 1 liter bottles of tea that can fit in both of my jacket pockets.

Each costing 31 pesos or a total of 108 pesos.

Still a little light.

Then I realize that I need some cheese for my pasta that I cooked.

That costed 29 pesos.

And I picked up some Halls cough drops for 8 pesos.

A total of 145.

Good enough?

Doubtful but let’s see!

“What?!? Where’s My Change?!?”

Of course, I can never get lucky, can I?

Every single time I ever go to an OXXO in my entire time in Mexico has involved someone at the front looking to send money.

It always takes such a long time for them to get the transaction done.

And there’s at least 7 people standing in front of me with a line building up behind me.

I tell you again – I can’t remember the last time I was able to walk into an OXXO without a damn person taking their sweet ass time sending money to someone.

“Can’t I get a normal customer who is in and out so I can move on also?”

What’s worse are those sweet ol’ ladies nearing the young age of 578 that, not only take their time sending money, but also ask the clerk a bunch of useless questions while casually looking behind themselves with a shit eating grin to see how many people that are waiting on her to be done already.

“Ya ves??? Soy muy importante!!! Todo el mundo esta perdiendo tiempo por mi culpa!! JEJE HAHA JEJE HAHA JEJE!!”

Anyway, I did have some luck that night.

Given the increasing length of the line and given how seemingly everyone in front of me was there to send money, one of the employees noticed this and began asking each customer “are you here to send money or buy something?”

And literally every single customer in front of me was there to send money.

The whole crowd has to pay rent!

Not sure about those behind me.

Anyway, I said that I’m here to only buy something and the clerk took me to the front at another cash register.

He rang everything up.

Gave me the damage.

Then I gave him the damage.

With a 500 peso bill appearing, he looked at me with disbelief.

“You don’t have anything smaller?” he asked me in Spanish.

Then I did the “fake search” in my pockets.

“A ver, a ver, a ver, a veeeeeer!!!”


He looked at the computer screen for a few seconds with a look in his eyes that contemplated a prayer to ol’ Jesus.

“Lord Jesus have mercy on this gringo’s soul.”

“Ok” he said.

He took the bill and checked it to make sure it wasn’t fake.

Then he asked me if I had change (like 5 pesos) so that he can hand me bigger bills in return.

And I do the “little check” in my pockets.

“a ver a ver a ver a ver a veeeeeer.”

And, truth be told, I would actually be helpful in giving the dude change normally.

After all, I somehow got OXXO to accept a 500 for only a 145 purchase!

It’s my lucky day.

Though, being it night, I imagine they’re a little more generous at that time than during the day when they’re closer to closing the doors.

Either way, I genuinely didn’t have much small change on me.

Only a 2 peso coin in my pocket.

The dude went along with it.

Gave me my change.

And I was out the door as he looked for the next customer in line who is buying something and not sending money.

The Tips

It’s all about exchanging larger bills in Mexico.

As I said, it’s such a small aspect to life down here that it almost seems irrelevant.

But, when you live in Latin America long enough, smaller details matter to us than to tourists who are gone next week.

Anyway, the first tip is to know which places accept larger bills when you live anywhere in Latin America.

OXXO and Walmart are not the best at it and require higher purchases for the 500 pesos.

A place like Casa de Toño and a few other spots I know are very generous with seemingly accepting a 500 peso bill for anything in my experience.

So, when living down here, know which spots are reliable in case you end up like Angie on an unfortunate night with the ATM machine only giving you 500 peso bills.

Second, places like OXXO, in my experience, seem a little more generous with taking in the larger bills during the night closer to the end of their working hours than any other time of the day.

Third, when handing over a 200 or 500 bill for a purchase of 152, begin looking for those extra 2 pesos right away.

They will be asked for.

Fourth, I always try to be reasonable in offering that small change anyway. I don’t want to make their job anymore difficult.

Still, I always do the “search” even when I know I don’t have the change.

It’ll always amount to a mini show where I’m digging through all my pockets with a look of concern on my face.

Mostly because I don’t want to come across like an ass who just rejects the request for small change right away.

I like to make it seem like I’m putting in a real effort to help out even when I know the small change isn’t there.

I also feel like, in some cases, maybe it makes the employee more likely to work with me in accepting the change.

If he sees me putting in “effort” to find the small change he requests (regardless of if I find it or not), maybe he won’t be so lazy in denying my larger bill right away and will accept it.

Because, in some cases, it might require him to put in some effort to look for change elsewhere in maybe the other cash register and, after enough time here, I know plenty of workers can be a bit lazy in customer service and not put in the extra 10 seconds of work to help the customer out.

So if he sees me putting in a genuine effort to find the small change, maybe he’ll accept the fact that I have it or not and look for those extra bills he needs to hand me back my change?

Just a theory I’ve had over the years down here.

Anyway, that’s all I got to say.

If you have any comments, drop them below in the comment section.

And follow my Twitter here.

Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


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