How to Tell Real Mexican Money From Counterfeits


In this era of technology, an evil in one part of the world spreads like wildfire to the rest of the world. So it is safe to say that Mexico is at risk of counterfeiting just like any other country anywhere in the world. The government tries hard to cull the crime, but rogues will always take risks. Seeing that the 12yr prison sentence set for counterfeiting legal tender has not entirely deterred criminals, it is best that you be on the alert when using cash. It is even worse if you are a visitor who has traveled from far to have a nice time and then you fall victim.

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If the criminal has safely handled the notes, how am I at risk?

Easy – criminals counterfeit the notes and pass them off as genuine and so you just become one of their unsuspecting victims. But people who handle money in large quantities on a daily basis, like Forex bureaus, supermarkets and others, use ultra violet light lamps that instantly reveal if the notes are genuine or fake. So they will catch you on the spot if your notes are not genuine. In such a case, even if you are lucky not to be sued, you will, definitely, lose your money as the vendor will confiscate your notes. In any event, that counterfeit money in your possession is worth nothing.

There are some features that even ordinary folk are able to check out to see if the notes are counterfeit or real. Notably, there is a holographic stripe that is visible on the note surface and its image changes as you tilt the note. This is the latest security feature that the Bank of Mexico has put on its notes to complement the existing security features. The use of such state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting measures is a way for the government to show locals and visitors alike that it is not leaving the security of money transactions to chance.

How can I protect myself as a visitor in Mexico?

There are a number of things you can do to ensure you do not lose your precious money to unscrupulous people. Here is a short list:

  • Let us begin with you using your credit or debit card whenever you can
  • Whatever transactions you can organize in advance, make those arrangements.

You will be reducing the need to use cash once in the country. For example, you could buy your Mexican auto insurance policy when you are organizing for your trip if you are coming from Canada or the US. In any case, you will ultimately have to buy Mexican since Mexico does not recognize the car insurance from its two neighbors.

  • Master the difference between usual currency paper and polymer

In Mexico, the $20 and $50 notes are the lowest and they are printed on a type of plastic paper known as polymer. All other denominations are printed on the paper commonly used worldwide for currency notes. This usual money printing paper is crisp and has a distinct feel which you will be able to identify with some practice.

Instead of the usual wood pulp, bank notes are made of fibers and they do not contain any China clay or any chemical related agents. Therefore, the material does not fluoresce under the rays of ultra-violet light. Clearly, it is different from the material that makes ordinary commercial paper. In short, the banknotes you handle in Mexico, save for the two lowest denominations, should have the same feel as those you are used to in the US, Canada, Britain, and most other countries worldwide. Any suspicion in the feel of the paper should get you looking for other security features.

  • Check out for the watermark

Every genuine bank note has a watermark that you can confirm by looking at the note against a backlight. If the note is genuine, you will be able to see the watermark’s silhouette image within the rest of the note surface that is otherwise clear.

  • Look out for threads

The Mexican bank notes have special threads well molded into them and they are well secured since they are fixed during production. Peso notes of the $100, $200, $500 and also the $1000 denominations contain two threads each – one solid, the other translucent. Those are particularly the old style denominations. On the translucent thread is the value of the note in words. The $100 note, for example, has the word ‘cien’ reflected on the thread while the $500 note has the word ‘quinientos’.

  • Be familiar with the features of the new-style notes

The $20 and $50 bank notes are almost all in polymer and not in the old paper material. The other denominations, namely the $100, $200, $500 and $1000, are now coming out in a new style whose completion leg was done in 2008. These notes possess high-tech security features that are difficult to counterfeit. You will be able to see the holographic optical thread that is very distinct when viewed from the front side of the banknote. It is a wide thread that is clearly visible as you tilt the note. You will also notice the image embedded on it change as you do the tilting.

  • Note the special printing

Just like many banknotes in Europe, US, Canada and many other parts of the world, the printing feels ‘raised’. If you hold a banknote whose printing does not have the ‘raised’ feel, you will definitely sense something odd. And even when the note gets old, the feel survives, all crisp and clear, and you will not miss it when you hold the note.

With all these security features clearly explained, you need not worry about any crooks catching you off guard with counterfeit notes. For more information on Mexican banknotes, including how they look like, see the informative guide on Money in Mexico.