Updated November 8, 2017
In the last four years, I’ve spent about 18 months total in Argentina, so I wanted to give a quick update on the money situation down there.
From 2010 until December 2015, Argentina had an official exchange rate that was a complete fiction. You could not buy dollars at the official rate.
The market exchange rate often offered 50-100% more pesos per dollar than the official rate, leading to a black market for dollars called the “dólar blue.” During the height of the dólar blue years, savvy travelers eschewed changing money in banks or using ATM cards or credit cards while in Argentina because those transactions were at the official rate. Instead, the play was to bring crisp $100 bills and change them in cuevas, illegal exchange houses.
In December 2015, Argentina’s new president got rid of the official exchange rate, meaning that the Argentine peso now floats freely in the market like pretty much every other currency on Earth. That means that dealing with money down here is almost completely normal, though not quite.
Despite the floating rate, for reasons I don’t completely understand, there is still a black market for dollars that generally offers about 3% more pesos per dollar than the official rate. (I assume it’s because many people in Argentina perform many transactions outside the legal banking system, and that there is a surplus of pesos in this parallel system, so it drives up the value of the dollar on the black market.)
You can use your ATM card at Argentine ATMs, and you will get the fair interbank exchange rate based on the official rate. (If your ATM card has a Visa logo, you can find the rate you will get here; MasterCard here.)
Today the MasterCard rate is 17.67 pesos to the dollar. For comparison, at a bank today, I would have been given 17.53 pesos per dollar (0.8% less) and at a cueva 17.6-17.8 pesos per dollar (up to 0.7% more).
My Charles Schwab Visa card only seems to work in some ATMs, and I can’t figure out the pattern for which ones it works in and which ones it doesn’t work in. Dave and Daniel suggested that it works at ATMs in the Banelco network, and it is true that my go-to ATM is in that network. Here is where you can find the location of Banelco ATMs.
There is a 2,400 peso limit to ATM transactions ($154). You can pull out 2,400 pesos twice in a row without even removing your card, though you will have to pay the ATM fee twice.
There is a 90 peso ($5) fee at the ATM I use. Make sure to get this ATM card, which has no fees worldwide and even refunds the fees that other ATMs charge.
Last year (when the ATM situation was basically identical), each of my ATM withdrawals was for 2,090 or 2,490 pesos after the fee. The 2,490 peso withdrawals worked out to $170.84 according to the Visa exchange rate site above. At the end of the month, I was refunded the 270 pesos worth of ATM fees or about $18 at the time because I have the Charles Schwab card.
You can freely change dollars to pesos at banks, just bring your passport with you. You should get the rate listed on this site under “dólar oficial” and “compra.” I find the approximately 3% spread between the buy and sell prices to be annoyingly high, but not nearly as bad as at those money exchange places at most airports.
You need crisp $100 bills with no defects to get the best rates.
As mentioned above, I don’t understand why, but the illegal exchange places–cuevas–that existed during the blue dollar years are still operating.
They even offer a slightly different price than banks–sometimes better, sometimes worse, fluctuating between 0.5% and 4% difference recently–which you can check on this site under “dólar informal” and “compra.”
Where are these cuevas? They are throughout the city often “hiding” as gold buying places (“compro oro“). Logically these fixed-location places are safe because they don’t want to ruin their reputations by scamming you with a few fake bills.
There are also touts along Florida Street in the center offering to exchange money. I’d be a lot more hesitant about working with these guys. If they cruise along the streets, they have no reputation to protect.
There are also services that deliver pesos to your door, and in my experience offer the best rates, usually around the mid-point of the buy/sell of the informal dollar rate listed on this site.
I will not give out locations or contact information for any illegal change houses for obvious reasons. Not here, not by email. Don’t ask.
You need crisp $100 bills with no defects to get the best rates.
In Argentina, cash is definitely king for every day transactions. Many shops and restaurants–including pretty much all the ones I patronize–don’t accept credit cards though major places like chain supermarkets and hotels do. Taxis are also cash only.
However, credit cards are now useful to rent cars or book domestic flights within Argentina at a fair exchange rate. During the blue dollar days, making plans of this nature was a huge hassle.
Uber started operating in Buenos Aires in April 2016, provoking many taxi protests. The app undercuts the flag drop of taxis by 25% and the per mile rate by 50%.
Because of the per-minute charge though I only find it to be about 20% cheaper than a taxi during the day time and 40% cheaper than a taxi from 10 PM to 6 AM when taxi fares are 20% higher, so I only use Uber with zero or low surge.
Ubers and taxis are both very plentiful in all areas of the city where you’re likely to be as a tourist.
Recently there weren’t any money-related scams that I was aware of, probably because the 100 peso note was the largest, and it is worth about $6, hardly worth bothering to counterfeit.
Now there are 200 ($11) and 500 ($28) peso notes. Soon there will be a 1,000 peso note. My friend who owns a restaurant here is using a pen to test 500 peso bills because he says people have tried to spend a few fakes at his restaurant. I imagine that means that this dormant taxi scam has also returned.
I am, overall, pleased that higher denomination notes are circulating. The good:
- It is ridiculous for the largest bill to be worth $6 if you want to carry hundreds or thousands of dollars-worth of pesos.
- It saves time counting out your ATM withdrawal, your rent payment, your personal trainer’s monthly fee, etc.
- ATM withdrawal limits should rise. They were so low because ATMs constantly ran out of money when they could only be filled with $6 bills.
- It can be hard to get change for a 500 peso note in a taxi or businesses with small turnover.