How Argentina Ruined My Last Day in Colombia

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TIA: This is Argentina.

It’s an admonition, popular among expats, to lower your expectations when dealing with the government or businesses in Argentina.

I think about it like this: there is an ‘Argentina Tax‘ in money and time when you want to do anything in Argentina, and Monday I paid that tax a few times.

It started the night before in Medellin, Colombia when I realized my trip to Buenos Aires was 24 hours away, and I had to do two things before I flew that I never have to do before heading to other countries.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 12.03.58 PM
Not Before I Complete Two Errands
  • Why did I have the most stressful 24 hours before my flights to Argentina?
  • What two things do you have to do before your trip to Argentina?

Before going to Argentina, every American should:

  1. Pay the Tasa de Reciprocidad, the $160 fee Argentina imposes on Americans (and $100 for Canadians and Aussies) for entering. And print proof of payment.
  2. Take out all the money you plan to spend in Argentina, including money for domestic flights, in crisp $100 bills without defects.

The first is a legal requirement for entering the country. The second is a way to slash prices by about 1/3 by changing money on the blue dollar market instead of taking money out of an ATM.

Tasa Troubles

I paid my $160 last February, and it should be good for 10 years even if you change passports, but you need to have proof physically in hand when you enter Argentina, and usually need to show it to the airline with whom you’re flying just to be able to check in.

I should have brought my last copy of it or re-printed it weeks ago, but I had put it off, and now I needed to print it in Medellin on the day of my flight. The only problem is that even after I figured out how to sign into my online account where I had paid the tax, I couldn’t find the promised “My Forms” button to re-print it.

This is Argentina.

I asked my brother to find my old one in boxes I had stored with him during this trip, so he could scan it and send it to me.

I felt terrible wasting an hour of his time, and he didn’t find it.

The next morning I called the Provincia Pagos call center (Spanish only) to ask the company that collects the fee to send me proof of my previous payment.

Insanely I had to give the credit card number I used to pay the fee. Don’t they know that my passport number is unique? Why do I need to give more information? This is Argentina.

After finding the credit card used to pay, an especially tough task for a miles collector like me who might have 20 cards at any given time, I called back and started the process.

She found my payment, and told me I would be emailed proof of payment in the next few days. Shouldn’t this just be a few clicks for someone? A few days? This is Argentina.

I explained that I was flying in 10 hours, and she said that she would mark the request urgent. Four hours passed, and now my flight was only six hours away. I was stressed. I didn’t want to pay another $160 for a new Tasa de Reciprocidad online, and the online portal showed that my current passport number was already on file, so I actually wasn’t even sure this was an option.

I called back. I explained that I had called earlier, and the agent asked for my ‘numero de reclamo’ (complaint number), which the last agent had given me. I gave it to her, and she said that she saw my request, and that I would get an email by the end of the day. I wasn’t sure whether to believe her–This is Argentina–but I had no choice. Luckily the email arrived within 15 minutes, and I headed down to a shop to print it. When I finally had my proof of payment of the Tasa de Reciprocidad in hand, I relaxed and realized just how stressed I had been that I might not have been able to go to Buenos Aires that night.

Collecting $100 Bills

I hadn’t been thinking too clearly the day I had left the United States, so I only had $1,000 in hand in $100 bills. I now knew I would be in Buenos Aires 19 days before flying to Ushuaia and traveling through Patagonia for a few weeks. Then I might even return to Buenos Aires until March.

$1,000 wouldn’t be close to enough.

The last few days before my trip I started taking out a few hundred dollars per day worth of Colombian pesos from the ATM. On my last day in Colombia, I exchanged them for $500 more in $100 bills at exchange shops.

For many people, this would have been expensive in terms of paying ATM fees and exchange fees. I actually made money on the deal. My 600,000 peso withdrawals cost me $277.20 all in, which means I got 2164 pesos per dollar.

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I explained in How I Pay Zero ATM Fees Worldwide how the Charles Schwab Investor’s Checking Account charges me no ATM fees and even refunds the fees other ATMs charge.

I then exchanged pesos to dollars at a rate of 2130 and 2120 to the $1.

But I still would rather have been enjoying Colombia on my last day instead of running between ATMs and exchange houses.

Conclusion

In the end, everything worked out.

I had my form printed and boarded my flight with $1,500.

The immigration official in Argentina never even checked my form–this is Argentina!–though do not count on that. Have your form printed.

The money should hopefully last six weeks excluding my housing costs, which I covered through Airbnb. At that point, if I want to stay in Argentina, I have some friends coming from the United States, who can hopefully bring me $100 bills.

If I had planned a little better from the United States, I would have already had the cash on hand I needed and my form printed. That’s 100% on me.

But if Argentina didn’t have a STUPID tasa de reciprocidad (even if the USA’s policy is bad, two wrongs don’t make a right), and an even worse exchange rate control system, I would have had a better last day in Colombia.

All of it is behind me now, though. The second I landed in Argentina and sped away from the airport in my taxi, I was so excited. This is one of the most fun country’s in the world, and I can’t wait to get to Patagonia in a few weeks. The hassles are worth going through because this is Argentina.


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44 COMMENTS

  1. Scott
    You didn’t ruin anything you learned some thing at little cost then you TOAD us about it so we don’t do that . I would really like to go down there because my doctor is from there BUT I don’t want a huge hassle to spend my hard earned money and points.
    That’s why I like the EU hassle free and they smile when they TAKE your money .
    Good Post !!

    Cave Dweller

    • If you can get past the hassles, there is a lot to love here. I just played indoor clay court tennis for $15 per court per hour and had an awesome premium burger/fries/beer combo for $7. Both were half the price of the same quality in the US.

    • Not really. It’s quite a bit below the street rate. It’s a good emergency plan, since it is quite a bit above the official rate.

      • Scott – What’s the street rate you’re getting these days in Argentina? We’re traveling there over Christmas and are figuring out our money strategy.

  2. I always print important documents to PDF first using Chrome and then actually print them out physically if needed. My reciprocity fee receipt from last year is safely sitting in Google Drive in case I go back to Argentina in the next 8.5 years.

    As for the blue market, I only had $20 bills on me (not because I did my homework about bringing US dollars to Argentina, but only by stupid luck). The first time I traded them the women agreed to give the me the full rate she’d give for $100 bills (I know because I was with someone trading $100s). The second time I traded them I wasn’t so lucky, though I still got a decent rate. But more importantly got a cool travel story out of the whole (semi-scary, very sketchy) ordeal. Oh Argentina.

    • That’s a good tip about Chrome PDFs. Thank you very much.

      I can’t figure out the $20 vs. $100 thing, but it is very much a thing. Maybe it has to do with transport costs since $20 bills are 5x more difficult to transport than $100 for a given amount of money. On the other hand, the absolute transport costs of bills is so low that this doesn’t make much sense to me.

  3. I am not sure it is reasonable to blame Argentina for a reciprocity fee that is the result of US policy and because you want to be able to illegally exchange money. Pretty sure neither of these are because “it is Argentina” but because you “are american”.

  4. I don’t know how you can blame Argentina for your procrastination. You normally have great blog articles but I think you’re just acting a bit overprivelaged here. Sorry to sound harsh but I think you need to post some sort of apology. Can’t blame a county for securing their borders.

    • Latimer
      I agree Scott should go in every single bar and say he’s sorry . Then ask what’s the current exchange rate for his Yankee Green Backs which they want and need so badly.
      Cheers

    • This really isn’t about securing borders but specifically about getting revenge for the hassle Argentinians go through to visit the U.S. Quid pro quo, and probably some feeling of national pride. That doesn’t make it smart business strategy of course. Argentina needs U.S. dollars a lot more than the U.S. needs Argentinian pesos, and to the extent people simply decide to skip a visit, it really backfires financially. When it comes to the current government’s management of the economy, finances and international arrangements, the less said the better.

    • See my reply to Pedro. From whom are they securing their borders? This is a fee, not a visa that requires any additional background check.

  5. Nice rant against Argentina when, in fact, your problems were of your own making. How about taking responsibility and not blaming the work habits of another culture.

  6. Love your blog, but as a Mexican citizen (and I assume the same applies for Argentinians) we are asked to provide much worse than what Argentina is asking you to provide to enter the US. I applaud the government of Argentina for their reciprocity policy. Hard to feel any sympathy for this rant.

    • Two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because America has a bad immigration policy excuses no one else from having a bad immigration policy.

      Also, to defend our policy for a moment, America has come up with immigration rules. (I disagree with the rules pretty heavily and favor more immigration, but that’s beside the point.) Millions of people from Latin American countries have violated those immigration rules to live in the United States. (I applaud them, but that’s beside the point.) That’s why the US government makes it hard for Latin Americans to enter the United States.

      Where are millions of Americans trying to illegally immigrate? Putting up roadblocks to American tourism is counter-productive, governments of the world.

      I don’t want sympathy. I want condemnation from all rational people against silly government policies that make free movement for good purposes harder.

      • I think it’s interesting you think America has a bad immigration policy yet you dedicated one paragraph to defend it. How about we stop whining about other countries policies and get back to what this blog is about? 😉

  7. Wasn’t the issue mostly that Scott had already paid but the promised method of proof wasn’t there? That’s frustrating!

    As to the $100 bills…I’m dealing with that right now as my buddy and I prepare for BA and Patagonia later this month. We’re looking forward to visiting Argentina and accept their decision to charge a reciprocal fee for entry. We’re NOT looking forward to arriving in BA at night and leaving the next morning, which makes the dolar blue harder to come by. Any suggestions on that are welcome?! Here’s why we don’t feel bad about utilizing the dolar blue:

    The Argentine government is manipulating its currency, leaving citizens without any confidence in their own money. Trading in US currency is, therefore, not only a good business for some Argentines, but also an important way for hard-working people to save money without having it wiped away every five years by failed fiscal policy. THIS is Argentina!

    More importantly for US travelers, the dolar blue is so prevalent that prices have surely been adjusted at least a bit to reflect its widespread use. Therefore, converting at the dolar blue rate is not just trying to get more for one’s money, but actually a hedge against inflated prices.

    I accept that foreign governments can do as they please (I am not part of the “Captain America: World Police” set), but it seems a real shame for all involved that this parallel currency must exist. Who is the winner in this game and more to the point, why must we play a game? I just want to explore Argentina, a place I know I’m bound to love.

    • The winners are the few people who can get dollars at the official 8.5 pesos to dollar rate. Those people are multi-millionaires. The government plays the game because they make exporters exchange dollars at the official rate, creating a giant windfall for the government and insanely high tax on the few productive sectors of the economy.

  8. Scott, I also have the Charles Schwab bank card. In a few weeks I’m off to Buenos Aires and was going to head down with no american cash and just hit an ATM machine at the airport. Think this will be OK?

    • I think that would be a huge mistake. You’ll pay about 50% more for all your purchases here if you do that compared to bringing down $100 and exchanging on the parallel market. Click the link in this post to go to tons of discoverbuenosaires posts about the Blue Dolar.

  9. Scott:
    I think the only one to blame here is yourself. How about this? Let’s pretend you are an Argentinean trying to enter the US and forgot to carry your passport with a valid tourist visa. Do you think you can make a phone call to the US embassy/consulate and get them to email you proof of your visa within 24hrs? Of course not. I once forgot my old son’s passport which has the reciprocity fee stapled to it and had to pay it again on the spot if I wanted to board the plane. He had his passport replaced (3 yrs. old) and we forgot about bringing the old one with us. We were the only ones to blame and we paid. Please don’t blame others for your mistakes.
    Enjoy Argentina!!

    • I have only myself to blame for some things, and I have Argentina to blame for others. It’s not my fault they’ve chosen a silly currency control scheme that makes it illegal to get the market price on a dollar to peso conversion.

  10. You go on a trip to Relax or See things or Met nice people not to play with play with money because you can do that at home .
    You left-wingers must be turning into Republicans..

    • I’ve got to talk you into coming here, Mr. Dweller. You’d like it overall because I know you like the EU so much.

      • That would be a hard thing to do . I got the AA card you posted on like 2 weeks ago and would like to do a giveawaway on the Admiral passes the second I get them I hope in time for Christmas or some drink coupons from SW if they show up. . I did get Approval for the Chase IHG card which Chase must be insane because I just canceled one.
        Great Blog lets BEee Nice as in France .

        Cave Dweller

  11. I went to BA when they first imposed the $160 fee. I arrived in Argentina not knowing about the fee so I was shuffled to a line where I paid and they placed a visa/paper glued into my passport. Is that all that is still required? Are they doing things differently now?

  12. How prevalent is bitcoin to peso in Argentina? Would seem like some people would be looking to buy, even if BTC is volatile. Thanks also – didn’t know the rate was different for ben franklins. Want to go, but love too many places in S.Am to care to pay the “TIA” $160 reciprocity.

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