Argentina’s economic situation is constantly changing, but one thing has remained the same over the years: Cash is king in Argentina. But where can the savvy traveler get the best exchange rate? How can you avoid bank fees or ensure you have a back up plan when there’s no functioning credit card machine? Follow this thorough guide so that you can maximize your foreign currency value in Argentina.
RULE #1: CASH IS KING
Argentina isn’t just a cash friendly country, sometimes it’s cash demanding where many places will ONLY accept cash as payment. (In Spanish, cash is called efectivo). That’s why it’s important to carry at least a day’s worth of expenses with you as a just in case. For getting local Argentine Pesos cash you have 2 main options: Money exchange and ATM withdrawal.
Official exchange rate: The easiest and most hassle free foreign currency exchange can be done at the international airport at the Banco Nacion branch. Do not bother with the money exchange booths as rates will be worse than what you get from the ATM. Bank policies have varied over the years as to whether a non-account holder can exchange money at a bank branch, so bring your passport or copy of your passport and some patience.
There is a parallel exchange rate for US Dollars and Euros meaning that there are two exchange rates you can get. There is an official exchange rate which you get from the ATMs or exchanging money at banks, and an unofficial exchange rate you get for cash. The parallel rate A.K.A. the “Blue Dollar” rate has been about 5% more in favor of the USD or Euro since 2015 to present. You may have heard about the golden blue dollar era during the Cristina Kirchner presidency (2007-2015). The Blue Dollar rate had wild and often times lucrative swings in favor of USD holders with differences reaching 50%+ more compared to the official. Sadly for the USD holders those days are over.
Blue dollar rate: You can get a bit more bang for your buck if you exchange your Euros or USD at a “cueva” (cave) or an underground exchange house. It may sound sketchy, but it’s totally legit — these cuevas are easily found on Florida pedestrian street in Centro, you’ll hear people yelling out cambio (cam-bee-oh). Most underground exchange houses are located hidden within indoor strip malls or about 1-2 blocks from Florida street. They care very much about their reputation and stand to lose much more if the authorities got involved. Get an idea of how much exchange rates will be checking the blue dollar exchange rate here. It changes daily, sometimes 2-3 times a day and you should get something between the buy and sell rate.
Tip: As in many cases, Argentina has some funky rules and norms. $100 and $50 USD bills are what fetch a full blue dollar exchange rate. Smaller denomination bills ($20’s and below) are given a lower exchange rate…seriously. Also, bills that have marks, rips or worn down are often rejected.
ATM & Cash Withdrawal
There are two banking systems in Argentina; Banelco and Link. Most foreign debit and credit cards work with the Banelco system so try the HSBC, Galicia, Banco Frances and other banks that utilize Banelco.
Max withdrawals are limited to $2,400 pesos (possibly less depending on your bank) per transaction with a maximum of 2 transactions per day. So per day you can withdraw $4,800 pesos maximum. (April 2017)
ATM fees are pricey in Argentina averaging out at approximately $6 USD per transaction. Now you see why many travelers to Argentina bring so much cash USD or Euros!
Tips and word to the wise: Come Sunday many ATMs begin to run out of cash. For holiday/long weekends this will definitely be the case! Plan ahead.
No USD in the ATMs: Despite many ATMs around Buenos Aires giving a US Dollars option they have not spit out the greenbacks in over a decade. US Dollars can only be had at banks if you are exchanging as an account holder and presenting your paycheck or when leaving the country and showing your plane ticket + passport at the Banco Nacion.
Don’t forget your card! The ATMs here spit out cash first and then your card when you decline to do another transaction.
Credit card use in Argentina
We suggest signing up for a card with no foreign transaction fees. All major banks and credit card companies have an option and if you plan on traveling in Argentina for more than a week these fees will add up!
There has been a long saga of credit card companies and their fees in Argentina. To make a long story short a lot of restaurants and shops will simply not offer a credit card payment option or claim that their credit card system is “offline”. A combination of a 3-6% credit card fee to the merchant, a foreign money conversion fee, plus the sale being fully taxed at 21% makes many stores avoid credit cards like the plague. If you are low on cash beware.
Cash is King in Argentina
Taxis, many stores and restaurants do not accept cards so always have some cash on you. Even USD would be better than nothing.
Good back up plans:
-Uber it! Set up Uber in advance. Since UBER is frowned upon by the taxi union, expect to sit up front and play it cool. There is always public transportation which will require a SUBE card.
-Always carry a couple of spare $50 USD bills
-Don’t bother with Travelers’ checks. Argentinians are skeptical of USD with any pen marks or stamps and would balk at some odd form of currency like them.
-And now to top it all off and make you slightly paranoid, beware of Fake bills and counterfeit currency