What you should know before travelling to Buenos Aires
A couple of minor inconveniences this weekend has reminded me how complicated money can be in Argentina, especially foreign money. So here are a few tips and tricks to avoid frustration.
Before Traveling to Argentina make sure to bring United States Dollars or Euros:
Unlike most countries, where bringing lots of hard cash is not recommended or necessary, if travelling to Argentina I would suggest taking a decent amount of cash with you. Specifically, US dollars and Euros, USD 100 or € 100 bills to be precise. Ensure the notes are in good condition and avoid folding the notes as certain banks and exchanges will not accept notes with marks or significant creases. USD and € currency are easily exchanged throughout the city (never exchange your money at the airport Ministro Pistarini Ezeiza or Aeroparque , they have the worst exchange rates). Avoid bringing other types of currency since they are harder to get exchanged and often at bad rates (perhaps with the exception of the British Pound, but not guarantee).
If you wish to withdraw local currency here, it is possible at most ATMs throughout the city. However, there are current restrictions on the amount you can withdraw per transaction and limiting cards to 3 withdrawals per day. In addition, there are fees for withdrawing from all ATM machines which some banks may reimburse this fee however for most banks, the card holder will pay the fee (check with your bank before travelling). There are two types of banks in Argentina; Banelco, a red B sign, and Link, a green Link sign. All local banks have the Link sign and are cheaper to withdraw cash than the Banelco banks.
During the Cristina’s second precidency (2011 till January 2015) Argentina had a severe foreign currency restriction, forcing people to buy their currency using the ” Dollar Blue or Mercado Paralelo “. From 2016 until the end of 2019 these restricions were lifted by the ex President Mauricio Macri. Unfortunately, now in 2020 the dollar blue has returned once again. During the before mentioned period, exchanging money on the black market was actually a great deal, with gaps over 40% compared with the official governmental rate. If you would like to know more about Dolar Blue, check this Wikipedia article https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/dolar_blue
With Argentina’s new president Alberto Fernandez, the currency restrictions have returned and are even more severe. There are several cuevas or casas de cambio (currency exchange places) in the city centre, along Florida and Lavalle, with criers call out “cambio cambio”. These criers represent what is referred to locally as “los Arbolitos” meaning little trees because they stand on the roadside with pockets of ‘green’. Choosing the illegal route over the normal banks entails dealing with rigged calculators, fake money and you generally run the risk of being robbed. There is a lot of counterfeit bills, so it is necessary to be aware especially when handling larger notes, or receiving large amounts of change.
Counterfeiters are quite talented, but the residents are very good at spotting them, a reason why tourists can be targeted, and taxi drivers are notorious for having counterfeits. It’s rare to be given a fake bill of lower denominations like ARS50 or ARS100 these days, though it’s not unheard of (a great alternative to regular taxis in Argentina is Uber). All banknotes have several security measures like watermark and a metallic thread incorporated into the paper in $1000, $500, $200, $100 and $50 banknotes.
You should have enough to go by with just the watermark and the metallic thread. In any case below we attached more about how to spot fake notes:
Cards can be used here however not everywhere will accept them. Overall, Visa is the most widely accepted. Personally I have had problems using MasterCard and American Express so would advise ensuring you have a Visa card when traveling. All cards are accepted when visiting high end restaurants or stores. In addition, if you are staying in Argentina for a while and think you may need to withdraw a significant amount of money which would be expensive from an ATM (to pay rent, for a trip or other things), you may choose to use a money collection service such as Xoom and Transferwise. With these services, your money is normally available to collect within 30 minutes from locations around the city and should offer 0% commission with the fee built in to exchange rate. A good way to check what the current market rate is compared to these services is through XE.com. Here you can see the difference between the market rates and what the company is offering.
I didn’t have too much trouble using the larger Argentine notes, but if you are only buying a small amount and hand over an ARS500 note smaller stores or kioscos will ask if you have anything smaller and possibly won’t accept it because they don’t carry that much change. However, one of the benefits of having a lot of cash is not having to worry about getting more.
If you don’t want to use your Debit or Credit Card, Azimo can be a good alternative. You won’t pay any ATM fees and they will provide you with cash at one of their offices.
Going to a Bank to Exchange Money
Before going to the bank make sure you search for the best exchange rate. A great site that displays the official rate but also the blue rate is called Ámbito Dolar http://www.ambito.com/economia/mercados/monedas/dolar/
After choosing where to exchange, if you decided to use a Bank remember that you will be asked for your passport. In this case, they need your original passport and no other document will work (that is the law). At most of the banks in Argentina, in order to see the teller you will first need to get a number from a special terminal machine. Unfortunately they are in Spanish but basically, you need to select the Caja (teller) and then No Cliente (not a client). After that, the machine will give you a receipt with a number in order to be called.
How to Detect Fake Argentine Pesos
Surprisingly Argentina has 3 different types of $100 notes in circulation. Sometimes scammers will try to give you fake $100 older notes, commonly called “general roca billete”.
Using the ATM’s in Buenos Aires Argentina
Though there are a lot of ATM’s around the city, at times they can run out of money especially around long weekends and holidays. It is standard to be charged a transaction fee of an average of 5 USD (amount in ARS will change depends on exchange rate) each time you withdraw money. ATM’s also have a limit as to how much you can withdraw, that will depend on your debit/credit card, your bank and the country you are from. It can go from as low as ARS1000 to as much as AR4000. Definitely talk to your bank and make sure your withdraw limit in Argentina is according to your needs.
Using Credit Cards in Argentina
Photo ID is often required with a credit card. The official valid ID for foreigners is the passport. Personally, I don’t like to go out with my most important document, so I normally take my Drivers license and also a copy of my passport. This has worked perfectly for me and I managed to use my credit card everywhere without issues. Have under consideration that most of Argentina’s gateways or credit card machines are still using magnetic swipes and wireless card machines are still not very common. Don’t be alarmed if you use your visa, master card, Amex or whatever credit or debit card you have to be taken to the restaurant office or counter. They do this because they normally have that machine next to the cashier. They will swipe your card and return to your table for you to sign the bill.
Keep in mind that during public holidays in Argentina ATM’s might run out of money
Buying Airline Tickets from Argentina
The final money inconvenience for me this week came when attempting to purchase return flights to Puerto Iguazú, on the internet, while in Argentina. I used a flight compare site I have used before and found a great deal, ARS9000, I was so happy! It was a way better price than anything my father could find from New Zealand (cue the alarm bells). Then when trying to pay the transaction just would not go through. After emailing the support office I was told my transaction failed because the price for foreigners flying is different to locals and really my flight would be ARS3500. This really wasn’t the fault of my foreign credit card but my foreign passport number, not really something that can be avoided, unfortunately. But it’s great to know, if you are checking flights in Argentina don’t get too excited if a deal is too good to be true the website is probably assuming you are Argentine, an easy way to avoid this is to set your web browser to incognito when shopping around for flights as you will then see the actual flight prices.
There is certainly more I could write about dealing with money in Argentina, and perhaps specific issues depending on your country of origin. I recommend doing further research before you arrive, as some countries have banks that offer an international account or credit card. These magically transform into the currency of wherever you happen to be and would be incredibly useful if you can get your hands on one. When dealing with money inside the country always stay aware of current exchange rates and fake notes and of cause take extra care carrying large amounts of cash on as pickpockets are fairly talented in this part of the world.