What you should know before travelling to Buenos Aires
A couple of minor inconveniences this weekend have 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. 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). Don’t even bother to bring other types of currency since they are harder to get exchanged and often at terrible rates (perhaps with the exception of the British Pound, but not guarantee).
From 2011 till January 2016 Argentina had severe Currency Exchange Restrictions also know as ” Dollar Blue or Mercado Paralelo “. During that time, 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 Mauricio Macri the restrictions have been lifted and official markets opened once more. Because of this, the Blue Dollar no longer offers the benefits that once did. There are still some people 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 ARS50 or ARS20 these days though it’s not unheard of (A great alternative to regular taxis in Argentina is Uber). All banknotes have a watermark in Argentina and $1000, $500, $200, $100 and S50 banknotes have a metallic thread incorporated into the paper. You should have enough to go by with just the watermark and the metallic thread.
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.
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). 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
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 ARS180 ( about 10 USD ) 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 Argentinas gateways or credit card machines are still using magnetic swipes and they don’t have wireless cars machines. 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, ARS2000, 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.