When I first arrived in Argentina in 2010, one peso could get you a medialuna (my personal measure of inflation). Today you need at least 90 for a buttery treat.
To say that money is complicated in Argentina would be putting it mildly.
Inflation is not a joke here and the volatility of the economy is not something most North Americans or Europeans are used to.
There are times when traveling to Argentina is very expensive and others, like now (written in 2022) when it is VERY affordable for those coming from the northern hemisphere.
Read on to find out.
This article contains everything you need to know about travel and money in Argentina.
You will find this article useful whether you are here on vacation or planning to visitLive in Buenos Aires.
What is the blue dollar? Where to change money in Buenos Aires and get the best rate?
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Currency in Argentina: Peso vs. Dollar
The official currency in Argentina is the Argentine Peso.
It is also usually denoted with the same sign as the dollar, $, which is distinguished as U$100 versus $100 [pesos].
And although the peso is the official currency here, Argentines have always had an ongoing love affair with the US dollar.
A volatile economy forces many to "invest" in US dollars to keep their savings stable and protected from inflation.
This creates an unhealthy and unnatural demand for foreign currency and devalues the peso.
The current president has enacted strict currency restrictions that limit the amount of dollars Argentine citizens can [legally] buy per month.
That limit is as low as $200 per month.
What can a dollar-hungry Argentinian do to fill his mattress with good stuff?
I present to you the blue dollar and the black market.
the blue dollar
If you've done any research on your trip to Argentina, you've probably heard of the blue dollar.
This is the exchange rate parallel to the official exchange rate and if you can access it you will stretch your money MUCH further here.
At the time of writing this report (updated December 2022), the differential is 100% at about 170 pesos per dollar at the official exchange rate versus about 350 pesos per blue dollar.
Surely that got your attention, right?
Who doesn't want to double their money in one quick transaction?
And accessing this type of exchange is not even difficult or dangerous.
How to get cash and change money in Argentina
It's time to get down to business, how to get cash in Argentina and get the cheapest exchange rate?
I'll start with the most recommended methods and work my way down to the less desirable options.
western union and argentina
Western Union is currently the best way to access blue dollar exchange rates in Buenos Aires and other major cities in Argentina.
This is ideal because not only do they offer the best price, but it's a service you're probably already familiar with and can trust.
WU offers a price equal to or slightly higher than the blue price, and usually the right promo code eliminates expensive fees.
It's been hard to get a promo code since the December 2022 update, but usually your first transfer is free, so take advantage and start big.
Plan ahead to see which cities are in yoursArgentina ItineraryHave Western Union locations to plan where to exchange money.
Larger cities like Buenos Aires are the best options with many, many places to choose from.
Smaller cities like El Calafate have WU locations but are capped at 60,000 to 80,000 pesos.
If you have never used Western Union,Click here to create an accountand you will receive an Amazon gift card.
Please note that this is not a personal exchange office. Transfer money by credit card, debit card or bank transfer. Each method has different fees associated with it.
Go into the app or website and play with it. Enter different amounts to show the rate and arrival time.
Credit and debit card transfers are usually instant (but be careful, as your credit card may incur a cash advance fee). Bank transfers can take 4-5 business days, but have lower fees.
TIP: Get a money belt
Since the largest bill (1,000 pesos) is worth around three dollars, it is inevitable that you will almost always have a lot of cash with you.
It's a good idea to carry a money belt to keep your stack of cash safe.
- classic money belt| This money belt is the most common way to keep your money safe when you are out and about in the city. They can also keep your passport safe if you need to take it to Western Union (except for that purpose, I recommend never taking your passport out of the hotel!).
- TSA approved lock| It is always a good idea to have a lock on your suitcase. If you have a lot of cash in your suitcase when you leave your belongings at the hotel and hostel, lock it. Most hotels have a safe, use it. If not, put your valuables/cash in your suitcase and close it.
- money/passport scarf| This infinity scarf is a great alternative and it's much easier to access your cash than with the belt tucked under your shirt. The downside is that you probably won't be wearing a scarf in the summer, but hey, if you're here in the winter, it's an ideal choice.
- Dinero-BH-Clip| This one is for ladies and it doesn't look very comfortable, but it can be useful when the classic money belt doesn't work. It will also not be easily accessible, for obvious reasons, so you would have to go to the bathroom to get the money from your bra to your wallet.
Cuevas (or caves) are the name of unofficial exchange offices. You can find them all over Argentina.
To discover a reputable cave, I recommend asking your hotel, Airbnb host, or tour guide.
Anything hyperlocal to your location is ideal.
And you never know, they might even trade money with you, eliminating the need for a cave entirely.
I recommend always keeping fresh, green USD on hand, just in case.
Even if you primarily rely on Western Union, you'll appreciate having physical cash to change if you find yourself in a pinch in a small town just a few miles from a WU office.
Where to change money at Ezeiza International Airport?
If you need cash after landing, you have several options at Buenos Aires Airport.
There is an office of Banco La Nación at the airport. Use them in a limited way because you get the official rate.
Better yet, there's one too.Western UnionInside the airport at the post office (post office) on the second level above the ticketing area. Hours of operation are limited to business hours and they reportedly have a low threshold for what you can pick up here ($100).
But if you're getting cash for a taxi, avoid the hassle andJust book a transferin advance or take one ofthese routes to Buenos Aires from Ezeiza.
As of December 2022 you will receive an exchange rate close to the blue dollar with your credit and debit cards (Mastercard and Visa). (More on that below.)
Just use your card and skip the hassle of exchanging money at the airport. Save that for the city.
Arbolitos & Calle Florida: Geldwechsel in Buenos Aires
Florida street is located in the center of Buenos Aires. This pedestrian street is always full of shops and cafes.
It is also full of unofficial exchange houses to callsmall trees, or small trees. The name comes from the green bucks, also known as leaves, which they specialize in.
Changing money in Buenos Aires using these little trees is very common and many readers comment that it can be done without any problem. However, it is not my preferred method.
You follow your little tree to its cave, trusting that you won't get counterfeit bills or alert a friend outside to rob you while you leave with pockets full of pesos.
When walking the Arbolito route, start with a small amount and go from there. If they prove to be trustworthy, you can always come back for more.
However, the benefit of Calle Florida is that you can negotiate your rate. If you don't like what a little tree has to offer, you can walk over to the next guy and beg for more.
Tourist Dollar: use of debit and credit cards in Argentina
Updated February 3, 2023
Until the end of 2022 it was not recommended to use your foreign credit card in Argentina since they would charge you the official rate.
That is still SEMI true.
The government recently launched a new initiative with Visa and Mastercard where you will be charged the MEP fee if you use a foreign Visa or MC.
This has successfully come into effect in December 2022.
The MEP rate is very close to the blue dollar rate (for example, I was charged 300 pesos per dollar on my visa when the blue dollar cost 320 pesos per dollar).
This is a great relief for those who don't want to carry thousands of dollars in their hand luggage.
I still recommend using cash for small operations as Argentina's economy is very cash driven. You can often get discounts if you pay cash, or small businesses may not be able to load a card.
FEBRUARY 2023 UPDATE: All January this tourist dollar credit card worked great. At the end of January, concern grew as pending Visa fees fluctuated between official and tourist dollar rates, but eventually (to our relief) they were confirmed at the favorable MEP/Tourist Dollar rate. As of yesterday (Feb 2), transactions are inexplicably being declined. When my card was declined, I called Chase and it's being declined here.
Moral of the story? This course is awesome while it lasts, but as always, cash is king. He always carries cash to change, just in case.
- Mastercard charges the official rate but returns the difference in the MEP rate within a few days
- Visa collects the MEP fee up front which makes it much easier
- This applies to all foreign cards worldwide, as long as they are Visa and Mastercard.
- This will work when you are in Argentina. I have seen reports of people buying flights online from abroad on an Argentinian website and it is working. Do not use Travelocity (as an example) and convert to pesos, you will still be charged in dollars. Please note that this is anecdotal advice.
There's alaw in the booksThis forces businesses to accept debit cards for purchases that exceed 100 pesos.
However, if they accept QR code payments, they are exempt from the requirement.
By QR code in Argentina generally means through the MercadoPago app (similar to PayPal). Unfortunately for tourists, you need a local ID to create a MercadoPago account.
So, as I said above, always have cash on hand just in case.
ATMs in Argentina
If you withdraw money from an ATM in Argentina (Visa or MC), you must get the MEP fee, just like with credit cards.
But the limit on the amount of cash you can withdraw per day is also extremely low, with very high bank fees ($10 per transaction on average).
I recommend using a bank like Charles Schwab that refunds all foreign ATM fees, otherwise they add up very quickly.
Tips for exchanging money in Argentina
So now you know what you need (cash) and how to get it.
Here are some local tips to get even more for your money.
- Carry only neat, unmarked $100 bills.I always go to my bank in the US and pick up cash with a teller, then go through each individual bill and ask for any damaged or written bills to be exchanged. Yes, that makes me suspicious.
- Because?You'll either get a lower rate or be turned down completely if you try to trade 10, 20, or 50.Many also refuse or offer less for damaged or written invoices.
- If you use an ATM, LINK ATMs tend to have lower feesthan other chains like Banelco. Look for the LINK label in the bank windows.
- Bring a credit card that reimburses ATM fees, as the fees here are as high as Charles Schwab.
- Try not to exchange too much excess cash, as you'll likely get a low official rate at the end of your trip if you get dollars back for those pesos. Instead, if you have extra money, spend those pesos!
- Keep loose change on hand and tear up large bills whenever possible. Many smaller merchants lack loose change or are unduly afraid to break large bills for a small purchase.
Duty-free shopping in Argentina
Foreign tourists are eligible for a refund of VAT spent on purchases of locally manufactured products worth more than ARS $70 when made at participating stores owned by Global Blue Argentina.
when buyingauthentic argentinian souvenirs, look for the Global Blue Argentina sign at checkout, or simply ask if the purchase is valid at checkout.
Be sure to save your receipts and tax-free forms that you received at the time of purchase, otherwise you will not be able to claim the refund.
information on where and how to get your refund,Click here.
Argentina travel resources
- TRAVEL INSURANCE| As of August 26, 2022, travel insurance that includes COVID coverage will no longer be required to enter the country. BUT it is and always has been a good idea to travel with insurance. It protects you in many cases such as lost luggage and trip cancellations, medical emergencies and evacuations. It is very affordable and has the potential to save you thousands of dollars in an emergency. I recommendsecurity wing.
- TELEPHONE PLAN| Today, traveling with data is essential. Especially in Argentina, where everything is managed through Instagram and WhatsApp. Buying a local SIM card can be difficult without a local ID, I recommendthis E-SIM card, which has unlimited data. It's hassle-free and affordable. If you have an old phone that doesn't support E-SIM, try itDrim Simfor a physical SIM card alternative.
- ACCOMMODATION IN ARGENTINA|reserva.comIt is the most used hotel site in Argentina and here you will find the largest number of options.
- RENTAL CAR| I love road tripping in Argentina, check it outMietwagen.comHere you will find the best prices for rental cars.
- vpn| If you are using a public WiFi connection and want to protect your data, I recommend using a VPN, which I personally use and have had good experiences with.ExpressVPN. I also use it to access Hulu and American Netflix from Argentina.
- FLIGHTS| always checkgoogle flightsYHimmels scannerfor flights to and within Argentina. Aerolíneas Argentina is the local airline with the most routes.Flying BondiYJet-intelligentThey are two budget airlines with very cheap prices (but expect to pay for each add-on as baggage), e.g.
- NEED HELP WITH PLANNING?| I offer personalized travel advice to help you plan your trip to Argentina. Pick my brain to get the insight of a local.Click here for more information.