Of all the places I have ever travelled, there has never been somewhere as difficult to pay for things as Argentina right at the moment.
Note: This post is based on how things were in February 2023. Things change quickly in Argentina, so use this as a prompt to research the current situation relating to your own trip.
The reasons are difficult to explain without writing a novel, but basically, due to crazy inflation in Argentina right now (more than 10% per month!) there are restrictions for locals on exchanging pesos for dollars (and pounds, Euros etc).
This has brought about around twenty different exchange rates, but there are really only two we are interested in as visitors. The offical rate and the “blue rate”.
The demand for foreign cash has created the “blue market”. Basically it’s a black market for exchanging cash, but it is so prevalent and commonplace it is not just tolerated but quite out in the open.
So out in the open, that as of January, just weeks before our visit, even some credit cards will give you rate just slightly more than the “blue rate” of exchange.
The blue rate is more than double the official rate, so as you can imagine, that makes a huge difference as to the affordability of things. Instead of paying $200/night for accommodation, for example, it is less than $100.
I knew all this before our trip, but while the changes to credit cards had been announced it wasn’t yet in place so I spent a lot of time working out how to access cash here at the blue rate, assuming that the credit card companies would not have it up and running in time.
The one thing absolutely NOT to does take money out of an ATM (my usual way of getting cash) because they all use the official rate. This will give you only half the amount of pesos for every dollar exchanged.
For example, with the official rate I would get around 125 pesos for every (Australian) dollar. Using the blue rate it was more than 250 pesos to the dollar.
Currency rates are changing quickly – just in the last twelve months there has been an increase of almost 70% in the amount of pesos we get for an Australian dollar – and it would be similar for other currencies. So my numbers above are just an example for comparison, not for the rate itself.
The best way for foreigners to get pesos is to use Western Union to send yourself some money to pick up in Argentina, and this will be at the blue rate.
I was a little anxious about the process at first, never needing to use Western Union before, but I was pleasantly surprised. Setting up an account was relatively easy, especially as I had copies of my government ID (passport and drivers licence in my case) readily available to upload.
We had been warned the transfer could take up to five days, but using the app, it was ready for me to pick up pretty much instantaneously.
There are Western Union offices everywhere as exchanging cash this way is very common. We just opened Google Maps, typed in “Western Union” and a dozen locations nearby popped up.
We had been told to go to pick up the cash in the mornings, because it is not uncommon for the offices to run out before the end of the day, but we had no problems, once going only minutes before they closed for the day.
All I needed to pick up the cash was the transaction number given when the transfer is done on the app and my passport.
We did this three times, and it really was so simple, so if you are feeling anxious about the process, don’t worry, you will be fine.
Another thing to know is that the largest bank note in Argentina is 1000 pesos. So that meant for my $100AUD, I was taking away 25 x 1000 peso notes (plus change). This was quite a chunk of cash. Imagine if I had needed to exchange a lot more to cover accommodation costs and all the other things I paid with a credit card.
An alternative way to get pesos is possible to bring USD with you, but for those of us who don’t live in the US, this means double the exchange which is not ideal. I was also not comfortable carrying around a lot of USD in cash either, especially as we would need enough for two months of travel.
Euros are also okay, but the most bang-for-your-buck is with USD, as that is what the locals in Argentina want.
To change cash, you will need to find a Cambio – or exchange. In Buenos Aires, the easiest way for tourists to do this is to head to Florida Street. As you walk along, there will be numerous people calling out “cambio, cambio”. You can choose one and exchange your cash.
I was given a tip by a local for someone to use as I had a little USD, but I ended up using Western Union instead. So take this with the warning than I’ve not done it myself. Go to 860 Florida Street, which is a sort of gallery of shops. Go into shop number 113 and ask to change your money there. Apparently it will be a good rate and you won’t be ripped off.
With the credit card changes though – and it is only Mastercard and Visa who are onboard so far, American Express is “working on it” – dealing with money in Argentina becomes much easier!
We did have a bit of a heart attack the first time we tested out if our credit card did indeed “work”. We checked a few days later and the official rates was showing.
But next time we checked, the difference had been credited – it looks like it is happening about five days after the initial purchase. The rate is not quite as good as exchanging cash on the street, but close enough to not warrant the extra hassle.
With Visa, you will see the transaction listed at the blue rate as expected on the day of the purchase.
We have found credit card accepted in most places in Argentina. Sometimes things cost a little more if using a credit card though – but this happens here in Australia too. Using a credit care certainly made life a lot easier than I was planning for.
The situation here is changing on a daily basis, and I’m sure if you are planning a trip here in the future it will be all different again then, but know that things are quite complicated here in Argentina so make sure you research how to access your money before you come here.
Here are more posts about Argentina to inspire your travels
11 Important Things to Know Before you Go to Argentina
Visiting La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires
TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs
Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.
Hire a rental car – RentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.
Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.
Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.
Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.
Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.
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