Argentina’s B!*$# of the Blue Dollar
We probably brought the war against us and the Argentinean peso on ourselves, as we lacked the knowledge which we should have researched prior to crossing the border. With this in mind this will be the most important information you will receive if you intend on traveling to Argentina.
Argentina, although seemingly stable and somewhat safe to travel, (as long as you are careful) has an incredibly unhinged economy. The Argentinean pesos is so badly affected by inflation and corruption that menu price fields are often populated with whiteboard markers (as to be updated daily, if required) and flyers for tours and items in shops don’t even display price tags. Our Lonely Planet guide, which was only printed seven months ago is so badly out of date when it comes to prices in Argentina, in one instance a six hour bus trip had tripled in price during this time.
Although everything is still cheaper in comparison to New Zealand and Australian prices in Argentina, the country is in no means cheap. What made things even harder is that when we first arrived in Argentina the most that we could withdrawal from an ATM as a foreigner was AR$1000, which is about AU$120, each withdrawal costs an extra AU$7 and then additionally whatever your own bank is charging you. Three weeks later the withdrawal limit went up to AR$1500 which is quite amusing as our original frustration stemmed from the fact that a good proportion of hostels, restaurants, tour operators and supermarkets only accept cash and when a bus trip can cost around AU$100 you basically have to stand at the ATM doing three withdrawals to purchase anything of any expense. When cards are accepted and we attempted to use our Visa credit card we would get error messages and would have to end up forking over the cash anyhow. We feel perhaps Mastercard is more widely accepted in some parts of the country and should we have been carrying one of these with us we wouldn’t have had as many issues when it came to paying for things.
Which brings us to the Blue Dollar. This is the rate that the US dollar can be illegally exchanged for on the streets of Argentina. However this practice is so widely accepted policemen and woman don’t seem to blink an eye when it comes to the sellers on the streets yelling “cambio, cambio, cambio” within their ear shot. The Argentinean people are so nervous about their economy that they will buy your US dollars in exchange for an extremely inflated exchange rate meaning should you get your hands on the dollar your stay in Argentina can be a very cost effective trip.
We arrived in Argentina with US$300 with us, purely by chance and our Air BnB host advised us of his personal cambio which could be found off the main walking street in Buenos Aires at the back of a shopping arcade. The XE rate on the day we exchanged our dollars meant our US$300 was worth AR$2,100 should we have used the usual means of exchange, but after visiting the illegal cambio we walked away with AR$3,240. This type of practice is widely accepted and is the result of the local people buying the US dollar basically to squirrel it away under their bed or something to ensure that should Argentina’s economy eventually implode on it’s self all would not be lost for the prepared individuals.
Here is our advice on how to manage your money during your time in Argentina:
- Carry multiple credit cards, both Mastercard and Visa. We found that frequently when our card did not work after numerous attempts we were asked if we had an additional card to use.
- Should none of your cards work ask the operator of the machine if it is possible to manually enter the credit card number instead of swiping or inserting the card. This option worked 90% of the time when a swipe wouldn’t work and the person actually agreed to do so.
- Take American dollars with you, with the intention of exchanging it for the blue dollar, preferably in BA. Of course BA being much larger than most cities you will find the best rate here and you will be flooded with requests as you move around the city, Florida St being the most prolific for cambios. However we heard of tourists exchanging for the blue dollar in towns of less than 10 000 people, try casinos, supermarkets and hotels. Or simply ask at your hostel as to where you can exchange your dollars.
- Follow @DolarBlue on twitter to keep track of how the rate is doing daily with a tweet every morning.
- When your US and Blue dollars do finally run out, hop, skip and jump over to one of the neighboring countries to withdrawal additional US dollars to bring back in to Argentina. We ourselves withdrew twice whilst in Uruguay for three days and brought our dollars back in to fund the rest of our trip down to Southern Argentina.