It might seem like a traveller’s dream hearing that you can almost double your money when travelling in Argentina, but we now know it can be quite the opposite…
Basically Argentina has a huge inflation problem – it officially runs at 20%, however in reality it’s somewhere around the 40% range. (i.e. you can’t trust an out of date Lonely Planet for ideas on what hostels might cost you at the moment). What this means for you is when you withdraw money from an ATM you’ll be getting the ‘official’ exchange rate, which is approximately 7 Argentinian Pesos for each Australian Dollar. That might sound great, but realistically your dollar is worth something like 13 or 14 pesos and believe me Argentina becomes VERY expensive if you’re travelling on the official rate.
Now for the good news, Argentinians realise their hard earned pesos will be deteriorating to nothing in a few years, so almost everyone wants to get their hands on foreign currency, usually USD. They are allowed to receive a small amount of their wage in USD, but it’s nothing substantial. Because of these factors the ‘blue rate’ or ‘blue dollar’ exchange began and it’s basically an unofficial rate that factors in a more realistic inflation. All you have to do is find someone that’s after foreign currency. Like I said before, this part is pretty easy especially if you’re in Buenos Aires. Ask at your Hostel or Hotel and if you know someone living there, even better.
The other option is hitting the streets where you’ll hear people saying ‘cambio’ on the street which means change and they’re basically after your money. Apparently you can be issued counterfeit pesos if you end up at the wrong place, so keep a keen eye and if it seems too good to be true, it quite often is. We usually asked at mini markets, restaurants, and any small shops really. If they don’t want your money they can always point you in the right direction. The last thing you want to do is end up at an official ‘casa de cambio’ (money exchanger), because they will use the official rate.
It all sounds pretty reasonable so far, but the biggest annoyance is the fact that in order for you to really take advantage of the blue rate you’re going to have to bring a lot of cash over to Argentina (a dicey situation in itself – it’s not ideal to be carrying around wads of cash in any country). This is easier if you’re coming from the US or Europe (Euros are exchanged at a very good unofficial rate also), but unfortunately no one in Argentina is really interested in Australian Dollars. If you fall under that category you need to go to the further trouble of acquiring USD at an average rate, and it all starts to sound a little worse now (but definitely still worth it).
So you’re all set, you think you have enough foreign currency for your holiday in Argentina, but then you run out… It’s back to withdrawing from ATMs at the shitty official rate… This happened to us and it basically changed our entire travel plans – pretty annoying how money does that… Argentina is extremely expensive for the budget traveller if you run out of blue rate dollars. Depending on where you are, there are a couple of options:
1. Take a ferry to Uruguay where you’ll be able to withdraw USD from ATM’s. You’ll most likely have to spend a few days in Uruguay for this to work, as there’s a maximum daily amount you’ll be allowed to withdraw (300 USD). We planned on making the journey over to Uruguay for holiday reasons, as well as to obtain huge amounts of USD for out trip to Ushuaia. This plan fell through, because the ferry prices to Uruguay rose dramatically within a week of departure. The main reason is because Argentinians are going across for a similar reason, and that is to withdraw USD.
2. Because option 1 failed, we made a beeline to Bolivia – the backpackers dream. We had friends arriving to Bolivia around the same time so it seemed like a good plan, and it was! We didn’t end up going to Bolivia for monetary reasons, however some ATM’s in Bolivia allow you to withdraw USD, which is exactly what you need if you’re planning on returning to Argentina. We went to Chile before returning to Argentina, assuming that we could withdraw USD from ATM’s there as well. Unfortunately we were wrong and had to convert Chilean Pesos into USD before returning to Argentina.
Basically what I’m trying to get at here is you need LOTS of USD (or Euros/Pounds) if you’re travelling to Argentina. My opinion would be to double what ever you think you need. Sure, it’s not nice travelling around with huge wads of cash, but Argentina is relatively safe in most areas and we never felt vulnerable.
The best place to change money is Buenos Aires. Other big tourist hubs like Bariloche are decent too, however the further south you travel, the worst the rate will be. We made it as far as El Calafate and it dropped by 20-30%. If you find a decent rate just change as much as you can.