Driving in Argentina: Everything You Need to Know

Argentina covers a lot of territory.

This isn’t Europe, where you can buzz into a country for a weekend and spent a couple of days in a major city and call it a day.

The beauty here is in the landscapes, the small villages, and in leaving behind the beaten path.

From the 7 Lakes Route in Patagonia to the beautiful scenic drives in Salta, my favorite way to explore this country is on road trips.

But is it safe and easy to drive in Argentina?

This post is a guide to help remove any doubts you may have in driving and renting cars in Argentina, so you can see the hidden corners of this beautiful country.

Renting a car in El Calafate and El Chalten isn’t necessary but it did help us see so much more than we would have with buses and taxis

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Is it safe to drive in Argentina?

Overall, yes. But leave the aggressive driving for the locals, who drive like bats out of hell.

Argentine drivers are very aggressive drivers.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re in the city or in the middle of an isolated jungle, it’s inevitable an impatient sedan will be riding your tail.

On crowded highways and avenues in Buenos Aires motorcycles dart and weave between lanes of traffic as if daring you to run them down (and if I said I wasn’t tempted I’d be lying…).

That said, driving in Argentina is safe. Drive the speed limit and respect the laws and you won’t have any problems.

Driving is most stressful in Buenos Aires city and its surroundings. Once you find yourself in the expansive terrain of Patagonia, for example, things relax.

Don’t let drivers pressure you to speed and drive unsafely just because they’re irrationally and impatiently eating your tailpipe. And always check your blind spots for rogue motos.

Once, in the jungles of Jujuy on a road that was too narrow to fit my compact car completely into one lane and filled with hair pin turns that had loose livestock awaiting around blind corners, car after car after car rode my tail, begging me to speed. Had I given into their pressure I would have had a head on collision with a massive pig (not a metaphor).

These roads in Jujuy were SO narrow, the car didn’t fit into one lane

Do you need an International License to drive in Argentina?

Foreigners can drive in Argentina on their driver’s license from home, considering both the license and their tourist visa are valid.

You do NOT need an international driver’s permit to rent a car in Argentina, if you meet these easy requirements:

  • Holders of a driving license that uses the English alphabet
  • Licenses issued from an EU State, European Economic Area, Australia, England, South Africa, Switzerland, and the United States
  • Countries under the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic

This will cover most tourists reading this article.

If you’re an Expat/Immigrant and a legal resident of Argentina, you will need to apply for a local license after your first year of residency.

It’s fairly painless if you speak the language, here is my guide to getting a driver’s license in Argentina.

The drive from Purmamarca to the Salinas Grandes Salt Flats in Jujuy is a popular one and roads are in good conditions

Argentina Driving Laws: What You Need to Know

Without giving you the complete 6 hour driver’s ed course I had to take here, I’ll include the vital things you need to know about driving in Argentina.

  • In Argentina, drive on the right side of the road.
  • It is required to keep your low lights on at all times on most highways and main roads, when in doubt, just leave them on
  • Seatbelts are required
  • And hey, fellow Americans! Right turns on red lights are NOT allowed.
  • Speaking of turns, on major roads/avenues left turns are not allowed unless a sign specifically states that it is allowed. You may have to turn right/right/right around the block to get where you’re going (hassle, I know).
  • Stop signs are a suggestion and most intersections (even in busy Buenos Aires) don’t even have them. Instead, the driver on the right has the right of way. (Officially, unofficially the most aggressive driver typically takes the right of way).
  • Blood alcohol level is fairly low at 0.05% and police often set up check points on weekend/holiday nights.
Respect the speed limits in Jujuy and Patagonia, where guanacos, llamas, and vicuñas sprint across the road with little to no warning

Speed Limits In Argentina

Argentina speed limits are easy to keep up with because they are generally set to the type of road you’re on.

Here is an overview, taken directly from the Argentine government’s website:

  • Streets/Calles: 40 km/h.
  • Avenues/Avenidas: 60 km/h.
  • School zones & tunnels under train tracks: 20 km/h.
  • Semihighways/Semiautopistas: 120 km/h.
  • Highways/Autopistas: hasta 130 km/h.
  • Rural areas/Zona rural: 110 km/h.

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Driving with Children & Babies

Children under 10 must sit in the backseat and if needed, must use a proper car seat.

Most rental agencies rent very old car seats and they’re only forward facing due to liability laws around infant car seats.

When my baby was under a year, we used the Doona Stroller/Car Seat as our main stroller. It made my life so easy in the city since taxis will never have a car seat (and lugging one around as I’ve seen some foreigners try to do is NOT practical).

If you plan on bringing your baby to Argentina, I highly, highly recommend bringing a Doona. Strollers on buses need to be folded before you board (easy with a Doona, a huge hassle with a larger stroller), taxis will be safer, and you’ll be able to rent a car without any worries.

Now that my toddler is bigger, I just use whatever the rental agency offers.

But, yes, they are always old car seats. In Ushuaia, it was actually the old car seat of the rental company’s owner (used by her two kids before being handed down to the rentals).

If you feel unsure about the safety of a rental agency’s options, you can always invest in a compact travel car seat like this to bring your own.

We had our Doona stroller/car seat with us on this trip to El Chalten, allowing us to rent a car with our infant

Police, Traffic Cameras & Fines

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be pulled over in Argentina.

Most fines (and I’ve accumulated my fair share) come via traffic cameras. When you’re using Google Maps, select the option to show all upcoming cameras.

The province of Buenos Aires is notorious for this. Cameras are often placed right after a decrease in the speed limit (this is how they got me, every single time). The drive to Mar del Plata and the best beaches in Buenos Aires are littered with cameras, for example.

In other regions of the country, traffic stops are more common. You’ll see police set up on the side of the highway, often at the entrance of town. They’ll either wave you on or ask you to stop to review your documents.

Always have all of your documentation in the vehicle: your license, insurance, and everything from the rental car agency.

I’ve been in many of these stops from Ushuaia to Jujuy and it’s never a problem, just a short delay.

Can you bribe a police officer in Argentina? I’ve read some articles saying yes, you can. But after 12 years in Argentina, I’ve still never had the need arise and personally, I’d feel very uncomfortable slipping pesos into my cars’ documents as I hand them over. It feels like a risk I wouldn’t want to take.

Main highways in Argentina are mostly paved and in good condition

Renting a Car in Argentina: What You Need to Know

I love road trips in Argentina and whenever possible I always rent a car.

It’s usually the biggest part of my budget because sadly, renting a car in Argentina is not cheap.

Strong protectionist policies and laws make buying cars here pricey.

But at least if you’re spending all the cash you’re getting a brand new, top notch car? Right? Well, unfortunately rental cars in Argentina tend to be compact tin cans with only the most basic of features.

They’re no car I’d ever invest actual money in but they do the job.

Money saving tips for renting a car in Argentina:

Renting a car in Argentina typically costs around $550 US a week.

Here are some tips to save money and get around without trouble. Don’t forget to read the laws mentioned earlier in this article.

  • Reserve as far in advance as you can, especially if traveling in the summer months from mid-December to early March. Agencies can (and in summer, WILL) run out of cars and even waiting two weeks to book (in low season for my Salta road trip) made me miss a cheaper deal and I had to spend an extra $150.
  • Know how to drive a stick shift. Most rental cars in Argentina are manual transmission, learning to drive a stick if you don’t already know how is a good way to save money on car rentals anywhere in the world that is not the United States. If you need automatic, check with the agency that they have it and be prepared to spend up to twice as much as a manual.
  • If you want to cross the border in your rental car, check what’s allowed beforehand. Usually it’s allowed as long as you return it in Argentina, so plan on a round trip visit and possibly a surcharge.
  • Gas is relatively affordable, averaging U$3.50-4 a gallon or just under a dollar a liter.
  • Gas stations are not self service
Two people walk beside a highway next to a lake
Driving the 7 Lakes Route with your own rental car is infinitely more fun than a group tour, make sure to rent in advance!

Rental Car Agencies in Argentina

Wondering where to rent your car in Argentina?

Personally, I always check Discover Rental Cars first and if they have a competitive rate, I rent from them over rentalcars.com.

From my personal experience they have superior customer service and I know they’d have my back if I needed them (something I’ve had a hard time with with rentalcars).

But, of course, it pay off to always compare your options.

There are also local options, like Despegar (a local version of Expedia or Travelocity). Sometimes local agencies you won’t find on foreign aggregate sites are listed here.

And finally, you can also Google “Alquiler de autos + CITY NAME” to find small mom and pop agencies. Many times they have the best price but it may get complicated in sending them the deposit they’ll inevitably want transferred into their local bank account.

The deposit can be hard/impossible to manage if you’re a foreigner abroad. Which makes many shoestring tourists want to wait until they’re on the ground to reserve in person and pay in cash.

While this is a good idea financially, don’t forget they’ll likely either be out of cars or out of cars for THAT PRICE when you finally get there.

Do you need a 4×4 to drive in Argentina?

It’s very rare that you’ll need a 4×4 to drive in Argentina.

We’ve driven in El Chalten and across crazy mountain passes in Jujuy like the Abra del Acay and always done it in the cheapest category of rental cars (because cheapest is my style).

That said, do check with locals before departing into the unknown if you’re going anywhere “off the beaten path.”

While most highways are paved and even most dirt roads are in decent condition, when it gets bad, it gets bad quick. Speaking as someone who had to have a gaucho tow her out of the mud just a couple of months ago just an hour from Buenos Aires.

Mountain passes in the Northwest, when dry, are fine in a tiny compact car. But in rainy season (January and February) a storm can make them completely impassable. Ask the locals, ask your hotel. Just make sure before you run off.

Wait, does that mean if it rains or is muddy, I can’t rent a car? No, there is usually a different route you can take that is paved. So, ask to be sure.

Getting our tire patched in Cachi at a gomeria was cheaper than dealing with our rental agency

Flat Tires, Tow Trucks and Car Repairs

We have done our share of damage to Argentina’s rental cars.

In Salta, we flattened a tire. Thank goodness it went flat as we pulled into the town of Cachi and NOT when we were at 5,000 meters above sea level on top of the Abra del Acay mountain pass earlier that day.

In Salta yet again, we ran over a rock that quickly emptied our car of all the oil and killed the engine.

My husband had to wait three hours for a tow truck from Cafayate. Why so long? That same tow truck was busy bringing another dead car into town from three hours up the road.

Here’s my advice on what to do if you need assistance:

  • While calling your rental agency is always a good idea, sometimes depending on the damage, it’s easier/cheaper to take care of business yourself. We repaired our flat tire in Cachi for next to nothing, they were never the wiser. For the tow truck, we called a tow ourselves and saved ourselves hours of waiting.
  • Gomeria is the word for a local tire shop, you’ll usually find one in even the tiniest of towns. If all you need is a quick patch, just bring your rental car to a gomeria.
  • Remolque is the word for tow truck. If you have cell service and you speak Spanish, finding your own tow might be faster/cheaper than having your rental agency mediate.
  • DON’T SPEED. It can be tempting to go over the speed limit if the dirt road is in good condition, but you never know when a big rock or livestock will appear out of nowhere (like our oil/engine killing rock in Salta).

Driving in Argentina: A Summary

I hope this article has prepared you to hit the road in Argentina. Because the scenic drives and road trips in Argentina are breathtaking and worth every penny of their overpriced rental cars.

If you have any questions or road trip memories to share, let me know in the comments! I always read them and always respond.

Read More: Argentina Road Trip Inspiration

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