When I first arrived in Argentina in 2010, a peso could get a medialuna (my personal fatty benchmark for inflation). Today you’ll need 80, minimum, for one buttery treat.
To say money in Argentina is complicated would be putting it mildly.
Inflation here is no joke and the volatility in the economy isn’t something that most North Americans or Europeans are used to.
There are times when travel to Argentina is very expensive and other times, like right now (written in 2022) that it is VERY affordable for those coming from the Northern Hemisphere.
Well, keep reading to find out.
This article includes everything you need to know about travel and money in Argentina.
You’ll find this article useful whether you’re here on holiday or plan on living in Buenos Aires.
What is the dollar blue? Where to exchange money in Buenos Aires and get the best rate?
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Currency in Argentina: The Peso vs. The Dollar
The official currency in Argentina is the Argentinian Peso.
It’s often denoted also with the same sign as the dollar, $, which is differentiated as U$100 vs $100 [Pesos].
And while the peso is the official currency here, Argentines have always maintained an ongoing love affair with the US dollar.
A volatile economy pushes many to “invest” in US dollars as a way to keep their savings stable and safe from inflation.
This puts an unhealthy and unnatural demand on foreign currency and depreciates the peso.
The current president has imposed strong currency restrictions that limit how many dollars Argentinian citizens can purchase [legally] per month.
This limit is a low U$200/month.
What’s a dollar-hungry Argentinian to do to fill their mattress with the good stuff?
I introduce to you the blue dollar and the black market.
The Blue Dollar
If you’ve done any minimal research into your trip to Argentina, you’ve likely heard of the blue dollar.
This is the parallel exchange rate to the official rate and if you can access it, you’ll make your money stretch MUCH further here.
At the time of writing (updated November 2022) the spread is 100% at roughly $150 pesos to the dollar at the official rate versus hovering around $300 pesos to the blue dollar.
Surely that got your attention, am I right?
Who doesn’t want to double their money in one swift transaction?
And it isn’t even difficult or dangerous to access this exchange rate.
How to Get Cash & Exchange Money in Argentina
Time to get down to it, how do you access cash in Argentina and get the most favorable exchange rate?
I’ll start with the most recommended methods and work my way down to the less desirable options.
Western Union in Argentina
Currently, the best way to exchange money in Buenos Aires and other major cities in Argentina is via Western Union.
This is ideal because they not only offer the best rate, but it’s also a service you’re likely already familiar with and can trust.
WU offers a rate at or slightly above the blue rate and usually the right promo code will remove the pricey fees.
As of updating this in Nov 2022 it’s been hard to come by a promo code, but typically your first transfer is free so take advantage and start big.
Plan ahead to see what cities on your Argentina itinerary have Western Union locations to plan where to exchange money.
Bigger cities like Buenos Aires are the best choice with many, many locations to choose from.
Smaller cities, like El Calafate, have WU locations but have limits set at 60k-80k pesos.
If you haven’t used Western Union before, click here to create an account and we’ll each recieve an Amazon gift card.
TIP: Get a Money Belt
With the largest bill (1,000 pesos) being worth around three dollars, it’s inevitable that you’ll have a lot of cash on you nearly all of the time.
It’s a good idea to bring a money belt to keep your stack of cash safe.
- Classic Money Belt | This money belt is the most common way to safely keep your money tucked away when you’re out and about in the city. You can also keep your passport safe for when you need to bring it to Western Union (other than for this purpose, I recommend never taking your passport out of the hotel with you!).
- Money/Passport Scarf | This infinity scarf is a great alternative and it’s a lot easier to access your cash than from the belt under your shirt. The downside is you likely won’t be wearing a scarf in summer but hey, if you’ll be here winter it’s an ideal choice.
- Money Bra Clip | This one is for the ladies and it doesn’t seem very comfortable but can be practical if the classic money belt doesn’t work. It also won’t be easy to access for obvious reasons so you’d need to head to the bathroom to move the cash from your bra to your wallet.
Cuevas (or caves) are the name for unofficial currency exchange houses. You will find them all over Argentina.
To discover a trustworthy cueva, I recommend asking your hotel, Airbnb hosts, or tour guides.
Anyone hyper-local to where you’ll be is ideal.
And you never know, maybe they themselves will end up exchanging money with you, eliminating the need for a cueva completely.
I recommend always having some crisp, green USD on hand, just in case.
Even if you’re relying mainly on Western Union, you’ll be grateful to have physical cash to exchange if you find yourself in a pinch in a tiny town miles from a WU office.
Where to Exchange Money in Ezeiza International Airport
If you need cash the second you land, you do have a couple options in the Buenos Aires airport.
There is a Banco La Nacion office in the airport. Use them in a limited manner as you’ll receive the official rate.
Better yet, there is also a Western Union in the airport in the post office (correo) on the second level above the ticketing area. Opening hours are limited to business hours.
I honestly don’t think it’s worth wasting the time and effort just to save an extra 15 bucks while exhausted from an overnight flight.
Arbolitos & Calle Florida: Buenos Aires Currency Exchange
Calle Florida is located in downtown Buenos Aires. This pedestrian street is always busy, lined with shops and cafes.
It’s also bustling with unofficial currency exchange representatives called Arbolitos, or little trees. The name comes from the green dollars, aka leaves, that they specialize in.
Exchanging money in Buenos Aires with these arbolitos is very common and many readers comment on doing this with no trouble at all. However, it’s not my preferred method.
You’ll follow your arbolito to their cueva and have to trust that you’re not being given counterfeit notes or that they’re not alerting a buddy outside to rob you as you head back out, pockets full of pesos.
If you go the arbolito route, start with a small amount and go from there. If they prove trustworthy you can always go back again for more.
The benefit to Calle Florida, though, is being able to negotiate your rate. If you don’t like what one arbolito offers, you can saunter on to the next guy and push for more.
ATMs in Argentina
If you use an ATM to pull out money in Argentina, you’ll be given the official exchange rate.
The limit on the amount of cash you can get out is also extremely low per day with very high bank fees (averaging U$10 per transaction).
It’s simply not worth it unless you’re in an emergency.
Using Debit & Credit Cards in Argentina
UPDATE NOV 2022: Supposedly the government has launched a new plan to allow foreign credit and debit cards receive the MEP rate (similar to the blue dollar rate). It’s supposed to be live right now but, as of now, it’s not working for anyone trying. Read more here, stay tuned, and possibly don’t hold your breath.
See above. Using your credit cards in Argentina will get you the official rate.
I know you may miss earning the rewards points (I know I do!).
But until the blue dollar disappears, cash is king in Argentina.
If you do plan on using a card here, however, bring your Visa and Mastercard. American Express isn’t widely accepted here (except perhaps in large chain hotels and major businesses).
Also, even without the dollar blue, cash is always king here.
Small businesses, national parks, and tiny towns will almost always demand cash.
There is a new law on the books that requires businesses to accept debit cards for purchases that surpass 100 pesos.
However, if they accept payment via QR code they are exempt from the requirement.
By QR code in Argentina typically means via the app MercadoPago (similar to PayPal). Unfortunately for tourists, you need a local DNI ID card to create a MercadoPago account.
So, as I said above, always carry cash on hand, just in case.
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 bang for your buck.
- Bring only 100 dollar bills that are crisp and unmarked. I always go inside my bank in the US and pull cash out with a teller then review every single bill, asking for any bills that are damaged or written on to be exchanged. Yes, this makes me feel suspicious.
- Why? You will either get a lower rate or flat out rejected if you try to exchange 10s, 20s, or 50s. Many also reject or offer less for damaged/written on bills.
- If using an ATM, LINK ATMs tend to have smaller fees than other chains like Banelco. Look for the LINK sticker on the bank windows.
- Bring a credit card that returns ATM fees since fees here are so damn high, like Charles Schwab.
- Try to not exchange too much excess cash as getting dollars back for those pesos at the end of your trip will likely get you a low, official rate. Instead, if you get stuck with extra cash, spend those pesos!
- Keep small change on hand and break large bills whenever possible. Many smaller merchants lack change or have unreasonable anxiety around breaking large bills for a small purchase.
Tax Free Shopping in Argentina
Foreign tourists are entitled to a refund of the VAT tax spent on purchases of domestically-manufactured goods with a value over ARS $70 when made at participating outlets that belong to Global Blue Argentina.
When shopping for authentic Argentine souvenirs, look for the Global Blue Argentina sign at the register or simply ask when you’re paying if the purchase is eligible.
Keep your receipts and tax free forms given at time of purchase or you won’t be able to claim the refund.
For information on where and how to receive your refund, click here.
Argentina Travel Resources
- TRAVEL INSURANCE | As of August 26, 2022 it is not longer a requirement to have travel insurance that includes COVID coverage to enter the country. HOWEVER, it still is and always has been a good idea to travel insured. It protects you in so many cases, like lost luggage and trip cancellations, medical emergencies and evacuations. It’s very affordable with the potential to save you thousands in the case of an emergency. I recommend SafetyWing.
- PHONE PLAN | These days, traveling with data is essential. Especially in Argentina where everything is managed on Instagram and WhatsApp. Purchasing a local SIM card can be tricky without a local ID, I recommend this E-SIM card, which has unlimited data. It’s hassle-free and affordable. If you have an older phone that doesn’t support E-SIM, check out DrimSim for a physical sim card alternative.
- ACCOMMODATION IN ARGENTINA | booking.com is the most common hotel site used in Argentina and it’s where you’ll find the most options.
- RENTAL CARS | I love to travel Argentina via road trip, check out RentalCars.com for the best rates for rental cars here.
- VPN | If you’ll be using a public WiFi connection and want to secure your data, I highly recommend using a VPN, I personally use and have had a good experience with ExpressVPN. I also use it to access Hulu and American Netflix from Argentina.
- FLIGHTS | Always check Google Flights and Skyscanner for flights to and within Argentina. Aerolineas Argentina is the local airline with the most routes. FlyBondi and Jetsmart are two budget airlines with dirt-cheap prices (but expect to pay for every add-on like luggage)z
- NEED HELP PLANNING? | I offer one-on-one travel consultations to help you plan your trip to Argentina. Pick my brain to get a local’s insight. Click here for more information.