Updated February 2024
When I first arrived in Argentina in 2010, a peso could get a medialuna (my personal fatty benchmark for inflation).
Today you’ll need 300, minimum, for one buttery treat.
To say money in Argentina is complicated would be putting it mildly.
Inflation in Argentina is at an all time high right now and this level of economic volatility 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 that it is very affordable for those coming from the Northern Hemisphere.
Right now, in early 2024 with Milei as the new president it seems that the country will be shifting away from being the “bargain basement destination” many foreigners have grown accustomed to in recent years.
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 and does it still exist? Where to exchange money in Buenos Aires and get the best rate?
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In this post:
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.
Many presidents, including the previous President Fernandez, put very strict currency controls in place, such as freezing the official value of the peso at a very artificial rate.
To be redundant, the official value of the peso was not free floating with the market.
Also, the government limited how many USD Argentina citizens could purchase from the bank each month.
The demand for dollars and the restrictions limiting access to them creates a parallel exchange rate, referred to as the blue dollar.
And this blue dollar will also exist, even if the official rate is not controlled.
Why? This is Argentina, and there will always be a market for undeclared and “non-taxed” money.
It is what it is, I already said it’s complicated.
Read Next: A Guide to Tipping in Argentina
Milei & The Big Devaluation: What does it mean?
On December 10, 2023 Javier Milei took office as the new president of Argentina after running on a platform of extreme monetary policy changes.
His main promise was to dollarize the economy and virtually throw the peso into the garbage.
That hasn’t happened yet and if it does happen, it will take some years to create the conditions to even be able to consider it as a possibility.
One of Milei’s first actions after he took in office was to devalue the official currency from 366 pesos to 800 pesos to the dollar.
If you live in Argentina, you’re living the reality of prices increasing every single day.
If you’re coming on vacation, it will also affect you but differently, and not as hard as it is affecting locals trying to get to the end of the month.
How does this affect me as a tourist to Argentina?
If the currency just devalued, shouldn’t things be cheaper!?
This is a question I got a lot but in reality, prices are increasing daily here.
If you’re renting a car, gas prices have increased triple from just a few months ago.
Restaurants will increase their prices as the prices of their ingredients (even beef) go up, etc.
Hotels and tours priced in dollars were always expensive and now the gap between the official and blue dollars has narrowed such that you can’t bring that price down with the blue dollar spread anymore as you could in the past few years.
So, expect things to get more expensive, but by how much?
We’ll have to wait and see.
As of Late February 2024, prices are more than last year but still remain affordable for those accustomed the costs of the US or Europe.
So, What is the current exchange rate?
First, click here check the current exchange rates (official, blue, and MEP).
In Argentina, there are a lot of exchange rates, it can be dizzying even for locals.
Ignore all of the rates you see except for:
- Dolar oficial – The official exchange rate, this is the rate set by the national bank.
- Dolar blue – The parallel unofficial exchange rate that exists due to currency controls on the official rate. This is the most free market dollar based on demand, the “real” dollar according to most locals.
- Dolar MEP (Visa & MC) – The dolar MEP is similar to the blue rate in value, at the moment if you use a foreign (not Argentine) Visa or Mastercard in Argentina, you will be charged close to this rate, confirm exact rate here.
- CCL – This is the rate Western Union uses as a reference
If you’ve done any minimal research into your trip to Argentina, you’ve likely heard of the blue dollar.
The “dolar blue” is the unofficial exchange rate that runs parallel to the official rate.
At the time of editing this (February 2024) the spread between the two rates is narrow thanks to Milei’s devaluation, at roughly $800 pesos to the dollar at the official rate versus hovering around $1000 pesos to the blue dollar.
At times the MEP and CCL surpass the blue, making credit cards and Western Union the best rates. Other times, the blue takes the lead. It varies but the difference can be minimal or great, check the rates regularly.
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.
TLDR: How to get cash – Updated February 19, 2024
This article has a ton of information in it but it can be overwhelming. I get regular questions on “but how specifically should I get pesos/spend money?” So, here you go, a quick answer.
I’ll update this if/when it changes. Ranked by beneficial rate/ease of use:
- Use your Visa & Mastercard: For years using your foreign credit card was NOT recommended but those days are gone (praise be). The rate as of late February 2024 is very good on Visa and MC. Check daily rate here, lately it has been very near the blue rate if not at time on par with it.
- Western Union: Yes, this remains the best option. Lately the rate has been on par with or higher (gasp!) than the Blue Dollar, it varies daily. Take into account the transfer fees but overall, it’s offering high rates lately (and your first transfer is free, take advantage).
- Exchange dollar bills in Cuevas: The good ole classic, you can avoid WU fees and lines by changing money in person. You always want some cash on your in Argentina for small shops and because many shops/restaurants offer cash discounts (or fees for using a CC, tomato-tomah-to).
Western Union in Argentina
An easy way to access a near blue dollar rate in Buenos Aires and other major cities in Argentina is via Western Union.
This is ideal because they not only offer one of the best rates, but it’s also a service you’re likely already familiar with and can trust.
WU offers a rate that hovers around the blue rate (using the Contado Con Liqui rate as a reference), sometimes higher, sometimes lower.
Quick Western Union Tips
- Always put your FULL name as it appears on your ID/Passport, don’t leave your middle name out if it’s on your ID.
- Bring your passport to pick up your WU transfer, small cities may ask you to bring your own photocopy.
- This is not typically an exchange house for exchanging money in person.
- You will wire yourself money using a credit card, debit card, or bank account. Check with your credit card about possible fees from the end.
- Debit and credit card wires tend to be immediate. Bank transfers can take 4-5 business days.
Western Union in Small Cities
Smaller cities, like El Calafate or Puerto Iguazu, have WU locations but have limits set at under the equivalent of $200 US.
To answer a frequently asked question, no.
You cannot send yourself a big transfer and pick up just a fraction of it (getting the rest later).
Also, these smaller cities often have a lot of demand meaning long lines and low reserves.
Sometimes it’s better in this smaller cities to cash out at the end of the day, banking on (pun intended) them having received a lot of payments throughout the day.
Even better, though, is to have cash in these places to avoid the lines and exchange in cuevas, more on that later.
Or, if you’ll be in Buenos Aires first, do a large transaction there and bring your pesos with you.
This isn’t to say you won’t be able to use WU outside of Buenos Aires, far from it.
But if you’re only in these destinations for a short time, I’d hate for you to waste a couple hours of that precious time in a Western Union line or have a hard time getting the cash if they’re out.
Cash Tip: Get a Money Belt
With the largest bill (2,000 pesos) being worth around four dollars, it’s inevitable that you’ll always have a lot of cash on you.
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!).
- TSA Approved Lock | It’s always a good idea to have a lock on your suitcase. If you will have a lot of cash in your suitcase when you leave your belongings at the hotel and hostel, lock it up. Most hotels will have a safe, use that. If it doesn’t, put your valuables/cash in your suitcase and lock it.
- 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.
- 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 for you.
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.
IMPORTANT: In Argentina, it’s not just dollars that matter but the quality of the dollars. They want crisp, unmarked, untorn one hundred dollar bills. Even better if they’re the new “big head” design. Don’t ask, even I don’t understand it 13 years later.
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.
The easiest thing to do is to have your airport transfer reserved ahead of time.
This way you avoid the hassle of lines at the taxi booths and can benefit from their other services, as many can take you somewhere trustworthy to exchange dollars first thing.
Otherwise, the taxi booths in the airport do accept credit cards. I’d pay with a Visa or Mastercard, they have a favorable rate.
Worry about getting more cash once you’re in the city and rested from your travels.
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.
Visa & Mastercard Rates: Using Debit & Credit Cards in Argentina
Until late 2022, it was not recommended to use your foreign credit card in Argentina as you would be charged the official rate.
This is still HALF true.
The previous government started a new initiative in late 2022 with Visa and Mastercard where you will be charged near the MEP rate if you use a foreign Visa or MC (who use the MEP rate as a reference).
Confirm with the Visa exchange rate calculator to see the rate of the day. Put it in 1 ARS to 1 USD (not the other way around).
This is a major relief to those not wanting to bring thousands of dollars in their carry on.
I do still recommend using cash for small operations as Argentina’s economy is very much cash driven and the blue dollar rate (exchanging dollars in a cueva) is always the most advantageous.
You will often get discounts by paying in cash or small businesses may not be able to charge a card.
FREQUENTLY ASKED CC QUESTIONS
- You can check the Visa rate to confirm it’s giving the MEP rate by checking their currency exchange calculator here. Make sure to put ARS to USD (not the other way around).
- This is for all foreign cards worldwide as long as they are Visa & Mastercard
- Readers report debit cards offer the same advantageous rate in ATM’s, I haven’t tried it yet.
- This will work when in Argentina, I’ve seen reports of people purchasing online flights on an Argentine site from abroad and it works. Do not just use Travelocity (as an example) and convert it to pesos, you’ll still be charged in dollars.
There is a 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.
ATMs in Argentina
If you use an ATM to pull out money in Argentina (Visa or MC), readers report receiving the MEP rate.
But still, I’d avoid using ATM’s to get pesos unless you have a bank that refunds ATM fees.
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).
When you absolutely must use ATMs here or abroad, I recommend using a bank like Charles Schwab that refunds any foreign ATM fees otherwise it will add up very quickly.
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.
Read more about Argentina
- The Best Time to Visit Argentina
- 10 Days in Argentina Itinerary: 7 Itineraries to Explore Argentina
- The Best Argentina Souvenirs
- Argentina Packing List: Everything You Need
Argentina Travel Resources
- TRAVEL INSURANCE | It is always 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. I recommend this E-SIM card. It’s hassle-free and affordable, for more read how to get an Argentina sim card.
- 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.
- BUS TICKETS | I like Busbud for long distance bus routes and tickets.
- 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).
- 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.