Report From Buenos Aires: TO BLUE OR NOT TO BLUE (OR HOW ARGENTINA CAN BE 33% CHEAPER)

15 Comments

A LoyaltyLobby reader and a very good friend of mine recently visited Buenos Aires and I asked him to write a piece about dealing with the “unofficial” foreign exchange market.

argentina-dolar-blue

The Argentinian peso has devalued a lot lately, but the “official” rate hasn’t kept up with the Dolar Blue, as the under the counter market is called.

My friend visited the Buenos Aires before the latest round of devaluation. The “official” rate is now approximately 8 pesos for USD and the Dolar blue 11 to 13 pesos per USD.

I recently visited Buenos Aires and Mendoza, and one of the questions I had prior to my trip was whether I should take advantage of the parallel exchange market while in there. I asked Argentinian friends about it, and they were very skeptical. They warned me about the potential risks (getting fake pesos in exchange, or being caught in a police raid they said).

 I decided to play it by ear, bring enough cash with me, test the field, and, if it felt safe doing it once, keep doing it and cover my expenses with money exchanged at the blue rate.

 In the process I learned several things:

  • Internet-based money transfer companies like xoom.com will give you a good exchange rate, superior to the official rate but lower than the blue rate. This is safe, as you can pick up your money in a legit office, but the pick-up points are limited and they have a schedule (they only work Mondays to Fridays, no weekend service, no service during lunch time, no service after 5 pm).

  • Everybody (well,almost) go blue.

argentina-dolar-blue-guys-outside

Here’s what I learned blue and have no troubles in the process:

The first think you have to do is to find a trusted site to exchange your cash. This can be achieved either by word-of-mouth (if you know someone who has done it before, ask them for the referral), or by asking your hotel front desk or concierge staff. They always know someone. I did the latter and was referred to a pawn shop nearby the hotel.

Second, you need to do your homework. Check the blue dolar market reports (http://www.lanacion.com.ar/dolar-hoy-t1369) beforehand. Once you get to the suggested exchange location, you will find “arbolitos”, guys who work on commission for scouting people and bringing them in. Never accept to go inside before negotiating the exchange rate. You should notice that they’ll never pay you the exchange rate reported on websites, and will offer you a lower price. If you’re not satisfied with the offer you should bargain. If you can’t get a rate you consider acceptable, move onto the next “arbolito” and start again. You should never expect to get the exchange rate listed in websites, and a 30 to 50 cent mark over the website rates should be considered acceptable.

And third, never exchange big amounts of money at once. Two reasons for that: First, you don’t want to be walking around with big amounts of cash in your pockets. Argentina is a fairly safe country but even in the safest place walking around with all your cash on you is not a good idea. And second, this is an inflationary market, the exchange rate is steadily increasing so you may gain some extra local cash exchanging just a few bucks at a time.

Conclusion

The last time I visited Buenos Aires, I made the mistake and paid using a credit card and got the rip off official exchange rate. You really should use service such as the Xoom.com or just bring cash with you and exchange it once you get to the city.

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15 Comments

  1. Good timing… now that Argentina has lifted the restrictions on Argentines buying dollars and are stopping support of the peso! 😀

    In theory the official and the blue will now converge.

    Good advice though…

  2. One place to change is 520 Corrientes in Buenos Aires. Devaluation of the peso is unavoidable and most likely imminent.

  3. ‘The Argentinian peso has devalued a lot lately, but the “official” rate hasn’t kept up with the Dolar Blue, as the under the counter market is called.’

    The minute the official rate jumps up, so will the blue rate. My Argentinian friends tells me the people are still skeptical of the new measures and still very afraid of the future of the peso. As such the Blue rate will always remain ahead of the official.

    I spent two weeks in Argentina in December. You can pretty much get the blue rate everywhere except the airport and some hotels – Park Hyatt won’t even change money at official rate.
    Sometimes the shops will even take at a higher than blue rate (if the number is round) so always ask if you can pay in USD.

    • We got back from Argentina in December. Best advice is to always ask if vendor will take USD instead of Pesos. We converted way to many pesos at official rate before we left US. Restaurants often will exchange at the blue rate or more.

  4. I used to live in Argentina between 2001-2003, right after the financial crisis. In 2001 peso got devalued from 1.4 to 3 for 1 USD *overnight* and then overtime even to 4 peso for 1 USD yet there was minimal inflation and prices remained mostly the same. It was a heaven for the foreigners having hard currency. Oh, and you could exchange officially at that rate. There was no black market besides some semi-currencies emitted by some provinces. Everything was 70% off. Heaven for us and a hell for the locals who as always suffered because of the government. They even had limited access to cash because of the “corralito” measures and could withdraw just…250 peso per week as ….all their accounts got frozen.

    However, this current black market reminds me rather communist era in ex Soviet block or Cuba…
    Poor Argentina. Beautiful country and horrible governments, Apparently the history likes to repeat itself.

    • Yeah. I visited Argentina first time in the early 2000’s and remember the very good prices that have been now creeping up partially due to “fake” official exchange rate. There is certainly something wrong with the governments now and in the past, as the country used to be one of the better of ones.

  5. Hi!
    I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’m travelling to New York for the first time in my life on March.
    As for us residents is practically impossible to buy dollars here, because the government prevents us for doing it, could someone tell me if I can travel with pesos and then exchange them for dollars there?
    Thanks so much for your answers!

  6. this guys are a good option if you have to travel to buenos aires exchangeinargentina.com i was in puerto madero last summer with my boyfriend and they ship us the argentinian pesos to my hotel really fast

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