A friend of mine filed a report back in January how to exchange money locally in Argentina and I published it here on LoyaltyLobby (read more here).
When I was on my way to Argentina couple of weeks ago, I decided that I really have to take cash with me and exchange locally to reap the savings.
Why separate exchange rates?
The official exchange rate of ARS to USD is set at an artificially high level and the qualified Argentinean can exchange maximum of 20% of their monthly salary or $2,000 whichever is lower. Effectively, there are currency controls in place.
The inflation currently is rampant and it is better to hold some other currency such as US Dollars or Euros that holds their value.
Where to find the Dolar Blue USD/EUR to ARS rates?
There are several websites in Spanish that publish various USD to ARS exchange rates. I have found that the DolarBlue.net (access here) is the most comprehensive one.
How to exchange in Buenos Aires?
I was staying at the InterContinental and the concierge didn’t want to have anything to do with the Dolar Blue when I asked him where I should do the exchange. Luckily, I knew that I would only need to walk to Calle Florida where there are numerous “bouncers” yelling “CAMBIO CAMBIO” and you then just need to negotiate with them.
Once you have agreed to an exchange rate (I got 12 ARS per USD the other week), the actual exchange of money happens in an office. We walked to a nearby office building, where the security issued me a pass to enter the building and we took an elevator few floors up.
Then we just walked to an unnamed “office” that had been modified to have small waiting room with an exchange window. I decided to exchange $1,000 and heard the cash counting machine on the background and soon the guy came back with 12,000 ARS.
How to exchange in Mendoza?
I thought that I had enough ARS, but ended up needing to buy a same day MDZ-SCL ticket on LA (ridiculously priced) and needed to exchange some more USD to ARS.
In Mendoza the location seems to be where the Western Union and Starbucks are next to each other. Again, there were bouncers outside yelling “CAMBIO CAMBIO”.
This time the exchange was in plain sight and got the 6,000 ARS that I needed in exchange for $500.
How to spot fake money?
I was first worried that I might get some fake notes from these unofficial exchanges, but all the notes turned out to be 100% legit. As long as you use these “official” ones, I would say that based on my limited experience you should be fine.
Why not to use credit cards?
If you are using credit cards in Argentina, the exchange from ARS to your billing currency happens using the official exchange rate that is terrible. You can use cards to guarantee your hotel stays etc. but remember always pay in ARS at the time of checking out.
Should I use Xoom.com instead?
The rates that Xoom.com is currently offering are not competitive at all. Seems that they take at least half of the spread for the convenience of handling this over the internet for you. Xoom.com is only offering around 10 ARS per USD and there are other fees involved as well.
You should take enough $100 bills with you to Argentina to cover all your expenses. You save 33% off of all the prices that are first quoted in USD but then converted to pesos using the official rate.
I have to say that I first felt a bit uncomfortable going to the unmarked office and exchanging the money there, as I had no way of knowing what I would be getting in. I am glad that it all worked out well.
If you have some leftover pesos at the time of leaving Argentina, remember to burn them at the tax free at the airport. The prices even there are in USD but they take ARS at the official USD to ARS rate (you save even one third of the inflated tax free prices).