This is just a reminder for those that are going to visit Argentina any time soon to take preferably crisp $100 bills with them than using credit/debit cards to pay or withdraw money from the ATM.
The reason is the “Dolar Blue” market where you get anywhere 40% to 50% more Argentinean pesos per USD compared to the official exchange rate instituted by the government.
This exchange market phenomenon has been covered twice previously on LoyaltyLobby:
The parallel (blue or black whatever you want to call it) market exists because the government won’t sell you the dollar at the official exchange rate, but obviously is glad to exchange pesos to dollars using it.
There are regulations in place how average Argentinians can make requests to get access to the official rate, but this take time and the outcome is not guaranteed. Having a dollar based bank account is very bad idea, as many Argentinians found out in the early 2000’s when those savings were converted to local pesos at very bad rate.
How to find the Blue rate?
There are several websites that list these rates and there is very little difference between them. The most famous is the DolarBlue.net (access here) followed by PrecioDolarBlue (access here) and Lanacion.com (access here).
Exchanging in Buenos Aires
The main area where you should go to exchange in Buenos Aires is the Calle Florida street . If you are planning to visit other regions/cities in Argentina, you would get the best rates here. So, try to estimate how much pesos you need and then do the exchange.
You cannot walk more than few meters when you hear people yelling Cambio Cambio and then you just negotiate. Very little knowledge of Spanish is required. You just state how much you would like to exchange (remember $100 crisp bills) and they show you the exchange rate on calculator.
Once you have agreed to do the deal, you will be then escorted to an inside office where the actual exchange of the money takes place. These bouncers are paid a daily salary or commission based on the value of the transaction.
It pays to “survey” the rates offered and try to find a one that would give closest to the displayed rate on one of the websites. The offered rates were 12.1 to 12.25 pesos to USD the other week and obviously chose the 12.25 one.
This was the weirdest exchange place that I have ever visited. It was a tiny room inside a tailor shop with a guy that had a note counting machines and bag full of cash. Didn’t take photos inside unfortunately.
There are ways to exchange money using online services such as Xoom.com, but they take at least one third of a cut from the spread between the official and blue market rates. Of course this is better than withdrawing money from the ATM or paying using a credit card.
The exchange process with the bouncers and sometimes backrooms inside tailor shops does feel weird first, but you get used to it.
Note that the Blue market exchange rate fluctuates a lot depending of the dollar demand and the political situation inside the country.