pesos from argetina
Buenos Aires 2024 MSMU Travels

Mastering the Art of Money in Argentina: A Traveler’s Guide

By Professor of Political Science Mike Towle, Ph.D.

Everything you think you know about how to handle money while abroad does not apply to Argentina. But that’s part of the fun and adventure! Argentina offers some unique money challenges for travelers that require planning ahead. With the right information and preparation, you can make the most of your budget in this amazing country. For a typical traveler to Europe, the usual advice is to rely on ATMs for cash and credit cards. This is not the best advice for traveling to Argentina. While ATMs are convenient, you will not get the best exchange rate. And credit cards are not widely accepted. But no worries – there are better options! 

Let’s back up. The Argentine currency is the Argentine peso, usually abbreviated “ARS.” Argentina’s inflation rate has been above 25% every year since 2017.  It was over 95% in 2022, and over 200% in 2023. Argentina attempted various means to control the problem, including keeping the official exchange rate artificially high while trying to slowly devalue its currency so as not to cause a shock. These efforts failed. 

One exciting thing about Argentina is finding places that offer the unofficial or “blue” exchange rate. This could give you a lot more bang for your buck! Ask around to find a reputable currency exchange place or “cueva.” Just be sure to have pristine and new US $100 bills (they must have the blue strip) and be prepared to exchange cash behind closed doors. It may feel clandestine, but you will get way more pesos!  

When I first arrived there, exchanging money at the unofficial rate was technically illegal but done openly in neighborhoods with a good police presence. By the time our semester was over, the blue dollar exchange was no longer illegal, but the process remained the same. One of the things I would do was to bring a US $100 bill to a currency exchange place – called a “cueva” or a “cambio” that was located on a busy safe street. Once I arrived, I would go in, take a number, and wait my turn to go into a well-lit room.  Then I was supposed to close the door behind me so that others behind me could not see how much I was carrying, and the exchange would take place.

As a result, I brought a lot of $100 bills to Argentina.  Again, plan ahead because they will not exchange smaller amounts, and the money must be spotless. Carrying wads of cash may seem risky, but it goes with the territory. The largest bill is only worth about $3 US, so be prepared to stuff your pockets. Consider it part of the cultural experience. 

Even better is using services like Western Union. You can wire money to yourself and often get better than the unofficial rate even after subtracting the wire fee. Just be aware that you may need to get to your pick-up location early as locations run out of cash. But the extra effort is worth it! 

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