Money — Credit cards, ATM’s & Small Change
• While in Argentina be sure to hoard (yes! hoard!) your small bills and change. There is a huge problem with the flow of currency in Argentina. It’s not uncommon for subway workers to let passengers ride free because they don’t have the change to sell tickets, or for the grocer to hand over a piece of hard candy in lieu of your small change.
Update: the coin problem has been somewhat alleviated in Buenos Aires by the introduction of the electronic SUBE card for public transportation.
•If you try to pay a cab driver with a 100 or even a 50 peso note for a short ride, he will very likely laugh at your naivety — if he doesn’t outright insult you (or even try to scam you).
• Major hotels, tours and large restaurants will accept credit cards, but if you get out of the tourist zone you will find many restaurants and stores do not, and if they do they may only accept one type of credit card. Many businesses also give you a better rate if you pay en efectivo (cash) because of credit card transaction fees.
For convenience and safety’s sake it’s best just to carry enough cash to cover your day’s expenses.
•Thankfully, ATM’s are abundant in most major cities and accept all types of debit and credit cards – the downside is an ever-increasing fee on every transaction. Currently the fee is AR$18 for any transaction.
As of 2012, there is a big difference in the official rate of exchange you will receive at a bank or ATM and the black market rate for dollars. While an ATM will give the ‘official’ exchange of 4.5 pesos to the dollar, that same dollar can fetch up to 6 pesos on the black market.
These days travelers who want to get the best exchange rate (and are willing to risk it carrying cash) should travel to Argentina with coveted U.S. dollars and sell them to friends or purchase items in dollars for a better rate. There are illegal exchange houses in downtown Buenos Aires but it’s not recommended to visit them without a local friend who knows where to go.
If you plan on relying on a bank card during your stay in Argentina you may want to consider finding a home bank that reimburses transaction fees before your trip. To be on the safe side, carry two different bank cards, kept in different places, during your stay.
• Traveler’s checks — such a great idea, but they are, at best a total headache and at worse virtually useless in most of Argentina, unless you enjoy spending your time standing in line at the bank. One reliable place to cash them is at the American Express office in Buenos Aires, but otherwise they can be problematic.
Personal checks are virtually unheard of in Argentina, it’s even illegal to send them through the mail. Leave your personal checkbook at home, it will do you no good.