Dealing with Money in Argentina: Cash, Credit Cards, and Change

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Cash is king for visitors in current day Argentina.

Using credit or debit cards or paying with QR codes or Apple pay anywhere in Argentina is for suckers, because you’ll get the country’s much lower official exchange rate.

At the time of writing (mid 2022) the official rate is about 45% of the black market rate for the same amount of money.

Although it may sound shady, exchanging money on the black market is extremely common.

Argentina’s Currency & Bills

A picture of a one peso Argentine coin
One peso is worth less than US$.003

Argentina’s currency is the peso.

Although the bills are beautifully designed, Argentine pesos are a pariah currency outside of the country.

Most banks abroad won’t have any Argentine pesos to sell. If they do they will give out a very poor rate even below Argentina’s official bank rate.

The Argentine peso is indicated by the symbol ‘$‘ just like United States dollars.

It is divided into one hundred cents, called ‘centavos’ but the centavo went out of circulation, as did the nickel, dime, quarter, and fifty cent coin.

Today the smallest coin available is a one peso coin, which is worth US$.0028.

There is also a two peso coin, a five peso coin and a ten peso coin.

The lowest bill now is a ten peso bill, which is worth US$.03, so it will probably be retired soon, just like the two peso bill and the five peso bill.

A new version of the five peso bill was introduced in 2015.

It had Argentine founding father, José de San Martín on it’s face.

Due to inflation, the bill only lasted until 2019 — four years.

The largest bill at the moment is the $1000 bill, which was rolled out in 2018.

Pre Travel Money Tip:

🚫 Do not exchange your foreign currency into Argentine pesos before arriving in Argentina.

✅ Do bring USD cash and wait until you are in the city (if possible) to change money at the Blue Rate.

You can get a small amount at the ATM or Banco Nación in the airport to pay for transport into the city.

You can also try to pay for something at the McDonalds or Starbucks in the airport with USD and get the change in pesos, but make sure to check the rate they give first.

It’s also possible to book airport pickup in advance so that you can avoid getting the bad official rate by not changing money at the airport.

1,000 Argentine peso bill
1,000 pesos. It seems like a lot, but it will only buy three choripáns

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The country will need a $5000 peso bill in the next couple of years.

As it is, if someone sends themselves US$100 via Western Union, it’s possible to be given the total in one hundred peso bills. This means a relatively small amount of money could entail carrying stacks of cash.

It might be worth bringing a roomy money belt to try accommodate all that cash.

Why is Argentina’s Money Situation So Weird?

In the 1990s the peso was pegged to the dollar, one-to-one.

After Argentina’s disastrous financial crisis of 2001, it was no longer pegged to the dollar and since then has lost considerable purchasing power as the government prints new money.

Now, one U.S. dollar is worth several hundred pesos.

In more recent economic developments, in 2021 Argentina’s inflation rate reached over 58% according to Bloomberg.

In 2022, the economy minister resigned and then the peso hit a record high against the dollar.

Due to the inflationary nature of the Argentine peso, locals prefer to buy and save in foreign currency because Argentine pesos lose significant value sitting in the bank.

The restrictions create a huge underground demand for foreign currency, since locals also have no way to get a their hands on any reasonable amount of foreign currency through official channels.

For travelers to Argentina this means that USD (and to a lesser extent, Euros or Reals) are worth significantly more (around double) cash-in-hand in Argentina than the official government rate given out at banks and ATM bank machines.

Travelers who want to get the best exchange rate should come to Argentina with coveted U.S. dollars to exchange for Argentine pesos at underground exchange houses. Using a money transfer service is also an option.

Tips for Dealing with Cash in Argentina

Due to the quickly devaluating currency, it’s a long-held Argentine custom to round up or down, at one time a few centavos — today a few pesos — to avoid fiddling with change.

Almost every cashier encountered will request exact change.

It’s not uncommon for the grocer to hand over a piece of hard candy in lieu of your small change.

Change can still sometimes be scarce so it’s still a good idea to carry some around to avoid ending up with a pocketful of candy.

Argentina’s historical small change problem has been alleviated somewhat with the introduction of smart cards such as the electronic SUBE card for public transportation such as Buenos Aires’ subway.

If you pay a cab driver with 1000 notes and you need 820 change, he may not have it.

(Also be aware of the bank note switch scam if paying with 1000s bills).

Argentina's one hundred peso note
One hundred pesos is less than US$0.25 (2022)

Which Bills to Bring for Blue Dollar Exchange

When coming to Argentina, it’s best to have crisp, new US$100 bills to exchange on the black market.

Smaller bills will fetch less on the exchange market.

Five and ten dollar bills will not be readily accepted by money changers, but it may be possible to use them in a store to get change in pesos.

Bring ‘Big-Headed’ Benjamins

Two examples of one hundred dollars printed in different years.
‘Big-headed Benjamins’ are more readily accepted in Argentina and the rest of South America

A peculiarity in Argentina (and much of South America) is that the preferred $100 dollar bills are those with a ‘big-headed’ Benjamin Franklin.

Older bills $100 bills (pre 1993) have a smaller head and will fetch 3-5% less exchanging on the black market.

No amount of explaining that the bill is worth equal value in the United States will change that.

This goes back to a rumor that the U.S. Federal Reserve was going to take the smaller headed bills out of circulation, or the possibility that they may in the future.

People in Argentina keep their money under a mattress for a long time and want to make sure they have legal tender when they eventually need to convert it.

Aside from making sure to bring the right Benjamins, bills that are torn or worn will also be rejected or fetch less on the exchange market.

Changing Money in Argentina

Bringing United States dollars to Argentina to take advantage of the ‘blue dollar’ at least as a backup for transferring money is a good idea.

Although technically illegal, it’s common and not as sketchy as it sounds.

See our post that details how to exchange money exchange on the black market on Buenos Aires’ Florida Street.

If carrying a lot of cash feels unsafe, bring a some and then sign up for one of the money transfer services (described on our Money Transfer page) to send money to yourself from your banking account, debit or credit card.

This is a way to get pesos at the blue dollar/black market rate. It is legal and safe, but not as reliable as cash.

Keep in mind that the money transfer services are only open during the week during business hours and may be hard to find outside the major cities, that’s why cash is a good backup.

It’s not uncommon for foreigners to be caught out without cash on the weekends and holidays or simply because Western Union had no money or was closed for some reason.

This is when having some foreign cash on hand can come in handy.

Using Credit & Debit Cards 🛑

Credit cards are left for the end on this post because today foreigners avoid using credit or debit cards.

It can be hard for people not accustomed to carrying cash to get used to this, but Argentina is definitely a cash economy for visitors.

It doesn’t matter what country you come from, if using credit or debit cards in Argentina, money is given at the official rate.

Hotels, tours and large restaurants will accept credit cards in Argentina, but if you get out of the tourist zone you will find many restaurants and stores do not.

Even before the parallel currency market returned, businesses frequently gave a better rate for paying ‘en efectivo‘ (cash) because of credit card transaction fees. This holds true more than ever.

For convenience and safety’s sake it’s best just to carry enough cash around to cover your day’s expenses and not use your card at all while in Argentina.

Using ATMs in Argentina: Costs & Fees 🛑

It’s always good to have a bank card and credit card on your travels and, in Argentina, tucked away somewhere as a backup in case of emergency.

To save on ATM fees in Argentina, don’t use them 😜

Now that the ‘Blue Dollar’ is back, saving money on ATM fees should be the last thing on your mind, as using ATMs in Argentina means losing half the value of your money!

But with the return of the Blue dollar, budget conscience travelers to Argentina should not use ATM’s at all if adverse to losing money.

ATM’s are abundant in most major cities and accept all types of debit and credit cards.

But on top of once again getting a poor official rate for foreign currency, ‘Low Withdrawals limits — High Fees‘ is the name of the game when it comes to accessing money from a foreign bank account in Argentina.

ATM withdrawals are limited to a maximum of about U.S. $82-$200 per transaction for most banks, and only two withdrawals per day are permitted, so using ATMs proves impractical.

What’s worse is that the low withdrawal amounts are combined with an ATM fee of approximately US$10 or more per transaction.

This means that on top of getting the ‘official rate’ visitors who use ATM’s also pay somewhere around 10% just to use bank machines here — and that’s withdrawing as much as possible at a time.

Even when the ‘Blue Dollar‘ market died down during the previous administration (who regularized the money situation), visitors sought out alternate options such as money transfer services and cryptocurrency to access their money from abroad to avoid Argentina’s high ATM fees.

Considering the difficulty and costs of using banks in Argentina — in addition to getting the official rate — it is understandable that visitors go to the black market to get their hands on some pesos.

While technically ‘illegal,’ the black market trade of currency is common in Argentina and there are no cases of foreigners getting in trouble with the law for trading money with a private entity.

Frequent travelers may want to find a home bank that reimburses transaction.

As a backup, savvy travelers would be smart to open a checking account with a bank back home that refunds ATM fees and doesn’t charge foreign currency fees, if available.

-In the U.S., Charles Schwab and some credit unions refund ATM fees, while others such as Capital One and USAA refund a limited amount.

-Australians should look into Citibank Plus, an ING Orange Everyday account and Schwab checking.

-Canada doesn’t have many good options for banks that refund atm fees, but try out ScotiaBank/Tangerine-ING or HSBC Premier. Tangerine is an online bank that can be useful for Canadians who want to collect their pension while in Argentina.

-In the UK most banks do not refund the banking fees, but Nationwide has some of the best rates. The mobile-based Starling Bank is also worth investigating.

(None of the above suggestions are sponsored, this is just based on word on the street)

Many of the checking accounts that refund international ATM fees have certain requirements, so you’ll have to figure out what works for your individual situation.

Regardless of your home bank, if you absolutely have to use your bank card in Argentina, to get charged as little as possible withdrawing money try to use ATMs that are on your home network.

The Argentine national bank mentioned above, Banco de la Nación has lower withdrawal fees at its ATMs than the private banks.

To be on the safe side, carry two different bank cards, kept in different places, during your stay.

When using ATM’s beware that sometimes they are slow to spit the card back out at the end of the transaction.

Many a traveler has withdrawn money and walked away, accidentally leaving their card in the machine.

Using Checks in Argentina 🛑

Those wondering if checks might be a good alternative option to having to carry cash will be disappointed.

Traveler’s checks are, at best, a total headache and at worse virtually useless in most of Argentina. One reliable place to cash them is at one of the three American Express offices in Buenos Aires, but there are more convenient options to using traveler checks these days.

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 in Argentina.