Money: Credit cards, ATM’s & Small Change

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A picture of a one peso Argentine coin
• 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 the grocer to hand over a piece of hard candy in lieu of your small change.

2018 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 1000 note, or even a 5oo 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).

A picture of an Argentine one hundred peso note
• 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 approximately US$10 for a transaction of any amount, and the withdrawal limits are very low at under US$200 per transaction.

It used to be that travelers who wanted to get the best exchange rate would travel to Argentina with coveted U.S. dollars and sell them to friends or exchange them at underground exchange houses. The illegal exchange houses still exist in downtown Buenos Aires but now the difference between the official exchange rate given at the bank and the black market rate is only about 3%.

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 Many a traveler has withdrawn money and walked away, accidentally leaving their card in the machine.

• 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.

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