The Blue (Dollar) is the new Black
Pay attention travelers — Argentina’s ‘Blue Dollar‘ is back! This is the most important thing for budget conscious travelers to be aware of when traveling to Argentina.
If you don’t know about the ‘Dólar Blue‘ read on because it can make a huge difference in how much you end up spending on your vacation to Argentina.
‘Blue Dollar’ is an euphemism for the black market exchange for US dollars, which is created by the government’s own policies to manipulate the currency market.
Argentina has a tumultuous banking history and beginning in late 2019 the country’s unorthodox currency restrictions (which most recently existed from 2012-2015) came back with the return of a Peronist party government.
The restrictions place limits on the amount of foreign currency locals can buy, creating a parallel market for foreign currency on the ‘black market’.
Due to the inflationary nature of the Argentine peso, locals prefer to buy and save in foreign currency so that their money doesn’t lose 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, Euros or Reals are worth significantly more cash-in-hand in Argentina than the official government rate given out at banks and ATM bank machines.
What the Return of the ‘Blue Dollar’ Means for Visitors to Argentina
Exchanging currency on the black market is a legal grey area — it’s somewhat of a necessity for Argentine citizens who want to save money or travel outside the country, while being hugely beneficial for foreigners.
But, travelers should be aware that USD, Euros and Brazilian Reales are the only three currencies in demand on Argentina’s black market.
Those planning to visit Argentina who want to exchange money on the black market will probably find it easiest to do so around the country with U.S. dollars.
• Visitors, just like Argentines, will not be able to get their hands on any foreign currency in Argentina, even from their own bank accounts back home. Banks and ATM’s only remit Argentine pesos.
In practice all this means Argentina is going back to being an cash-only economy for foreigners, because who wants to pay twice the amount using a credit or debit card?
Those who travel to Argentina with foreign cash (USD, EUROS, REALS) can exchange it on the black market, such as on Buenos Aires’ Florida Street and receive considerably more than at a bank or ATM.
The Current Black Market Rate: Argentine peso to USD black market rate
As of December 2021, foreign currency is worth approximately 40-50% more on the black market and this number is only expected to go up as the government increases currency controls.
Background on Argentina’s Blue Dollar
Argentina had a thriving black market for currency under the second term of Cristina Kirchner from 2012-2015, when visitors could get up to 50% more for their cash on the black market.
In the previous ‘blue dollar’ days, Argentina had a reputation as a budget destination. As long as in-the-know foreigners brought fistfuls of foreign cash to exchange on the black market, they could enjoy a relatively inexpensive vacation.
Argentina lifted the dollar restrictions and returned to relative normalcy on the banking scene between the years of 2015-2019, while the neoliberal administration of Mauricio Macri was in power.
During these years, there still existed a small black market for currency but the spread between the official rate and the black market rate was negligible compared to now, so foreigners mostly didn’t bother with it.
One of the first moves of the newly-elected Peronist government return to power in late 2019, was to reinstate the unorthodox currency restrictions, bringing the country is back to the ‘blue dollar‘. The restriction on foreign currency makes Argentina a budget destination again as US$1 buys AR$200+ in pesos.
Hot Argentina Money Tip (before you travel) : Do not exchange your foreign currency into Argentine pesos before arriving in Argentina. Argentine pesos are a pariah currency — they may not even have any to sell. More importantly, even if they do have them you will get the lower, official rate.
Hot Argentina Money Tip (before you return home): Only exchange the amount you need while in Argentina, and then spend all your pesos before leaving the country. No overseas bank will want to buy them, and if they do, they will be virtually worthless.
Saving Money on ATM Fees in Argentina
With the return of the Blue dollar, budget conscience travelers to Argentina should try not use ATM’s at all.
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. Crazy, right?
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 presidency of Mauricio Macri, 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.
On Florida Street in downtown Buenos Aires, police officers stand around while ‘arbolitos’ (money changers) yell out ‘Cambio, Cambio — Dolares, Euros’ to offer their services.
Visitors are advised to ask their hotel for a safe place to change their money into pesos.
We also have trusted places we’ve used for years to suggest for our clients.
As a courtesy, we will exchange a small amount of dollars at the Blue Rate, for those using our airport pickup service on the weekends, when there are few people changing money.
How to Change Money on the Black Market
It’s best to be informed about the process of changing on the ‘blue market’ before you go to a ‘cueva‘ (as the underground exchanges are called.)
Visitors should not be confused by legal storefront currency exchange houses around the city — their rates are usually similar to the bank rate, so few people use them.
Either ask a local friend to go with you to exchange money the first time to get a lay of the land, or read our article about ‘arbolitos‘ (money changers), ‘Money Exchange and Other Hustles on Florida Street.’
Before going to change money at a cueva, look up the black market rate on a local website such as Ambito, which publishes it on their home page (they call it the ‘dolár informal’).
Many of the underground exchange houses are on the downtown pedestrian thoroughfare of Florida Street, although they do exist in other areas of the city.
Sometimes the exchanges operate in the back of jewelry or flower stores in Buenos Aires and around the country.
Basically any business might opt for a little side business changing money, after all most people trying to save money in Argentina need dollars anyway.
If doing it on the fly your first time, just walk down Florida street and when someone offers to change money (and they will, especially if you look like you have dollars in your pocket) ask a few different people the rate.
When a rate seems reasonable, only change money if they take you to the cueva — don’t do it on the street.
There are also private individuals who come to your home, airbnb or hotel to change money, but make sure to arrange this only with a trusted contact.
If in a pinch on the weekend or holidays, some supermarkets will also take dollars (only larger bills) if you purchase something.
They will give you the change in pesos, but be sure to check that the rate they offer is closer to the black market rate than the official exchange rate.
Using Electronic Transfer Services to Receive Money in Argentina
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So what if you didn’t know about the Blue Dollar and/or are already in Argentina with no foreign currency?
Not all is lost. There are a few money and electronic transfer remittance services that offer rates close (and sometimes even better) than the black or ‘informal’ market rate.
Many people use Western Union, as they give the highest rate. They take a commission of between 5-10% but no one is complaining when you compare their rate to the official rate.
If you’ve never used Western Union before, you can get a $20 Amazon gift code by signing up with this link:
A newer service called Remitly operates in a similar fashion Western Union.
Their rates fluctuate, but are generally lower than Western Union. They do have lower fees.
Their ‘Economy Fee’ is sending from a bank account and the ‘Express Fee’ is for sending using a debit or credit card.
If you use our Remitly link you get a $20 signup bonus, so for the first transaction you end up with a better rate than Western Union.
Tips for Western Union & Remitly Signup and Transaction Issues
Sometimes people have issues signing up and using Western Union and Remitly for the first time to send money to themselves in Argentina.
This is because of security checks and international anti-money laundering laws. For first-time customers this can result in futile conversations with their chat bots or long waits on the phone.
If you have issues completing the transaction try these hacks:
- Send a smaller amount (under $500) the first time –— larger amounts get flagged easier
- Clear your computer cookies and try again
- Call your bank to make sure they aren’t blocking the transaction
- Try to make the transaction on a different device
- Use a Tor Browser or VPN to sign up and/or make the transaction — the originating IP showing Argentina can cause the transaction to be blocked
- Try to use a different bank account or card — some banks have more sensitive triggers to reject new or unusual transactions than others
- Make two accounts with two different email addresses, one as the sender and one as the receiver (this may seem desperate, but it’s better than the chat bots!)
Using CryptoCurrency to ‘Digitally Transfer’ Money
Believe it or not, cryptocurrency is used in Argentina quite a bit as another tool to get around the currency shenanigans.
Argentina is one of the countries with the most active cryptocurrency scene.
Savvy Argentines, and even many Venezuelan refugees here, were early adaptors to using Bitcoin and other forms of digital currency. It’s one of the few ways they have to save or send ‘money.’
It’s important to know that there are a lot of scammy cryptocurrency programs out there, so It’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of what you are getting into to.
To use cryptocurrency in Argentina and not get scammed, make sure you sign up either directly on Blockchain.com or with any known digital crypto wallet. The crypto wallet is just where you store your money — there is no scheming or scamming involved.
To use cryptocurrency to get the Blue Rate in Argentina, first make an account with a digital wallet or directly on the blockchain.
You can then purchase cryptocurrency using your bank account or with a debit or credit card or even Paypal.
Your digital assets, be it Bitcoin, Bitcoin cash or Litecoin, can then be sold in Buenos Aires either to a crypto seller, who works much like a regular arbolito (money changer), at a bitcoin ATM or P2P — from another crypto user.
One of the most popular online wallets is Coinbase.
If you sign up below, you get a sign up bonus of $5 of cryptocurrency to start off your account.
It’s not much, but if you had bought $5 of Bitcoin in 2011 you’d have a considerable nest egg now!
A Pleasure Trip To Uruguay for U.S. Dollars
Another option to get your hands on coveted dollars is to take the popular and worthwhile day or couple of day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay and pick up some greenbacks while there.
In theory, Uruguay’s ATM’s issue USD, but it is recommended to take the trip on a weekday if headed to Colonia del Sacramento because the bank machines often run out of USD on the weekends.
If going further afield, such as Montevideo, getting dollars from the ATM shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Using Wise (formally Transferwise) to Send Money
An option, that used to be more viable before the Blue Rate made its comeback is Wise, a peer-to-peer electronic money transfer service.
Their system finds someone looking to transfer money in the opposite direction, and then conducts the transfer using a forex exchange rate, paying out in the local currency.
While the concept of Wise is great in other countries, it doesn’t make much sense to use it in Argentina anymore now that the ‘blue dollar’ is back.
Their rates are only slightly better than Argentina’s official exchange rate, so the only advantage is that users can avoid paying high ATM and foreign exchange fees.
Wise will not give you the blue rate and should only be used as a last resort, as users will receive only about half of what their money would be worth on the black market or using other services such as Western Union or Remitly.
Before the Blue Dollar was reinstated in Argentina it made sense to use a money service such as Wise (formally Transferwise) to save on ATM fees.
Since they only offer a rate similar to the official rate, it’s only worth a mention because some remote workers and digital nomads still find Wise useful to handle their business transactions outside of Argentina.
How to Deal with Money if Staying in Argentina Long-term
The best advice for those moving to Argentina, or even traveling here for any length of time, is to bring a lot of cash.
Travelers are permitted to enter Argentina with up to USD-10k without declaring it. It’s best to have crisp $100 bills, as smaller bills usually receive a slightly lower rate.
If carrying a lot of cash feels unsafe, bring a some and then sign up for one of the money transfer services mentioned above to send money to yourself from your banking account, debit or credit card.
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. It’s not uncommon to be caught out without cash on the weekends and holidays.
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.
-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.
Banking Tips & Money Transfer TL;DR
Argentina’s Blue Rate is a bit of a confusing topic for foreigners who aren’t familiar with the financial acrobatics that the government performs to manage its economic crisis, and the situation is always changing.
Forget your credit cards or using QR codes to pay in Argentina.
Bring U.S. dollars, and if you don’t want to carry wads of cash, plan to use a money exchange service such as Western Union or Remitly, to receive the ‘blue rate.’
If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch via our contact form!