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Blue (Dollar) is BACK

Pay attention travelers — Argentina’s ‘Blue Dollar‘ is back!

Getting a grasp on Argentina’s unique economy is important for budget conscious travelers headed 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 U.S. 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 also 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 purchase, thus creating a parallel ‘black’ market for foreign currency.

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 more cash-in-hand in Argentina than the official government rate given out at banks and ATM bank machines.

Luckily visitors can also receive a great rate using some (not all) money transfer services, as you can see by comparing their rates with the official rate.

Check out currency converter to compare the Official rate, Blue rate, and Western Unions Rate:

Two Money Exchange Option that Give the Blue Rate

Western Union is the most popular Money Transfer service for foreigners in Argentina because they give a competitive rate and have lots of locations.

Other money services include Moneygram and Remitly but Western Union dominates the market because of its ease of use, good rates and numerous locations throughout Buenos Aires and cities around the country.

What the Return of  the ‘Blue Dollar’ Means for Visitors to Argentina

Welcome to the thrilling adventure of dealing with money in Argentina. Exchanging currency on the black market is a legal grey area but a common practice for locals and a huge benefit for foreigners.

If you’re planning to visit Argentina and want to exchange money on the black market, keep in mind that USD, Euros, and Brazilian Reales are the only three currencies in demand.

Visitors, just like most Argentines, won’t be able to get foreign currency within Argentina.

Banks and ATMs only dispense Argentine pesos, and until 2022, using ATMs was avoided by in-the-know foreigners due them giving the official exchange rate. However, a new option called the MEP rate was introduced in late 2022, which allows foreigners to receive a rate that’s typically 3-10% less than the black market rate.

Today, using an electronic money transfer service is still a great alternative option because it is legal and provides a higher rate than just using a card and a similar and sometimes better rate than exchanging USD on the black market.

But using Western Union can be a chore and can occasionally turn into an odyssey, so it’s up to travelers to do their own cost-benefit analysis.

The one way that travelers or digital nomads can get their hands on dollars is by hoping to a border country, such as hopping across the river to Colonia, Uruguay from Buenos Aires.

Uruguay’s ATMs give U.S. dollars, but just like with Western Union, make sure you’re not the last in line.

U.S. dollars can also be obtained in some banks in Bolivia. Chile’s ATM’s do not give U.S. dollars.

Cash-only Economy

In practice, the current economic situation in Argentina means it is still largely a cash-only economy for foreigners, because most travelers want to get the best rate possible and atm fees are high.

Those who travel to Argentina with foreign cash can exchange it on the black market, such as on Buenos Aires’ Florida Street and still receive considerably more than at a bank or ATM.

The Current Black Market Rate: Argentine peso to USD black market rate

As of July 2022, foreign currency is worth more than double on the black market.

At the time of writing the official rate for dollars is $1=AR$135.

The black mark rate is $320+.

For a while, the official rate has hovered from around half to 60% of the black market rate.

Now the official rate is not even 45% of the black/blue market rate.

The breach between the official rate and the blue dollar rate fluctuates daily, but the tendency is that the gap between the two grows 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 double the 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 the Casa Rosada.

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 a few hundred pesos.

Save money on atm fees in Argentina
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!

Saving Money

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 or host for a safe place to change their money into pesos. We also have trusted places we’ve used for years to suggest for our guests.

Changing money with a random arbolito on Florida Street usually turns out fine.

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.

A picture of a sign taped to a bank door that says 'cajero cerrado' ('ATM closed'), which is a common sight at ATM's in Argentina
On holidays and weekends not only are money transfer services like Western Union closed, it’s also not uncommon to find ATM’s closed.

Changing 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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Western Union

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:

How to Sign Up for Western Union

  1. Go to Western Union’s webpage or download their app
  2. Make an account from your home country, using the same home address you use for your bank. *Make sure all details on the account are correct (¡important!) Even though the app says it’s optional, problems can occur if the name doesn’t match.
  3. Press send money’ and select Argentina and yourself as the receiver.
  4. Go to a Western Union office with your passport and the MTCN number to get your money

When it comes to pulling funds for Western Union, you’ve got three sources to choose from — your trusty debit card, credit card, or bank account.

Each comes with its own unique fee structure.

If you’re all about saving those extra bucks, bank account is the winner with the lowest fee.

The downside it usually involves a wait time of four business days if there are not complications.

If time is of the essence, debit card and credit card options are available with higher fees, but they offer quicker access to your funds once you’re an established customer.

Be aware that for your first transaction or if you’re using a different funding source for the first time, there might be some additional delay.

We know you might be curious about the exact wait times, but unfortunately, it varies for different people, so that’s why we always suggest having a back-up cash reserve.

Sometimes there are also codes that will give you a discount on the considerable Western Union fees but they haven’t been around for a while.

Receiving Money from Western Union

There are two options for receiving your transaction in Argentina: deposit into a local bank account (if you have one, or a trusted friend’s) or picking up cash at a Western Union office which are often in offices with a PagoFacil.

If you choose to pick up cash funded by a credit or debit card, you can usually get access to your funds within minutes. The bank account option will involve a delay.

Tips for Western Union

Sometimes people have issues signing up and using Western Union 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
  • Make sure the address and name attached to your bank account and the WU or other money remit service account are the same (they can be fussy about middle names)
  • 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 and you can get two Amazon gift cards!)
  • Although there may be a wait to talk to an agent, often calling Western Union will help you get things worked out.
    —Just don’t mention you are sending money to yourself from out of the country as they may want to transfer you or suspect that it is fraudulent transaction.

Tips for Picking Up Your Money Transfer

Be aware that the worst times to pickup money are late on Friday, Saturday or before a holiday, or the first few days of the month when everyone is trying to get their money.

Random Western Union affiliate offices often won’t have money, or might just have an old sign hanging out and not even offer money pickup at all anymore.

Don’t rely on Google to find locations and business hours of Western Union as they are often wrong.

This also holds true for local electronic money pickup businesses such as More Money and Giros.

The best Western Union offices to pick up your piles of pesos are the main locations.

These offices usual have either PagoFacil or RapiPago, companies that process bill payments, so they are more likely to have money.

Using CryptoCurrency to ‘Digitally Transfer’ Money

Believe it or not, cryptocurrency is used in Argentina quite a bit.

It is one of the top countries for cryptocurrency adaptation because it is actually a feasible tool to get around the currency shenanigans.

What is Cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is virtual currency that is used to acquire products and services like any other currency. The difference is cryptocurrency is decentralized.

There is no authority or central banking system that is responsible for its issuance and registration of its movements. A user’s cryptographic key is associated with their virtual wallet, which sends and receives payment.

Those who want to transfer a large amount of money from their home bank to Argentina may want to go the crypto route.

It will be hard to find a traditional money remittance service such as Western Union or Moneygram that will be able to pay out more that the equivalent of US$1,000 much less $5,000 at any one time.

Savvy Argentines, and even many Venezuelan economic migrants here, were early adaptors to using Bitcoin and other forms of digital currency.

Venezuelan economic migrants could use crypto to send money back home to their families. That’s because they had a similar currency situation, where otherwise their money would be devalued using traditional banking.

It’s one of the few ways they have to ‘save’ or send ‘money’ due to both countries currency restrictions.

It’s important to know that there are a lot of scammy cryptocurrency programs sometimes promoted by shady Instagram influencers, so it’s a good idea to get a basic understanding of how cryptocurrency works.

To use cryptocurrency in Argentina and not get scammed, make sure you sign up either directly on or with any known digital crypto wallet, such as Coinbase.

To use cryptocurrency to get the Blue Rate in Argentina, first make an account with a digital wallet or directly on the blockchain.

The crypto wallet is just where you store your crypto assets — there is no scheming or scamming involved.

You can then purchase cryptocurrency right on the platform using your bank account or with a debit or credit card, or even Paypal.

Your digital assets, be it Bitcoin, USDT, Bitcoin cash, Ethereum or Litecoin, can then be sold to a crypto seller, who works much like a regular arbolito (money changer), or at a bitcoin ATM (link to locations in Buenos Aires) 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 $10 of cryptocurrency to start off your account if you purchase $100.

It’s not much, but if you had bought $10 of Bitcoin in 2011 you’d have a small fortune now!

Once you’ve made an account and purchased some crypto, you just need to find a local crypto broker or individual who will give you pesos for crypto.

The whole exchange is not unlike changing dollars on Florida street.

Your crypto is sent to their online wallet at the moment of transaction.

There are even crypto brokers working as arbolitos on Florida Street.

The group Bitcoin Argentina is a great resource for anyone who needs help figuring out how to use crypto to get hands on their cash.

A Pleasure Trip To Uruguay for U.S. Dollars

As mentioned above, another option to get one’s 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.

At least be aware of the possibility that the bank machines may run out of USD on the weekends.

On a Saturday morning there may still be some cash in the machines. On Sunday night they may be empty, something that also happens in Buenos Aires.

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.

Since Wise offers 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.

Wise accounts can also be used to send to Western Union, which makes it utilitarian for those who don’t have Western Union in their home country.

Dealing with Money if Staying in Argentina Long-term

Those moving to Argentina, or even traveling here for any length of time, might want to bring a lot of cash. There are two reason for this:

1.) It’s difficult to rely on Western Union or another transfer service alone. They are usually closed on holidays and weekends and sometimes don’t have cash.

Also the government could clamp down on the ‘Blue Dollar’/ Western Union market at any time.

2.) Money transfer services won’t remit large amounts. Above a certain amount, users have to justify the source of the money and provide extra paperwork.

If someone wants to put down a lump sum on an apartment to rent for six months, or make a large purchase, traditional money transfer services will be difficult or impossible to use.

Travelers are permitted to enter Argentina with up to US$10,000 without declaring it.

If carrying a lot of cash feels unsafe in a big city like Buenos Aires, bring a reasonable amount for your needs 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 would be wise to transfer money before going to a more remote area of the country.

It’s not uncommon to be caught out without cash on the weekends and holidays.

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

➡ Read our tips on handling money in Argentina.

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 money situation is always changing.

Forget using your credit cards, Apple Pay or using QR codes to pay in Argentina.

Bring U.S. dollars, and if you don’t want to carry a lot of cash, plan to use a money exchange service such as Western Union or Remitly, to receive the favorable ‘blue rate.’

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch via our contact form!

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