Going to travel through Argentina? Take a lot of cash money with you!
Sounds like a bad piece of travel advise right? Usually we wouldn’t recommend you to bring a lot of cash money on a holiday. But if you are going to Argentina, you should. You should also exchange it on the black market. Here’s why.
Why you should bring a lot of cash.
Reason 1: Finding a bank to withdraw money is a hassle.
Argentina has two type of bank systems: Banelco (red and white symbols) and Link (yellow and green symbols). If you want to withdraw money you first need to find a bank that will operate the card system you will be using. We used maestro and mastercard which worked on the Banelco systems. But often had to try several banks or even different machines to find an operating one. We lost enormous amounts of time going on ‘money runs’ because of this.
Reason 2: The amount you can withdraw is limited.
We could only withdraw 1500 ARS at a time and at a maximum of 2 withdrawals per 24 hours. The reality was that we could only withdraw 3000 ARS per day (+/- €280) for 2 persons because of withdrawal issues. This was ok when we had to pay for accommodation and food only but became a little tight when we had to pay extra for transport or excursions.
Reason 3: Withdrawing money is very expensive.
It’s also important to know that for each separate withdrawal, we had to pay a tax (around 50 ARS or €5). And knowing that you can only withdraw small amounts of cash, the expenses add up quickly.
Reason 4: Paying with a card is a hassle too.
I have a Mastercard gold with a high limit to make sure that I can cover for my expenses whenever I’m traveling for a while. So I thought this would easily resolve all of the withdrawal stress, right? Guess again. Paying with Mastercard is widely accepted in Argentina. But here is the downside: The system isn’t very stable. Sometimes it works and you’ll be able to pay without problems but
sometimes often the system is down. So we had to pay cash for hotels, food or activities whenever the system wasn’t operating.
Reason 5: The dollar blue.
Argentina has two exchange rates for US dollars and Euros which will give you more value for your money. One is the official rate (you will get this at the bank and when withdrawing). The second one is the black market rate called ‘dollar blue’. When I came to Argentina, the official rate from Euro to ARS was 9. So If I would exchange €1.000 at the official rate, I would get 9.000 ARS. But the Blue Dollar rate was 14. So exchanging on the black market, I would get 14.000 ARS. Meaning I got 5.000 ARS more to spend on stays, wine and other fun stuff. This was quite a saving on my total travel spending.
So you are convinced to bring along some cash money and to exchange it at the black market.? But you are wondering how to do this? Keep reading!
How to exchange money on the black market.
Step 1: Check the Blue dollar rate
Make sure you are prepared by knowing the current blue dollar rate. You will be offered several rates at the black market so it’s good to know when to strike a deal and when to pass. You can check the blue dollar rate on this website.
Step 2: Finding Arbolleros
Finding an exchange person called arbollero on the black market isn’t very hard if you know where to go. In Buenos Aires you can go to Florida street where you will find several people whispering or even shouting ‘cambio’. In Bariloche go to Mittre street.
Step 3: Negotiate
When you nod or walk up to an arbollero, he will give you the exchange rate. Now you already know what rate you are looking for. If you have the guts, try to negotiate a bit. Speaking a little Spanish and putting on a poker face can come in handy here.
Step 4: Use your common sense
Once you agree on the exchange rate, the arbollero will lead you to the exchange office. I was taken to a newspaper stand in the street on one occasion. Another time I was brought to an apartment building. I’ll admit it was a bit dodgy and that this was nerve wrecking. There are some stories out there of tourists being robbed of all their money so it’s very important to use your common sense at this point: If at any point you feel unsafe, walk away.
Some extra tips: Exchange a little money the first time. If you trust the arbollero you can exchange more at the same location later on. Don’t carry too much money or documents on you. I left them with my wife and only carried the amount on me that I wanted to exchange. Once you receive your money, take your time to count the bills and check if they are legitimate.
It’s a little exciting at first but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy.
Now enjoy those extra dineros!