Money Exchange in Argentina

The recent economic crisis in Argentina has bankrupted the country and left it with extreme inflation rates. In an attempt to save their assets, locals are stocking up on the far more reliable and stable U.S. dollar. In Argentina, demand for the U.S. dollar is at an all-time high. The government seems unable to stop the Argentinian peso from becoming weaker and weaker, and as a consequence a black market developed where U.S. dollars are sold for more than what the government dictates they’re worth.

ATMs vs Black Market

The official exchange rate currently stands at 1/8.66: one U.S. dollar equals 8.66 Argentinian pesos. The official exchange rate is used by the government, banks, and certain money exchange offices (for example, the ones in the airport). The black market rate is changing rapidly, but currently hovers just above 1/13.

This means withdrawing 100$ from an ATM will give you 866 Argentinian pesos (the official exchange rate as adopted by banks). However, exchanging the same 100$ at the black market will give you a whopping 1,300 Argentinian pesos. A yield of 50$ or 50%. This only holds, of course, if you are bringing cash into the country as getting U.S. dollars while in Argentina is impossible.

We often heard the black market operates in the “legal grey area,” whatever that means. It is technically not illegal, and the government mostly looks away except for the big guys. The rate you can get differs per day, and also on where you are: the best rates are available in Buenos Aires, and the more you change the better a deal you get. It all depends who you exchange with, and what rate you can haggle.

Getting Prepared

We learned from the situation in Argentina while researching our itinerary. At the time, we were in Hong Kong, and decided to exchange Hong Kong dollars for U.S. dollars, as we did not want to do this in Brazil for safety reasons. We exchanged an initial amount of 600$, hid it in our bags, and never touched it until we were in Argentina.

Also, because the black market doesn’t give receipts, we read online false notes are often given out. Our advice: look for some articles regarding recognizing fake notes, as they are not that hard to spot. This will give you a sense of security when exchanging.

First Attempts

In Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, right at the border with Argentina, our hostel offered to exchange for 1/12.2. Given that we had little time to wander around looking for the black market in Puerto Iguazú as we wanted to see the Iguazú Falls, we accepted the offer and exchanged 150$. Later on, we learned our hostel in Puerto Iguazú would only give 1/11, so we felt accomplished.

In Buenos Aires, we did not really know where to go except for “Florida Street.” This is a shopping street, but also known as the black market capital, where dozens of shady-looking touts yell “Cambio, Cambio (exchange, exchange),” and try to lure tourists in exchanging money with them. This process, we read, usually involves you going into a building or store off the main street.

We didn’t like it. The people looked too shady, and the idea of walking into quiet side-streets, not knowing if you would be given fake notes or worse, getting robbed after exchanging, made us pull back. We went back to the hostel to reconsider our options: our hostel only gave 1/11.5, while we heard we could get over 13 on Florida Street.

Getting Better

We consulted the internet. We recommend to always do this: people write about specific places you can go to exchange money, without having to talk to the touts. Also, because these people take a cut from your quote, avoiding this middle man gives you a better deal. A win-win! After browsing for an hour or so, we had a shortlist of three places which would offer a fair deal and no fake notes. We tried again.

Our first place directly was a hit: we went into a side-galleria of the main shopping street, and to our surprise there was a nicely-looking booth with a Cambio sign. It looked way better than we thought: no dark shady buildings in quiet alleys. We got a great deal: 1/13.3, and we exchanged 400$ without receiving a single fake note back.

As we spent quite a lot in Buenos Aires, we had to exchange more after we stocked up on U.S. dollars in Uruguay. We went to the same place, but upon entering it we saw a policeman standing inside. We turned around, even though we guessed he was doing his own business. We went to the second place we researched, and got a rate of 1/13.4. Excellent once again.

In Patagonia, we exchanged a bit more in Ushuaia and, unsurprisingly, the exchange rate was a bit lower than in Buenos Aires but still acceptable (1/12 vs 1/13.x). In total, we made over 600$ by using the black market over conventional ATMs. By doing this, we were able to stick to our budget, and to make an expensive country as Argentina a little bit cheaper.

Everyone Does It

This whole post sounds more dangerous than it really is: when one does proper research, knows how to spot fake bills, and finds the right places to exchange, it is very easy. In fact, it is a daily activity for lots of people in Argentina who are just trying to save their assets. At one point, we even felt bad for tourists using an ATM. Except for the screaming touts at Florida Street, which we eventually avoided, we never felt intimated or anything. So parents, rest assure.

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We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.

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