Make your dollar go twice as far in Argentina. The ins and outs of Dollar Blue
I am not even going to start this piece by pretending I understand this in any way shape or form. Economy, business and law are by no means a strong point of mine. However even if I don’t overly understand the ‘why?’ I most certainly do understand the repercussions for travel…
Now is the time to travel in Argentina
With their economy taking a hit and the Governments introduction of tough currency change restrictions on its people, a black market (or blue market if you will) has emerged. In short you can now trade precious USD for almost double the official exchange rate known as the dollar blue, meaning your money now goes twice as far. If ever there was a time to go to Argentina it is most definitely now!
Like most travelers I have come across, it was not until I was well within the confines of South America before I heard anything about this ‘blue market’ for U.S. dollars in Argentina. As luck would have it in most South American countries (minus Argentina of course) you can easily withdraw USD from an ATM. With this new information my intended travel itinerary took a turn South and instead of flying north I found myself crossing the Bolivian border into Argentina. Loaded with US dollars and a slight feel of unease in carry such large amounts of cash, I headed for the ‘cambio’ street in Salta to see just how much more than the official rate I could obtain. The official exchange rate for USD sat around 8 Argentinian Pesos for 1 US dollar during my visit to Argentina.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but a bunch of older, sweaty men armed with pockets full of cash and a calculator certainly wasn’t it! As you walk down the street the word ‘Cambio’ is screamed in your direction and to my surprise you certainly don’t have to be discreet while illegally changing money in the middle of the street. Oh perhaps I forgot to mention, this is actually technically illegal (I did say law was a little hazy on the subject of law!). In fact, as far as illegal actions go – this was all a little too easy. I had expected a lot more dark alley ways and whispering being the novice crook that I am!
This wasn’t my only surprise. Unlike an official exchange rate where you have little movement, you can barter with these sweaty men for a better exchange rate. As a general rule, the more money you are changing the more power you have to get a higher rate. But I saw the discrepancy of up to 0.6 pesos per dollar in exchange rate between unofficial traders within 100m of one another. So in short, it is worth your time to shop around and given they all line up next to each other on the street, you don’t have to go far!
Of course it is not foolproof. The value of the mighty dollar blue changes daily (and throughout the day!) as it tends to reflect movement in the official value of the Argentinian Peso. So what you are left with is almost similar to gambling … to change all your money at once? That is the question.
Unfortunately there is no correct answer, however I have included things to consider from my own experiences.
- As a general rule, the further you are from Buenos Aires the worse the rate will be. If you are in the south i.e. Patagonia, the exchange rate is significantly lower (up to 3 pesos per dollar)
- The best rate I came across was at the Bolivia/Argentina border. If you have friends or contacts travelling in Argentina, try checking with them what the rate is in their city. It would have been beneficial in my case to have exchanged all my dollars at the border and not have held off hoping for the rate to increase. The beauty of hindsight!
- Check the dollar blue rate online, it is regularly updated on numerous websites
- If you are in Argentina already – you can make a ‘cash run’ to Uruguay to obtain US dollars
- Casinos, shops and hotels are also known to change money higher than the official rate but lower than dollar blue. Check the street value first
- Ask for directions as to where to change money, you will always be directed to the sweaty men in the streets
- I have seen advice to change small amounts at a time, however I found this tactic ensured I lost money. Consider perhaps a happy medium in changing half of your cash at one time if you find a good rate. While it’s easy to hold off fearing missing out if the rate goes up, chances are (as with all gambling) the rate will go down
- If you are purchasing internal flights or wanting expensive electrical good etc – anything of large value consider having more (rather than less) US dollars on you than you may need. I had the opportunity to pay for a flight in pesos at the agency which would have almost halved the cost of the flight, unfortunately I had not enough currency on me and had to pay with EFTPOS. A pricey error! Similarly if heading to tax free Ushuaia, there are great outlets for camera gear etc that you may want to consider having spare cash for
- Be wary of forged notes. Check each note by looking for the portrait embedded into the note when held up to the light. If you still are not sure, have someone show you before you exchange your money
- Brand new, $100 bills are preferred and often they won’t change $20 notes. When obtaining cash prior to arrival, make sure it is in 100 dollar notes. It’s no good having the US cash if no one will change it!
A final note, while this is a great time for tourists the grim reality for many Argentinians is yet another financial crisis. Given you are saving so much money, try to be a little kinder in your offerings when leaving tips etc. Sharing some of what you have saved can make a big difference to the people of Argentina.
If this isn’t reason enough, check out 9 darn good reasons to get yourself to Argentina now!