Money matters in Argentina
UPDATE 2016: since the new government floated the Argentine Peso in late December 2015 this article is fairly outdated! A small remnant market for the ‘Dolar Blue’ remains but most transactions can now be done by credit card or official money changers at around the same exchange rate!
For all interested a brief rundown on the black market money exchange in Argentina and some of our expenses.
Probably most people interested in travelling Argentina already know, that there is a “black exchange market” for the Argentinian Peso, called “Dólar Blue” (yes, only with one ‘L’). And before you ask: yes, changing “Dólar Blue” can save you a lot of money with little trouble.
How did it come to this? Argentina has been struggling throughout the last decades to keep its finances in order. As The Guardian portrays the situation so fittingly “Argentina engages in serial, self-inflicted economic upheaval.” For a long time big ticket items like houses and apartments, but also second hand cars, are commonly priced in US Dollars, not in Pesos. Now you also find ordinary small shops who display two prices for their goods, one in Pesos, one in US-Dollars. Hence people are putting their savings into hard foreign currencies to prevent losses due to the high inflation rate. During the last crisis in 2002 the Argentinian government froze all bank accounts, so people couldn’t withdraw money anymore; this time people are putting the money under their mattress instead of trusting the banking system. The official exchange rate is government controlled, the Blue Dollar is demand driven. With every new piece of bad news (like Argentina’s recent loss of a US Supreme Court appeal, which now forces the country to pay back overdue bonds) the gap between the two rates widens. [pullquote-right] ATTENTION: you will get the best rates for large denominations, eg. 100-Dollar-bills! [/pullquote-right] When I changed in late May 2014 the rate for the “Dólar Blue” was around 10.50 to 10.70 Pesos per Dollar, in August (after the court’s verdict) it is now as high as 13.90, whereas the “official rate” remains fixed at 8.10 Pesos for every Dollar changed.
You see: changing on the black market can save you some serious money, or at least make up for the galloping inflation and rising prices during your stay. In most places it’s easy, as many hotels, shops, and people on the street are offering to change your money. The good news for Europeans is, that the Euro is also in high demand, so you can change Euros directly without first converting them into US-Dollars. You can find
all current rates published (and updated) on the internet , or the current rate for Dollars only on Twitter @dolarblue .
UPDATE November 2015: unfortunately, in recent months, the above mentioned web site, dolarblue.net, isn’t being updated any more. The Twitter account linked above still provides the current rate for US-Dollars. Additional up-to-date tips at the end of this post.
In Buenos Aires it’s particularly easy to change money. If you walk along “La Florida”, the main pedestrian zone, you encounter “arbolitos” (~ little trees, the Argentinian moniker for money changers) every 10-20 meters. You should bring large denominations, as $100- and $50-bills give you a better rate. From my personal experience I would add, that Monday morning seems to be a bad time to change, as the current daily rates aren’t out yet, so the “arbolitos” are a little more hesitant to offer you a better rate. It’s also worthwhile not to settle on the first deal you get offered, I pushed my deal from 10.40 to 10.70 by asking around.I haven’t heard any stories about people being cheated in such deals, although they often take place in hidden corners; I squeezed into the cramped back section of a small newspaper kiosk with my money changer.
If you don’t have any cash Dollars, then stock up in the neighbouring countries – in most of them you can get US-Dollars at banks, money changers, or through the ATM teller machines. Particularly in Uruguay I found the exchange rate very good.
So what do all these Pesos buy you? Well, as many of you know I didn’t spend much time in Argentina as I was on my way to meet Yasha in Santiago de Chile, so fuel was my main expense this time. Regular Diesel was anything between ARS 10.54 to ARS 13.40, but mostly under ARS 11.00/liter, a bottle of decent Malbec (the red wine to drink in Argentina!) was under ARS 25, whereas for a normal pack of not very good wholegrain toast I paid (because regular bread was sold out) in the same supermarket ARS 28, tasty roma tomatoes were ARS 6 a kilo, and a decent cup of coffee with 2 “media lunas” (little croissants) was ARS 24-28 at any roadhouse.
UPDATE November 2015:
1. The gap between the official rate and Dolar Blue has widened; the best rate offered, in September 2015, was over 16.50 Pesos per US-Dollar. Since then it has been dropping a little and, at the time of writing, it’s around ARS 14.50 per Dollar. At the bank you’ll get only a little over 9 ARS.
2. Changing in small towns: with a little perseverance you will always find somebody willing to change. The rate might not be as good as in Buenos Aires, but whatever you get you’ll be better off than at any bank. We have changed in a jewellery shop (quite a common place to ask), the front desk of a hotel, a small electronics shop (after we received the tip that shop owners selling imported goods are always keen to have Dollars), at a Chinese-owned supermarket (during the middle of siesta), and a laundry (of all places).
3. Inflation in Argentina is high (but nothing compared to Venezuela) and price rises are unpredictable. Fuel is constantly going up, even when world oil prices are falling. Other things we noticed going up sharply are non-essential items like wine, coffee, chocolate and other sweets. Prices for basics, like bread, vegetables, and dairy products, seem to rise more slowly… It’s always worthwhile comparing different supermarket chains!
For more either google or read this article with interesting background information on the Dollar Blue market in Argentina.