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  • Exchanging Money in Argentina [2024 Update]: USD/EUR/ARS Exchange Cheat Sheet

Exchanging Money in Argentina [2024 Update]: USD/EUR/ARS Exchange Cheat Sheet

Need to change US dollars to Argentine Pesos? Get the latest tips with up to date info and rates for exchanging currency in Argentina in 2024. From official rates to blue market exchange, using black market money changers to using ATMs, get the latest tips to convert USD/EUR to ARS with confidence. minutes

02/03/24

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About the author

Hi, I'm Marco Sison. I worked in finance for Fortune 50 companies before retiring early at 41 years old. I have been an expat for over 10 years, living in over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries outside the USA. I am a trusted resource on personal finance and overseas retirement for US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Best Life, Association of MBAs, and the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE.

QUICK SUMMARY- CHANGING MONEY IN ARGENTINA

  • There is a “Black Market” for money in Argentina with a parallel rate nearly 50% more than the official government rate.
  • Currency rates have swung wildly since the Dec 2023 currency devaluation.
  • Foreigners get the best rates at Western Union or local Cuevas.
  • Cryptocurrency adoption increasing for transactions.
  • Using ATMs are still not recommended due to low withdrawal limits and high fees.
  • Smaller businesses have started charging 10% to 30% more for credit card transactions,

Understanding the Currency Situation in Argentina

When we first moved to Argentina, we had to pay our monthly rent by carrying grocery bags full of cash to an illegal money exchanger known as a “cueva” (the literal translation of cave in Spanish). As I walked back to our apartment with the most money I’ve ever carried in my life, I felt nervous. I constantly looked over my shoulder, my eyes alert, scanning back and forth whenever someone walked near me.

Little did I know that this anxious 10-minute walk was just the beginning of a chaotic year.

2024 Currency Devaluation

On Dec 13, 2023, less than a couple weeks before Christmas, newly-elected President Milei made a bold move by significantly devaluing the Argentine Peso (ARS) by 50%, from 366 to 800 pesos per dollar. Families woke up that morning to find that the cost of their kids’ Christmas gifts had doubled overnight.

We have been living in Buenos Aires for several months now, and even in the short time we have been here, the cost of living volatility is shocking. It is one thing to read about Argentina’s inflation hitting 211%; it’s another thing to watch your grocery bill double in just a few months.

And I begrudgingly complain about prices because I fully grasp my position of privilege as an expat. My monthly income is in a stable currency like the US dollar. If foreigners complain about prices, it is difficult to imagine how locals cope with the country’s economic crisis.

The Impact of Inflation on Currency Markets

While one of South America’s largest economies and richest countries, Argentina has been mired in a battle with inflation since the 1980s. 

When a country experiences high inflation, the value of its currency tends to drop as the currency’s purchasing power of the currency decreases. This drop makes the currency less attractive to foreign investors.

In reaction, the government adopted unorthodox currency restrictions to artificially prop up the value of the Argentine Peso. 

The relationship between inflation, monetary policy, and rate of exchange is complex, and the details are way past the point of this article.

It is sufficient to say that the government’s currency controls did not work as intended. 

Chart showing Argentina Annual Inflation rate
Note this chart’s 2023 estimate was exceeded by over 50%

As the peso’s value plunged, Argentines turned toward foreign currencies, particularly the US dollar and the Euro, as safe havens for their money.

Impact of Peso Devaluation On Expats

For expatriates living in Argentina, the peso’s devaluation has a two-sided effect. On one hand, if expats earn their income in a stronger foreign currency, like USD or EUR, they might find their financial power increases as the peso loses value. Everything from dining out and tourist attractions to gym memberships can become relatively cheaper when you use a stronger currency in the country.

On the flip side, the prices of local goods are currently rising faster than the exchange rate. So even when I walk out of a money changer with more stacks of peso notes, my purchasing power is dropping. This effect makes maximizing your rates when exchanging money in Argentina doubly important.

Forget the Macroeconomics; it’s about getting the most bang for your buck.

expat quote on how inflation in Argentina affects the exchange rates for expats.

Official Vs. Informal Exchange Rates

Blue DollarOfficialWestern UnionVisaMaster cardUSDT
1,065.00838.941,092.50968.99989.61838.95
Edit: 2/23/24 4:00 PMEdit: 2/23/24 4:00 PM2/24/2024 13:58:14Edit: 2/23/24 4:00 PMEdit: 2/23/24 4:00 PMEdit: 2/23/24 4:00 PM

The Blue Market Explained

In Argentina, the ‘Blue Dollar Rate’ refers to the unofficial exchange rate that operates parallel to the official market. It gets its name from the blue strip in the newer one-hundred-dollar bills.

Also referred to as ‘dolar blue,’ you can exchange USD or EUR for ARS at more favorable rates than those offered by banks and authorized exchange offices. Until the December 2023 devaluation, you could get nearly double the amount of pesos by finding someplace willing to trade at the black market rate.

While the Argentine government does not sanction the black exchange rate, it is a widely used method of currency exchange due to the significantly better rates it can offer. However, it also comes with risks since it’s unregulated and lacks official protection. The rates here can fluctuate widely, influenced by the economic policies, market demand, and availability of foreign currencies.

While the latest devaluation has shrunk the gap between the official and unofficial rates, the Blue Market can still help you save on living expenses.

As of this writing, daily rates have been going crazy. I changed a $100 bill at my local cueva on Jan 4th and received 96,000 ARS.

Today, I received an email from Western Union offering 128,900 ARS—an increase of 34% in just two weeks.

The 4 Best Ways to Exchange US Dollars Pesos in Argentina in 2024

Using Western Union To Get Argentine Pesos

I was puzzled when a fellow expat first told me that I should use Western Union. Western Union is one of the biggest rip-offs in the US.

I can transfer money to friends in the US using PayPal, Revolut, or Venmo for free or almost free. The idea of paying Western Union $15 ($5 with a discount) in transfer fees is ludicrous.

But in Argentina, Western Union is a go-to choice for many expats because they use the blue rate, and WU has loads of branches in all major cities. 

The process on their website or app is straightforward. You can send money from your USD account, debit or credit card, and receive Argentine pesos in cash.

Setting up an account is free, and you can pick up your money at any WU branch nationwide. You can use my referral link for a free $20 Amazon gift card to sign up.

INSIDER TIP: Pick A Favorite Branch– Western Union does have drawbacks. The biggest pain in the ass is that not every branch carries enough cash. Additionally, most Western Unions have ridiculously long lines. Few things are more frustrating than waiting an hour in line only to find out they ran out of cash.

My advice is to make friends with the employees at your favorite branch. At mine, we are on a first-name basis, and I can send her a WhatsApp asking if she has enough money and check on how busy she is before I waste my time. Shout out to Volieta!

Exchanging USD and EUR Bills for Pesos At Money Changers

Bank money changers are the most commonly used method of changing money into peso. But in Argentina, bank FOREX counters offer the worst rates.

The foreign exchange counter at the Banco La Nacion branch at Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) is one of the first things foreign tourists see after getting off an airplane. I am willing to bet that the bank airport counter snags many unsuspecting tourists into forfeiting their US dollars or Euros at a terrible rate.

As you can deduce from the name, all official exchange offices will only convert to Argentine pesos at the official exchange rate (currently 50% less than the informal rate).

Black Market Money Changers

To get the black market rate look for informal currency exchange houses, called “casas de cambio” in Spanish or informally as “cuevas.”

You can find cambios in nearly every neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Each cambios sets their own rates, but all use a competitive rate close to the blue dolar, and consistently much higher than you will find at any bank.

Calle Florida, a pedestrian-only street in downtown Buenos Aires, is known to have loads of underground exchange houses (cuevas). Just listen for touts, known as arbolitos, calling out “cambio, cambio” to people who walk past.

Arbolitos would lead you to unofficial currency exchange houses, where you can change dollars for pesos at a more advantageous rate.

Walk down Florida Street and listen for people yelling out “cambio”

Personally, I stick with cuevas in neighborhoods frequented by expats (Palermo, Recoleta, Belgrano) or ones recommended by your Airbnb host, friend, or trusted local contacts.

Cambios accept most foreign currencies, but the highest blue market rate requires new, crisp, undamaged banknotes. Expect a lower rate if there is a tear, writing, or stains. Crisp, unmarked USD and EUR bills are preferred and fetch the best rates. Older, damaged, or marked bills may be accepted, but potentially at lower rates.

Always count your pesos before leaving, and don’t hesitate to check the bills for authenticity.

INSIDER TIP: Secure Your Cash- When you need to exchange large amounts of cash, like changing money to pay rent, it doesn’t hurt to be more cautious. Argentina doesn’t have the safety issues of Colombia or Brazil, but carrying large bags filled with cash still warrants caution. I usually take an Uber straight home rather than walk 20 minutes with huge sums of cash in a backpack.

Using Credit Cards: Convenience Over Savings

Using credit cards in Argentina is a relatively new option for expats. Historically, all foreign credit and debit cards would convert your peso purchases to your home country’s currency using the official rate. This meant foreigners always paid cash and only used foreign credit cards if they were okay with getting a lower currency conversion.

However, on December 15, 2022, Argentina introduced the MEP rate (Medio Electrónico de Pagos) or Tourist Exchange Rate, specifically for credit card companies. Now, foreigners using their credit, debit, or prepaid cards in Argentina receive more favorable exchange rates.

The MEP rate only applies to purchases (excludes cash advances) using foreign cards. Expats with Argentina bank cards are stuck with the official rate. 

While the MEP rate was still slightly less than the Blue Dollar rate (currently, MEP is 3% less), I use my visa card whenever possible. Credit cards offer a better balance of security and convenience. I’m not carrying a massive wad of bills to pay for dinner, and I still get my credit card points.

However, while most grocery stores, large restaurants, and international retail shops don’t care if you use a credit card, in the last couple of months, most small businesses started charging me an extra 10% to 30% more for credit card transactions.

INSIDER TIP: Using Your Credit Card In Argentina- Visa will post the amount of your purchase (plus any foreign transaction fees) to your account using the current exchange rate. However, Mastercard and American Express transactions initially post using the lower official rate, then automatically refund you the difference 4-5 business days later.

Using Cryptocurrency To Exchange Money In Argentina

With a self-proclaimed “Anarcho-Capitalist” president looking to shake up Argentina’s ever-evolving financial crisis, the cryptocurrency scene in Argentina changes quickly, even by crypto standards.

Just last week, Argentina’s first rental contract was signed using crypto coins as the official currency.

INSIDER TIP: Bitcoin- For reasons unknown to me, Bitcoin is not widely accepted here. Most transactions are denominated in USDT. You can use this link to trade USDT using Binance and get your first trade free.

Rather than speculate on what can happen in the future, I’ll focus on the cryptocurrency exchange process.

As of this writing, you won’t be able to pay for any good or service using crypto. However, you have three choices for exchanging crypto for Argentina pesos.

1) Use a cueva or cambio- Not all take crypto, but many do. I use Flash Palermo because they are conveniently located. They don’t have the best rates. They charge a 2% commission, plus make some money on the exchange rate.

2) Use P2P- There are several Whatsapp groups where expats and digital nomads trade with each other. Usually, you get mid-market rates, and it’s a win/win as you both cut out the middleman.

3) Use The Wapu App- The most common non-cash way locals pay for things at shops and markets is by using a service called Mercado Pago. Mercado Pago is Latin America’s Venmo if every small business in the US accepted Venmo instead of credit cards. However, the HUGE downer is a Mercado Pago account requires a DNI (basically an Argentina Social Security Number), which isn’t available to non-residents.

Wapu allows you to transfer USDT into your wallet, then use the app instead of Mercado Pago. So whenever a merchant asks you to scan their Mercado Pago QR code, you scan the same code using Wapu, and boom, you just used cryptocurrency to buy empanadas.

Getting US Dollars From Uruguay

A popular tip for expats needing additional US dollars while in Argentina is to venture to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, a charming and historic getaway just a ferry ride away. Beyond its scenic views and cobbled streets, Uruguayan ATMs dispense USD notes, providing an alternative method for obtaining the coveted currency.

ATMs in Uruguay offer Pesos or US Dollars

INSIDER TIP: ATM Fees- One tricky thing is that Banco Republica didn’t charge me a separate ATM fee. Instead, they combined my withdrawal and ATM free into a single transaction. If you use Schwab, Fidelity, or a similar bank that automatically refunds your foreign ATM fees, getting your $5 back requires a phone call.

3 Worst Ways To Change USD Dollars to Argentina Pesos in 2024

1

Using an ATM In Argentina

Using my Schwab ATM card is my go-to method of exchanging money in nearly every country. Schwab refunds me for any foreign bank fees and gives me a favorable exchange rate when pulling out money. 

However, my personal experience is that ATM bank machines are not a practical option in Argentina.

I checked 4 different cash machines at different banks, and the most I could withdraw was 25,000 pesos with a super high 9,000 pesos ATM fee.

This translates to only being allowed to withdraw $20 USD at a time and getting hit with a $8 fee each time.

If you find yourself in a pinch and need to access cash quickly, ATM machines in Argentina are available, but they should be your last resort.

Screenshot of two expats discussing exchanging money in Argentina using ATMS

2

PayPal and XOOM- Western Union Alternatives

Paypal is a stalwart in the money transfer industry. I imagine 99% of you guys out there already have a PayPal account. XOOM operates as a PayPal service for swift and secure digital money transfers using Cobroexpress as a partner in Argentina. Expats can send US dollars using XOOM and pick them up as Argentine pesos at a Cobraexpress.

Cobraexpress operates convenient cash pickup locations in most cities, including blanket coverage in Buenos Aires.

However, unless you are desperate or XOOM’s integration with PayPal is a compelling reason, XOOM is a worse deal than Western Union. While Cobraexpress does not charge a pickup fee, XOOM makes money on the exchange rate and the transfer fee.

3

Transfer USD Using Wise To Get ARS

I didn’t have much luck finding any Cambios that would accept Wise (formally known as TransferWise). I only found one place, Reby Rate in the Palermo Soho, offering to exchange my Wise USD transfer into ARS with an additional 7% commission.

Additionally, Wise transfers are converted using the official exchange rates and not the Blue Market rates, so you’ll get crappier rates and a high commission. Why do you want to use Wise? Do you hate money?

FAQs: Argentina Currency Exchange System

Can You Use US Dollars Day-to-Day?

While it’s possible to use US dollars for transactions in Argentina, particularly in tourist-heavy areas, it’s not the norm. Some larger grocery stores and touristy restaurants will allow you to pay in USD or EUR but charge a horrific exchange rate that is even lower than the actual rate.

How Do I Get the Best Exchange Rate in Argentina?

The rates have been all over the board recently, but the best exchange rates in Argentina are either via Western Union or exchanging money in cuevas using the blue dollar rate. Both options are much better compared to the official bank rate.

Is it safe to use online platforms like Western Union in Argentina?

Western Union in Argentina is considered safe. A few things to ensure:

  1. Double-check the spelling of your name as the “Recipient” matches the name on your passport.
  2. Confirm that Western Union has enough cash. You may need to break up large amounts into two transactions.
  3. Pay attention when the teller does their count. Western Union is legit and isn’t a scam, but tellers are humans and can make mistakes.

What should I know about Cuevas and Arbolitos?

Cuevas and arbolitos are informal and unregulated currency exchangers. While widely used, they’re unofficial and come with some risks. Get a local’s recommendations for trusted cuevas to minimize the risk.

Even with a “trusted” Cueva, I like to use the “trust but verify” approach. After the teller takes out the stacks of money from their lock drawer or safe, they run the bills through an electronic counter. It’s easy enough to ensure the electronic counter matches the amount I expect to receive.

Will my foreign credit card work everywhere in Argentina?

Foreign credit cards should work in larger cities across Argentina. However, even in Buenos Aires, I carry cash, as some shops will say their machine is “broken” or that their service is “down.” Other merchants will charge an additional 10-30% to use a credit card.

Additionally tips before using your credit card in Argentina:

  1. Inform Your Bank: Before traveling, tell your bank to expect foreign transactions to avoid any security blocks on your card.
  2. Check For Fees: Some cards charge for international use. It’s always best to be aware of additional fees to avoid surprises on your statement.
  3. Cash Advances: Using your credit card for a cash advance not only hits you with an upfront fee and higher interest rate, but you will also get the lower official exchange rate.
  4. Back-Up Plan: Even with the prevalence of credit cards, always have some cash as a backup, particularly in rural areas or when shopping at smaller stores or local restaurants that will charge you an extra fee to use your card.

About the author

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to show you an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, student loans, and countless bills. After getting laid off in 2015, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old.
I have traveled the last five years to over 40 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US.
I have been featured in: US News & World Reports, Huffington Post, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Best Life, CW Network, Dr. Wealth, and others. [view press...]


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