Travelling to Argentina and wondering how to navigate the confusing topic of money in Argentina? This guide will help you understand cash, credit cards and more – along with handy tips I picked up living in Argentina for two years.
If you’re planning a trip to Argentina, you’ve probably stumbled upon a complex topic in your research: money.
Money in Argentina is a unique… confusing… complex situation. It’s unlike any other country I’ve ever been to. With raging inflation and decades of uncertain economic policy, it’s no wonder that visitors and residents alike struggle to wrap their heads around the different forms of currency exchange rates, the infamous mercado azul (blue market) and the ever-changing prices.
As someone who lived in Argentina for two years and grappled with these topics myself, I’m here to share my knowledge and tips on navigating money matters in this beautiful country.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through what you need to know to plan your visit, whether you should bring cash or cards, if you should use ATMs, how to exchange money and more!
This blog post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you).
Understanding currency in Argentina
The official currency of Argentina is the Argentine peso, denoted as ARS. On signs, you’ll see the dollar sign ($) used.
The peso comes in various denominations, including coins of 1, 2, 5 and 10 pesos, and bills of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 (the country introduced the 2000-peso note in 2023 to deal with spiralling inflation, and also phased out the 5-peso bill because it had such little value).
The 1000-peso note is worth less than US$3, so you’ll always be carrying large wads of cash with you!
But what you most need to understand is that the Argentine peso has been troubled by severe inflation for decades. This inflation makes the value of the peso quite unstable, with prices of goods and services frequently changing to keep up.
While many countries have been plagued by inflation of 7% or 8% over recent years, inflation in Argentina has reached 125% (and in decades past it’s even hit 20,000%).
It’s not uncommon to walk into a restaurant one day and pay a certain amount for a meal, only to walk in two days later and pay double – or more – for that same meal. Restaurant owners (and other shops) have to constantly adjust their prices to keep up.
This economic instability can be quite a surprise if you’re used to a more stable currency.
It’s tough for a country that was one of the richest in the world at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Blue Market: Argentina’s informal currency exchange
Because of this high inflation, Argentines prefer to hold onto and trade in US dollars, which is seen as a more stable currency.
This situation has led to the development of two distinct markets for exchanging currency. (Well, in fact, there are more than 10 different exchange rates but in this article I’m only going to talk about three!)
There’s the official market, where the government sets the exchange rate, and then there’s the mercado azul or the blue market, where the exchange rate is determined by supply and demand.
It’s not uncommon for the blue market rate to be significantly higher than the official rate – in fact, it’s usually double or more. Rates can fluctuate almost daily.
At the time of writing this article (November 2023), the official rate was $365,50 while the blue market rate was $925. So the unofficial rate is 2.5 times higher.
Having said that, this is not always the case, so you do want to check the current money situation when you’re visiting Argentina. It changes depending on the government of the day.
So what exactly is the blue market? It’s essentially a parallel currency exchange system, a “black market” for money so to speak – but it’s not as shady as it sounds.
Is it legal?
But does the national newspaper also list the blue market rate (called dólar blue) every day online?
Yes. (That’s it in that link a few paragraphs above.)
It’s in one of those grey areas. But it’s something that tourists to Argentina can take advantage of.
Still confused? Understandable.
In very basic terms, if you bring US dollars or Euros with you to Argentina you can exchange them at a far better rate using the blue market than using the government’s official exchange rate.
This was how I got all my pesos when I lived in Argentina. I rarely took money out of the ATM (because they use the official rate and because of the hefty fees – more on that later).
When I ran out of money I would call my guy (who was a recommendation from a colleague) and he’d tell me his rate that day – which was always around the blue market rate. He’d come pick me up, we’d drive around the block, I’d give him a stack of US dollars and he’d give me a much larger stack of Argentine pesos in return – in a paper bag! Then he’d drop me back at work or home. It felt very drug deal-ish. But I always got more money than if I’d withdrawn cash from an ATM.
But you won’t need to do what I did to get money – there are much easier ways to exchange money in Argentina.
Do you have to use the blue market?
Absolutely not. It is confusing and can seem a bit dubious, so exchanging money in Argentina at the official rate (dólar oficial) is also fine. Because Argentina is (usually) affordable you’ll still be getting a good deal.
If you do want to explore the blue market, read on to learn more.
Exchanging money in Argentina
So you’ve brought your US dollars or Euros with you to Argentina – but how do you now get Argentine pesos?
While some restaurants and shops do accept dollars and Euros (there’ll usually be a sign with their rate, usually at the counter), they’re the exception rather than the rule.
Cash is king, so you will need to exchange that foreign currency for pesos.
Here are a few ways you can exchange money in Argentina – both officially and on the blue market.
Note that US dollars will usually get a better rate than Euros. And US dollars are easier to change outside of Buenos Aires.
Cuevas (which means caves in Spanish) are the informal currency exchange houses that use the blue market rate. Here, you’ll get the most advantageous rate.
Argentines use cuevas daily, and they’re safe places to exchange money.
I recommend asking your hotel concierge or a trusted Argentine friend for a recommendation for a cueva. While I said they’re safe, there are of course unscrupulous people everywhere who are more than happy to take advantage of a clueless tourist.
You might consider going with an Argentine the first time so you get the hang of it.
This is one of the easiest ways to exchange money in Argentina, and you’ll find cuevas in Buenos Aires and in major cities and towns. There are some recommended cuevas in this Facebook thread.
2. Calle Florida
Wander down Calle Florida (Florida Street) in Buenos Aires’ Microcentro at any time of day and you’ll hear the call of “Cambio! Cambio!”
These people are called arbolitos (or little trees, because they’re always standing there and because of the green colour of US dollars) and they’ll exchange money for you at the blue rate.
The exchange doesn’t happen there on the street – you’ll follow them into a shop or a cueva or even into a newsstand for the swap.
They usually have a machine to check for fake US dollar notes – and you’ll need to check your peso notes carefully as well when they’re handed over to you.
This was how I first exchanged money when I moved to Argentina and it did feel strange! They’re usually pretty safe – but trust your gut and keep walking if a situation doesn’t feel safe.
One of the advantages of changing money on Calle Florida is that you can go from arbolito to arbolito for the best rate, so shop around before you exchange.
3. Currency exchange houses and banks
If the blue market makes you nervous, then stick with regular currency exchange houses like banks – but remember that you’ll be getting the official rate.
You might consider this when you first land in Buenos Aires, just so you have a little bit of cash on you. This’ll be handy to pay for your trip into the city (taxis don’t take credit cards) if you haven’t organised a transfer from the airport.
There’s a Banco La Nacion in Ezeiza International Airport where you can change a few dollars into pesos.
Hotels can also exchange money for you, as well as exchange bureaus (casas de cambio), which can be found around the city. Ask your hotel for the nearest casa de cambio.
You’ll need ID to exchange money at banks and exchange bureaus.
Western Union in Argentina
If you don’t want to bring a lot of US dollars or Euros in cash with you to Argentina, then Western Union is a great option. You can send money to Argentina using their service.
Western Union can provide you with an exchange rate that’s around the same or even higher than the blue rate (however keep in mind the pretty high fee that Western Union charges).
How to send money to Argentina with Western Union?
It’s quite simple: you send the money from your home bank account to yourself and then pick up the cash at a local Western Union branch.
It’s an efficient way to transfer money from your home country to Argentina without carrying large amounts of cash. Do remember that some transactions can take a few days to process, so plan ahead.
There are several Western Union branches in Buenos Aires – including one at Ezeiza International Airport (although the opening hours aren’t great if you’re arriving early in the morning or late at night).
Outside of Buenos Aires, there are also Western Union branches. Some have withdrawal limits, though, so you’ll need to check before you do a transfer.
Credit cards in Argentina
When I lived in Argentina, I rarely paid for anything with a credit card, except for clothes and when we did our full grocery shop each week. At restaurants, cafés and convenience stores I always had cash on hand. At that time, credit cards charged the official rate, so I was always better off paying in cash.
However, since late 2022, foreign credit cards now receive a better rate. It’s called the MEP rate (you can find the latest MEP rate online here) and it’s just shy of the blue dollar rate but much higher than the official rate. Going back to the current rate I outlined earlier:
- Official rate: $365,50
- Blue market rate: $925
- MEP rate: $844,01
Rates at time of writing (November 2023)
If you use a foreign card in Argentina, this MEP rate will apply. Visa will charge you that rate at the time of purchase, while Mastercard charges the official rate and then refunds the difference a few days later.
This is another good way to avoid carrying huge amounts of cash.
On the topic of credit cards, American Express is rarely accepted anywhere, so leave that card behind.
But you need to keep in mind that credit cards aren’t always the most practical option in Argentina.
In larger cities, most upscale restaurants, hotels and retail outlets readily accept credit cards. But in smaller shops and restaurants – and in smaller towns in Argentina – cash is usually the only accepted form of payment.
Always ask before you sit down in a restaurant if they take credit card: “Acepta tarjeta?”
Either way, you’ll always need to have some amount of cash on you when you’re travelling around Argentina.
Speaking of restaurants, here are 50 of my favourite places to eat in Buenos Aires.
Expert traveller tip: If you’re going to rely on credit cards, always bring a backup credit card in case you have any issues with your main card. Make sure that back up card is a different type (Mastercard, Visa etc). I’ve had cards rejected multiple times when overseas so learned this trick pretty quickly!
Using ATMs in Argentina
Should you use ATMs in Argentina?
This one’s easy: avoid using ATMs as much as you can!
In Argentina, ATMs have low withdrawal amounts and high fees, so you’ll be getting screwed all round.
ATMs should only be used as a back-up or last resort method for accessing pesos.
One important thing to note is that ATMs often run out of cash ahead of weekends and public holidays, so if you do think you’ll need to withdraw cash, do it as soon as possible.
Argentina money tips
When it comes to handling money in Argentina, here are a few handy tips I’ve learned from experience:
- Avoid exchanging money into pesos before you arrive in Argentina – you’ll get screwed over.
- Bring US$100 notes – the cleaner and crisper, the better. You’ll get a better rate for these in the cuevas.
- Cuevas will rarely want to change US$10 or US$20 notes. I’ve changed US$50 notes, but it was done reluctantly.
- Keep some small peso notes on hand – trust me, many shop owners aren’t fond of giving change.
- Be aware of money restrictions on bringing USD. Like most countries around the world, there’s a $10k limit without having to declare it.
- I’d recommend booking hotels and tours in advance online using your credit card. It simplifies things and cuts down the amount of cash you need on hand.
- If you’ve got pesos left over at the end of your trip, spend them! You’ll get a lousy rate transferring them back to US dollars or Euros. Buy some souvenirs in Buenos Aires to take home with you.
- Don’t get too hung up on the blue rate! Even at the official rate you’ll (usually) find Argentina an affordable destination.
Safety and security considerations
Carrying large amounts of cash and one or two credit cards can make you nervous. Remember, carrying the equivalent of US$50 means you’ll have around 175 x 1000-peso notes on you! That’s a stack of cash.
When it comes to keeping your money safe in Argentina, a few practical accessories can make all the difference:
- Money belt: May seem tacky, but it’s a relatively discreet way to carry money, provided you don’t access it in public.
- Passport scarf: These are actually quite useful – a stylish and less conspicuous way to keep your money and passport safe.
- Anti-theft backpack: Hidden zippers and slash-resistant materials provide an extra layer of security for your belongings.
- Lock: Keep your backpack or suitcase locked up when it’s unattended in your hotel room.
Remember, no safety device is foolproof. Argentina is a fairly safe country, but always stay alert and practice common sense in public spaces.
Final thoughts: Money in Argentina
Managing money in Argentina can seem daunting, but with a little preparation, you’ll navigate it like a pro.
So after reading this Argentina money guide, what money should you bring to Argentina?
- Bringing US dollars or Euros to exchange into cash at the blue rate – work out in advance how much money you think you’ll need for each week of your Argentina itinerary
- Bringing credit cards for bigger purchases at larger restaurants, shopping centres and so on – and don’t forget a back-up credit card
- Booking hotels and tours in advance (on your credit card)
- Using Western Union to send yourself money and avoid carrying a large amount of cash – this is the best option if you’re travelling for a long time in Argentina
Money in Argentina: FAQs
Can I use travel cards in Argentina?
You can use travel cards (like Wise) in Argentina, but you’ll get an even worse rate than the official rate. Plus you’ll be dealing with the same challenges as using a credit card – not everyone accepts credit card. A Wise card might be a good back up option, but it shouldn’t be what you rely on for accessing money in Argentina.
Can I use traveller’s checks in Argentina?
I don’t know anyone who uses traveller’s checks these days! But if you insist… Yes, you can exchange traveller’s checks in Argentina, but you’re going to spend your time in banks doing the exchange. Time that is better spent out enjoying the city!
Is it better to use cash or credit cards in Argentina?
While credit cards are widely accepted in cities and larger towns, smaller establishments and vendors in rural areas may only accept cash. It’s best to carry a mix of both for convenience.
Can I withdraw money from ATMs in Argentina?
Yes, ATMs are available across Argentina. However, withdrawal fees can be high, and the exchange rate may not be as favourable as the blue market rate. Don’t forget to inform your bank about your travel plans to avoid any potential issues with using your card abroad.
What is the blue market in Argentina?
The ‘blue market’ refers to the unofficial currency exchange market in Argentina where US dollars or Euros can be exchanged for Argentine pesos at a rate higher than the official exchange rate.
Are US dollars accepted in Argentina?
While some places in Argentina may accept US dollars, it’s always more practical to use Argentine pesos. You can exchange your US dollars at a blue market exchange for a better rate.
How safe is it to carry cash in Argentina?
As with any travel destination, carrying a large amount of cash can carry some risk. However, with sensible precautions such as using a money belt or anti-theft backpack, it’s usually safe. Always be alert in public spaces and avoid showing that you’re carrying a large amount of money.
Did you find this article helpful? Consider buying me a coffee as a way to say thanks!
Got any questions about using money in Argentina for your upcoming travels? Drop them in the comments below.
Before you go… you might like these Argentina travel blogs:
- Plan a Trip to Argentina: 19 Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors
- Travel Insurance for Argentina: What You Need to Know
- Renting a Car in Argentina: 17 Helpful Tips and Tricks
ARGENTINA TRIP ESSENTIALS
- Book your flight to Argentina online with Skyscanner or Kayak. I usually compare flights on the two sites to find the best deals.
- Find a great hotel in Argentina. Check prices on Booking.com and HotelsCombined online.
- Check out the huge range of day tours throughout Argentina on GetYourGuide or Viator. There’s something for everyone.
- Keep those bottles of wine you’ll be buying safe in these wine bags.
- A copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Argentina will be handy. Also pick up a Spanish language guidebook to help you navigate your visit.
- One thing I always purchase is travel insurance! World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
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