Cash & Currency
The official Argentine currency is the peso, made up of 100 centavos. Money is denominated in notes of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pesos; and coins of 1, 2, and 5 pesos, and 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos. At the time this book went to press, the exchange rate was 3.45 pesos to the dollar.
Argentina is not the bargain destination it was post-crisis 2001. Twenty percent inflation in 2008 means prices have risen significantly, but it is still relatively cheap regarding dining out and shopping. High-end hotels have returned to their pre-devaluation prices, but you can still get some great rates, especially at the midrange and budget options. A surge in hotel construction and a strengthening dollar should mean prices stabilize and even drop slightly.
It's a good idea to exchange at least some money -- just enough to cover airport incidentals and transportation to your hotel -- before you leave home (though don't expect the exchange rate to be ideal), so you can avoid lines at airport ATMs (automated teller machines). You can exchange money at your local American Express or Thomas Cook office or your bank. If you're far away from a bank with currency-exchange services, American Express offers traveler's checks and foreign currency, though with a $15 order fee and additional shipping costs, at www.americanexpress.com or tel. 800/807-6233.
U.S. dollars are not widely accepted in Buenos Aires. However, you can still use them to pay in some business-class hotels, tourist-popular restaurants, and businesses catering to large numbers of tourists. Such places will often post their own daily exchange rate at the counter, which is always significantly lower. For the vast majority of your purchases, however, you will need pesos. You can convert your currency in hotels, casas de cambio (money-exchange houses), some banks, and at the Buenos Aires airport. Exchange American Express traveler's checks for pesos in Buenos Aires at American Express, Arenales 707 (tel. 11/4130-3135). It is sometimes difficult to exchange traveler's checks outside the center of Buenos Aires, so plan ahead to have a sufficient amount of cash in pesos on day trips.
ATMs are maddening in Argentina, as they allow only ridiculously low withdrawals of $100 -- though you can withdraw several times in 1 day and rack up substantial bank charges. It is best to plan ahead, if you know you need large amounts of cash; or you might test various cash machines, as some will allow $200 and $300 limits. Machines are ubiquitous in Buenos Aires and other urban and touristic areas, but don't depend on finding them off the beaten path. It is a good idea to let your bank know ahead of time that you will be using your ATM card overseas so that they do not block transactions in an effort to prevent fraudulent transactions.
The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, and then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) before you leave home and be sure to find out your daily withdrawal limit before you depart, though this is slightly irrelevant if the Argentine network imposes its own limits. Also keep in mind that many banks impose a fee every time a card is used at a different bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones. On top of this, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. To compare banks' ATM fees within the U.S., use www.bankrate.com. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Traveler's checks are something of an anachronism from the days before the ATM made cash accessible at any time. Within the Pampas and rural areas of Buenos Aires Province, however, they're still welcomed by many establishments.
You can get traveler's checks at almost any bank. American Express offers denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and (for cardholders only) $1,000. You'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%. You can also get American Express traveler's checks over the phone by calling tel. 800/221-7282; Amex gold and platinum cardholders who use this number are exempt from the 1% fee.
Visa offers traveler's checks at Citibank locations nationwide, as well as at several other banks. The service charge ranges between 1.5% and 2%; checks come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Call tel. 800/732-1322 for information. AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee (for checks up to $1,500) at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378. MasterCard also offers traveler's checks. Call tel. 800/223-9920 for a location near you.
Foreign-currency traveler's checks are useful if you're traveling to one country; they're accepted at locations, such as bed-and-breakfasts, where dollar checks may not be, and they minimize the amount of math you have to do at your destination. American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard offer foreign-currency traveler's checks. You'll pay the rate of exchange at the time of your purchase (so it's a good idea to monitor the rate before you take the plunge), and most companies charge a transaction fee per order (and a shipping fee if you order online).
If you choose to carry traveler's checks, be sure to keep a record of their serial numbers separate from your checks, in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
Visa, American Express, MasterCard, and Diners Club are commonly accepted. However some establishments -- especially smaller businesses -- will give you a better price if you pay cash or may refuse credit cards altogether. Credit cards are accepted at most hotels and the more expensive restaurants. But note that you cannot use credit cards in many taxis or at most attractions (museums, trams, and so on). Like ATM cards, many credit card companies are also now applying fees to international transactions, often as high as 3%. If you have more than one credit card and expect to charge a lot, call the credit card companies before you leave on your trip to find out which charges the lowest, if any, fee. Using the wrong card can make a bargain not such a bargain anymore.
You can get cash advances off your credit card at any bank, and you don't even need to go to a teller; you can get a cash advance at the ATM if you know your PIN. If you've forgotten your PIN, or didn't even know you had one, call the phone number on the back of your credit card before your trip and ask the bank to send it to you. It usually takes 5 to 7 business days, although some banks will do it over the phone.
Another hidden expense to contend with: Interest rates for cash advances are often significantly higher than rates for credit card purchases. More importantly, you start paying interest on the advance the moment you receive the cash.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.