Although prices here have been steadily rising, the number of pesos you get for your dollar has been increasing as well. So Argentina is still a good value if you're coming from a country with a strong currency. Eating out is very affordable, as are mid-range hotels. Prices are usually significantly lower outside Buenos Aires and other large cities. Room rates at first-class hotels all over the country approach those in the United States, however.
You can plan your trip around ATMs—cash is king for day-to-day dealings. Always withdraw more well before your current supply is spent, particularly in small towns with few ATMs, as these often run out of money, especially over weekends or during holiday season. U.S. dollars can be changed at any bank and are often accepted as payment in clothing stores, souvenir shops, and supermarkets.
Note that there's a perennial shortage of change in Argentina. Hundred-peso bills can be hard to get rid of, so ask for 50s when you change money. Traveler's checks are useful only as an emergency reserve.
You can usually pay by credit card in high-end hotels countrywide and in nicer restaurants and stores in big cities. But be advised that even establishments displaying stickers from different card companies may suddenly stop accepting them: look out for signs reading tarjetas de crédito suspendidas (credit card purchases temporarily unavailable). Outside of urban areas, plastic is less widely accepted.
Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, followed closely by MasterCard. American Express is also accepted in hotels and restaurants, but Diners Club and Discover might not even be recognized. If possible, bring more than one credit card, as some establishments accept a single type. You usually have to produce photo ID—preferably a passport, but otherwise a driver’s license—when making credit card purchases.
Nonchain stores often display two prices for goods: precio de lista (the standard price, valid if you pay by credit card) and a discounted price if you pay in efectivo (cash). Many travel services and even some hotels also offer cash discounts—it's always worth asking about.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
ATMs, called cajeros automáticos, are found all over Buenos Aires and other big cities. Most smaller towns have at least one ATM; gas stations on major highways also sometimes have them. If you plan to be away from urban areas or major tourist destinations for long, take ample cash with you. There are two main systems. Banelco, indicated by a burgundy-color sign with white lettering, is used by Banco Comafi, Citibank, BBVA Banco Francés, HSBC, Banco Galicia, ICBC, Banco Itaú, Banco Macro, Banco Santander Río, and Banco Patagonia. Link, recognizable by a green-and-yellow sign, is the system used by Banco Provincia, Credicoop, Banco Hipotecario, and Banco de la Nación, as well as nearly all banks belonging to other provinces. Cards on the Cirrus and Plus networks can be used on both systems.
Many banks have daily withdrawal limits of 2,000 pesos or less. Sometimes ATMs will impose unexpectedly low withdrawal limits (say, 600 pesos) on international cards—this is more common on Banelco than Link machines. You can get around it by requesting a further transaction before the machine returns your card, but first check whether your bank back home charges high per-withdrawal fees. It’s safer to make withdrawals from ATMs in daylight hours.
Currency and Exchange
Argentina's currency is the peso, which equals 100 centavos. Bills come in denominations of 100 (violet), 50 (navy blue), 20 (red), 10 (ocher), 5 (green), and 2 (light blue) pesos. Coins are in denominations of 2 pesos and 1 peso (both heavy and bimetallic), as well as 50, 25, and 10 centavos. U.S. dollars are widely accepted in big-city stores, supermarkets, and at hotels and top-end restaurants (usually at a slightly worse exchange rate than you'd get at a bank). You always receive change in pesos, even when you pay with U.S. dollars.
Following a series of devaluations, the official exchange rate at this writing is around 8 pesos to the U.S. dollar. You can change dollars at this rate at most banks (between 10 am and 3 pm), at a casa de cambio (money changer), or at your hotel. All currency exchange involves fees, but as a rule banks charge the least and hotels the most. You need to show your passport to complete the transaction.
Heavy restrictions on locals buying U.S. dollars has led to a parallel—i.e., black market—exchange rate, known locally as the "dólar blue," usually about 20% above the official rate. Although technically illegal, the dólar blue is so well established that major newspapers publish it alongside the official exchange rate. Many establishments are keen to bypass the lengthy bureaucracy involved in buying dollars officially and may offer to accept payment in them at the blue rate. On busy streets (like Calle Florida in Buenos Aires), you’ll likely be propositioned by touts from small shops that are referred to locally as "cuevas," or caves. Most are safe, but try to change relatively small amounts regularly to minimize any possible trouble.
l You may not be able to change currency in rural areas at all, so don't leave major cities without adequate amounts of pesos in small denominations.