I consider myself fairly well informed on all things travel. I read the books, searched the blogs, and thought I was ready. However, I missed the importance of this crucial detail and I want to share with you one thing you need to know before visiting Argentina. It could make or break your trip.
Money is not always available when you need it
I’ve visited countries with unstable currencies. Heck: Indonesia’s Rupiah dropped 30% during a single visit to Bali. However, I’ve never visited a country where I literally could not get money. That has happened to me more than once in our week in Argentina.
We arrived into AEP- Buenos Aires’ domestic airport- Monday morning the 3rd. I immediately found an ATM, but just as quickly found it was empty. At 9AM the currency exchange booth was closed. I was a bit concerned to find an empty ATM but figured the one at the Iguazu airport would be open.
Well, it apparently was open, but this ATM couldn’t read my Capital One debit card. IGR didn’t have an open exchange booth as most flights coming into it are domestic. No problem- I’ll just change money at the hotel.
Except the hotel was out of pesos as well. They thought “we might have some tomorrow” but at that moment I was completely without pesos to pay a taxi or to buy anything else outside of the hotel.
I found a taxi driver willing to accept US Dollars- note: bring small bills- and she drove me into Puerto Iguazu to get some cash. It took us three banks to find an ATM with money in it that would also accept my card.
Finding an ATM with Cash Only Solves the Problem for a Few Hours
Turns out Argentine payday is the 1st of the month and ATMs get cleared out the minute that paycheck hits. Because of the lack of cash ATMs have strict limits about what you can take out. Scott at MileValue, who lived in Buenos Aires, is the only person who I’ve seen cover the money situation in detail.
So once you do find an ATM that works, you can only get 2,000 (about $120 as of this writing) or a bit more at a time. I did find that you can do back to back transactions so I successfully pulled out 4K pesos. The ATM charges HUGE fees: about $6 per transaction, so you’ll definitely want a card that rebates your ATM fees here.
Iguazu Falls? Not Without Pesos.
If you’ve traveled all the way to Iguazu, you want to see the falls. Iguazu Falls national park charges a large entrance fee: for us it was 1,630 ($100ish) pesos, due in cash, in pesos only, for a family of 4 (500 adults, 130 6-12). TIP: hold on to your tickets! Take them to the box office at the end of the day to be validated. If you do so, day 2 will be 1/2 price.
Add in the 600 for round trip taxi and a single trip could clean out your cash before you even buy a bottle of water. There’s an ATM at the entrance, but (guess what?) it was empty on Tuesday morning the 4th. Thank goodness the hotel had pesos by then, but they only let us change $100. Later that day the park ATM had cash so we muddled through.
Even BA needs more cash than you think
More restaurants and activities than you think are cash only. Even tourist spots like Cafe Tortoni only sell tickets to their 380 peso ($23) Tango show in cash. Fortunately they did accept US Dollars at a decent rate. Our cruise tickets in Tigre? 540 pesos for 4, cash only.
At this moment, Sunday morning at 9AM, we have exactly 152 pesos in our possession. First order of business this morning is to find an exchange place or an ATM.
In most places I try to keep the cash on hand to a minimum in case of theft. I had planned to supplement my US cash stash with ATM visits and charge card usage so only brought about $300 a week to spend. At this rate our month’s worth of cash wouldn’t last 10 days.
Thank goodness Uber is alive and well in Buenos Aires. However, even that is not hassle free. Turns out Uber only accepts Visa or Mastercard. American Express credits or Uber gift cards will not help you here.
Crossing the Border into Uruguay
We leave tomorrow for Colonia and it appears the money situation there is much easier. From there we head for Chile. If anyone has had similar experiences getting money in Chile, please let me know so I can get some US cash in Uruguay!
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Is the 1703 peso fee new? I don’t remember paying this, although it was several years ago. (I do remember paying a nominal entrance fee on the Brazilian side.)
Four people. It’s 500 for adults, 130 under 12. (1630). I added a link to the park admission page.
Great post Dia! This is on my short list – so I really appreciate the info!
We bought fabulous leather wallets in Argentina with US dollars and got change at a good rate from individual stores.
I was able to buy things in dollars when I had small enough bills.
Men’s wallets were $20-$30. We were able to break a $100 bill and get a great deal on each leather wallet.
I got some adorable change purses: 4 for 100 pesos ($6)
We had zero problems finding cash in Chile. There’s a Santander bank on every corner. In fact, we came home with cash because everywhere took cc. Hope that helps!
Glad to hear!
Interesting. I’m surprised US dollars are not widely accepted/coveted?
It’s having small enough denominations to handle things like taxis, restaurants, etc. If I were buying things in denominations of $20, $50 or $100 dollars it would be easy.
Thanks for the heads up. Have a trip planned for early 2018.
Hope you will write a detail trip report by then, so I can find some tips and tricks!
Absolutely! Taking it all in while we’re here but will have lots to report.
Yeah, I was in charge of a university study tour in Buenos Aires in 2009 and needed to pay for lunches in cash each day with the caterer. Getting money to do this each day was a nightmare. Money issues in general during the tour were like this. The last time I was in BsAs was a year ago and I used an ATM once and had no problem getting cash, but my card was skimmed and someone began withdrawing money from my account daily. So, yes, I agree that money in Argentina is oh so tricky. While I have also had ATM issues in Chile, I can say that generally things are much better there. I will be in Iguazu next month coming from Chile, so this is a good reminder! Did you ever post about your hotel in Iguazu? I have something else booked but was wondering about your hotel.
Not yet but it was great! Check out Falls Iguazu Hotel and Spa.
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Santander bank limits their ATM withdrawals to 200,000 clp (around $300), BUT because they’re charging you a ~$5 fee they won’t let you withdraw the full 200,000 clp. You have to withdraw the next highest denomination, maybe 150,000 clp, which in early June was around $230. It was very easy to find people willing to accept credit cards on Easter Island, so I’d imagine it’s just as easy on the mainland. 🙂
Thanks for the post. I’m heading to Buenos Aires and Iguazu in late October. Is this issue only at the beginning of the month? I was recently in Chile and had no problems getting cash.
I think it’s worse, but could be possible anytime.
In BsAs, there were so many ATMs, it was never much of a problem even if the first one or two was out of cash. However, in Ushuaia, I recall there was cas, but lots of ATMs would not accept foreign bank cards. I think it was a credit union although the actual name escapes me. The trick was to find a regular ATM like one from HSBC. As for the high ATM fees, it seems most of the Central and South American countries have high ATM fees for foreign issued cards, eg, Panama, Nicaragua.
Do you think it’s worth buying Pesos in the US before going to Argentina?
I ran into the same issue in Mendoza.
The casino in the Hyatt was willing to charge my visa for XXX amount of pesos, and then give me the peso in cash. They did not charge me a fee.
Even better, it coded as being a hotel charge, so i got 2x points for it. I was worried it might count as a cash advance, but it didn’t.
I considered a casino in a pinch as well.
I never answer yes to this but for Argentina might say maybe, esp if you arrive over the 1st.
Thanks for the tip for Argentina. Good to know.
In Chile we spend 2 weeks without much of local currency – most places were taking credit cards (Visa/Master) or dollars in some instances.
In Santiago there were many exchange places, specifically at pedestrian mall in center & banks.
Actually furthers from the capital, in Patagonia, exchange rate was better! And tour operators there took dollars, rental car company actually preferred dollar payment. So should not be a cash problem in Chile in general.
As I don’t use ATMs over the border, I always take a bunch of smaller bills to any country I travel to, just in case people there don’t have change, or not willing to break big bills. Also make sure your bills are in good condition: some countries won’t take worn out dollars at all – newer the better.
I’ve read that Mexico is limiting dollar exchange volumes, but not sure how is that implemented. On last visit to Cancun I did not use any pesos at all, only $.
On the other hand, during recent visit to South Africa I found out that dollars are not accepted, and can only be exchanged at some banks. But luckily almost anywhere CC are accepted, even for $2 charges… So only changed $400 for 2-week journey as have to pay safari guide in Rands.
Have a great time in Chile – it is a wonderful country every step of the way from Santiago to Punto Arenas and beyond! Enjoy.
Thanks for the heads-up. Very helpful!
Just a tip: If you are taking cash ($$) with you to Bs.As. or elsewhere in Argentina, be sure that the bills are new and crisp, and absolutely undamaged.