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Bring Good Ole Cash When You Visit Argentina Now

Here’s some advice you don’t hear very often in the travel world: when you fly into the country, bring as much cash as you can, preferably in $100 bills or €100 notes. That’s because we’re talking about the strategy to visit Argentina, where your money is worth more in cash than if you use a credit card or take it out of an ATM. 

visit Argentina and get stacks of pesos - photo by Nathan Aguilera
I’m revising this article in 2024 though because Argentina has a new president, an anti-establishment character who showed up at campaign rallies wielding a chainsaw. He vowed to eliminate the central bank and dollarize the economy to get inflation under control. Many measures he can’t take without getting the Argentine Senate and Chamber of Deputies to agree though. Plus there’s the judicial system: business-friendly labor rollbacks he tried to push through already got struck down by the courts.

Javier Milei does have the power to remove currency controls that artificially inflate the value of the peso, however, which he did almost as soon as he took office. So the gap between the official exchange rate and the street rate has narrowed. 

If you visited Argentina in 2022 or most of 2023, you would routinely get twice as many pesos when changing money on the street at the “blue rate” than you would get by using a bank or your credit card. There were a few ways around this, but they were a pain to implement, so as a traveler you were much better off exchanging dollars or euros than you were using an ATM or a credit card—or even an app on your phone. My Uber ride through the app was $4.20 in central Buenos Aires—but at the blue rate in cash that ride would have been $2.10. We took taxis and paid cash after that. 

The Current Exchange Rate Difference for Cash in Argentina

Now the disparity between cash and plastic is not as large, as you can see from this rate I’m posting in January of 2024: 

argentina blue dollar rate

Instead of the informal rate being double what the official one was, now it’s about 25% more instead. That’s still worth bringing cash for, of course. A meal that’s US$20 at the informal rate will be $25 on your credit card, but it’s not twice as much like before. 

Since I haven’t been back lately, I hit up a friend who has been living there for months, Nathan Aguilera of Foodie Flashpacker, to get the current scoop. That photo at the top is his, showing the stacks of bills he gets every week when he exchanges dollars at the blue rate. As the peso has devalued more and more, that means the largest banknotes are worth less and less. 

Here’s what Nathan has been going through recently: 

Since the recent devaluation of the peso, the once wide gap between the official government rate and the “blue dollar” rate has been narrowed. 

Sitting in the middle is the bank rate that tourists receive when paying with a foreign credit card. You’ll want to bring a Visa or Mastercard: AmEx isn’t widely accepted and with Visa or Mastercard the bank rate is usually immediate, while AmEx can take weeks to adjust. 
Of course, bringing cash in will still get you the best rate but lately, as a matter of convenience, I’ve been almost exclusively paying by card. The difference that you’ll save is hardly worth carrying around a large amount of USD, finding somewhere to exchange it, and then carrying around a huge pile of pesos.
Of course, you’ll need some cash. Many restaurants do not allow you to pay tips on your credit cards and some stores and markets don’t accept cards at all. Vendors will often quote you in USD and then ask for payment in pesos at that day’s best rate (the blue rate). This is what happened to us recently when we hired a private chef to cater our Thanksgiving and needed to pay the chef and the event space nearly $2000 USD. Here’s what that looked like laid out on the table: 
cash argentina low peso value

I keep having to update this article since I first posted it during my visit in March of ’22. I was traveling in Argentina then, my fourth time there, and it was a bit strange. Back then I said, “It’s cheaper than it’s ever been, with lower prices than I’m used to in Mexico on most goods and services, but that’s only if you’re getting the ‘blue rate’ of close to 200 pesos per dollar and not the official exchange rate that’s around 100.”

In the summer of 2023 when I did an update, the official government rate had climbed to 365 to the dollar and the blue rate was 790. The currency had sunk by a factor of four since my visit the previous year. 

Now, thanks to some of the highest inflation in the world, those 1,000-peso notes that were were $5 when I visited are only worth a dollar now. Since the government has dragged its feet on printing larger banknotes, maybe because that would be admitting that they have a big problem, you now get huge stacks of cash when exchanging even US$100. If you visit Argentina, you may want to pack a pair of Pickpocket Proof Pants, preferably the ones with cargo pockets. Because you’re going to be carrying far more than you can fit in a wallet. Or get used to carrying a bag with you just for your money. 

Yes, if you thought the black market in currency exchange was a thing of the past, or only seen in crumbling countries like Venezuela, you’d be wrong. It’s blue instead of black because it’s out in the open and published on news sites, but Argentina still has two exchange rates that follow their own logic.

Find an article from an economist about why the official rate was artificially low for years on end, but the most logical answer is that Argentina still has a lot of debt and if they float their currency freely, the price of that debt will double. So nobody wanted to do that until the guy with the chainsaw came along.

There are also import/export considerations, budget considerations, and other factors, but the bottom line is the government was projecting a fiction that kept their financial crisis from looking as bad as it really is. In August of 2023 they devalued the peso by 18% in one day, but the unofficial cash rate kept its same margin, meaning the market was pegging the real rate in tandem. 

For the locals, it is a serious crisis, though you wouldn’t know that from looking at the busy cafes and the busy domestic airport. Argentines are used to being in a state of crisis and it’s not going to keep them from having a good time. Most with money have bank accounts abroad, in Uruguay or Chile at least, and they’re used to converting their pesos to dollars on a regular basis. Most have learned that real estate is a safer place to put money than a local bank, so I didn’t see great bargains to buy a house or apartment like I did when I first visited the country 16 years ago. 

Blue Rate Prices in Argentina for Travelers

I put up a different post that took a stab at Argentina prices for travelers, but that’s tougher to do than for other countries because of super-high inflation and a dual exchange rate. A bottle of good wine may cost you $8 if you put it on your credit card, but if you pay cash it’s $6. That Airbnb place or independent hotel will have a listed rate, but if you do an end-around and pay in cash, the rate may drop quite a bit. 

Here is a quick rundown, with some photos, to give an idea of what a bargain Argentina is right now for travelers. Sure, it can cost some money to get there unless you cash in points for a free flight as I did, but then after you peel off a few $100 bills at a street exchange place, you’ll be loving life for a while. 

argentina wine prices blue rate

These bottles were under $2 each when the peso was at 200 to the dollar.

The best deals are on food and drink, which is great since you’ll be spending money on those a few times per day. The first thing I saw when I walked into a supermarket was bottles of wine for sale for the equivalent of $1.50. Wondering if those were an anomaly, I went over to the wine shelves–the biggest section of the supermarket it seemed–and found a few dozen more brands that were less than US$2 at the blue rate. I bought one from Mendoza and was quite pleased. 

The fruit and vegetable section was another land of bargains, with many items costing $1 or less per kilo, sometimes a lot less. Cheese, yogurt, and meat were all less expensive than what I usually see in Mexico, which leads me to a conclusion: if you buy something produced in Argentina, not imported, you’re going to make out well. Since there’s a lot of agriculture in this country, it’s a long list. 

visit Argentina now for bargain prices

If you’re willing to eat the typical Argentine breakfast, which is a coffee and two medialuna pastries (like thin croissants), then you can get that for less than a buck at a lot of cafes. Spend two or three bucks and you can get something more substantial and in any case, the coffee will be good. They take their coffee very seriously here and it’s nearly always freshly made in an espresso machine. 

In stores and in bars, I’ve been thrilled with the beer prices also. It’s usually less than $2 for a pint of beer. The only time I’ve paid more ($2.50) was at a Patagonia Beer taproom, which also had the highest food prices. I later did a self-directed brewpub and taproom tour in Buenos Aires to check out the Argentina craft beer scene and I can’t remember paying more than $3 for a pint anywhere. 

At the domestic airport in Buenos Aires we bought a craft beer and a large bottle of detox juice and the tab was $4.50 total. At an airport! (For comparison, my wife stopped in a juice shop in Houston before we flew down and an equivalent bottle of juice was more than $10 there, before tax. She kept walking.)

Prices are lower at happy hour and are universally low in restaurants. We went out to one place in Buenos Aires and it was too early to order a $4.50 pizza. So we got $4 burgers with fresh-cut fries instead and got glasses of wine for $1.50 each. Most meals came in at $8 to $15 for two and that’s without trying to be careful about where we ate. You could spend two or three times that at a nice steak or seafood place, but what you get will be very good. 

We didn’t take the Buenos Aires subway yet, but it’s less than 10 cents for a ride. When we caught a taxi from the Calafate airport to downtown, a 20-minute trip, it was $12 for two. Getting around in central B.A. should only cost you a few bucks. 

I did get a haircut while I was in the big city, at a fancy barbershop in Recoleta, where they gave me a craft beer while I was waiting. It was $16 by local standards at the official exchange rate, but came out to eight bucks for me. 

Search flight prices for Argentina

Cashing in Money in Buenos Aires

How easy it is to cash in your money depends on where you are when you visit Argentina. In the shopping districts, the touts will find you or be shouting “Cambio, Cambio!” Otherwise you need to visit an exchange kiosk and make sure they’re giving the blue rate. Restaurants have that rate posted though, so if you want you can pay in dollars and get a rate close to 200, then they’ll give you change in pesos. You may also find some hotel clerk or waiter who is ready to do an exchange. Count the bills of course, but usually people aren’t trying to scam you. 

Just be advised that your best bet is to bring recently minted $100 bills (or the euro equivalent) in good condition. They may take $50 bills, but it’s difficult to exchange 20s or you’ll get a lower rate. Smaller bills you can still use for tips and restaurant payments, of course. No old bills though. I once got some old 20s from my bank and didn’t notice until I arrived. Nobody wanted them and I ended up taking them back home. 

On top of getting a lower rate from an ATM, you also have to deal with restricted amounts. It’s not uncommon for a bank ATM to limit your withdrawal to $150 or so. Add in the fees and it’s a raw deal all around. Just bring cash and be done with it or take a small hit and use your Visa or Mastercard. 

Now and then I hear from other travelers who found some way to get a rate that’s closer to the blue rate than the official one with their credit card but the government seems to squash these schemes as soon as they pop up. Uber was using the blue rate for a while until their wrist got slapped. Some foreign credit cards were too, but then the rate popped back to the official one. As least the difference is not as dramatic now. 

Some have reported success in using a debit card to send themselves money via Western Union and getting the blue rate that way. You lose money from the fees, but you’re not carrying so much cash around if you’re coming for a while. 

In May of 2023 they introduced a new 2,000 peso bill that was worth a whopping $4. Now it’s worth two bucks. It’s so bad that visiting soccer teams from other countries are ripping up pesos and tossing them like confetti to taunt the Argentine fans and players. American Airlines announced recently that they will not accept payment in cash. It was too much trouble trying to stack and store it all.  

Understand that you will still get stuck paying the official rate on some items, like hotels and flights. If you rent an apartment though, you’ll probably see bargains galore. Think differently if you visit Argentina and get back to some old-school bargaining in cash. If you have a currency that’s actually worth something, that becomes a whole lot easier. 



Sunday 9th of October 2022

This sounds great EXCEPT, isn't it like, DANGEROUS to rely on and travel only with cash?! Short of learning martial arts and carrying a switchblade how can one SAFELY travel in Argentina using only cash, especially women?

I look forward to your response.

Tim Leffel

Monday 17th of October 2022

Why do you assume it's dangerous for anyone, of either sex? Last century everyone traveled around with cash more often than not all the time before credit card machines were so common. I've heard very few stories of travelers running into danger in Argentina and there are a lot of products and clothing items out there to keep your cash stashed away. We had no problems whatsoever carrying cash and my wife did a lot of walking around on her own in Buenos Aires.


Saturday 28th of May 2022

Thanks for the info. Can you tell me if it's easy to change 50 euro bills easily? The case is in Europe and also in my country 100 euro bills are rarely used and hard to come by. In fact i have never seen a 100 euro bill in real life. Everything is done in 50 euro bills. so if you tell me bring 100 euro bills i have to wonder. would bringing 50 euro bills for exchange bring any problems?

Tim Leffel

Sunday 29th of May 2022

Those will work too as long as they're the latest version and crisp, with no marks on them. The exchange people are really picky and will reject anything that's not in great condition and current.

Wade Kilpatrick

Wednesday 30th of March 2022

And if you want to live in Argentina you can send yourself money from your home bank account by Western Union and get very near the blue rate. American expats have been doing that since 2019 and have been as you can imagine very happy.

Gipsy Dean

Thursday 31st of March 2022

@Wade Kilpatrick, Nice tip thanks!

Bernhardson Wayne

Tuesday 29th of March 2022

Tim, there's no reason to take an Uber when you can easily flag a taxi on the street and pay with cash. I've never taken an Uber here, and never will. A cab from Retiro bus terminal to our apartment in Palermo, a distance of roughly four km but longer because of traffic patterns, cost 500 pesos (US$2.50).

As far as places to exchange money, it's best to know your local cueva (cave), which is the term Argentines use. Do not change money with an "arbolito" on Calle Florida telling you "cambio, cambio" (They're called "little trees" because they're planted on the sidewalk). There is an app called "Dólar Blue Hoy" where you can track the dollar's current value.

Finding cuevas in smaller towns and cities can be more of a challenge. On my last visit to Puerto Madryn, I changed at an auto glass repair shop (auto glass repair is a thriving business with Patagonian roads, but their business model is versatile). It helps to have fluent Spanish or trusted local contacts (which I do in many places).

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 30th of March 2022

Thanks Wayne. I used Uber because I was in a hotel with luggage on a side street and there were no cabs around. I would have had to call one anyway. It was cheap enough that it didn't really matter. Thanks for the advice on the other things, hope to see you soon in BA.

Gipsy Dean

Tuesday 29th of March 2022

This is a very interesting article, I went 3 years ago when the peso crashed to 40 to the dollar and food was so cheap in the stores and butcher shops. But the ATM ripp-offs were with big fees and a $150 limit like you said, however the credit card rate was the same. I guess if you went with a few thousand you would live like a king, and then maybe go to Chile or Uruguay and buy dollars every 90 days since you have to leave every 90 days anyway. Tim what about being a 'permanent tourist' in Argentina? Can one just go to Chile or Uruguay and 'bounce back' or how long do you need to be out of the country, is there a limit? This is what we need to know!

Bernhardson Wayne

Tuesday 29th of March 2022

@Gipsy Dean, You can obtain dollars from an Uruguayan ATM, and it's just a short day trip by hydrofoil. In Chile, though, you'll have to get Chilean pesos from the ATM and then turn them into dollars at a casa de cambio (exchange house).

Gipsy Dean

Tuesday 29th of March 2022

@Gipsy Dean, Tim you should find out if one can go to either Uruguay or Chile and with your ATM card get the local currency and then buy dollars to have when you return to Argentina. Or would this be worth the effort, but since you have to leave every 90 days maybe eh?