We learned so much about Argentina money while on our extended vacation there. Everything from the limited amount of Argentina money you can withdraw from an ATM; how inexpensively we could live for the day; when to expect to need exact change; and the coin shortage in some parts of the country. We experienced some interesting “trades” as well.
What to know about Argentina money
We spent several months in Argentina, going everywhere from Buenos Aires to Peninsula Valdes to Bariloche as well as many more cities. If you’re ever planning on visiting Argentina, there are two key things to note, and they are so important I wanted to discuss them.
- Cash is king. In Argentina you need cash. Some places accept credit cards, but frequently these shops will tack on an extra fee for using them. So, while Visa may be everywhere you want to be, it’s everywhere you want to be with lots and lots of fees.
- Cash is hard to get. At some point during our journey, the Argentine banks had some sort of crackdown and starting imposing 300 peso withdrawal limits which is about $86 US. At first we thought it was just the banks in the small town we were in. But even when we were in Buenos Aires this happened. What was worse was that the ATM informed me I had “insufficient funds.” Another time it stated I had reached my daily limit. This caused a bit of a panic the first time it flashed across the ATM screen. I contacted my bank, and they told me that neither of these situations was the case. After doing some online research, I found a number of forums indicating that there was a $300 (Argentine) limit on withdrawals. Luckily this didn’t happen until the end of our trip. Bottom line: it’s not fun to hop around from ATM to ATM each day, especially when your bank charges you ATM fees.
When you head to Argentina, make sure you either plan to visit the ATM frequently, bring US dollars to exchange, or (and I hate to suggest this) bring Travelers Cheques. And if you’re lucky enough to find an ATM that doesn’t limit you, withdraw enough cash to last you awhile.
Argentina money won’t go as far as it used to
Argentina is not as cheap as it used to be. When the economy crashed in the early 2000’s, Argentina was an amazing bargain. Now, it’s a good, but not an amazing, deal. We are pretty frugal people, but we enjoy a good meal and a comfortable bed occasionally. So, before I list our average daily costs, realize that you could shoestring it and spend less, but you could also spend a lot more. On average, we spent about $50 person/day in US dollars while in Argentina. There were days we spent a good amount less and days where we spent a bit more. This includes all in-country costs: transportation, souvenirs, food, lodging, and excursions. (Round trip plane tickets from Minneapolis to Buenos Aires were not factored into this.)
photo credit: alex-s
It would be easy to spend a lot more if you stayed solely in private rooms, at a hotel, and ate all of your meals out in fancier restaurants. You could spend less by sleeping in only dorm beds and getting by on $1 empanadas for your meals and not ever traveling around the country.
How much Argentina money will you spend? Here are some average costs in US dollars.
Dorm bed: $10-$15 bed /night
Double room: $30-$50 room / night
Apartment: $35+ / night
Argentina Parrilla (steak): $8-$10
Ice cream cone: $3-$4 (Surprisingly expensive when compared to other food)
Bottle of wine in a restaurant: $7 and up
Transportation (getting around Argentina)
Local bus: $0.30-$1.50
Taxi: varies immensely (see note below)
City-to-city bus: $40-$75
Plane, city-to-city: $175 and up
Park Entrance fees (for Iguazu Falls, Punta Tombo, Peninsula Valdes, etc) $12-$15
Day trips and guided tours: $40-$60
Note: Prices are significantly more expensive in touristy towns — especially those in the South. For instance, in Buenos Aires we paid less than $3 US for a Lomito (steak sandwich). In El Chalten, the cheapest Lomito was $10 US. Similarly, we paid about $5 US for a 15 minute taxi ride in Buenos Aires. In El Calafate, Patagonia a 20 minute taxi ride was $20 US.
Lack of coins in Argentina
The lack of monedas (coins) was at times frustrating since no shop owners seemed to have them. Exact change was a necessity for taking public transportation. We often wondered why the government didn’t just produce more coins. But Argentines seemed used to the change shortage and soon we were too.
Shopkeepers being innovative about lack of coins
I browsed the internet and came across an article from Clarin.com, an Argentine news agency, about the “ingenious” plan hatched by Chinese supermarket owners. Apparently the Chinese store owners have decided to create a system where, instead of giving change, they give tickets equivalent to that amount of change. And when customers come return to the store for their next purchase, the tickets are worth 10% more. Thus, customers have incentive to be regular shoppers at these stores. It turns out there’s a huge black market for coins in Argentina, which I was blissfully unaware of during my travels, that store owners are currently forced to turn to in order to have adequate change. And to top it all off, the government and the banks don’t seem to have a better solution.
A problem for green travelers who favor public transportation
You need exact change for public transportation. The one green traveler problem I foresee if this tickets-in-lieu-of-coins system really takes off? Supermarkets are some of the few places travelers can easily obtain change. There was one day we went to four different supermarkets and small shops, trying to spend just the right amount on small items to get back the exact change we needed to take the bus across town. Eventually, we succeeded, but we were turned away by at least two stores saying they didn’t have any change. If all of the markets start issuing paper tickets instead of monedas, how will travelers get the change they need to take public transportation?
Interesting trades for Argentina money
One of our more interesting experiences was when we bought cold medicine and received aspirin back in lieu of the pesos that we were owed. It happened when I went to the local pharmacy. The dictionary we brought didn’t translate “cold” as in sick, so instead I tentatively asked the pharmacist “Tiene Sudafed o pseudoephedrine?” (“Do you have Sudafed?”) while gesturing to my nose and head. The pharmacists said “Oh, para fria” and handed me some cold medicine. Turns out “cold” translates directly. I went to pay the $18.84 AR bill with a $20 AR note (the Argentina money equals about $7 US). The pharmacy didn’t have any Argentine peso — at this point not entirely surprising — so instead of my $1.16 in change, the pharmacist gave me four aspirin.
photo credit: 100777
I read that if a store doesn’t have coins they might give you candies to make up the difference. I have to say, as someone who’s slightly addicted to sweets, I was disappointed to get aspirin instead of candy. I shared my story with a local who worked at our hostel in Rosario. He laughed then told us about a shop he visited everyday to buy cigarettes. The owner always gave him change in candy because she didn’t have coins. He saved the candy for months and when he had a bag full, he presented it to the shop owner to pay for his cigarettes. The shop owner resisted at first (apparently no one had thought to do this before) but made the exchange. From that point forward she always managed to find coins to give our friend change for his cigarettes.
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Wherever you travel, remember to bring and wear your money belt.
Do you have any Argentina money stories to share? Below are links to some of our articles about our experiences in South America.
Argentine Breakfast – Typical foods and enjoying Thanksgiving
Argentine Cuisine – Top 17 Argentine Foods & 1 Drink You’ve Got to Try
Backpacking South America – 5 Green Backpacker Activities
Chacra Millalen: Volunteering on an Argentina Organic Farm
Iguazu Falls National Park in Argentina: Falls, Wildlife, Trails
Long Term Travel – Too Much Time to Think?
Manage Your Money While Traveling – Top Tips
Perito Moreno Glacier Argentina – Great Glacier Pictures
Prepare for Extended Travel – 7 Steps to Mentally Prepare Yourself
Tikal National Park, Guatemala – Hidden Ruins, Animals & More
Travel Burnout – To go or not to go to Tierra del Fuego
11 Things to Know Before You WWOOF