Thursday, 28 March 2013

How to buy money on the black market in Argentina

When we were in Brazil we were on a tour with a pair of Argentinian girls who had to buy souvenirs for their friends back home but needed a place that would take credit cards. In my ignorance I asked them why they didn't just take money out from an ATM as we were at a market and cash would be a lot easier to manage. They told me that due the economic crisis in Argentina (which started in 1999) it was very hard for Argentinian people to buy foreign currency. If you were to go on a holiday elsewhere and needed some of their currency you would have to lodge a form that would give you a certain amount. Even paying by credit card overseas is an instant 15% fee. It sounded like a really frustrating process for Argentinans.

Before we arrived in Brazil, there was a lot of talk at our hostel about the best way to obtain Argentinian Pesos. If you get it from outside the country or even inside at an ATM or a regular exchange office you will get the official rate whch is US$1:AR$5(ish). You shouldn't do this.

Rather, we followed the advice of a lot of other travellers and got Brazilian reals from an ATM, took it to a local exchange office or 'cambio' and swapped it for US dollars. Now the exhange rate was lower than what we get normally in Australia but even with this loss it was still worth it. 

Once you're in Argetina you sell your US dollars on the black (or blue) market. This is a lot easier than it sounds, you just find a guy who would be calling out "Cambio, cambio, cambio" and ask him what his rate is. The best rate we got was US$1:AR$8.25 which if you exchange $800 is a significant increase in your spending money compared to the official rate. He then takes you to a random building, up three flights of stairs into a tiny booth where someone else does the exchange.

It sounds a bit dodge (and it is!) but everyone does it and in downtown Buenos Aires on Florida Street (heaps of people, very safe) you will find that you can't walk two metres without someone calling out to you "Cambio, cambio, cambio, I give you a good rate! More so for us because we stick out like sore thumbs everywhere we go in South America.

Just make sure that you just start off with small amount of money to check that everything is ok and check the notes for a watermark so you don't get stuck with counterfeit money. The next time bring a larger amount of money like $500 and you will get a better rate. The first time we did it we got 8 pesos per dollar but the second time we got 8.25, and after negotiating with at least a dozen guys this was the highest it ever got.

So now I can exchange money like a pro and we are living the high life in Buenos Aires.Considering food here has been pretty cheap and the metro is 30c per ride,  our budget is looking a lot better than it did in Brazil. I think as head financial officer, my brain will explode once we reach Boliva where you get can meals for $1 or less.

All this deliciousness for $5.

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