When I first visited Buenos Aires, I had no idea about the Argentine blue rate. I arrived in Buenos Aires with a credit card and spent most of my time hopping from one bank to another without the faintest idea I was basically throwing away my money. But there is a better way.
Have you heard of the dolar blue?
Argentina has an unofficial exchange rate of US Dollars in Argentina which is undeniably the best exchange rate a traveler can possible get. In fact, the unofficial rate or the “blue” rate is so widely used in the country, that it is published in the newspaper. In short, if you are visiting Buenos Aires than the “dolar blue” is the way to go.
Why is it so widely used?
Argentina underwent a debt crisis in 2002 and the fear of another debt default has created a huge mistrust amongst Argentinians and their financials institutions. The crash in 2002 caused a panic; Argentinians ran to their banks and tried to withdraw all their savings at the same time. This exacerbated the problem, causing the government and banks to put restrictions on how much residents could withdraw.
Then there is the issue of inflation where private analysts deem that Argentina’s inflation rate is said to be around 25%. What does this mean? Prices keep going up and the purchasing power of pesos is plummeting. Argentinians are therefore searching for a stable currency, like the US dollar, that won’t devalue as quickly as their peso.
Unfortunately, stable currency is hard to come by in Argentina. Financial reformed implemented by President Christina Kirchner have made it incredibly difficult for residents to legally obtain American dollars within their country. Even banks outside of Argentina (US and EU banks) have refused to exchange their currency (US dollars or euros) with the Argentine pesos due to this instability and the rising inflation. As a result, Argentinians have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Enter the Blue Rate.
The Blue Rate (in Spanish it is called the Dolar Blue) can be quite controversial as exchanging money illegally is leading to billions of undeclared dollars in Argentina. This underground market aids in the circulation, redistribution and housing of as much cash as the entire net worth of IBM and Facebook combined. It is a very complicated issue and there are many sides of the story. The government, the local and the tourist can provide a plethora of arguments on whether exchanging money with the unofficial rate is ethical or not. But the reality is that the blue rate has created symbiotic relationship between the local and the tourist that will probably not be broken in the near future.
Along with the tips I provided in a previous article (click here) about getting the best exchange rate in Buenos Aires, this is what YOU need to know about the blue rate.
- Be prepared. It is easy to get the Blue Rate in large cities but almost impossible in smaller rural towns. If you plan on going to Patagonia then exchange money before you go – the farther south, the worse the blue rate is.
- The rate changes daily. To find out the blue rate: http://www.dolarblue.net/
- If you are NOT in Buenos Aires, than most people want clean and crisp $100 dollars bills; you will get a lower rate for $20s. Crinkled dollars with rips or tears may be rejected, depending on where you are.
- Rumours of counterfeit pesos are rampant, tourists exchanging money should familiarize themselves with the bill – look for the watermark (hold it up to the light) and make sure to inspect EACH and EVERY bill.
- XOOM: online sigh-up that is quick and easy. This money transfer system exchanges money closer to the blue rate and is a great option if you run out of USD in Argentina. There are 55 pick-up locations in Argentina; for more info check out XOOM
If you are looking to exchange money outside of Buenos Aires than the first place you should visit is a Casa de Cambios. These exchange houses tend to have the official rate posted outside their locale but travellers can go up to the counter and ask for their dolar blue rate. Usually individuals will either tell you or discreetly write it down on a piece of paper. If you like the rate, then go for it. If you dont then shop around.
If there are no casa de cambios then you can always exchange your money at hotels, restaurants, small shops etc. etc. The best thing to do is just to ask around and compare rates. I remember going into a store in Buenos Aires where I bought a pair of pants with USD dollars because the owner of the store gave me a rate of 9.1 (!!!).
In the end, stay safe and remember that it never hurts to ask.