Ah, the Dolar Blue… the unofficial exchange rate of US Dollars in Argentina. Aka, the BEST exchange rate for US Dollars in Argentina. The banks and ATM’s only dish out the official exchange rate. Get the Dolar Blue. Do it. The country is almost 50% off with the Dolar Blue. Here’s how to get it, but first a bit of background.
In mid 2012, Argentinian President Christina Kirchner passed several financial reforms with the intent to reduce inflation, reduce the strain on the central bank from so many people buying US Dollars, hold the Argentinian Peso steady and keep it in circulation (due to inflation, Argentinians often opt to keep their money in other currencies outside of the Argentina). It’s a tough row to hoe. Inflation is a constant worry in Argentina. So bad that US banks have not accepted the Argentinian Peso for exchange into US dollars for around a decade. Same story with EU banks.
These new financial reforms essentially make it illegal to convert Argentinian Pesos to any other currency. (Technically it is possible, but the monetary amount it limited and there is a ton of paperwork, like proving your income level). So, what does this mean? People, especially Argentinians that travel abroad, still want Dollars and there is no easy legal way to do it. Enter the “Blue Market”.
So, here’s what you need to know.
*Note, I do feel a bit bad about contributing to the monetary problems of Argentina, I hope they sort out their financial situation soon and there will be no need for the Blue.
1.) It is called the “Dolar Blue” not the “Dolar Azul”. Weird, I know.
2.) It is technically illegal to change US Dollars for Arg. Pesos at Casa de Cambios, hotels, restaurants, with guys on the street. But don’t worry. Seriously. More on this later.
3.) The Blue rate changes everyday. Track it here: http://www.dolarblue.net/
4.) It is fairly easy to get the Blue rate in large cities, but almost impossible in small rural towns. The farther south in Patagonia, the worse the Blue rate gets (when we were there, the Blue was trading at 8.5, and best we could find was 6.8.
5.) When NOT in Buenos Aires, most people want clean, crisp $100 US bills. You will get a lower rate for $20s. It’s all about logistics. Easier to carry a thousand dollars out of the country in $100s than $20s. Play it safe and bring $100s if you can.
6.) There are some rumors of counterfeit Pesos being exchanged, but we never had an issue. We exchanged money all over the country and never had a problem. I don’t think we were lucky, we were just participating in a business. Plus, if we were exchanging $10,000 USD at a time, I would be a bit more worried about them sneaking in some fake ones, but with only changing at most $1,000 at a time, we were able to check every bill. We also knew to look for the watermark (just hold it up to the light) and also knew what real pesos look like (we got some initially from an ATM.)
7.) Xoom.com If you don’t know about this service, learn about it and emblazon it into your memory. We only learned about it at the end of our trip. This online money transfer service allows you to transfer money from your US bank account (or any country) to yourself while traveling in Argentina (available for pickup at their locations). It is a lifesaver. They charge a fee for this transfer (a percentage) and offer a rate that is much better than the official rate, but not quite as good as the Blue. They do, afterall, want to make money off of the transfer.
In Argentina, Xoom works with the company “]MORE[" for money transfers, so you will pick up your money at a ]MORE[ store, not Xoom.The online signup is quick and free and the money is usually available for pick up within the hour. Hot damn.
*NOTE* Xoom does not have pick up locations south of Mendoza that I know of. Stock up while you can.
8.) Everybody does it. Seriously, everybody knows about the Dolar Blue and usually knows someone that wants dollars. This is not a super shady operation, it’s the norm of life in Argentina right now.
So, where to go? Despite it being technically illegal, there are plenty of places to get the Dolar Blue.
In Buenos Aires
Walk down the Florida Peatonal and you will be bombarded by money changers. “Cambio! Cambio!” “Dollars! Dollars, you have Dollars?”. Just ask one of these guys their rate, if you don’t like it, move on to the next one. They will usually ask how much you want to change. The more you have, the better the rate. But you should be able to haggle a bit no matter what. And you should always haggle. You may only get $0.1 difference, but that’s ok. Haggle anyway.
You won’t get the exact trading rate for the Blue, but you can get close to it. When changing $400 USD, the Blue was at 9.2 to the dollar. We got 9.0 on Florida Ave.
The touts that shout “Cambio! Cambio!” get a small cut from your transaction. If you will be in Buenos Aires for awhile, take note of where the tout leads you and next time go directly to the office. You’ll get a slightly better rate.
Outside of Buenos Aires
Casa de Cambios – usually Casa de Cambios will give you the blue rate, or close to it. They tend to have the official exchange rate posted clearly, but just go up to the counter and ask what their rate for dollars is. They may tell you or write it down on a piece of paper and show you. If you like the rate, go for it. There will be no official recipe or paperwork.
If Casa de Cambios aren’t around, or aren’t giving a good rate, ask at hotels, restaurants, small shops, you never know. I usually asked something along the line of “Is there a place I can change dollars around here?” “Hay un lugar puedo cambiar dolars circa de aca?” This way I wasn’t asking them to do something illegal and they could easily say no if they didn’t want to exchange. I was never treated rudely or yelled at. However, Cesar, who is Hispanic, was given some dirty looks when he asked to change dollars. We think this is because it wasn’t as obvious that he was a tourist?? But again, I never was treated rudely or given bad looks when I asked about changing dollars.
If you are entering Argentina from Northern Chile or Bolivia, Salta is a good place to get the Dolar Blue.
Mendoza has no issue getting the Dolar Blue, just go to Casa de Cambios, a large hotel, or ask a local.
Bariloche has plenty of places to exchange, but they all want $100s.
El Calafate was tough, the Casa de Cambio was offering the official rate and we found a small shop to exchange dollars for 6.8. We didn’t know about xoom.com yet (though I’m not sure if they have an office down there).
Argentina remains one of our hands down favorite countries- incredibly warm and hospitable people, to die for food and wine, and stunning geography- a true overlanding paradise. With the Dolar Blue, your money will go farther and you can live the high life. How often do overlanders get to do that?!