If you are a tourist visiting Argentina, bring plenty of US dollar notes with you. To get the best exchange rate, exchange the US dollars using the blue dollar exchange rate – a more favourable exchange rate than the official one.
In 2012/2013 the blue dollar rate was 50-60% higher than the official rate. This meant that tourists saved 50-60% on everything on which they spent their USD exchanged pesos.
In 2014, so far, the blue dollar rate has been generally around 10-30% better, depending on demand.
What is the blue dollar rate and why does it exist?
In 2011, the Argentine government imposed restrictions on the amount of US dollars that people could buy in Argentina. Residents reportedly needed to get approval from the national tax office to change pesos to USD. The government claimed that the restrictions were imposed to stop tax evasion and money laundering. Others argued that it was to stop money flowing out of the country, rumoured to be in the billions.
Shortly after the restrictions were introduced, the official exchange rate got worse and a far better black market for the USD to Peso rate emerged. This rate was called the “Blue Dollar” rate.
Technically the blue dollar rate is illegal, but is widely used by tourists and locals alike. It has its own Twitter feed @DolarBlue, and its own website. The rate is also reported along side the official rate in some local newspapers.
The Argentina economy is fairly volatile with both the official and blue dollar rates fluctuating daily.
Where in Argentina can you exchange money using the blue dollar rate?
The blue dollar rate is NOT used throughout the country.
Entering Argentina from the south near Torres del Paine, we were repeatedly told that the blue dollar rate was only available in Buenos Aires.
Having said that, some tour operators e.g. Hielo y Aventura in Puerto Moreno were willing to give us change using an “improved” exchange rate, so you can try to negotiate. Generally however, expect the blue dollar rate is only available in Buenos Aires.
Asking your hotel or hostel in Buenos Aires for a recommendation of a good place to change money is a start. Otherwise, head to Florida Street in the centre of BA where you will find plenty of people shouting “cambio, cambio”.
Step by Step Guide to Exchanging US dollars using the Blue Dollar Rate
1. Get US Dollars
Make sure you take US dollars out before you arrive in Argentina. Obtain them in your home country, or you can easily withdraw US dollars from ATMs in Uruguay, Ecuador, and touristy parts of Peru like Cusco.
Depending on the exchange rate, it may even be worth, taking out local currency in whichever country you are in e.g. Chile or Brazil, and changing that currency again into US dollars before you arrive.
2. Check the rates
Check the official blue dollar rate at http://www.dolarblue.net/ before you go to change your money.
Take note of the first figure in the first row of the “Compra” column i.e. to the right of the first column where it says “Blue…”. This is the exchange rate that you will be aiming to negotiate.
Compare this to the official USD to Argentina peso rate to make sure that the blue rate is worth using.
4. Familiarise yourself with the local currency if you can
Try to familiarise yourself with the Argentinian peso notes before you go to change your USD. We met several people who had ended up with fake notes, not just from exchanging money, but also at restaurants, and even ATMs. Ask local residents for tips on what you should look out for to figure out whether a note is fake or not.
3. Make your way to Florida Street or wherever has been recommended to you
In Florida street, there will be lots of people shouting “Cambio Cambio”. Sometimes the “Cambio Cambio” guys in the middle of the street, (as opposed to the ends of the street where most people tend to enter), will give you a better rate.
Some guys will change the money on the street for you, others act as scouts for travel agencies and will take you to an office just off Florida Street. (I’m sure it’s fine but I’ve seen too many movies, so it’s probably best to be with someone else and not on your own if they take you to an office somewhere.)
Don’t be afraid to get a few quotes and a feel for what rate people are selling at.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Start off negotiating a rate for $100 and then try and negotiate a better rate for more money. You should be able to get a better rate if you are changing more USD.
Ideally, you will want to try to negotiate a rate which is no more than 0.2-0.3 less than the official blue dollar rate. For example if the table on the blue dollar website says that officially blue dollars are bought at 12.1, aim to get an exchange rate as close to that number as possible, maybe 11.8 or 11.9.
4. Good places to change money on Florida Street
Florida Street can be a bit intimidating in that there are so many people shouting “Cambio Cambio” and looking out for gringos carrying cash.
We had no idea who to go to or how it worked and ended up looking for any other gringos who were changing money and just following them. As a result, we changed a few hundred dollars with a guy on the middle of the street, and everyone could see how much cash we were carrying. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it. I didn’t feel comfortable inspecting the notes and counting the cash in full view of everyone.
The next times we went, we got quotes from different guys, and ended up with one who took us to a travel agency in building number 656 on Florida Street (office number 7).
(Just walk into the building’s big hallway, walk past the security guard’s desk and the staircase, and the travel agency’s office is at the end of the hallway on your left. The exchange desk is at the back of the office, directly in front of the door. There will be a lady by a desk with a massive sack of cash behind her. Negotiate the rate directly with her, or if you want, you can negotiate with one of the guys who act as scouts outside on behalf of the office. Bear in mind that the scouts may take a cut. The lady who served us acted tough but will negotiate a bit – get the best rate you can for $100 and then negotiate a better rate for changing more. It helps if there is no one else waiting to change money right next to you, otherwise she’ll be less likely to negotiate – write numbers down rather than shouting them out. Don’t be afraid of walking away to try your luck with someone else and then going back.)
There are several advantages with going to exchange cash in an office like that rather than on the street:
1. you are not waving and counting big wads of cash around in public in front of hundreds of people on the street;
2. there was a flourescent lamp on the desk in the place we went to where you could check the watermarks and inspect the notes properly;
3. you can take your time checking and counting your cash in what felt like a safe, and far more private environment, than the street.
5. Check your notes
Each time we exchanged money there were a few dodgy looking notes in the pile we were given. We were told that these were the “new” notes which felt very different to the rest. In hindsight I think that might have been true, but we weren’t sure, so asked for replacements which were readily provided with no issues.
If you’re not sure whether a note is genuine or not, ask for replacement notes.