Dolar Blue: getting the best rate for Argentine Pesos (ARS)

I just came back from Argentina and figured I would share some up-to-date information on getting Argentine Pesos for the best possible price thanks to the Dolar Blue.

In short, the current official exchange rate of about 8 pesos per US dollar isn’t what you want to purchase your pesos at. Instead, you want to get the Dolar Blue rate (currently around 10.6 pesos per dollar), instantly giving you over 30% more buying power – although that buying power increase can be over 50% at times based on exchange rate variations.

You can get pesos cheaper than the official rate because USDs are hard to get at that rate for Argentines, and they’re willing to pay a premium to get the dollars they need for some transactions – or simply want to keep as an edge against rampant inflation.

This is done on a “black market” that is actually tolerated by the government, as illustrated by the police officers doing absolutely nothing while people are changing money within a few feet of them on Calle Florida in Buenos Aires, among other places.

Converting US Dollars (USD) to Argentine Pesos (ARS) in Buenos Aires

1. Bring all the money you think you’ll need in Argentina in USD bills. We carried $1400 in a well-hidden money belt, for example. Euros and Reals should also work.

2. Head out to Calle Florida (we used the subte – the subway – for that, at a cost of about $0.50 per person (5 pesos) – the Florida subte station is the closest one) during store hours any day of the week.

3. Walk a bit and you’ll most certainly hear someone shouting “Cambio, cambio, cambio! Dólares, euros, reales. Cambio!” or something similar. Just ask them what their rate is, compare it with what you’ve seen on, and negotiate if you want. We generally negotiated with two or three arbolitos (the people shouting “cambio!”) and went with the one with the best rate. If you have large denominations, make sure to mention it as it may get you a slightly better rate*.

4. The arbolito will probably ask you to follow him inside a store (or get someone with the actual money to come to you) and you may then proceed to change your money.

Converting US Dollars (USD) to Argentine Pesos (ARS) in El Chalten or El Calafate

It is still possible to change USD to ARS outside of Buenos Aires, but in the tourist towns of Patagonia, you’ll get a less favourable rate since the supply of foreign currency from tourists in proportion to the needs of the local population is much higher than in the capital.

While we got anywhere from 10.6 to 10.75 pesos per dollar on Calle Florida in Buenos Aires, we had to settle for 10 in a pizzeria in El Chalten, 9 from our hostel in El Calafate, and 8.25 from a cab driver in El Calafate. Worse yet, we ran out of pesos at the airport in El Calafate (didn’t know there was an airport tax to pay before flying out) and had to withdraw some from an ATM at the official rate + a $6 fee – ouch.

Moral of the story: bring enough USD, and while you don’t want to change too much to pesos since you won’t be able to convert these back as dollars, make sure to change enough when you have access to a good rate so you don’t run out of pesos and have to change at a worse rate later.

Also, if you have too many pesos left and leave the country via the EZE airport in Buenos Aires, you can use them to pay at the huge duty free shop after going through customs in the airport: they list prices in USD, but accept pesos at the official exchange rate, which is not a bad deal, and better than being stuck with useless currency once you’re back home.

I hope this information will be helpful for some – if you have questions, just ask in the comments.

* Larger denominations, especially $100 bills, are preferred and will get you a slightly better rate since they’re easier to carry, but I would recommend bringing $50 and $20 bills in case you run out of pesos changed at the dolar blue rate – you will likely be able to pay in USD in that case, but will get your change back based on the less favourable official exchange rate.

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