Here’s how to safely change your money from USD, EUR, or GBP to pesos and get the best rate in Buenos Aires, covering everything from Calle Florida (black market) to Western Union, cryptocurrency, and more.
Due to currency controls in Argentina, if you show up and use your credit card like in other countries, prices might seem cheap compared to your home country, but you’ll nevertheless be getting ripped off. You might get 100% (or even more) pesos for the same amount of money by using the methods below.
Currency controls in Argentina
First, what is creating this situation? Argentina’s peso (ARS) is a vulnerable currency undergoing rapid inflation—in fact, one of the highest inflation rates in the world with the government currently targeting ~50% annual inflation. But on top of that, the Argentine government wants to hang onto dollars and other currencies coming into the country to shore up foreign reserves and pay back dollar-denominated debt. So they don’t let you easily buy dollars, and within the country’s borders, they tightly control the “official” exchange rate in a way that overrepresents the value of the peso and allows them to skim a lot off the top of all your exchanges and purchases.
That creates a situation where there are two parallel exchange rates: the official one that you’ll get any time you use your credit card or an ATM, and the informal “blue dollar” rate that better represents the real (supply-and-demand based) value. A good place to see this difference is at bluedollar.net. The gap between the official and blue rates varies over time but is currently at record highs, with the blue dollar rate about 100% higher!
As a result, a lot of people visiting Argentina bring in enough cash for their trip and exchange it on the black market to get a better rate. But there are other options that can be better and safer, so I’ll detail all of the common/good options below.
Although I’ll mostly be talking about US dollars, the basic details for all of these options should work the same for other currencies like euros and pounds. That said, you’ll likely get more options and better rates with USD.
Following are six options for exchanging currency in Argentina:
Option 1: Use a credit card, ATM, bank, or official currency exchanges and get ripped off
This is a great option if you want to needlessly double all your prices. However, it might be unavoidable if you pay through apps like Airbnb. So you might want to favor hotels unless you already have an Argentine credit card or bank account you can use for payment. With Uber, you can pay with cash by adding a new payment method in the app and choosing “Cash” before you book a ride.
Option 2: Pay in dollars and get change in pesos
Some merchants are happy to accept payment in dollars and give you change in pesos. However, there’s a good chance you’ll pay and get change back at the low “official” rate, or at least a rate lower than what you can get elsewhere.
Option 3: Black market money changers
If you’re feeling adventurous, Florida Street (Calle Florida) is a crowded pedestrian street that’s the best place in the city for finding black-market money changers (arbolitos). Money changers are everywhere and easy to identify by their calls of “Cambio! Cambio!” (the word for “change”) as you walk by. This can be a good option, but you might need to negotiate and everything is at your own risk. Although most people have no problem, there have been stories of people getting ripped off or having a $100 bill replaced with a counterfeit and given back as unchangeable. Exclusively going this route also means you’ll have to bring enough cash into the country to cover your whole trip.
To work with arbolitos, first, ask them for their rate, and if you want to get the best rate you should then walk to at least one other person to compare. Use the “informal: buy” rate at bluedollar.net to make sure they’re in the right ballpark. You’ll get the best rate if you have $100 banknotes. The first time I tried exchanging on Florida Street, $100 bills were going for 200 pesos per dollar, whereas the best price anyone offered for 50s, 20s, or 10s was 195 pesos/dollar (some people offered much lower). After you agree on a rate and amount, they’ll typically take you to a small, nearby office where the exchange is done.
If you have friends in Argentina, they might be willing to exchange money for you since many people are happy to hold their savings in dollars instead of pesos.
Even if you plan to use the other options listed below, I’d recommend bringing some backup dollars with you to Argentina for exchange on the black market in case you run into problems and can’t get pesos in time through other methods.
Option 4: Western Union (recommended)
Western Union is fantastic for currency exchange in Buenos Aires since by sending dollars to yourself (through their website or app) and picking it up in pesos, you’ll get an excellent rate—sometimes even better than what’s listed on bluedollar.net. To do this, you’ll need a Western Union account from your home country rather than an Argentine account, so be careful about just going to westernunion.com to create an account if you’re already in Argentina. If you are, start at this URL to create an American account, or go here if you’re from the UK.
To send money, you can connect Western Union to your bank account (the lowest-fee option, but it results in a 0–4 business day delay), a debit card, or a credit card (highest fee). Using a debit card might be the best option since the fee is only slightly higher than using a bank account, and it allows cash pickup within minutes. That makes it possible to wait until you’re at a Western Union branch to initiate the transfer, which I like. I’ve been using promo code
DIGITAL0FEE to fully waive the fee anyway, and although I expect the code won’t always work, I’ve used it repeatedly with success.
Western Union branches are everywhere in Buenos Aires, but they don’t all show up or have correct hours listed on Google Maps or even on Western Union’s own find a location page. So ask the staff at your hotel for the nearest option, and if that fails, fall back to Google Maps or just walk around nearby.
Finding a location that will actually handle your transfer might be trickier. After trying several branches without luck (some closed early and on weekends, others couldn’t be found where Google Maps said they were, and still others didn’t have any money to give out), I found a good one (address: Lima 1793) in Buenos Aires’ Constitución neighborhood that was easily able to handle my occasional USD $500 exchanges. They also had an English-speaking employee (most people in Buenos Aires don’t speak English, so start brushing up on your Spanish!) and they helped me connect to their wifi network while I was there (which could be helpful if you don’t have international data and want to send money via the app just before picking it up). One of the larger branches in the city is the Western Union at Montevideo 825. Although you might have to wait in a long line there, they reliably have cash and they can handle larger withdrawals.
Make sure to bring your passport. In the branch, send money to yourself via the app, and you’ll get back a transaction ID that they’ll need. After that, you’ll sign a document, and that’s it—you’ll walk out with a rubber-banded stack of bills.
Note that, although Western Union allows sending up to USD $5,000 at a time for cash pickup in Argentina, there are likely to be much lower limits that small branches can give you based on how much cash they have at the moment.
If you’re traveling with a partner or friends, use WU’s refer a friend program for everyone who signs up after you and you’ll each get a $20 Amazon e-gift card.
Option 5: Xoom
Xoom (owned by PayPal) is a similar service to Western Union. Compared to Western Union, however, their exchange rate for US dollars to Argentine pesos is significantly worse. As of this writing, they’re offering 195 ARS for 1 USD—much better than the official rate of 105 ARS but worse than Western Union’s 224 ARS. They also have far fewer cash pickup locations. On the flip side, their fees are lower than Western Union’s, which might make up much of the difference in rates.
Option 6: Cryptocurrency
For crypto enthusiasts, you can buy bitcoin in USD, sell it for Argentine pesos (ARS), and get a good exchange rate in the process. Binance is the most used platform for crypto in Argentina. Binance P2P (peer-to-peer) allows you to sell crypto with “cash in person” as your payment method and ARS as your fiat currency. Only choose vendors who have a great rating or a lot of transactions.
Avoiding “cash in person” while using an online exchange would require setting up an Argentinian bank account (where you’d transfer your sales for withdrawal), but unfortunately, that requires an Argentine ID. If you have one, though, you’ll have more options for where to sell your crypto for pesos. For example, Argentina-based Ripio Exchange has been operating since 2014 and seems like another good option.
There are also “cueva crypto” black market exchange shops on Florida Street that will buy your USD stablecoin (like USDT or DAI) for the blue dollar rate minus a 1–2% fee. Exchanging bitcoin or ether directly will be harder, so consider converting to a stablecoin first. If you don’t speak Spanish, go with a friend who does to help avoid being taken advantage of.
Saving money on hotels
Since hotels might be one of your biggest expenses when visiting the country, it behooves you to get a better rate (potentially saving ~50%!) by paying with pesos that you bought at the blue dollar rate. This is possible even if you book your hotel from overseas at a dollar-based price through a site like Booking.com or Expedia. You’ll just want to verify that the price you book for is paid at the hotel rather than through the website and can be paid in pesos.
For example, the first hotel I booked via Booking.com (before I knew about all the details in this post) subsequently emailed me to say they required payment in cash dollars. Because of personal circumstances, I ended up canceling my stay and later booked another hotel through Booking.com. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to learn they accepted payment in pesos, and the price in pesos they quoted me was based on the official dollar-to-peso exchange rate (which is what they’d receive anyway if I paid via credit card). That allowed me to withdraw pesos at Western Union, pay the hotel in cash, and save about 50% on my stay. The same was true for all of my subsequent hotels in the city.
Share your tips
Hopefully, the information above will help you enjoy your stay even more by saving a bundle or getting more value during your visit. Feel free to share additional tips for visiting or living in Argentina in the comments below to help others who read this. I’ll try to keep this post up to date with the latest currency exchange information and advice.
Welcome to beautiful Buenos Aires!