Money & Costs


It’s not unusual to hear newly arrived visitors to Argentina exclaiming over how cheap everything is. A fancy meal – including wine! – for US$ 10 per person. A taxi ride across the city for US$ 4! Clothing, booze, travel, gym memberships… you name it.

Buenos Aires PizzasBuenos Aires Nightlife: till six in the morning....The Hostel-Inn Iguazu PoolEmpanadas - Federacion Gaucha

You can thank Argentina’s economic crash of 2001[1] for the consumer heaven Argentina has become.

Here’s a brief history of the economic crash (although this is by no means a comprehensive guide to Argentina’s complicated economy[2]): Argentina was unable to make debt payments on its massive public debt and bank deposits were frozen. In late 2001 Argentina officially defaulted on its debt and the Argentine peso, which had been pegged one-to-one with the US dollar for more than a decade, lost 75% of its value. Poverty increased and inflation surged.

The Argentine Peso

Cien pesos used to be worth something...Argentina’s money is the Argentine peso. Pesos come in denominations of two, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100-peso notes, decorated with pictures of important Argentine founding fathers – Bartolomé Mitre, Manuel Belgrano, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento – all names that will be familiar as streets, subway stops and subjects of statues.

The reverse side of the bills has a picture of a monument or building, along with a mini-biography of the particular portrait subject – little history lessons encapsulated in cold hard cash. Apparently Julio Argentino Roca ($100 pesos) was in charge of the Campaña del Desierto in 1878 and signed the treaty to finalize borders with Chile. Mitre ($2 pesos) was an Argentine Renaissance Man – a writer, general, historian, politician, governor of Buenos Aires Province, journalist and president of Argentina.

Other than peso bills, Argentina has coins, called monedas, which come in five centavo, 10 centavo, 25 and 50 centavos; one peso is also a coin. The five and 10 centavos look similar, although some five centavos are silver and some are bronze, while all 10 centavos are bronze. The same problem occurs with 25 and 50-centavos, but again, the smaller amount also comes in silver. There is a moneda shortage [3], so sometimes (late at night, waiting for a change-only bus on a dark street corner) those 80 centavos are more valuable than that $10 peso bill in your wallet.

Costs in Argentina

If you’re on the dollar or the euro, prices in Argentina, even with inflation, are amazing. The exchange rate is a little more than three pesos to the dollar, and more than four pesos to the euro. This means that dinner at the top restaurants can be had for less than US$ 20 – and this includes wine, a main course, and possibly dessert!

Check the current exchange rates here. And here are costs for assorted items (in pesos):

Item Cost in Argentine Pesos
Meals (ranging from empanadas to fancy dinners) $12 – 55
Drinks $14
Nice bottle of wine $32
1-liter beer at the grocery store $2.80 with an .80 refund
Phone card $20 for 1 1/2 hours talk with the USA
Taxi $5 – $25 (around the neighborhood – across the city)
Bus $.90-$1.50
Subway $.90
Apartments (Of course this varies. I’ve found spectacular places for $300, in July 2007.) $400 – 900
Clothing Very cheap up to US prices. Depends where you shop.
Gym membership $90 – $130
Long Distance Bus (Excellent Transportation Medium. Cost depeneds on distance and type of service) $60 – $150

Paying with Credit or Cash

Most stores will accept major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express), but some smaller boutiques only take cash. If you’re paying with a foreign credit card you can’t pay in cuotas, or monthly payments without interest. And, be very careful about your credit card receipts – they print out your entire card number. Some credit card companies charge a 3% international; check with your card company to learn more about this.

Siga La Vaca Restaurant TablesRestaurants generally accept credit cards, but if you’re dining in a large group, they will only accept one card. This means either one person pays on his or her card and gets paid back, or everyone pays in cash and there’s a big mess figuring out the bill and who gets how much change (because of course, nobody has small change!).

A mime browses the San Telmo art fair on a Sunday.Pay with cash at street fairs, vegetable stands, small grocery stores, for bus/taxi/subway fare, at kiosks and at smaller businesses. If you’re buying veggies for $10, don’t try to pay with a $50 or $100 bill – they won’t have change. On the off chance they do have change, you will most likely be taking their entire supply of small change. This holds true for paying cash at the majority of businesses.

If you order food, let them know on the phone what denomination you’re paying with so the restaurant can give the delivery person enough change. Do not try to pay for taxis with large bills because you will get screwed. Either the driver won’t have change and you’ll have to drive to a gas station to get change (increasing your fare) or the driver will pull a stunt with fake money.

Withdrawing cash at ATM’s incurs a US$ 5.00 fee, along with a US$ .75 (around there) fee per transaction. Banks only allow withdrawals of $300 pesos at a time, but you can keep selecting another transaction and withdraw up to $900 pesos from one ATM. However, this means a US$ 15.00 fee, so don’t think you’re tricking the system by not removing your card between transactions.

This can be a pain when paying rent because after your $900 pesos has been withdrawn from an ATM on a given day, you’re done. If your rent is, say, $1000 pesos, you’ll have to find a different ATM to get the last $100. Also, ATM’s run out of money and break with surprising frequency, so that Banelco on the corner might not have money when you really really need it; banks close at 3:00 p.m. Ergo, don’t wait until the day your rent is due to withdraw the money or you’ll be traipsing about to different banks all day. Also, be aware that ATM’s are rare in residential areas. And, they give money in $100 peso bills, so ask for an unusual amount, like $320, so you have small change. Breaking large bills is always a hassle.

Counterfeit Money in Argentina

Counterfeit money is abundant and distributed everywhere, even at supposedly safe places like tourist information offices. Generally larger bills will be forged, but it is possible to encounter dud $2 bills and even monedas that are fake (you’ll know because the bus will reject them). Counterfeit bills feel papery and don’t have the more flexible, textured feel of real money (think American money versus paper). Pictures seem slightly blurred or smudged on fake money; real money has crisp details. Holding it up to the light to look for watermarks can be a sign, but some fakes have watermarks and the shiny thread running through the “fiber.”

The best way to tell is to look at the hair of the Argentine luminary featured on the bill. If individual hairs are visible it’s real; if the hair is a solid color with little or no definition, it’s fake. A popular ploy for passing counterfeit money occurs when you attempt to pay a taxi with $50 or $100 pesos. The driver will take the bill to the front passenger seat, ostensibly to look for change. Then, the drive will turn around with a sad expression and say, “I’m so sorry, this is a fake.” Of course, a sly switch will have been made with a fake bill the driver had on the front seat.

Pickpockets and Muggers in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a large city and there are some pickpockets and muggers. Be safe with your money: no ATM’s late at night; no fumbling with wallets/money on busy streets; if you’re going to give change to beggars, keep change in your pocket for easy access; be careful of your belongings on crowded subways/buses; don’t take large amounts of money to clubs/bars/concerts/etc.

Learn how to spot a pickpocket – often they are well-dressed males, carrying a jacket over one arm and wearing sneakers for quick getaways. Muggers hang out late at night on deserted streets and near train tracks and other unsavory areas. Don’t hang out in these places late at night, alone or in small groups because you will risk being mugged, sometimes at gunpoint.

In overall, Argentina isn’t a dangerous destination, just be carefull and take this into acount to avoid ruining your trip.

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