The history of Argentina spans highs of great fortune, turbulent political climates and severe economic conditions before leading to a democracy in the 80s which still struggles with the economy. Even the government is providing a skewed look at the stabilization of the current market. Back in 2001, just to give an idea of how hard this economy fell and the challenges people have had to overcome, literally overnight valuation of the peso changed and (in addition) any US dollars in the bank were taken by the government and replaced with pesos at 25% the value. Can you imagine loosing 75% of your money if it was in a Bank? Reminiscent of the Great Depression?!?!? This caused a huge outrage and so began riots in the streets and daily protests that marched from the Congress building down to the Casa Rosada. To this day there are fences and police surrounding the building that can be closed to prevent people from overtaking the area. The valuation of the Argentinian Peso fluctuates weekly and many city locals exchange Pesos for dollars (or shelter offshore accounts) to preserve their money. In the years since the revaluing of the Peso, an embargo was put in place on importing goods and includes US dollars; causing a ‘blue market’. Additionally, there has been a huge influx of counterfeiting Argentinian Peso bills, so much so “they” say the best way to get rid of a counterfeit bill is to spend it. So far we have not run into any counterfeit bills (so we think) and are diligent in checking each bill when we exchange US dollars.
Prior to our arrival in Argentina we were told that cash is king and to make sure we brought US Dollars, specifically new $100 bills. Hearing about the “Blue Market” and the ease, if not strange, process of finding a “cambio” location we were unsure about how legal it was or how sketchy it actually is. As of the 1 October 2015 the federal market rate is approximately 9.2 Pesos to the US Dollar and the blue market is trading 15.6 Pesos to the US Dollar (the highest we exchanged at was 15.9). The money exchanges are legally allowed only behind closed doors. They can advertise freely on the streets and then bring you to their store to actually do the exchange, however be aware that if you respond to an advertiser on the street vs knowing right where to go the advertiser can take a commission of the exchange as a “fee” so try to figure out where you are going before hand or ask around for the best rate. Sketchy sounding huh… We were recommended a ‘legitimate’ place on Florida Street so we opted to try them out first. Once we arrived at the store front just beyond a shoe store in a mall it felt as though we were in an old school bank with a single teller station. We exchanged several $100 dollar bills through the glass to the man that looked like an accountant who ran the calculations then passed our several thousand Pesos back through. We counted for accuracy and checked each one for counterfeit bills before stashing the cash and walking out the door.
Easy as that huh, well yep I suppose…
Added Note: the recent elections have elicited major change in the government and economy – the blue market is being eradicated. We have still been offered cambio however with the significant rise in the dollar and the ease in “winning” at the ATM we haven’t checked nor exchanged since returning from Chile.