Monday, April 8, 2013

Argentina Travel Tips

As you know, my parents and I were able to fly to Argentina last month for a ridiculously cheap fare ($400 round trip per person on TAM Airlines).

While it was a long flight from New York's JFK Airport, it apparently wasn't far enough to scare away the countless Americans we encountered while we were there.

So if any of you readers are looking to check out Buenos Aires or Argentina in general, I wanted to make sure I gave you some of the lessons learned.

1.  Pay the Reciprocity Fee Before You Arrive. Argentina's new law requires that Americans (and certain other nationals) need to pay the $160 USD entry fee before getting on the plane to Argentina. You go online and pay with a credit card. Then you need to print out the page and bring it with you. The airline will even make sure you have it when you check-in for your outbound flight. You can do everything online by going to this link Glad to see they make it so easy to take your money. Speaking of money...

2.  Bring US Dollars. Argentina's government is imposing an artificial exchange rate for US Dollars that's being circumvented by the actual locals who are trying to flee to a "safe currency" as their local Argentine pesos are being devalued by rampant inflation.  The "Blue Dollar" phenomenon allows Americans with US currency to spend it in Argentina at an 8:1 exchange rate (you get 8 Argentine pesos for 1 US dollar) while the banks/credit cards are exchanging at 5 ARS to 1 USD.

For example, as my father found out when he went shopping, a 3,600 ARS jacket would cost $720 USD if he paid with his beloved credit cards because the bank would exchange at 5:1. But had he brought American cash with him, he could have paid $480 because the store would have given him a more favorable 8:1 rate. In case you were curious, my father decided not to buy the jacket. Way too expensive.

Additionally, with so many American tourists (or Europeans using dollars), some services quote prices in USD. However, if you didn't have USD, then you'd have to pay in ARS or with a credit card and those same stores would use the 8:1 rate to convert.  Meaning, a $100 USD car rental would be converted to 800 ARS. And you could only get 800 ARS from an ATM that would withdraw USD from your bank account at a 5:1 rate, meaning $160 USD would be deducted.

Now, I wouldn't bring $1,000,000, but some amount that you could reasonably expect to spend (that also falls below the legal limit for Argentine customs/immigration). But you'll probably have to get some Argentine pesos for small transactions, so that leads me to...

2. Beware of fake currency.  We didn't see any of it, but they say you should always check our bills. The real bills have an image of a man in the blank white area when held up to the light. They are also printed properly as seen in this photo. But in our 2 week experience, we never came across the counterfeit currency (or at least never knew we did).

If you have to use pesos, get your bills at banks and avoid the unofficial currency exchange places, even if they're offering the Blue Dollar exchange rates. So when you go to get the money from the banks...

3. Get Small Denomination Currency ASAP.  Many countries operate with cash more than credit cards, including Argentina. In these countries, having a large bill is almost worthless because no one will take them. Think about trying to pay for a pack of gum at a New York city news stand with a $100 bill.
  • When using the ATM, ask for 490 ARS instead of 500, so you'll at least get 90 ARS in 10s and 20s.
  • The first money used should be the 100 ARS bills so you'll get change.
  • Taxis oftentimes don't have change, so save your 10s, 5s and 2s for them.
  • Buses only take coins.
4. Remember to ask for the Tax Free Receipt. To encourage tourists to buy local Argentine products, many retail stores will be sanctioned to provide Tax Free receipts that you can take to the airport and get a 13-17% refund of the VAT tax that Argentine locals have to pay. You'll get a tax free receipt as long as the purchase is over 80 ARS ($16 USD) which should be easy if you're shopping. And on the note about spending your money...

5. Use Up All Your Argentine Pesos.  As I mentioned, the locals in Argentina are doing whatever they can to get a hold of US dollars. The government is keenly aware of this massive demand so they've put severe restrictions on getting US dollars from banks or official currency exchange places.

Meaning, if you're finishing your trip and still have a few hundred pesos left, you're SOL because they won't convert them back to US dollars, even at the official currency exchanges at the international airport.

Now many of you are not as anal calculating as my father, so perhaps you won't be able to exactly accurately estimate how much cash you'll need on your trip. Instead of buying random overpriced souvenirs at EZE Airport gift shops, use all your leftover pesos to pay down your hotel bill and use your credit card for the remaining balance. But don't forget that you still need to pay the taxi (~200 ARS or $40 USD from Recoleta/Palermo) to get back to the airport. Which leads me to the next point.

6. Use Official Radio Taxis. There are official taxis in Buenos Aires (registered with the government) and then the fake ones that look almost the same (black and yellow). You'll know it's a real radio taxi because there will be a sign on the top of the roof and there will be a phone number printed on the side. See the photos here (1 real and 1 fake). Locals take fake taxis all the time, but they probably know where they're going and know how much a fare should cost.

Further, many people also suggest not taking a taxi off the street (even if it's official) but rather to have the restaurant or hotel call you one. The price will be the same, but at least there will be a record of which taxi driver picked you up.

Some common taxi scams include:
  • Taking you the long way
  • Giving you change in fake currency
  • Telling you that you gave them a 20 peso bill instead of a 100 peso bill
  • Combination: taking your real currency, switching it, telling you it's fake and returning the counterfeit
  • Taking you somewhere where you can get robbed
In all cases, you should be paying careful attention and be focused at all times. Not the time to be checking your Twitter or updating your Facebook status... unless you see that I've put up a new post on Lap Child Diaries.


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  2. Thanks for the tips! They're quite useful, especially the part about the exchange currency and the counterfeit money detection. The only place you should exchange your money from are the banks. And if you have to exchange your money immediately without a bank nearby, you might do so, but only in trading establishments that have counterfeit detectors. Still, it's better to trust from the banks.


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  4. I loved reading this article about Argentina. I'm soon going to plan a 5 day stay at Ushuaia. I have heard it is a very cool place for a tourist. If you want to suggest something to a first time traveler to Argentina then what would you suggest?

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