Argentina’s currency situation is shaky at best. The country has experienced years of steady inflation that has gotten worse in recent months. Likewise, the foreign exchange rates have been exponentially falling for the peso in the last year or so. Because of this, there is an unofficial market for US Dollars and Euros due to currency fears in Argentina. This market is called the “Blue Market.”
At the time of writing this, the official exchange rate is 7.8 Pesos to 1 USD. The unofficial rate (blue rate) is 11.6 Pesos to 1 USD. Often times, money changers on the street will even offer you rates above the unofficial rate (I heard 12.0 to 1 last week). You can check the latest rates at Ambito.com on the right side of the page. UPDATE 11/11/14: The current official rate is 8.5 to 1; the blue rate is 13 to 1. This means that a beer that costs 24 pesos would be about 3 dollars for you at the official rate, or about 2 dollars at the unofficial rate, a huge difference over time. If you are buying something of higher value, such as a bus ticket, the savings are really noticeable.
So how does it work?
If you are traveling to Argentina from the US or the Eurozone, bring as much cash as possible into Argentina (you will receive a better rate with 50 and 100 dollar bills than with 20s). Go to a tourist area, such as Florida Avenue in the center of Buenos Aires. You will hear people yelling “cambio” literally every 10 feet. The stiff competition makes it possible to negotiate on the rate if you care to do so. A quick disclaimer: This is technically illegal although there is a legal gray area that allows these Blue Market exchanges to operate, so exchange at your own risk. I will say though, I was walking behind a federal police officer and was still hearing shouts of “cambio” right in front of us, so it is clearly an accepted practice.
If you agree to the exchanger’s proposed rate, they will lead you back to their office down the street or in a nearby building. The one I visited was quite simple, just a desk in an empty room. The man pulled out a calculator to show he was not fudging any numbers and then counted out the pesos one by one. A word of advice: bring an Argentine friend with you if you can, as some people have received counterfeit bills. I would be skeptical if receiving all brand new bills. The ones that I saw were a mix of old and new, and my Argentine friends all agreed that they looked fine. After about 2 minutes, I was on my way.
While it appears that the peso’s volatility has stabilized for now due to government intervention, this is still an excellent time for US and European citizens to visit Argentina. A triple italian cheeseburger at McDonald’s costs 22 pesos, or less than 2 dollars at the blue rate. A movie ticket? 40 pesos (3 dollars and change). A city bus ticket? 2.50 pesos (less than 25 cents). A bottle of the famous Argentine wine? 2-5 dollars at a grocery store. You get the idea. Go ahead and book your flight.