Money & costs
In restaurants it’s customary to tip about 10% of the bill. Some Argentines just leave leftover change, but generally if you can afford to eat out you can afford to tip. Note that tips can’t be added to credit-card bills, so carry cash for this purpose.
Taxi drivers don’t expect tips, but it’s usual to round up to the nearest peso if the difference isn’t much.
Argentina’s unit of currency is the peso, which has held steady for a few years at about three to one against the US dollar (but this rate could change quickly). Notes come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos. One peso equals 100 centavos; coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos, and 1 peso. The $ sign in front of a price is usually used to signify pesos, so this should be the case unless otherwise marked.
Don’t be dismayed if you receive dirty and hopelessly tattered banknotes; they will still be accepted everywhere. Some banks refuse worn or defaced US dollars, however, so make sure you arrive in Buenos Aires with pristine bills. In a pinch, American Express will probably change your older or written-on bills, and you don’t have to be a member (but you will have to wait in line).
Banks and cambios (foreign-exchange offices) are common in the city center; banks have longer lines and more limited opening hours but may offer better rates. A good cambio to try is Alhec (4316-5000; Paraguay 641; 10am-4:30pm Mon-Fri).
For international transfers Western Union has many branches in BA, including an office near Retiro (0800-800-3030; www.westernunion.com; Av Córdoba 975; 9am-8pm Mon-Fri, till 2pm Sat).
Counterfeiting of both local and US bills has become something of a problem in recent years, and merchants are very careful when accepting large denominations. You should be, too; look for a clear watermark or running thread on the largest bills, and be especially careful when receiving change in dark nightclubs or taxis.
Keep a stash of change with you, both in small bills and coins; when you need those 80 centavos for the bus you’ll find kioscos (small stores or newspaper stands) won’t have enough to give out.
ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are everywhere in BA and the handiest way to get money. ATMs dispense only Argentine pesos and can be used for cash advances on major credit cards. There’s often an English translation option if you don’t read Spanish. Widely used systems include Cirrus, Plus and Link.
There may be limits per withdrawal (in 2008 it was AR$310), but you can withdraw several times per day – just beware of per-transaction fees. To avoid having a fistful of large-denomination bills, withdraw odd amounts like 290 pesos.
Many tourist services, larger stores, hotels and restaurants take credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard, especially for big purchases. Be aware, however, that some businesses add a recargo (surcharge) of up to 10% to credit-card purchases; ask ahead of time if this is the case. Some lower-end hotels and private businesses will not accept credit cards, and tips can’t usually be added to credit-card bills at restaurants.
The following local representatives can help you replace lost or stolen cards:
American Express (4310-3000; Arenales 707)
MasterCard (4348-7070; Perú 151)
Visa (4379-3400; Av Corrientes 1437, basement)
Traveler’s checks are very impractical in Argentina, and even in BA it’s hard to change them. Only the fancier hotels and a few banks and cambios will take them, and they’ll charge a very hefty commission. Stores will not change them.
American Express checks can be cashed without commission at its central office from 10am to 3pm Monday to Friday, though you won’t quite get the best rate. Outside BA it’s almost impossible to change traveler’s checks. If you do decide to bring some, get them in US dollars.
Taxes & refunds
One of Argentina’s primary state revenue-earners is the 21% value-added tax known as the Impuesto de Valor Agregado (IVA). Under limited circumstances, foreign visitors may obtain IVA refunds on purchases of Argentine products upon departing the country. A ‘Tax Free’ window decal (in English) identifies participants in this program, but always check that the shop is part of the tax-free program before making your purchase.
You can obtain tax refunds on purchases of $AR70 or more made at one of these participating stores. To do so, present your passport to the merchant, who will make out an invoice for you. On leaving the country keep the purchased items in your carry-on baggage; a customs official will check them. And be sure to leave yourself a bit of extra time at the airport to get this done.