Money & costs
After the economic collapse of 2001/02 Argentina devalued the peso and the country became instantly affordable. Travel was cheap. In the following years the economy stabilized, inflation reared its head and the world became hip to the Argentine bargain. Prices rose. Although Argentina has become pricier, it’s still a great value, especially if you’re traveling on the euro or the pound.
If you’re on a budget you can get by on AR$60 to AR$75 per day (outside Patagonia) by sleeping in hostels or cheap hotels and eating at the cheapest nontouristy restaurants. Things get pricier when you add tours and entertainment. Outside the capital and Patagonia, midrange travelers can get by comfortably on AR$160 to AR$200 per person per day, staying in a comfy hotel and eating at decent restaurants.
Buenos Aires and especially Patagonia are more expensive than the rest of Argentina. In the capital, good hotel rooms start at around AR$180 per double. In the provinces you can land a good hotel for AR$90 per double, while an extra AR$20 to AR$50 will get you something very comfortable.
Except in Patagonia, a pasta dinner can be as cheap as AR$8 per person at a no-frills family joint, while a full gourmet meal at a top-end restaurant can cost around AR$90 per person. In Patagonia a cheap restaurant meal starts at around AR$18.
The Argentine unit of currency is the peso (AR$). Prices are quoted in Argentine pesos unless otherwise noted.
Since 2002, when the Argentine government devalued the peso amid an economic crisis that rocked the nation, the peso has been hovering steadily at about three to the US dollar, though visitors should keep an eye on current economic events.
Carrying cash and an ATM card is the way to go in Argentina.
Cajeros automáticos (ATMs) are found in nearly every city and town in Argentina and can also be used for cash advances on major credit cards. They’re the best way to get money, and nearly all have instructions in English. Almost all ATMs use Cirrus, Plus or Link systems. The downside to ATMs is that most machines only allow a maximum withdrawal of AR$300 per transaction. You can withdraw AR$300 several times from the same machine (simply make another transaction), but most home banks charge a withdrawal fee of AR$15 or equivalent – per transaction. Some people have reported that cards using the Cirrus/MasterCard aren’t subject to fees. Others avoid withdrawal fees by taking cash advances on their credit cards (though interest rates on cash are high). Whatever system you use, be sure to check with your bank about fees to avoid surprises later on.
Paper money comes in denominations of two, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos. One peso equals 100 centavos; coins come in denominations of one (rare), five, 10, 25 and 50 centavos, and one peso. At present, US dollars are accepted by many tourist-oriented businesses, but you should always carry some pesos.
Counterfeiting, of both local and US bills, has become 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.
Changing large denomination bills is a huge problem throughout the country (and a major gripe for Argentines and tourists alike). Whenever you can, change your AR$100 and AR$50 bills at the bank to avoid problems. Taxi drivers, kiosks and small stores rarely change them, and you could easily find yourself without a means of paying.
The most widely accepted credit cards are Visa and MasterCard, though American Express and a few others are also valid in many establishments. Before you leave home, warn your credit-card company that you’ll be using it abroad or it may put a hold on the card thinking it was lost.
Some businesses add a recargo (surcharge) of 5% to 10% toward credit-card purchases. Also, the actual amount you’ll eventually pay depends upon the exchange rate not at the time of sale, but when the purchase is posted to an overseas account, sometimes weeks later.
If you use a credit card to pay for restaurant bills, be aware that tips can’t usually be added to the bill. Some lower-end hotels and private tour companies will not accept credit cards. Holders of MasterCard and Visa can get cash advances at Argentine banks and most ATMs.
US dollars are by far the preferred foreign currency, although Chilean and Uruguayan pesos can be readily exchanged at the borders. Cash dollars and euros can be changed at cambios (exchange houses) in most larger cities, but other currencies can be difficult to change outside Buenos Aires.
Taxes & refunds
Under limited circumstances, foreign visitors may obtain refunds of the impuesto al valor agregado (IVA; value-added tax) on purchases of Argentine products upon their departure from the country. A ‘Tax Free’ (in English) window decal identifies merchants participating in this program. Hang on to your invoice and you can obtain refunds in Buenos Aires at Ezeiza, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery and the Buquebus terminal at Darsena Norte.
Very high commissions are levied on traveler’s checks, which are difficult to cash anywhere and specifically not recommended for travel in Argentina. Stores will not accept traveler’s checks, and outside Buenos Aires it’s even harder to change them.