If you are thinking of traveling to Argentina, you should research the status of their currency, the Argentine Peso, and the Blue Rate.
What is the Blue Rate you may ask? It is the black market value of the Argentine Peso. The Argentine government artificially sets their currency. This results in an official exchange rate of $1 US to 8-9 Argentine Pesos. This is the rate you will get using credit card, withdrawing from the ATM and at places run or monitored by the national government.
However, this rate does not reflect the true value of the Argentine Peso. There is a “black market” rate, the Blue Rate, which is currently about $1 US to 12.5 Argentine Pesos. This is a huge difference. When exchanging $100 US, the difference is enough to pay for dinner and a bottle of wine at a mid-range restaurant. Definitely makes your money go further and decreases the cost of the trip significantly.
I’m confident that some of you reading this are thinking that this sounds shady. Not the case. The “black market” rate sounds much shadier than reality. When we were in Argentina in December 2014, there were a lot of people exchanging money and many vendors, including restaurants and stores, would accept US dollars at a rate of 10 to 1 just by asking. For luxury goods and hotels, we received 11, 11.5 or 12 to one. It is perfectly normal to exchange money or pay in US dollars even though it is disfavored by the government (read: illegal).
We brought most of our money in US dollars and exchanged several hundred in Mendoza, several hundred in Buenos Aires and paid for our Mendoza and Buenos Aires lodging in US dollars (at a rate of 12 to 1). You will get the best rate possible with $100 bills; money changers will often give slightly lower rates for smaller bills. When looking for a place to change money, ask your hotel for a reputable place. You will get a better rate if you speak Spanish, know locals, etc. We asked at our hotel where to exchange. In heavy tourist areas, such a Calle Florida in Buenos Aires, individuals will exchange in the street. Avoid these exchanges. This is where you are likely to get fake bills, or worse, robbed.
On that note, familiarize yourself with the currency. You should take $50 US out of the ATM when you land to have some cash in your pocket and to check out what real pesos look like. We recommend finding a reliable money changer with a store-front that you can return to if he gives you fake bills. Not that I would actually return, but the ability to is somewhat of an insurance policy. In Buenos Aires and Mendoza, we went to physical establishments which did money changing under the table. We did not have any trouble.
Another note is that to take full advantage of the Blue Rate, you need to bring US cash. We brought a lot of cash and strategically took a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay in the middle of our trip, because you can withdraw US dollars from the ATMs in Uruguay.
While we enjoyed taking advantage of the Blue Rate, Argentina is very inexpensive, even without the Blue Rate. We consistently spent $6-9 US on good bottles of wine and occasionally splurged for a $20 US bottle of wine at white table cloth restaurants.
As a final note, a number of websites track the official rate against the Blue Rate, including here. Expect to get a lower rate than the listed Blue Rate to account for the profits of the money changers. Also, the value of the Argentine and US currencies are ever changing, and it may no longer be viable in the future to change US Dollars in Argentina.
If you have any questions, or want to know where we changed our money, email email@example.com.