Probably the most frustrating and overwhelming aspect of traveling to Argentina these days is navigating the exchange rate. Usually, when traveling abroad, this is not an issue that requires any advance planning. You simply arrive in a new country, compare the rates offered by various banks or official exchange houses and select the one that gives you the best rate.
However, in Argentina, if you are looking for a bank or official exchange house, you are already on the wrong track. That is because these sites use the official exchange rate, but everyone else in Argentina uses the black market, or “Blue”, exchange rate. The difference between the two is very significant. Currently, at the official rate, US $1 equals 6.5 pesos, while at the Blue rate, US $1 equals 10 pesos. Accessing the Blue rate, or at least one that is close to it, will save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars during a single trip to Argentina.
The problem is that, in order to access the Blue rate, you must sell your dollars on the black market. And while it has become commonplace to find black market buyers, known as “arbolitos”, huddled like drug dealers on street corners throughout Argentina, fraud is rampant and the risk of getting scammed very high. So, how can you, as a foreign tourist, obtain a favorable exchange rate without becoming a victim of fraud? Here are two ways:
1) Sell dollars to a trusted Argentine acquaintance
If you have friends in Argentina, or if you have friends who can put you in touch with their friends or family in Argentina, you should have an easy time finding a buyer willing to exchange your dollars at a favorable rate. Though Argentines must pay a higher price to buy dollars on the black market, they are willing to pay this price because recent policies have severely restricted their ability to buy dollars through official channels. In addition, they are eager to buy dollars because rising inflation makes it nearly impossible for them to save money in their own currency. As a tourist, you can benefit from this situation by selling your dollars to a trusted acquaintance at a rate that is equal or close to the Blue rate without taking the risk of selling to a stranger on the black market.
2) Transfer dollars from a U.S. bank account using Xoom.com
Fortunately, if you do not have friends in Argentina, there is another solution for you. The money transfer website Xoom.com allows you to transfer up to US $2000 in a single transaction from a U.S. bank account to yourself at one of their pick up locations in Argentina. The advantage of this method is that Xoom, unlike a bank, converts your dollars into pesos using an exchange rate that is significantly more favorable than the official exchange rate. Currently, at the Xoom exchange rate, US $1 equals 8.8 pesos. That is not as high as the Blue rate, which would give you 10 pesos, but is significantly better than the official exchange rate, which would give you 6.5 pesos.
Xoom charges a small fee for each transaction, but as long as you transfer a large sum of money, the loss in minimal. When I was traveling in Argentina about a month ago, I was able to save US $1200 on a single transaction (a five day tour and several nights at a hotel) by using Xoom compared to what I would have spent using the official exchange rate. The savings are significant and, therefore, Xoom is a fantastic alternative for travelers unable to access the Blue rate.