Getting Cash In Buenos Aires

Last modified on August 29th, 2013

Photo By kiwanja on Flickr

Obtaining money has little idiosyncrasies in every part of the world. In the Caribbean for example, it’s easy to obtain money in US dollars, but hard to get anyone to break any of the bills the ATM machines give out. When I was in Costa Rica, we had issues because many bank machines only allowed 4-digit pins, while some banks in Canada (notably Royal Bank at the time), used five digit pins. So we had to drive nearly 60 minutes out of town to find a bank machine that would take five digits.

Buenos Aires is no different, although the situation is slightly better. I commented on another post how it’s hard to break a 100 peso bill here (not impossible, but difficult unless you’re spending 60 pesos or so). That’s the equivalent of around $25 in Canada. Imagine going to 7-11 back home, handing over a $20 bill to pay for something, and being told it’s too large.

Bank Limits

Many of the smaller banks here have limits of around 300 pesos a transaction. That’s actually a fairly decent amount of money here (a really nice two-person dinner would run you around 100 pesos or so), but it’s prohibitive for most foreigners due to:

  • The foreign transaction costs here are typically around $4 USD per transaction. So, that’s almost a 5% fee on 300 pesos
  • Most foreigners pay rent in US dollars, and 300 pesos is only around $75 USD. That means it would take you almost 15 days of ATM usage to get enough money for rent

Lack Of Small Bills

Most bank machines I’ve gone to only give out 100 peso bills. They’re difficult to cash unless you buy over 60 pesos worth of goods or services, which isn’t as easy as you would think around here. Most smaller mom-and-pop shops don’t even accept 50 peso or 100 peso bills, so you really need to think out where to cash them and obtain change.

The Solution

I’ve tried several banks now, and I’ve found two that work quite well. The first is HSBC, which has branches all over the world. The branch I’ve been using is right neat the Alto Palermo shopping centre, and the bank machines even have english options. The limit appears to be 1000 pesos at a time, which is about $250 USD (but much better than the 300 peso machines). Unfortunately the machines at HSBC only give out 100 peso bills, so you can’t get change there.

The best option I’ve found is Citibank, which is basically right across from the Alto Palermo shopping mall entrance on Sante Fe avenue. The limit there is 1000 pesos as well, but you can get the machines to give you some change by asking for 990 pesos instead (which will give you nine 100 peso bills, one 50 peso bill, and four 10 peso bills). I haven’t tried it yet, but rumour on the street is that you can hit an ATM machine several times a day, as long as you’re under your daily withdrawal limit back home. The downside of course is that you’re paying 16 pesos ($4 USD) every time you take money out, but c’est la vie.

In terms of banking fees, a lot of people get into an uproar paying $4 in fees. I have an account with TD back home that doesn’t charge me any local fees back home (many people get charged there as well), so I don’t look at the $4 as anything too offensive. Years ago people used to only be able to use Traveler’s Cheques, and those were not only time consuming but expensive as well. So being charged $4 to be able to walk into an ATM that’s over 8,000 kilometres away from my bank in Canada and take out foreign money with a few clicks doesn’t seem like such a bad deal to me.

13 responses to “Getting Cash In Buenos Aires”

  1. gusf says:

    Another way I’ve found out is paying in US Funds. I went to a local grocery store here and found out that they accept US dollars at a much higher rate than you would get exchanging it at a bank or exchange outlet. I’ve seen the US dollar being accepted as high as $4.40 peso to the US dollar. That is a great savings.

  2. Duane says:

    Hmmm, that’s cool. Surprising though. I wonder why they would want USD?

  3. Jason says:

    Why not open a local bank account?

  4. Duane says:

    And do what with it? 🙂 I’m not even sure you can without what’s called a DNI card. Even cell phone plans require one here.

    Also, cashing foreign cheques is a long process here. The setup I have is pretty good, I can pay myself right into my TD account instantly.

  5. Tyler says:

    When we were in Costa Rica, they too preferred USD. Though you would give change back in their currency, which you can do nothing with when we came back home, or so the various banks and blog posts I’ve read have said. So we’re keeping it. Besides, I like the hammerhead shark that’s on one of their bills.

    Also make try and make sure you’re not being screwed when you’re at a market and using USD. Ensure you know the exchange rate in case they want to screw you over like one vendor thought they could try in Puerto Viejo 😉

    $4 doesn’t seem like a lot when you’re no where close to your bank though. And if you don’t have to make a bunch of trips to an ATM the better right?

  6. Eric says:

    What about getting out larger sums of US greenbacks in Buenos Aires without getting an expensive credit card advance? We have been traveling since November through several other SA countries and are about out of cash US dollars. We have been in BA for a month now and getting pesos out of the ATM is no problem, although the 1000 peso limit is a little low. We move places in a week and the new landlord’s agent is absolutely demanding U$D for the rent not the peso equivalent. So a U$D 7-8 ATM fee(total on both ends) per transaction in pesos (roughly 250 and then going to a Cambio and paying more to convert to U$D is my only option? We are going to Colonia, Uruguay for a few days and I heard that their ATMs dispense in either UR$ or U$D but I heard t

  7. Duane says:

    I think your only option is to use a cambio unfortunately. Most of the machines here say that they dispense USD, but from what I gather, that was a practice that was stopped a long time ago and pressing that button has no effect any more.

    My landlord actually wants USD, but he said I can also pay in pesos. I actually just paid today, and he charged me around 1% over the prime exchange rate, which seemed reasonable to (40 extra pesos). It would have taken me an extra hour probably to find US cash somewhere, and I didn’t really want to be walking around with $1000 USD. So that $10 (40 pesos) is money well spent to me.

    Have you signed a contract? If not, I would maybe just demand your new landlord takes pesos or tell him you’re going to look elsewhere.

  8. Eric says:

    I wish I could look elsewhere, but we leave for Uruguay manana and the rental market has tightened up with the end of the holidays, less short term stuff on the market. We’re traveling with our todler, so having something reserved is far less stressful. She absolutely demanded U$D and frankly was a bit bitchy about it. It looks like Citi Bank changes in house so I can go to the machine multiple times over several days then run in and exchange. I heard that the machines in Uruguay dispenses in U$D as well but I think only 200 at a time. Have you heard anything about it being illegal for a landlord to demand U$D? I read a little something about that on another site. Cheers,

  9. Duane says:

    Not sure about the legality of charging USD or ARS here. You can actually use the bank machine several times in a row usually. Just put your card back in after it comes out and do another transaction. As long as the limits on your card allow you to take out more money, you can usually just keep taking out $1,000 peso increments from the same machine in separate transactions.

  10. Eric says:

    Hey Duane, just got back to BA from a short trip to Colonia, Uruguay. Hot tip, the cash machines there dispense both U Pesos and US Dollars. Up to 300 U$D a transacation (compared to the pesos equivalent of 250 U$D here) and the machines charge only 3 U$D per transaction compared to 4 U$D in BA for pesos. So anyone heading across the Rio Plata can easily stock up on some green backs. Only 100 dollar bills though and the machines might be out of cash come Sunday or Monday during the busy summer months.
    PS the cambio in the Buquebus terminal gives decent exhange rates compared to the one on Diaz near Santa Fe. 12 centavos to the dollar better. Adds up on a big cambio.

  11. shawns says:

    Yikes! I depend on ATMs like crazy.

    I’m in Bangkok now, and the ATMs spit out 1,000Baht bills. That’s about $35USD. Most people don’t like taking them, but there’s 7-11s everywhere here and it’s no problem breaking a large note there.

    I also use Charles Schwab bank. It’s a US bank so not sure if they’re open to Canadian customers. Anyway, they reimburse all ATM fees, so it’s no issue how many times I go to an ATM – anywhere in the world!

    I was with HSBC, but I found out that they actually have some BS foreign transaction fees. Also, a local branch in one country is not connected to the branches in another country. They call themselves the “world’s bank,” but that’s BS.

    I wrote more details about my Schwab experience here:

  12. I think you just saved me a lot of time looking for the best ATM 🙂 Thank u!

  13. Duane says:

    One thing to be careful of is many of the machines give your card back *after* you get your money, which isn’t the norm I’m used to in many parts of the world. As a result, I left my bank card in the machine after walking away with my money and never got it back 🙁

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