Travelers to Argentina be forewarned, banking and money matters are nowhere near as simple as in more developed countries. Numerous banks in the capital of Buenos Aires impose a single withdrawal limit of just 300 pesos, a paltry sum equivalent to around $75 US. This is supposedly to make customers less attractive to thieves. Of course they have done away with the pesky one withdrawal per day limit that most US banks impose, however after paying ATM fees each time, I might as well allow my bank to administer me a rectal exam.
Still other banks offer withdrawals in USD, which seems to be a way to get around the problem of the limit, but good luck finding a machine that actually has dollars in stock (incidentally, one trip to a Uruguayan ATM left me with four crisp Benjamins). The reasons for a rejected withdrawal vary enormously, and are often cryptic.
There is hope however. Here are a few tips for travellers:
1. Bring a large wad of Dollars or Euros. Not ideal from a security perspective, but spread it out in multiple locations, and just be vigilant. Exchanging money can be done at reasonable rates with no commission, not much different from the 3% foreign transaction fee charged by banks. Many stores, at least in Buenos Aires, will accept Dollars or Euros at rates that are actually better than the official market rate.
2. At the time of writing, Citibank ATMs, inexplicably, will allow withdrawals in Pesos far in excess of your own bank’s supposed limit. Thus we were able to withdraw 2500 Pesos, and possibly also more if we tried. According to a fellow in our hostel, local Argentine banks Banca Patagonia and Banco Itau will often dispense dollars.
3. Use credit cards as much as possible, even for small transactions. Both Visa and MC are widely accepted. Just make sure to have a your passport number in your wallet, as you will often have to include this when you sign.
4. Coins are immensely valuable in Buenos Aires, as they are the only way to pay for the city’s buses. Getting change can be difficult though and cashiers will often give you a hard time to have to dispense it. Buy a bottle of water for AR$3.05 and pay with a AR$5 note. Angrily refuse the cashier’s pleas for a 5 Centavo coin, and get back AR$1.95 in coins, around 1.5 bus fares. Ka-ching!
5. Go to a bank for coins. We haven’t tried this, but they just might change a bill for a large handful of precious coins.