The following is a list of tips I picked up from my conversations with the locals, tour guides, and other travelers who all thought they wished they new these tips before coming to Argentina:
- Exchanging Money: Earlier this year, the Argentine government decoupled the peso from the dollar and will not allow the citizens to exchange money into USD. But, because of the high inflation in the country, the citizens actually prefer to save in dollars (the US is experiencing some inflation but not like they are in Argentina!), and given that it’s so hard to get dollars, there’s a black market out there where you’d actually get a much more favorable exchange rate (over 6 pesos to the dollar) than you would from an exchange office, bank, or the ATM (around 4.5 pesos to the dollar). I normally stay away from black markets for fear that they’ll give me counterfeit currency, but if you just brought USD with you and offered to pay for merchandise in dollars, you’ll get a better exchange rate.
- Withdrawing Money: If you decide, still, to withdraw money from an ATM, there is a limit to the amount of money you can withdraw per transaction (again, thanks to the Argentine government imposed rule). At ATM’s you can withdraw around 1,000 pesos but if you find a Citibank ATM, you can withdraw more (around 2,500 pesos). The ATM’s charge you approximately 19 pesos per transaction, not including whatever your home bank charges for using a foreign ATM.
- Taxis: Everyone says to use Radio Taxi’s because they have the most accurate meters and are less likely to “take you for a ride”, but there are many companies using the name “Radio Taxi” so in all the time I was there, I couldn’t figure out which company was the official Radio Taxi. What is a foreigner to do? In my time there, I actually took many taxi rides to/from work and my fares never differed significantly from one ride to the next. At most, there was maybe a difference of around 10 pesos (~$2USD) for a ride that was cutting across down so there wasn’t a noticeable difference for me from one company to another. If you want to be safe, you can try to hail taxis with lights on the roof of their cars – I heard that’s more official than the ones without the lights. If you want to be even more safe, here’s the number of the taxi company that my vendor used (and he swore it was the best so you’re getting it from a local): Aló Taxi +54 11 4855 5555. By the way, if you call a cab, expect to wait around 10-15 min (longer if it’s raining) AND to give them a local number with which they can reach you (I just gave them the hotel number). Also, the cabbies add around 4-5 pesos on top of the meter when you’ve called for them.
- Tipping: My guidebook said to tip 10% for meals but the locals said they tip 10-15%. I also saw some others not tip at all. It was very confusing. I just stuck to the 10% rule and rounded up if it avoided me having to deal with small change. Tips have to be left in cash even if you’re charging for the meal. The only exception was at La Biela, a famous cafe in Recoleta. They get a lot of tourists so they let me charge the tip as well but I had to tell them up front to include it (they won’t do it if they’ve already ran your card). There’s no need to tip taxi drivers but they do appreciate you rounding up to the nearest peso (also, remember to bring small bills to pay the cabbies. They don’t carry tons of change).
- Restaurants: Argentines eat late. How late? My vendor told me our 8pm dinner plans were early! Restaurants don’t even open until around 8pm and they are not bustling until 10pm. They close as late as 2am! If you are used to early dinners, you can go to a cafe (they usually have snacks, sandwiches, and even light entrees) or you should just eat a late lunch. Incidentally, lunch time for the locals is around 1pm-3pm.
- Grocery Stores: Bring your passport if you plan to use a credit card at the grocery store. It’s odd that no other establishment asks to see your passport when you pay with a credit card, but the grocery stores were sticklers for this! They wouldn’t even take a copy of the passport – they wanted to see the real thing.
- Electronics: Any electronic you can get in the US is going to cost 2-3 times more to buy in Argentina. As a result, most people don’t own things like iPads, Macs, and iPhones. If you do, and you bring it with you, you need to watch it very carefully.
- Cell Phone Usage: Speaking of iPhones, I brought mine and had it working during my time in Argentina, but the battery drained super fast whenever I texted or surfed the net. It might be their networks. I’d recommend you be ready to charge the cell in the middle of day if you’re a heavy user.
- Safest neighborhoods: If you’re wandering around at night, it’s best to stick to the following 3 neighborhoods which I heard over and over again were the safest: Recoleta, Palermo, Puerto Madero.
- Shopping: Argentines come to the US and buy suitcases full of clothing to bring back with them because the clothes are so much cheaper in the US. Given that, I wouldn’t consider going clothing shopping in Argentina unless I wanted to pay significantly more for clothes I could buy at home. Leather shopping, yes. General clothing shopping, no.
Have you been to Argentina lately? What tips do you have to share?