The official currency of Argentina is the peso (ARS), divided into 100 centavos. Coins are issued in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos and 1 and 2 pesos. Banknotes are issued in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos. Be prepared to receive change in the form of golosinas (sweets), especially in Chinese supermarkets.
Since 1969, thirteen zeros have been removed (a factor of ten thousand billion) as the various denominations of the peso have been revalued.
More recently, the exchange rate hovered around ARS3 = 1 USD from 2002 to 2008, fell to around ARS4 = 1 USD from 2009 to 2011, and officially reached 6 pesos in Nov 2013. Since a new office took over the government in December 2015, all currency restrictions have been lifted and the average exchange rate is around ARS15/USD (Nov 2016).
The government keeps the peso artificially high and severely restricts the exchange of pesos for dollars, resulting in a thriving black market for the ‘blue dollar’ (dólar blue). The market is so large that current exchange rates are published in newspapers and on websites such as DolarBlue.net. In September 2014, the government rate was 8.40 pesos per US dollar, while the black market rate fluctuated around ARS14 = 1 USD. This means that 100 USD is worth about 840 pesos when officially exchanged or withdrawn from an ATM, compared to 1,400 pesos on the black market. Other currencies, such as the Chilean and Uruguayan pesos, show similar behaviour when exchanged for pesos, although the dollar commands a premium. The best rates are obtained for USD 100 notes in good condition when exchanging over USD 1,000.
Black market traders are called arbolitos (‘little trees’) and operate from cuevas (‘caves’). They can be found everywhere, with Florida Street in Buenos Aires being particularly well known. If you decide to use this route, remember that it is illegal. So take every precaution to avoid being ripped off and remember that your money can be confiscated if you are stopped by the police.
As of October 2013, all exchange offices in Foz do Iguaçu were officially selling Argentine pesos at rates closer to the Blue Rate than the official rate. Other ways to get a good rate are to transfer money electronically via services such as Xoom (from the US only) or Azimo (from the UK only), or compare with My Currency Transfer (from any country).
In December 2015, the newly elected government lifted most exchange restrictions and unified exchange rates with the peso trading in a range of ARS 13-15/USD, the blue dollar is no longer recommended as an exchange option as you can get pesos anywhere with a similar rate.
Peso purchases made with foreign credit cards are exchanged at the terrible official rate, so it is best to avoid this. If you want to use a debit or credit card, you must present both your card and an ID such as a driving licence at the checkout, for example in supermarkets. Present both at the same time and with confidence at the checkout. If you lack confidence, you will be asked to show your passport as identification. For larger purchases, such as long-distance bus tickets, you will need to show your passport and credit card. Although this makes purchases more difficult, try to keep your passport in one place, such as the hotel room safe.
PIN cards have become the most common and should be accepted everywhere, as should magnetic stripe cards. PIN codes should be accepted, but if they are not, shop staff will ask you to sign the bill. Contactless credit cards have generally not been accepted since November 2016.
There is no obligation to tip in Argentina, although it is considered a custom. Sometimes it is enough to round up or say to keep the change if it is for small checks, deliveries, gas stations, etc. In restaurants, cafés, hotels, beauty salons, hairdressers, ushers and car washers, it is considered polite to leave a tip of at least 10%. It is not customary to tip bartenders. Not tipping if you are not satisfied is not an unusual gesture and is interpreted as such. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip, but most people do.
Another local custom is to tip the ushers at theatres and opera houses if they are also responsible for distributing the programmes (you can ask for one without a tip, at the risk of looking like a cheapskate).
Most high-end hotels and restaurants include a service charge, usually around 15%
The fashion and art scenes are booming. Buenos Aires’ characteristic European and South American style is full of unique works of art, art deco furniture and antiques. Creative, independent local fashion designers – who are becoming a source of inspiration for the high-end American and European markets – compose their collections from lots of leather, wool, fabrics and delicate lace with a gaucho touch. Sometimes the exchange rate can be advantageous for international tourists. For example, in early 2006, the dollar and euro were strong against the then weak Argentine peso.
Fashionable clothing and leather goods can be found in most shopping areas; jackets, boots and shoes are readily available. However, Buenos Aires has a relatively mild climate, so it is more difficult to find cold weather clothing. Long coats or thick gloves may not be in stock; similarly, jeans and other basics tend to be thinner cut than in cooler countries. In the Andean regions and Patagonia, it is much colder in winter, so it is much easier to find thick clothing.
Electronic goods are not cheap as they are subject to high import duties. The price of music, books and films follows the exchange rate somewhat and can be a good deal when volatile exchange rates are in your favour.
Most independent shops in Buenos Aires are open from 10am to 8pm on weekdays, and some are also open on Saturdays and Sundays, depending on which part of the city they are in. However, closed shopping centres set their own hours and are also open on weekends.
Most places outside the city of Buenos Aires, where most shops remain open during siesta, still observe a siesta from about noon to 4pm; almost all shops are closed during this period. The exact closing times vary from shop to store, depending on the owner’s preferences. Shops and offices usually reopen in the evening until 9 or 10 pm.