With its belle epoque architecture, sassy inhabitants and deliciously distinct barrios, Buenos Aires is a vibrant delight. That said, achieving simple things – like paying with a credit card or finding small change – is often much easier said than done. Read this blog to ensure you don’t get caught out…
“One of my priorities on a recent trip to BA,” says Corey Jay (one of our Destination Experts), was to visit the Evita museum, a historic building dedicated to the life and work of Eva Peron. “I arrived on-foot after a beautiful walk through historic neighborhoods and well-groomed parks…Only to be turned away at the door because I did not have proper identification with me to pay the small entrance fee with my card.”
Shopping at a local market
In Buenos Aires it is easy and hassle-free to make even small payments with credit or debit cards – as long as you have your original passport in-hand. “Not being able to enter the Evita Museum was just one of three different instances in Buenos Aires when I sorely regretted leaving my passport in the hotel room safe, and also regretted not carrying sufficient cash!”
No strangers to financial crises (inflation is currently sitting at 40%), Argentines have developed something of a suspicious relationship with money. As Corey found out, paying for things can be a lot more complicated than you’d imagine. Follow these tips to avoid hassles and disappointment…
A 1000-peso note
Credit and debit cards are accepted in most bricks-and-mortar establishments in the touristy areas of Buenos Aires – although you may pay a couple of percent more for the privilege. And, as shown above, you’ll often be asked to produce ID before you swipe. This rule is not uniformly enforced: some establishments won’t even ask for identification, while others will accept a US driver’s license or even a smartphone photo of your passport. Still others will insist on seeing your original passport.
With the exception of some high-end establishments, US dollars are not generally accepted as legal tender. You’ll need a passport to exchange dollars into pesos, and you may also require some patience. A few years ago (2012 – 2015), you could get incredible rates on the black market, but new president Mauricio Macri has closed that loophole.
ATMs are plentiful, but withdrawal limits are low (around $75 in local currency) and fees are high (around 10%. What’s more, ATMs have been known to run out of cash on Fridays and public holidays. Try not to use ATMs unless absolutely necessary.
The all-round shortage of cash means that coins and small denomination notes can be extremely difficult to come by, making paying for small purchases / leaving tips far trickier than it would be back home. We’d advise exchanging several hundred dollars into small denomination notes at the start of your trip. Or, better still, getting pesos delivered to your door (from Travelex or similar) before you even leave home.
Whatever you do, don’t despair! Despite all these minor niggles, the exchange rate means that Buenos Aires is currently (in October 2018) an extremely affordable destination for foreign tourists.
With over 40,000 yellow taxis, it’s seldom tricky to find a cab in Buenos Aires. Just look for the red ‘LIBRE’ sign in the corner of the windshield and stick out your arm. The jocular drivers have been known to overcharge foreigners, so for best results choose one that’s marked ‘radio taxi’ (these guys work for a company so are less likely to rip you off) and make sure the meter is zeroed when you get in. Taxis operate on a cash-only basis (see above), so make sure you have change.
Making use of local taxis
While strictly illegal, ride-hailing apps like Uber and Cabify do operate in Buenos Aires. In fact, we’d recommend using them exclusively as you won’t have to pay cash and there’s no chance of drivers taking the “long route” or conveniently getting lost. To avoid suspicion, drivers will generally ask you to sit up front: you’re just un amigo, if anyone asks.
It’s very common for restaurants to charge ‘cubierto’, a cover charge for the cutlery, table settings and bread that accompanies your meal. The cubierto goes to the house, not the wait staff, so any tip would be over and above this (unless the restaurant charges for ‘servicio’ on top of cubierto). Waiters in Argentina are paid a living wage, so 10% (cash only) is considered a generous amount.
San Telmo market
While we’re on the topic, don’t expect snappy service in Argentina. Eating out is considered an indulgence and waiters will often go out of their way not to rush you. If you’re in a hurry, don’t be afraid to leave your seat and politely ask a waiter for assistance. The Latin lifestyle means that restaurants only open at 8 or 9 pm. What’s more, if you’re planning to enjoy the city’s incredible nightlife, going out before midnight is considered early: only expect things to liven up around 1 or 2 am.
Now that you’ve got the lowdown on the boring bits, why not check out our recent Buenos Aires highlights blog for some travel inspiration? Or discover Buenos Aires for yourself on one of our many Argentina itineraries.
Credit to Phillip Capper for all images used in this blog. (Apart from the scan of the recently-issued 1000-peso note).