UPDATE (12/18/15): After not using my Schwab account for over 4 years due to getting a much better deal with the blue dollar rate, I am now able to use the ATMs in Argentina again and I’ll only lose about 5% compared to the blue rate. (This used to be a 50% difference!) Things always change in this country! Check out our guide to using the ATM in Argentina for the most recent updates.
UPDATE (4/6/12): The Charles Schwab High Yield Checking Account is still the absolute best way to get access to money in Argentina. While the interest rate is no longer 2%, they give you the day’s exchange rate and refund all ATM fees. I routinely get over $100 refunded every month. The limit for withdrawals is $2900 pesos per day which must be withdrawn as $1000, $1000 and $900 amounts in separate transactions. This seems to be a limit in Argentina as my daily withdrawal limit from Schwab is higher.
I’m not planning on opening bank accounts in Argentina and I’m going to bring my U.S. issued credit cards with me, so there were a few things I really needed to consider:
- Access to cash
- ATM and credit card fees
- Depositing checks in the U.S.
Access to Cash
While researching how to best get cash and pay bills when there, I found a lot of discussion on ATMs in Argentina starting to restrict access to cash. After some research, it seems that the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires sent this as part of a newsletter to expats living there:
9. Update on ATM Withdrawal Limits
Last July , Visa debit- and credit-card holders got a surprise when ATM machines restricted withdrawal limits to about USD $100. MasterCard cardholders got the same surprise in late March. ACS has contacted card companies, banks and Argentine government officials to determine the cause of the restriction. So far, no clear reason for the change has emerged and no party is willing to take credit for this inconvenience to clients.
The good news, however, is that in response to receiving hundreds of complaints both Visa and MasterCard have doubled their withdrawal limits to USD $200. Both companies also explain that cardholders are free to make multiple successive withdrawals at the same machine up to their bank’s daily withdrawal limit. ACS continues to research the issue to determine the exact cause for the restriction on international ATM withdrawals and learn how much international cardholders pay in ATM fees as the teller machines do not normally provide this information.
So the good news is that you should still be able to access the cash you need even if you have to make multiple withdrawals. The bad news is that your fees could be increased for making multiple withdrawals.
ATM and Credit Card Fees
I decided that the best thing for me would be to reduce the fees I would pay by as much as possible. Luckily, the Flyerguide Wiki has a complete guide to foreign credit card and ATM fees. After reviewing the list, I decided to open the Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account. Signing up was easy, and they provide online banking, mail-in deposit envelopes and free checks. The account currently pays a 2.01% APY and also provides unlimited ATM fee rebates. According to the Flyerguide Wiki:
[Schwab] reimburses unlimited ATM-owner fees and many users report 0% forex fees applied by Schwab and customer service reports the same. Will not refund additional fees, on top of the transaction fees, applied by bank or atm you are withdrawing from. Confirmed on phone July 2008.
I also opened up an online savings account at Countrywide Bank because they were paying the highest interest rate (3.55%) and simply linked that to Schwab. The nice thing about Countrywide is that you can link up to five accounts which means you can use them as a middle-man to transfer money between your accounts if you have more than one. I’m using this to transfer money between my personal and business accounts when needed (business account -> Countrywide -> Schwab account). Transfers are free but take one business day to complete. After this, you can close any other accounts that you do not need.
Depositing Checks in the U.S.
I was also waiting on some checks that didn’t quite make it before I left. Since I’m using Earth Class Mail (ECM), I know the checks will be forwarded to my online mail box, but since ECM does not yet have electronic check deposit (coming this year) I’ll have to have ECM forward those checks to my mom to mail in for me. I found out that checks do not need a signature to be deposited, just the words “FOR DEPOSIT ONLY” and the account number on the back, so while this is a bit inconvenient, it should work.
That pretty much sums it up.