I did something today that I haven’t done in over 4 years… I used the ATM in Argentina to withdraw money from my US bank account.
That’s right, with Macri’s new government recently eliminating restrictions on buying dollars and devaluing the peso, the gap between the blue dollar rate and the official rate has dropped to only about 5-10% from a high of almost 60%. You can once again use your foreign debit card or credit card in Argentina without having to worry about losing a lot of money.
So, what do you need to know about using the ATM in Argentina?
First, get ready for a whopping ARS $79.80 (U$S 6) fee per transaction regardless of the amount you withdraw. To help offset this, we recommend using a debit card that refunds your ATM fees (like Charles Schwab Bank) or, if you have a Citibank debit card, using a Citibank ATM with no fee.
Because of this hefty fee, it makes sense to withdraw as much money as possible at one time. Unfortunately, the maximum amount you can withdraw per ATM transaction is ARS $2400 (some people report $2500, but in our tests Supervielle and Galicia are both $2400). You may make multiple transactions (up to the daily withdrawal limit imposed by your bank), but you’ll pay the U$S 6 fee each time.
The exchange rate you get at the ATM is based on the previous day’s rate as calculated by Visa. You can find this rate on the Visa Exchange Rate Calculator website. For my withdrawal today, I got a rate of $12.90. If I would have had to pay the ATM fee, the effective rate drops to $12.49.
Also, make sure your bank does not charge additional debit card fees for foreign currency transactions or using another bank’s ATM. Bank of America has some crazy fees – U$S 5 – U$S 10 for using a non-Bank of America ATM plus a 3% international transaction fee. Paying these additional fees is going to lower your exchange rate as well.
So, how much did I lose by using the ATM versus exchanging dollars at the blue rate?
Since cuevas were offering a blue rate of $13.90 today, I lost about 8%. (U$S 13.39 on my ARS $2400 withdrawal.)
How does this compare to using Xoom?
If I had used Xoom to transfer the same amount of money (U$S 186), I would have gotten a rate of $12.53. Xoom beats the ATM if you have to pay the transaction fee ($12.53 v $12.49). Xoom also works better for larger amounts of money, paying up to $12.80 today for bigger sums and not requiring you to make multiple transactions.
So, what’s the best thing to do?
If you have have dollars, exchanging on the blue market is still the way to go. In my example from today, I would have made 8% more on my money. While I still have USD, I’ll keep exchanging on the blue market, but it’s nice to know that I can use the ATM again in an emergency.
If you don’t have USD and need larger sums of money, Xoom is the way to go. If you transfer the maximum U$S 2999, you’ll get a rate of $12.80. It would take seventeen separate ATM transactions over a couple of days to get this same amount of pesos.
Of course, the blue market fluctuates daily so we’ll have to see if it differs more than the five to ten percent it has been. One just never knows in this country…
Here are some recent transactions to compare the ATM to the blue rate:
1/15/16: ATM, $13.23 / Blue, $14.10 / 6.37% difference
1/29/16, ATM, $13.76 / Blue, $14.05 / 2.09% difference
2/22/16: Traveling outside of Buenos Aires (Mar del Plata) I was only able to withdraw $1,000 pesos at a time and had to pay a $91.20 peso fee. Thankfully Schwab refunds that!