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Although prices in Argentina have been steadily rising, traveling here is still fairly cheap if you're coming from a country with a strong currency. Eating out is very good value, as are mid-range hotels. Prices are usually significantly lower outside Buenos Aires and other large cities. Room rates at first-class hotels all over the country approach those in the United States, however.
You can plan your trip around ATMs—cash is king for day-to-day dealings. U.S. dollars can be changed at any bank and are often accepted as payment in clothing and souvenir stores and supermarkets. Note that there's a perennial shortage of change. Hundred-peso bills can be hard to get rid of, so ask for 10s, 20s, and 50s when you change money and withdraw from ATMs. Traveler's checks are useful only as a reserve.
You can usually pay by credit card in top-end restaurants, hotels, and stores; the latter sometimes charge a small surcharge for using credit cards. Even stores displaying stickers from different card companies may suddenly stop accepting them: look out for signs reading tarjetas de crédito suspendidas (credit card purchases temporarily unavailable). Outside of big cities, plastic is less widely accepted.
Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, followed closely by MasterCard. American Express is also accepted in hotels and restaurants, but Diners Club and Discover might not even be recognized. If possible, bring more than one credit card, as some establishments accept only one type.
Nonchain stores often display two prices for goods: precio de lista (the standard price, valid if you pay by credit card) and a discounted price if you pay in efectivo (cash). Many travel services and even some hotels also offer cash discounts—it's always worth asking about.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs, called cajeros automáticos, are found all over Buenos Aires. There are two main systems. Banelco, indicated by a burgundy-color sign with white lettering, is used by Banco Francés, HSBC, Banco Galicia, Banco Santander, and Banco Patagonia. Link, recognizable by a green-and-yellow sign, is the system used by Banco Provincia and Banco de la Nación, among others. Cards on the Cirrus and Plus networks can be used on both networks.
Many banks have daily withdrawal limits of 1,000 pesos or less. Sometimes ATMs will impose unexpectedly low withdrawal limits (say, 300 pesos) on international cards—this is more common on Banelco than Link machines. You can get around it by requesting a further transaction before the machine returns your card. Breaking large bills can be tricky, so try to withdraw change (for example, 490 pesos, rather than 500). Make withdrawals from ATMs in daylight, rather than at night.
Argentina's currency is the peso, which equals 100 centavos. Bills come in denominations of 100 (violet), 50 (navy blue), 20 (red), 10 (ocher), 5 (green), and 2 (blue) pesos. Coins are in denominations of 1 peso (a heavy bimetallic coin); and 50, 25, 10, and 5 centavos. U.S. dollars are widely accepted in big-city stores, supermarkets, and at hotels and top-end restaurants (usually at a slightly worse exchange rate than you'd get at a bank). You always receive change in pesos, even when you pay with U.S. dollars. Taxi drivers may accept dollars, but it's not the norm.
At this writing, the exchange rate is 3.85 pesos to the U.S. dollar. You can change dollars at most banks (between 10 am and 3 pm), at a casa de cambio (money changer), or at your hotel. All currency exchange involves fees, but as a rule banks charge the least and hotels the most. You need to show your passport to complete the transaction. You may not be able to change currency in rural areas at all, so don't leave major cities without adequate amounts of pesos in small denominations.