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Buenos Aires – Currency & Banking

The currency in Argentina is the peso, denoted as AR$. The peso is divided into 100 centavos. Peso notes in circulation are AR$ 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Coins in circulation are of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos and 1 peso. Be very careful when accepting change in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires. There is a large amount of counterfeit money in circulation, some of which is very hard to distinguish from real money. Ask around to find out what to look for in the watermark and the metal colored strip on the bills. Discotheques, bars and toll-booths are places of higher risk. Coins are in short supply and people are sometimes loath to give change, so it is a good idea to have plenty on hand. Ask for smaller denominations at banks when possible, break bigger bills at busy shops, supermarkets or post offices, and withdraw odd amounts from ATMs ($90, $190, etc) to avoid getting your cash dispensed in $100 bills only. In theory you can use US banknotes (in pristine condition only), though some places take only Argentine money. ATMs often give you a choice of pesos or dollars and it might be a good idea to keep a stock of both.

Bank Accounts
There are no general guidelines for opening a bank account in Argentina. Every bank appears to have its own requirements with respect to savings accounts (cuenta de ahorros) and “current” (checking) accounts (cuenta corriente). Besides the necessity to show a valid passport and proof of domicile, requirements vary from minimum deposits of AR$ 1,000 to employment contracts ranging from 6 months to 1 year.

As an example, Banco La Nación has the following requirements for foreigners to open an account:

  • Bring your original Identification Document and a copy
  • Proof of domicile (gas bill, telephone bill, etc.)
  • Your CUIL (Código Único de Identificación Laboral)/ CUIT (Código Único de Identificación Tributaria) / CDI (Carnet de Identidad) (CUIL is a number given to every employee upon starting to work for an employer. CUIT is a personal number you need to pay taxes. CDI is your Identification Card number.)
  • Initial deposit. To open an account in pesos, this should be at least AR$10. For a dollar account, the initial deposit is US$ 500.
  • Annual maintenance costs of the account are AR$ 6 for a peso account, and US$ 2 for a dollar account. The costs include a Maestro debit card.

In Argentina bank accounts can be opened in Argentina pesos (AR$) and in US Dollars (US$). The costs of these accounts usually vary. Another distinction is opening a savings account and current (checking) account. A current account is used for daily payments, whereas a savings account is used to save money.

Credit & Debit Cards
In Argentina there are seven different credit cards operating on a national level. Five of these are owned by banks and function on an open system. These are: Visa, MasterCard, Credencial, Carta Franca and Cabal. These cards can be issued by different institutions; there is no exclusive relationship with the issuing institution. The other two credit cards are Diners and American Express. These two credit cards have an exclusive relationship with the issuing institutions and may be accepted in fewer retail outlets as a form of payment. At regional level there are several more credit cards available.

Debit cards are generally issued by international brands such as Visa with Electron or MasterCard with Maestro. These cards function through the ATM networks of Banelco and Link in Argentina. There are no costs attached to applying for a debit card. When specifically applying for a debit card that allows making use of ATMs and other expected operations, the financial institution where you open your account should give you this debit card. Other cards may be available with additional charges.

Debit cards in Argentina can be used to make payments at businesses such as supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants, gas stations, clothing stores, etc. Businesses that allow payments by debit card can be recognized by the debit card logos on their establishments.

With ATM cards the following transactions can be made:

  • check balance
  • look at last transactions
  • cash withdrawals
  • payments through the electronic payment system and credit cards
  • cash and check deposits
  • Money transfers to personal accounts or accounts of third parties, at the same or another financial entity.