I spent the first three months of the year in Argentina- mid January to mid April. I wanted to keep track of spending to have a better idea of what living there long term would look like.
To do this, I used an app called Trail Wallet (not sponsored). The app is free for the first 25 entries, but only $5 unlimited after that. A small price to pay I felt. I kept track of every peso I spent for three months, from each empanada to metro card recharge to dinner out, and now I want to share that idea with you in case you too are planning a trip to Argentina, whether it be short or long term.
RED VS BLUE RATE:
The first thing to understand about Argentina is the money. Argentina suffers from high inflation, and what has resulted is two currency exchange rates. I’m going to explain these rates as simply as possible, as well as explain how to get access to your money, in order to help you better understand the cost of living in general.
The two rates are the dolar red and the dolar blue:
The dolar red is the official exchange rate. It is the exchange rate you’ll see on xe.com. As of today, $1usd = $114 pesos. You will receive this rate by:
Using a foreign credit card
Taking money out of an atm
The dolar blue is the unofficial exchange rate. This rate fluctuates every day. When I first arrived to Argentina in January, it was at $208 pesos to $1usd. Then it went up to $217. On the day I left in mid April, it was $191. As of today, the rate is $1usd =$202 pesos. As you can see, the dolar blue is about double that of the red, which means paying in cash gets you half off.
For simplicity sake, I’m going to assume the red rate is an even $100 and the dolar blue is an even $200 to $1usd for the following example.
Let’s say you go to dinner and the total comes out to $4000 pesos. You decide to pay with your credit card. You would be charged $40 usd. But then your friend is like, hold up, don’t pay with a credit card in Argentina, silly. So you put away your visa, and pull out that cash you just exchanged on the blue rate. You put down $4000 in cash, which is now $20 usd. You just saved half of your money.
HOW TO GET THAT BLUE EXCHANGE RATE:
So now that you understand how each rate works, and you understand you better be paying for everything in cash (but not from the atm), the next step is to know HOW to get that blue exchange rate. There are a few ways:
Arbolista: This is what someone is called who deals with exchange in the blue dollar. If you ask an Argentinian friend, there is a 100% chance they have a friend who is an arbolista and will connect you. Make sure you’re bringing crisp $100 bills with the big Benjamin face (the newer bills). They often will not exchange smaller or older bills.
Cambio: Maybe you just arrived to Argentina and have no connections and no Argentinean friends, but you still need to exchange money. You can go to the microcentro of the city you’re in (Calle Florida if in Buenos Aires, zona peatonal in Cordoba) and look around for people saying “cambio, cambio.” These people will exchange on the dolar blue. Personally I think this is the least secure way, but I know that for some people it is their only option. Therefore, I would take these steps to protect yourself:
1. Ask the rate they will exchange before following them inside
2. Verify how much you have to exchange & the total that you will receive in pesos
3. Count out each bill out loud, one by one. “Cien, doscientos, trescientos,” etc.
4. Film the entire transaction
(I know this sounds extreme but it will help you to avoid being scammed. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. Since you don’t have any personal connections to this person, it is better to be cautious).
Personally I think this is the best, most secure, most comfortable, and safest option. Create an account with Western Union. Connect your bank account and/or credit card. Download the app which will make things much easier. Transfer yourself the money. Then go into a WU branch (there are several) and simply pick up your money.
Tips & Things to note:
1. Always use the promo code DIGITAL0FEE to avoid the WU fee.
2. It takes 3-5 days to receive a transfer from your bank account.
3. Transfers from credit cards are instantaneous, but your credit card company will likely charge a fee. Mine charges $10 usd.
4. Bring your passport and the transfer code.
5. If you go to a smaller branch, you’ll need to bring a photocopy of your passport.
6. Go straight home and drop off your cash. Because of inflation, you will receive a lot of bills that will likely not fit in your wallet. Don’t make yourself a target.
Okay great, now we understand money in Argentina and how to get access to the dolar blue. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of how much things cost. I’ll break it down by the one month I spent in Buenos Aires, and the two months I spent in Cordoba Capital.
In one month in Buenos Aires, I spent a total of $735 including rent. Without counting rent, I spent an average of $10.82 usd/day ($335.38/31 days). I’ll break this down into categories (in usd based on the dolar blue):
PHONE CREDIT: $14.76
DRINKING/GOING OUT: $42.67
Now let’s break it down further. How much do things really cost (on average)? Here are a few examples of the things I purchased throughout the month:
FOOD (prices at restaurants are including 10% tip):
Street Empanadas (3): $1 ($200p)
Ceviche at Soho Market: $3.88 ($800p)
Chicken breast with mashed potatoes: $4.13 ($850p)
Avocado Toast in Villa Crespo: $4.08 ($840p)
Ojo de bife steak with wine: $9.71 ($2000)
Vegetables from a verduleria: $8.09 ($1667p)
Milanesa Napolitana with fries: $6.41 ($1320p)
Choripan with fries in La Boca: $3.64 ($750p)
Big supermarket shop: $19.85 ($4090p)
Cafe con Leche w/ 2 media lunas: $1.12 ($230p)
Taxi from Congreso to Aeroparque: $3.40 ($700p)
Taxi from Palermo to Congreso apt: $2.72 ($560)
Subte card loaded with credit: $1.07 ($220p)
Subte card reload: $2.43 ($500p)
Evita Museum: $3.49 ($720p)
Playing Cards: $1.75 ($360p)
Bandaids: $0.49 ($100p)
Sim Card with 30 days of credit: $5.82 ($1200p)
Recharge: $6.02 ($1240p)
Craft beer at Soho Market (x2): $4.27 ($880p)
Craft beer in Palermo (x2): $3.40 ($700p)
Cocktail in Palermo: $4.37 ($900p)
In two months in Cordoba, I spent a total of $1067 including 6 weeks of rent (I stayed at a friend’s house the first two weeks). Without counting rent, I spent an average of $11.94 usd/day ($692.63/58 days). I’ll break this down into categories (in usd based on the dolar blue):
RENT: $375 (6 weeks)
ACCOMMODATION: $54.36 (two nights in Villa Belgrano)
PHONE CREDIT: $9:56
DRINKING/GOING OUT: $47.28
Now let’s break it down further. How much do things really cost (on average)? Here are a few examples of the things I purchased throughout two months in Cordoba:
FOOD (prices at restaurants are including 10% tip):
Street Empanadas (3): $1.31 ($270p)
Chinese food delivery: $7.28 ($1500p)
Brunch: $4.37 (900p)
Asado: $8.25 ($1700p)
Vegetables from a verduleria: $4.61 ($950p)
Choripan at street fair: $2.67 ($550p)
Medium supermarket shop: $9.32 ($1920p)
Lunch at Fazzio Fish Market: $12.14 ($2500p)
Cafe con Leche w/ 2 media lunas: $1.65 ($340p)
Roundtrip bus between La Cumbrecita/Villa Belgrano: $4.66 ($960p)
Roundtrip bus between Cordoba/Villa Belgrano: $5.44 ($1120p)
Taxi from party to apt: $2.43 ($500)
Subte card reload: $0.97 ($200p)
Museum: $1.21 ($250p)
Face wash: $11.65 ($2400p)
Tampons: $2.33 ($480p)
Recharge: $6.31 ($1300p)
Craft beer: $2.14 ($440p)
Beer and wine for dinner party: $4.61 ($950p)
Two Bottles of wine: $2.91 ($600p)
Fake Converse: $10.68 ($2200p)
Hiking socks (x2): $12.14 (2500p)
Ring at a market: $4.85 ($1000p)
Hat at a market: $11.65 ($2400p)
Several items from a vintage clothing market: $4.85 ($1000p)
Black skirt: $15.48 ($3190p)
Depilacion (full leg, feet, armpit): $8.74 ($1800p)
Depilacion (full leg, bikini, armpit): $13.59 ($2800p)
Semi permanent Hair Straightening: $12.14 ($2500p)
Nail polish and overcoat: $12.66 ($2609p)
Laundry: $3.88 ($800p)
Powerbank: $14.56 ($3000p)
After three full months in Argentina, between Buenos Aires and Cordoba, I spent a grand total of $1802. Though I did buy a $90 flight from Buenos Aires to Cordoba, so really the total is: $1892. That is an average of $630/month, including rent.
Most people in the United States are paying more than $1892 for just one month of rent, not including any of the other extras. When people ask how I can afford to live abroad, well, now you know.
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