Reading Time: 13 minutes
INTRO TO MONEY IN ARGENTINA
[UPDATE: As of mid December 2022, foreign tourists can now use their foreign credit card (only Visa and Mastercard) in Argentina, and receive the ‘tourist dollar,’ which is much closer to the blue dollar rate. It is still unclear whether you will receive this rate making online purchases or if it’s strictly for in-person transactions using a credit card.]
Before I came back to Argentina in 2022, after 17 years ago, I did the standard travel preparation research- join Facebook groups for expats and scroll posts. One common theme I kept seeing were conversations about Western Union. Who does a Western Union money transfer? I kept asking myself, figuring I’ll just do what I always do- use my international credit card (get those points, baby), and take money out of ATM’s with my debit card (like I used to do back in 2005).
But then I messaged an old friend who had lived in Buenos Aires for 12 years. “Bring lots of USD with you,” he told me. “Crisp dollar bills with the new Benjamin, no tears, so you can get the Blue Dollar rate.” Okay, what was really going on here? Suddenly those Facebook posts started making a bit more sense.
When I was trying to figure money things out for Argentina, I didn’t have a resource, where everything was, all in one place. I had to piece things together from Facebook groups, from my friend, from whatsapp groups. So if you’re here, then welcome! I hope I can be that resource for you that I was looking for, for myself all those months ago.
An extra note: If you’re coming to Argentina, using the Western Union is crucial. Work a Western Union visit into your Day 1 itinerary. Don’t arrive to Buenos Aires at 9pm at night, and book yourself a domestic flight to Iguazu Falls the next morning at 8am, thus missing all the opening times of Western Unions. You will give yourself a headache when you find it nearly impossible to get money fast, and you have places to go and taxis to pay.
STEP 1: Create an Account
You can (and should) download the Western Union app on your phone, however, I found it was most useful creating my account, and adding my banking details, on my laptop for the first time.
The first thing you need to do is go to the website to register your account. If you click on this link to register your account and send at least $100 within the first 30 days, you and I will both get a $20 gift card to Amazon.
Next, you’ll need to fill in your basic information here:
Follow all prompts to then add your bank account details. You can also opt to transfer money using a credit card, but take note that most credit card companies will charge a fee for Western Union money transfers, in addition to the Western Union fee (mine charges $10).
STEP 2: Send Money To Argentina
Once you have created the account, it’s time to send yourself some money. Select “Argentina” as the country where you want to send money, choose the amount in USD, and then select “cash pick-up.”
In bold text underneath the amount, you’ll see the current blue dollar exchange rate. This rate changes every day, but one of the benefits (along with the safety and ease) of using Western Union to transfer money internationally to Argentina is that they always honor the blue dollar rate (as opposed to the red rate). If you’re confused as to the difference, take a minute to watch this video (or read the blog post) where I explain the difference:
You’ll also see the exchange rate, the fee, and the total amount you will receive in pesos. The fee changes depending on what type of transfer you want to do. Currently as I write this, the fees are as follows:
Credit card: $45.49
Debit card: $32.99
Bank Transfer: $29.99
If you scroll down, you can select your preferred payment method. Select ‘Pay online.’
If you have promo/reward points, click on that blue link just below the payment options. You can also enter the promo fee on the right side of the screen where it says “Apply promo” in blue. Dealing with promo codes for Western Union is both exhilarating and frustrating at different times. Sometimes a particular code will work for months, and then suddenly BAM it stops working.
Sometimes Western Union just doesn’t apply a code at all. When a promo code works, it’s the best. When it doesn’t, it feels like such a bummer. Here are a few promo codes that have worked in the past. You can try them out and see if they’re back to working again: DIGITAL0FEE, GECO, DIGITAL50WU, DIGITAL100WU.
Next you’ll need to select the RECEIVER. If you’re sending yourself money, the receiver will be you. Enter your own name and home address details. Select ‘continue.’
If prompted, choose the bank account you wish to use (if you have entered details for multiple accounts or credit cards).
You will then be taken to the “Review and Confirm” page. Here you will simply review all details, and follow the prompts, hitting ‘Continue’ only when you’re ready to finalize the order and complete the transaction.
Once you hit ‘continue’ and finalize the order, you will receive your receipt.
Note at the bottom where it says I qualified for faster delivery. This means I can, in theory, pick up my money from any Western Union branch today. Generally, transfers take 1-5 days, so remember to plan ahead. I usually try to send money to Argentina at least a week before I think I’ll need it, just because getting the money is a whole other story!
STEP 3: Download (and understand) the Western Union App
This app will be your best friend while in Argentina. In the app, you can make transfers, check on the process of your transfer, and most importantly, it contains the MTCN number, which you’ll need to pick up your money at the onsite location. The Western Union app also contains your history of transfers. You can click on each transfer to see the exchange rate, the total USD amount (or whatever currency you’re sending), and the total peso amount.
The Western Union Menu (top right)
If you click on “Menu” in the top right of the Western Union app, you’ll see a menu appear. Many of the options sound exactly as they are. The “Quick resend” is helpful because you won’t have to go through all the same steps as a first time transfer. You basically just repeat a transfer using the same options as the last time.
“Find Locations” in the menu is actually quite helpful. Very often, Western Union locations (especially the smaller ones) are not listed in Google Maps. However, you can find more updated locations using this option.
If you continue to scroll down on the menu bar, you’ll see an option that says “My WU” and will generally have a number next to it. This is the number of Western Union points you have. For every dollar you pay in fees, you receive points. You can then cash in those points to receive discounts on future transfers.
From the photos above, you can see that I had 180 points. I selected “Redeem points,” and then selected the option of exchanging 140 points for $15. When I make my next transfer, my $15 off will be automatically applied to the total.
You can also “Refer a Friend,” which you’ll see at the bottom of the menu. If you send your personalized link, and your friend creates an account and sends at least $100 in 30 days, you both get a $20 gift card from Amazon. You and I can both get that gift card right now if you create an account from this link.
STEP 4: Understand Western Union in Argentina
Western Union is the same thing as Pago Fácil. Sometimes you’ll see both logos together on a shop, sometimes just one. But you can pick your money up wherever you see either logo. They are usually closed on Sundays.
Picking up money at the Western Union in Argentina can sometimes be quite the mission. Not all locations are listed on Google Maps (use “find locations” in the Western Union app). Not all locations have money all the time. The Western Union near my apartment gets a restock every Wednesday, making it the best day to go. Trying to get money there on any other day is nearly impossible.
Local Argentines often pay bills at the Western Union. This means that at the smaller branches, they often don’t have money in the morning. They will tell you to come back in the afternoon after more customers have come in to pay bills.
At many of the smaller Western Unions, they will also tell you that at the end of the month and the beginning of the month there is no money; they will direct you to a larger branch.
You should also expect to wait in line. Sometimes there are only a handful of people waiting, sometimes the line stretches down the block. There have been very few times where I arrive at a Western Union and find no line, walk up to the counter, and get my money. No, be patient. Bring a book. Scroll Instagram. Make your shopping list in your phone’s Note app. Whatever you need to do to occupy your mind. You might be there for a while.
STEP 5: PICK UP YOUR MONEY AT WESTERN UNION IN ARGENTINA
You should bring/know 3 things when you go to a Western Union, or Pago Fácil:
- MTCN number
- The exact amount in pesos
All of the Western Unions I’ve been to in Buenos Aires ask for my passport. Then they make a photocopy of it for themselves. That said, I went to a few smaller branches in Cordoba that asked for me to bring a printed-out photocopy of my passport in addition to seeing the original passport. This is because they were such a small branch that they didn’t have a printer. Fortunately, there is usually a kiosco or print shop nearby, so I just printed out a copy and headed back within minutes.
The MTCN Number
The MTCN number (xxx-xxx-xxxx) is a unique 10-digit number that is connected to every transaction. This number is listed on the front page of the Western Union app once you log in. It is just below your name. It is one of the first things the teller will ask for at the window. I usually zoom in on my phone and hold it up to the glass so they can see it better.
The EXACT Amount in Pesos
I always think this is so funny that they ask me for the exact amount in pesos. I know they have access to see the exact amount of my transfer, but I suppose it is just for confirmation. Perhaps they want to make sure they have that amount available before moving to the next screen. Whatever the case, just be prepared for them to ask you the amount. If you’re not comfortable with Spanish, maybe practice saying the amount a few times. I usually log in to the Western Union app, click on the transfer, which then opens a new page with all the details of that transfer, and take a screenshot. That way I have quick and easy access to all the info I need- MTCN and exact peso amount.
Only once or twice have they asked me for my local address. It’s very rare, but just in case, know it does happen every once in a while.
Get Your Money
The actual process to get your money is quite simple. You wait in line until it’s your turn. You hand over your passport, tell the MTCN number, and the exact amount in pesos, and if they do have the money available to give you, the counting process begins.
The teller will take our stacks of money from their locked cabinet or safe. They will then put the bills into an electronic counter. Pay attention here. They are humans and can make mistakes, so it’s easy enough to watch as the counter ticks up.
Once all the money is counted, you will need to sign. Every once in a while, they’ll give you a physical paper to sign. But for the most part, there is an electronic pad and pencil outside the window, and they’ll ask for your signature there.
Once you sign, they will print out your receipt on A4 paper, which they will pass to you under the window, along with your money. Because of inflation in Argentina, you will most likely be receiving several stacks of cash. I usually bring a small pouch where I can quickly put my cash into, and then put that into my bag. Because you now have a ton of cash, I suggest going home right away to drop some off. I definitely don’t feel comfortable walking around the city knowing I have hundreds of dollars of cash on me.
WESTERN UNION HACK (tips at a glance)
In conclusion, here is a quick list of things to remember about the Western Union/Pago Fácil:
- Transfer money a week in advance
- Try to apply a promo code
- Download the Western Union app
- Use ‘Find Locations’ on the app, not Google Maps
- Use your WU points for future transfer discounts
- Western Union is Pago Fácil
- Try a bigger branch first (and go early in the morning)
- Bring a book, expect a line
- If possible, pickup your money mid-month
- Bring your passport, MTCN number, know exact peso amount
- Take a screenshot of your transfer in the app
- Bring a bag/pouch to quickly store your cash
- Go straight home and drop off your money
If you are looking to travel, maybe visit Argentina, make sure to check out WayAway with my promo code here to get 10% off!