Almost as I was leaving Buenos Aires in July, the Argentine banking networks Link and Banelco started imposing ATM charges of 11.45 pesos (approximately US$3) on every withdrawal by foreign customers. As banks struggle for profitability in the current financial crisis, of course, it’s unsurprising to see them try to milk every possible penny out of their customers, but the Argentine case had a special characteristic: it was combined with a withdrawal limit of 300 pesos (about US$79) per transaction. Anyone using Link or Banelco ATMs could do at least three consecutive transactions, but this would have meant an additional US$3 fee for each transaction. I estimated personally that, given the amount of time I travel in Argentina every year, those fees might have cost me an additional US$100 per month in bank charges.
Fortunately, there is a (sort of) happy ending. Under pressure, apparently, from international banks, Link and Banelco have been forced to rescind the 300-peso limit - on my most recent trip to Buenos Aires, I was able to withdraw 790 pesos on one transaction, and might have been able to get more. The ATM charge of 11.45 pesos (in addition to any your own bank might impose) still holds, but that’s a lesser concern if there’s only a single transaction rather than three.
It’s worth repeating that, in general, Argentine ATMs pass out large banknotes that can be difficult to change - that’s the reason I asked for an uneven amount such as 790 pesos, which ensured that I would get some smaller bills. On my last exchange before the limit was lifted, however, I requested the maximum 300 pesos and received an unheard of 30 ten-peso notes, which filled my wallet to overflowing - go figure!
At the same time, Argentine two-peso notes have supposedly been in short supply because of a TV promotion - an Argentine station has been conducting a sort of lottery based on their serial numbers. While that shortage wasn’t so obvious, finding sufficient coins continues to be difficult, and having the proper change to board a city bus or pay for small purchases such as newspapers continues to be difficult.
Meanwhile, in Chile, the Redbanc system has imposed ATM charges of 2000 to 2500 pesos (about US$3.70 to US$4.60) per transaction, but it has never even tried to enforce the sorts of withdrawal limits that their Argentine counterparts have. According to some of my Chilean correspondents, though, Banco Estado, Banco Desarollo, and Corpbanca still do not collect ATM charges on foreign debit cards. This information, though, is subject to change without notice.