In 1902, when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid went to Argentina, they presumably tried to go straight but, in the end, the temptation to rob banks was too great. The banks were where the money was and, despite their apparent wish to retire in northern Patagonia, they returned to robbery before meeting their eventual end in Bolivia.
Today, in Argentina, the banks are still “where the money is,” but now they’re trying to rob foreign visitors. Like many foreign travelers and Argentine tourism operators, I welcomed the end of the cepo cambiario, which forced visitors into a surreptitious foreign exchange market instead of exchange houses and ATMs. Playing by the rules made Argentina expensive.
At the moment, foreign visitors can get a more realistic exchange rate with their ATM cards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of carrying cash. That’s because ATM transactions come with a penalty, as I learned when I attempted, failed at first, and finally succeeded in withdrawing pesos on New Year’s Eve in El Calafate (as soon as I did so, I headed to El Chaltén, a pleasanter place whose ATMs are often down because of poor Internet service).
Initially, I went to an ATM belonging to Banco de Tierra del Fuego (pictured above) and, after introducing my card, I chose the option to withdraw 2000 pesos (roughly US$154 at the new official rate). The machine, though, informed me that I had already exceeded my withdrawal limit for the day (even though I had not withdrawn money since December 25th, in Puerto Natales, Chile). I then tried for 1000 pesos and, after getting the same message, I went elsewhere.
Down the block at Banco Santa Cruz, the machine worked (though the lines were longer), but there was a glitch. It would not let me withdraw more than 1000 pesos and, if I wanted to do so, I would incur a charge of 79.80 pesos – eight percent, nearly US$6, on a withdrawal of roughly US$70. In Chile, by contrast, I was able to withdraw 200,000 pesos (nearly US$300) with a charge of 4000 pesos – two percent, about US$5.50. I’d rather not pay that either, but it’s reasonable (I might add that BancoEstado, whose ATMs I use in Chile, charged foreign customers nothing at all until very recently).
What this suggests is that, for the time being at least, carrying US cash makes more sense than using Argentine ATMs – whose banks want your money “by any means necessary.” As the photo above indicates, many businesses are willing to accept US dollars and other currencies in payment, and will not skim eight percent off the top. It also makes sense to use foreign credit cards, whose international charges are less usurious than Argentine banks.
What would Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, and Willie Sutton do?