If you are coming to Buenos Aires to attend a tango festival or just to dance, here are some suggestions on handling your money.
1. Bring a debit card for obtaining cash from the Banelco machines which are located on the main streets and at banks. Transactions can be done in Spanish or English after entering your PIN. You can withdraw only pesos (in $10/50/100 denominations). You may encounter an ATM which doesn't permit foreigners to make withdrawals—the screen will announce "ningun extranjeros." You can withdraw more than the normal daily limit, although locals are limited to $250 pesos per week! One piece of plastic is all you need.
2. Travelers cheques are bothersome since you have to wait in lines to cash them and often have to pay a service fee.
3. Small stores, buses and subways, post offices only accept the Argentine currency.
4. Stores in BsAs are charged 10% or more when they accept credit cards. The annual finance rate here is 70%, so credit cards ("tarjetas de credito") are being used less and less in Buenos Aires. A store may have a sign in the window indicating they accept many different credit cards, but this may not be the case—ask first. Also, some stores will not accept debit cards ("tarjetas de debito") for purchases. Usually their policy is posted where you pay.
5. In order to use a credit card for a purchase or restaurant bill, you will be asked to show another form of identification.
6. Do not carry a lot of cash with you at any time. And by all means, do not carry your credit cards when going around the city or to the milongas.
7. Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Usually between the hours of 3:00-4:00 p.m. the machines are being restocked with bills, so you'll have to go later to withdraw money.
8. Do ATM transactions during the day if you are withdrawing a large amount of cash and then return to your hotel to deposit the money in the hotel safe. Don't carry it around with you all day and especially not to the milongas where it can be easily taken from your purse. Take only what you absolutely need. Hide money in your socks, shoes, inside jacket pockets.
9. If an ATM retains your debit card, be prepared to show your passport to the bank officials to recover your card.
10. My recommendation is to use only the Citibank Banelco ATMs where you insert your card for the machine to read it and then withdraw it—the machine doesn't retain your card during the transaction. This way it is less likely for you to lose your card in the machine. Only the Banelco ATMs at Citibank are this way. There is a Citibank location next to Zival's at the corner of Corrientes and Callao.
11. Try to recognize pesos. False ones are still in circulation. Everywhere you use pesos the bills will be checked in one of several ways to assure they are authentic. If you pay a taxi driver with a large bill, it is an opportunity for him to pass false money your way. He figures tourists don't know the difference. Use radio taxis only by calling them by phone—this is the safest way for tourists to get around.
12. Expect to encounter people asking you for money—on the street, in the restaurants, on the subway. You will have some idea of the serious economic crisis Argentina is facing. Don't open your purse to take out your wallet. It would be better to have small change ready in your pocket. Have money ready in hand when you enter a milonga and try to be as discreet as possible when paying the waiter.
Hope you have a wonderful visit to Buenos Aires, free of money problems. Afterall, you're coming to dance.
*Janis Kenyon is a tango teacher from Chicago who moved to Buenos Aires in February 1999. She coordinates the School of Milongueros, which provides instruction with authentic milongueros in Buenos Aires. Email Janis.