If you visit Argentina, you are going to want to get the best exchange rate possible for your US Dollar/Euro, right? Well, in order to get that awesome exchange rate, be prepared to dive down the rabbit hole that is the world of “Cambio, Cambio, Cambio.” Cambio is the word for change in Spanish. You hear it a lot walking down Flordia street, the busy center of Buenos Aires’s Financial District. My first time experiencing this shifty phenomena was the day I arrived in Buenos Aires. Cesar, my friend and host, changed my money out for me in an office building effectively giving me 50% more for my $200 us dollars. This whole idea of a black market for currency intrigued me, so I did a bit of research to better understand this aspect of Argentine culture better.
Due to the financial panic of 2002, the Argentine Peso became next to worthless. The outcome of this was Argentinian’s distrusting their own currency and seeking stronger foreign currencies, such as the US dollar and Euro. This demand for foreign currency further decreased the value to the Argentine Peso almost to the point of being worth $0. The financial minister of Argentina decreed that it would be illegal to take out foreign currency from banks in Argentina and that a set exchange rate would be issued for all foreign currency. This caused the Black Market exchange rate to skyrocket and become the go to place for currency exchange. The exchanging of currency on the black market is illegal of course, but the government seems to allow it. You can trade money right in front of the Police and they do nothing. If somehow you run out of money in Buenos Aires (which tends to happen, despite how cheap it is) you have to make a trip to nearby Uruguay to pull out more foreign currency; which I had to do. So how does this work you might wonder?
Imagine walking down a crowded metropolitan street during the business rush. All around you hear “Cambio!, Cambio!, Cambio!.” You approach one of these Cambio guys and ask if they can change your money. This is where things get shady; they lead you along a labyrinth of streets to a guy who looks eerily like a James Bond villain, glass eye and all. Once he verifies you aren’t a cop, you follow this Bond henchman to an innocent looking shoe store. There he leads you into the back stock room. He knocks a few times on the wall and the shoe boxes slide aside; you walk through a small door to a room with an old man behind a glass who stairs at you with a cigar in his mouth. You tell him how much money you want to exchange and, without him taking his eyes off of you, he calculates your rate and pays you out the money. This all goes on while the James Bond Villain stands behind you ready to snap your neck if you get cute. As you count your money and look for counterfeit bills, a small child comes out of nowhere and starts screaming “Afuera, Afuera, Afuera Puta,” which essentially means “Get the fuck out.” Some how you get out without being robbed or murdered, with all your money changed. You step back into the busseling street and feel like an accomplished member of the Buenos Aires underworld. You are of course, still a gringo.