It's normally best to bring cash US dollars with you from abroad which covers most of your trip and change them along the way for pesos. Alternatively if visiting a neighbouring country Chile, Uruguay, Brazil... withdraw money there and change it into USD if your home country doesn't have good rates.
If you withdraw from ATMs and use credit-cards your trip to Argentina will be 30-40% more expensive as banks Visa & Mastercard use a very bad official exchange rate 8.7 ARS = 1 USD Feb '15. Please see explanation below.
Recently reported rates available to foreign tourists with limited Spanish exact locations not mentioned for security: Mendoza central 12.5 ARS = 1 USD Jan '15 / Ushuaia central 13 ARS = 1 USD Feb '15 / Trelew central 12 ARS = 1 USD Feb '15 / El Calafate 11.3 ARS = 1 USD Feb '15. Just ask around, especially near areas with lots of banks, you will end up going to a safe place, not on the street eg internet cafe, bus station kiosk, shop, casino etc.
The official currency of Argentina is the peso ARS, divided into 100 centavos. Coins come in 5, 10, 25, 50 centavo and 1 and 2 peso denominations. Banknotes are issued in values of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pesos.
Be prepared to receive change in the form of golosinas candies rather than increasingly rare 5, 10 and 25 centavo coins, especially in Chinese supermarkets.
In October 2011, the Argentine government joined the list of countries with strict currency controls, making the the purchase of foreign currency nearly impossible. This created an unofficial exchange rate that has varied from 25-40% more for foreign currencies than the official rate. Recently the parallel rate, called Dolar Blue in Argentina. has come closer to the official rate after a sudden devaluation in the official rate on 23 January 2014 of nearly 25%. The current rate, along with a litany of other rates that correspond to different types of transactions that apply only to Argentines, can be found on ”DolarBlue.net”. Keep in mind that the pesos you purchase will not be easy to convert back to a foreign currency.
Buying pesos before you come to Argentina is not advisable. Using a foreign credit card in Argentina has an even worse exchange rate. Exchanging money at a bank in Argentina will be, obviously, at the official rate. Many tourists use ”Xoom” because they have offices in Buenos Aires, but this will give you an intermediary rate between the parallel “Dolar Blue” and the official rate. The good thing is you can use a credit card or debit card with Xoom and pick up money in Argentina. Your other options are in the city centre of Buenos Aires, along Florida and Lavalle, where criers call out “cambio cambio” as if there were some existential imperative to change. These criers represent what are referred to locally as “los Arbolitos”. The running exchange rate is called the “green” rate. The down side here is you need to be educated on how to detect false bills. You're not going to get a stack of false bills but you do run a risk of having a false ARS100 banknote interspersed in your stack of pesos.
If you have good contacts within Argentina you might be able to exchange your money at a “cueva” cave, like most Argentines do, at the “dolar blue” rate. This is not an opportunity you should expect though, as cuevas are passed on by referral. You can also make some purchases in US dollars or euros but this only advisable for larger ticket items, and only in some shops. Some smaller hotels may be willing to give you a better rate if paid in cash US dollars or euros.
Counterfeit bills don't make it very far in Argentina. Counterfeiters are quite talented, but the residents are very good at spotting them. It's rare to be given a false ARS50 or ARS20 these days though it's not unheard of. All bank notes have a watermark in Argentina. Both ARS100 and ARS50 bank notes have a metallic thread incorporated into the paper. You should have enough to go by with just the watermark and the metallic thread.
If you have doubts you can use other safety features to confirm your currency is real. There are two ARS100 bank notes in circulation now. The original Roca ARS100 and the new Evita ARS100. The Evitas have the number 100 in red, centred along the right obverse face edge and 100 on the upper left of the reverse. Rocas have a colour shifting 100 on the upper left obverse corner. Evitas have a metallic ink as well. Technically there are two versions of the Roca. The outsourced Brazilian press Rocas have their serial number in black on the bottom left of the obverse and the Argentine printed are in red along the left edge of the obverse. Another thing that may jump out in a counterfeit, is the feel. Paper without a cotton content feels different, and doesn't hold up well in daily use so is usually new. The ink on a real bill has texture as well, it's Intaglio printed.
The fashion and art scenes are booming. Buenos Aires' signature European-South American style overflows with unique art pieces, art deco furniture, and antiques. Creative and independent, local fashion designers - who are becoming a source of inspiration for the US and European high-end markets - compose their collections based on lots of leather, wools, woven fabrics, and delicate laces with a gaucho twist. At times, the exchange rate can present good value for international tourists. For example, in early 2006 the dollar and the euro were strong in comparison with the then-weak Argentina peso.
Fashionable clothing and leather products can be found in most commercial areas; jackets, boots and shoes are easily available. However, Buenos Aires has a relatively mild climate, so truly cold-weather gear is harder to find here. Long coats or heavy gloves may not be in stock; similarly, jeans and other basics have a thin construction compared with those in cooler countries. The Andes regions and Patagonia are considerably colder in the winter, so thick clothing is much easier to find here.
Electronics are not cheap, as they are subject to heavy import tariffs. The price of music, books, and movies lags slightly behind changes in the exchange rate and can offer a bargain if the volatile exchange rates are in your favour.
Most free standing shops in Buenos Aires are open 10:00-20:00 on weekdays, and some of them also Saturdays and Sundays, depending on what area of the city they are in. Enclosed malls, however, set their own hours, and are also open on the weekends.
Most places outside of the city of Buenos Aires, where most stores remain open during a siesta, still observe a siesta from approximately 12:00-16:00; almost all businesses are closed during this time. The precise closing hours vary from store to store, according to the preferences of the owner. Shops and offices generally open again in the evening until 21:00 or 22:00.
If you want to use a debit or credit card, the checkout operator in places like supermarkets will require you to present both your card and a form of identification such as a drivers' license. Present both simultaneously at checkout and with confidence. A lack of confidence will lead to a request for your passport as identification. For larger purchases such as long-distance bus tickets you will need to present your passport and your credit card. Although this makes shopping difficult, do try to keep your passport in a location such as a hotel-room safe.
As of 2011, unlike other parts of South America such as Peru, the credit card purchasing systems do not support credit card PINs. So, if you enabled PIN in your home country do not expect the Argentinian restaurant, hotel, or retailer to ask for you to key it in. Instead, they will ask for your signature, which is normal.