Money matters  - Chile vs Argentina

The economy of these two countries couldn't be more different.  On the one hand, we have stable Chile, with a Peso that, even if it has a relatively low value (e.g. about 10000 to the Pound), has remained relatively unchanged for at least the last five years, as you can see from the graph below:

But the same can't be said about the Argentine Peso, as seen from this graph below.


In recent months, and mainly caused by the uncertainty behind the forthcoming presidential election at the end of 2023, the Argentine Peso has crashed to the floor.  The monthly inflation rate has been around 8%, and you will need shy of 3000 pesos for 10 Pounds. 

There is a difference in the cost of living in Chile and Argentina, with the former being 22% more expensive than in Argentina. This means you would need 22% more pesos to buy the same goods and services in Chile as in Argentina.

Food at a mid-range restaurant costs an average of $20 in Chile and $15 in Argentina, and so on.  Naturally, given the size of the countries and the economic differences between metropolitan areas and the countryside, the cost of living can vary depending on the city or region you are visiting. For example, the cost of living in Santiago, Chile, is higher than in Iquique, Chile. Similarly, the cost of living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is higher than in Rosario, Argentina.

Budgeting your trip carefully is therefore essential.

Which currency would I need to take?

Resist the temptation to look for local currency before you leave.  Dollars (and Euros) are widely exchanged and welcome (in Argentina especially).  In Chile, you know from the information above that you will be dealing with a steady exchange rate for your cash, though the cost of living is higher.  Things are more volatile in Argentina, but dollars and euros will be a safe bet too.

Changing money

You can easily change dollars and euros at hotels and Casas de Cambio.  Just look carefully at the daily exchange rate bearing in mind any commissions.  In Chile - depending on the fees offered by your home bank - you can also easily access cash dispensing machines in case you need to, but in general terms, you will find that with the local fees and those of your bank, it is preferable to exchange cash, rather than getting it from the dispensers. 

Changing currency in Argentina is trickier as there are currently two exchange rates: the official and the black market.  The black market is much more favourable, often by as much as 30-40%, but comes with risks.  In general terms, several hotels offer a halfway, with rates that are better than those offered by banks or cash machines, but not as good as those provided by the various money changers loitering on every corner, especially in city centres.   If you are with a guide, ask them to help you.   They will often know some reliable money changers so you would get a reasonable exchange rate and peace of mind that you are not being flogged with counterfeit money, for instance. Avoid - unless in an emergency - cash machines (high local fees coupled with poor exchange rates) and banks where you will need to queue for hours, provide all your papers, and get a low rate anyway.

Remember that in Argentina, you may wake up one morning finding that the exchange rates have changed considerably (generally in your favour), so you may get more Pesos today.  Avoid changing too much money at once for that reason and because of the limited highest denomination in circulation. The highest banknote in circulation in Argentina now is the 2000 pesos (until May 2023, it was only 1000), worth about $4 at the time of writing.  You can imagine that if you change even as little as $100, you will end up with around 24 banknotes or even more depending on what is available, so a considerable wadge of paper will line your pockets! By the time you spend it and get more change (no coins), your bags will be bulging with banknotes, mostly of very little value, but it could become tremendously confusing.

Credit cards

They are widely accepted in both Chile and Argentina.  In the latter, in 2023, the government had even created a scheme (aimed at discouraging tourists from using unofficial money changers) that would refund you part of the difference between the official and the black market rates.  This could provide you with some pleasant surprises since, at first, you will pay for your meal with the exchange rate, but a few days later, the card in question will be credited with about 25% of the amount paid, making your meal, for example, a lot cheaper than initially planned. At the time of writing, the scheme was only available for Visa and Master Cards (debit).  You must check when booking since this was a temporary measure (but a very welcome one!). After the 2023 elections, matters may change significantly (one of the candidates would even like to dollarize the economy, for example).

Contactless cards are accepted, but you may also be required to enter your pin in most cases.  Paying by phone is fine in tourist areas where shops are familiar with the process, but not so elsewhere where you are still expected to exhibit your piece of plastic.

Changing currency back

Do not change too much money for the reasons stated above.  You do not want to get to the last day of your stay with the equivalent value of a few hundred dollars (pounds or euros), as unless you plan a shopping spree on expensive ponchos or leather goods, you cannot change it back on your return.  If you travel from Chile to Argentina, it is easy to change Chilean pesos in Argentina (but mainly only in Casas de Cambio, hotels and banks. The local dealers are not interested!) If you end with Argentine Pesos, we advise you to spend as much as possible, leaving perhaps the equivalent of 10-20 dollars for airport expenses such as coffee. Any other small change can be given as tips, charity to the many beggars, or taken back as a (worthless) souvenir since no bank will change your pesos to convert into pounds or dollars (and you will need a shedload to make it worthwhile anyway).  So beware!

In conclusion

Chile, Argentina (and Uruguay) are economically very different. Across the area, dollars (and Euros) are a safe bet.  Change to local currency regularly and in moderation, avoiding ending up with unspent local cash.  Wherever possible, use your debit/credit cards.