Although prices in Argentina have been steadily rising, Buenos Aires is still cheap if you're traveling from a country with a strong currency. Eating out is very good value, as are mid-range hotels. Room rates at first-class hotels approach those in the United States, however.
You can plan your trip around ATMs—cash is king for day-to-day dealings. U.S. dollars can be changed at any bank and are widely accepted as payment. There's a perennial shortage of small change in Buenos Aires—so much so that small shops may refuse a sale if you don't have near-correct change. Follow the locals' example and horde your coins.
Hundred-peso bills can be hard to get rid of, so ask for tens, twenties, and fifties when you change money. Traveler's checks are useful only as a reserve.
You can usually pay by credit card in top-end restaurants, hotels, and stores. Some establishments only accept credit cards for purchases over 50 pesos. Outside big cities plastic is less widely accepted.
Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, followed closely by MasterCard. American Express is also accepted in hotels and restaurants, but Diners Club and Discover might not even be recognized. If possible, bring more than one credit card, as some establishments accept only one type.
Nonchain stores often display two prices for goods: precio de lista (the standard price, valid if you pay by credit card) and a discounted price if you pay in efectivo (cash). Many travel services and even some hotels also offer cash discounts—it's always worth asking about.
ATMs and Banks
There are ATMs, called cajeros automáticos all over Buenos Aires. Most are inside bank lobbies or small cubicles that you have to swipe your card to get into. Make withdrawals from ATMs in daylight, rather than at night.
There are two main systems. Banelco, indicated by a burgundy-color sign with white lettering, is used by Banco Francés, HSBC, Banco Galicia, Banco Santander, and Banco Patagonia. Link, recognizable by a green-and-yellow sign, is the system used by Banco Provincia and Banco de la Nación, among others. Cards on the Cirrus and Plus networks can be used on both systems.
Many banks have daily withdrawal limits of 1,000 pesos or less (calculated by 24-hour period, not from one day to the next). Sometimes ATMs will impose unexpectedly low withdrawal limits (say, 300 pesos) on international cards. You can get around this by requesting a further transaction before the machine returns your card. But first check whether your bank back home charges high per-withdrawal fees. Breaking large bills can be tricky, so try to withdraw change (for example, 490 pesos, rather than 500).
Currency and Exchange
Argentina's currency is the peso, which equals 100 centavos (100¢). Bills come in denominations of 100 (violet), 50 (navy blue), 20 (red), 10 (ocher), 5 (green), and 2 (blue). Coins are in denominations of 1 peso (a heavy bimetallic coin); and 50, 25, 10, and 5 centavos.
U.S. dollars are widely accepted in big-city stores and supermarkets, and at hotels and restaurants (usually at a slightly worse exchange rate than you'd get at a bank; exchange rates are usually clearly displayed). You always receive change in pesos, even when you pay with U.S. dollars. Taxi drivers may accept dollars, but it's not the norm.
At this writing the exchange rate is 3.82 pesos to the U.S. dollar. You can change dollars at most banks (between 10 am and 3 pm), at a casa de cambio (money changer), or at your hotel. Forex and Cambio America are two reliable downtown exchange services. All currency exchange involves fees, but as a rule, banks charge the least and hotels the most. You need to show your passport to complete the transaction.