TIA: This is Argentina.
It’s an admonition, popular among expats, to lower your expectations when dealing with the government or businesses in Argentina.
I think about it like this: there is an ‘Argentina Tax‘ in money and time when you want to do anything in Argentina, and Monday I paid that tax a few times.
It started the night before in Medellin, Colombia when I realized my trip to Buenos Aires was 24 hours away, and I had to do two things before I flew that I never have to do before heading to other countries.
- Why did I have the most stressful 24 hours before my flights to Argentina?
- What two things do you have to do before your trip to Argentina?
Before going to Argentina, every American should:
- Pay the Tasa de Reciprocidad, the $160 fee Argentina imposes on Americans (and $100 for Canadians and Aussies) for entering. And print proof of payment.
- Take out all the money you plan to spend in Argentina, including money for domestic flights, in crisp $100 bills without defects.
The first is a legal requirement for entering the country. The second is a way to slash prices by about 1/3 by changing money on the blue dollar market instead of taking money out of an ATM.
I paid my $160 last February, and it should be good for 10 years even if you change passports, but you need to have proof physically in hand when you enter Argentina, and usually need to show it to the airline with whom you’re flying just to be able to check in.
I should have brought my last copy of it or re-printed it weeks ago, but I had put it off, and now I needed to print it in Medellin on the day of my flight. The only problem is that even after I figured out how to sign into my online account where I had paid the tax, I couldn’t find the promised “My Forms” button to re-print it.
This is Argentina.
I asked my brother to find my old one in boxes I had stored with him during this trip, so he could scan it and send it to me.
I felt terrible wasting an hour of his time, and he didn’t find it.
The next morning I called the Provincia Pagos call center (Spanish only) to ask the company that collects the fee to send me proof of my previous payment.
Insanely I had to give the credit card number I used to pay the fee. Don’t they know that my passport number is unique? Why do I need to give more information? This is Argentina.
After finding the credit card used to pay, an especially tough task for a miles collector like me who might have 20 cards at any given time, I called back and started the process.
She found my payment, and told me I would be emailed proof of payment in the next few days. Shouldn’t this just be a few clicks for someone? A few days? This is Argentina.
I explained that I was flying in 10 hours, and she said that she would mark the request urgent. Four hours passed, and now my flight was only six hours away. I was stressed. I didn’t want to pay another $160 for a new Tasa de Reciprocidad online, and the online portal showed that my current passport number was already on file, so I actually wasn’t even sure this was an option.
I called back. I explained that I had called earlier, and the agent asked for my ‘numero de reclamo’ (complaint number), which the last agent had given me. I gave it to her, and she said that she saw my request, and that I would get an email by the end of the day. I wasn’t sure whether to believe her–This is Argentina–but I had no choice. Luckily the email arrived within 15 minutes, and I headed down to a shop to print it. When I finally had my proof of payment of the Tasa de Reciprocidad in hand, I relaxed and realized just how stressed I had been that I might not have been able to go to Buenos Aires that night.
Collecting $100 Bills
I hadn’t been thinking too clearly the day I had left the United States, so I only had $1,000 in hand in $100 bills. I now knew I would be in Buenos Aires 19 days before flying to Ushuaia and traveling through Patagonia for a few weeks. Then I might even return to Buenos Aires until March.
$1,000 wouldn’t be close to enough.
The last few days before my trip I started taking out a few hundred dollars per day worth of Colombian pesos from the ATM. On my last day in Colombia, I exchanged them for $500 more in $100 bills at exchange shops.
For many people, this would have been expensive in terms of paying ATM fees and exchange fees. I actually made money on the deal. My 600,000 peso withdrawals cost me $277.20 all in, which means I got 2164 pesos per dollar.
I explained in How I Pay Zero ATM Fees Worldwide how the Charles Schwab Investor’s Checking Account charges me no ATM fees and even refunds the fees other ATMs charge.
I then exchanged pesos to dollars at a rate of 2130 and 2120 to the $1.
But I still would rather have been enjoying Colombia on my last day instead of running between ATMs and exchange houses.
In the end, everything worked out.
I had my form printed and boarded my flight with $1,500.
The immigration official in Argentina never even checked my form–this is Argentina!–though do not count on that. Have your form printed.
The money should hopefully last six weeks excluding my housing costs, which I covered through Airbnb. At that point, if I want to stay in Argentina, I have some friends coming from the United States, who can hopefully bring me $100 bills.
If I had planned a little better from the United States, I would have already had the cash on hand I needed and my form printed. That’s 100% on me.
But if Argentina didn’t have a STUPID tasa de reciprocidad (even if the USA’s policy is bad, two wrongs don’t make a right), and an even worse exchange rate control system, I would have had a better last day in Colombia.
All of it is behind me now, though. The second I landed in Argentina and sped away from the airport in my taxi, I was so excited. This is one of the most fun country’s in the world, and I can’t wait to get to Patagonia in a few weeks. The hassles are worth going through because this is Argentina.