BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Visitors to Argentina are still not receiving a more favorable exchange rate when paying with credit and debit cards days after the new measure was announced last week, although officials insist it is only a matter of time until it is implemented.
Joel Roossin found out the hard way.
Roossin, 68, arrived in Buenos Aires last week from Seattle with two friends to spend a month in Argentina’s capital learning Spanish and sightseeing.
On Friday, he went out to lunch and put it on his credit card after reading about the new regulation announced a day earlier that would allow visitors using credit and debit cards to get more pesos than the usual official rate gives.
The measure was a recognition that most tourists have stopped using electronic payments so they can exchange their dollars at a more favorable rate on the black market — known here as the “blue dollar.”
When Roossin saw his credit card statement, he quickly realized his 4,400-peso lunch was converted at the official rate of 157 pesos per dollar, rather than around 290.
Roossin got on the phone with his bank and talked to numerous people and also called Mastercard but had no luck.
“No one knew anything about it,” he said.
Fernando Bernini, 34, had a similar experience when he traveled over the weekend with some friends from Uruguay. Whenever Bernini paid with his Visa debit card issued in Uruguay, he quickly realized the conversions were being done at the usual official rate.
Bernini, a project manager, also called his bank and said the people there were unaware of any new regulation.
“On Friday I called Itau Uruguay and at first they just told me nonsense," Benini said, adding that the bank directed his inquiry to Visa.
A high-ranking Central Bank official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak on the record, said such problems were due to companies adjusting to the change.
“The norm allows credit card operators from abroad the possibility to (offer a better rate), not the obligation,” the official said. “They have to adapt their systems to be able to do that and I imagine it will take a few days.”
He predicted the new rate was likely to be applied by the end of this week because "if they don’t do it, they’ll lose business.”
On Wednesday, the official exchange rate was at 159 pesos per dollar while the rate that foreign credit card companies can use for their foreign clients was 293.
Credit card and payment processing companies directed all inquiries to the chamber of credit card companies, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“My gut feeling is the US banking system either isn’t aware of it or doesn’t know what to do with it,” said Roossin, who is retired from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a Treasury Department agency.
Roossin said the bad experience with his payment won't ruin his trip because he brought enough cash to last the month and had used the card just as an experiment.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful city,” Roossin said. “It’s one of the few cities that I’ve been to in the world where you don’t feel like it has been overrun by tourists."
For now though, Roossin has a clear piece of advice for anyone thinking about visiting Argentina: “Leave your credit card at home and bring cash.”