How to get USD for rent without fees?


Sep 23, 2009
Hey, I just put down $1000 pesos to reserve a great apartment for Jan 1st. The realtor gave me a break in the price since I am willing/able to pay for 6 months up front. But she's asked me to pay within the next week or so. I've been trying to figure out how to get about $5,000 USD quickly without paying too much in excess fees. I only see two options:

1) Take out close to 20,000 pesos in about 10 days using 2 different US bank accounts and incur plenty of ATM fees
2) Transfer money online to a friend in the states, have them send it via Western Union to me (this would cost about $200 USD in fees)

I read about the American Express option, but am not currently a cardmember. I just applied online and was approved, but the card is being sent to my address in the states and didn't I bring any personal checks here...

I feel like this must be a common situation expats find themselves in since so many realtors want cash only. I would really appreciate any advice anyone can offer. Thanks!
Taking money out via the ATMs is probably the best you can do on relatively short notice. The Western Union option is way too much - I can't imagine you would come close to $200 US in fees with ATMs.

BTW - In order to take out more than the normal 300 pesos that is the limit in most machines for foreign cards, there are a couple of banks that will let you take out more at one time.

For example, CitiBank has two sets of ATM machines in all the branches I've been to. They have a normal Banelco machine, and then another CitiBank-specific machine. This latter is a more modern-looking machine with a touch screen interface. I can take out my card's limit at these machines.

The only caveat is that sometimes the machnes are empty of cash, or there's not enough to give you the full amount. Doesn't happen very often, but I've been hit with it before like that.

I know of four locations in the city (I know there's more than that, but those are the ones I've used):

Corner of Callao & Alvear (two blocks on Callao from Libertador)

There are two on Santa Fe between Callao and Uruguay. One of them is at 1634 Santa Fe, but for some reason the CitiBank website doesn't list the other one. It's a few blocks away on the same side of the street.

The other is at Corrientes 1780, which is just off the corner of Corrientes & Callao.

This is probably your best bet in order to keep your fees down since you should be able to get your limit on each transaction. My debit card ATM limit is $800 dollars and I have been almost always able to get the full amount in one transaction.

The only other reasonable option is to find a money house that does foreign wire transfers, takes a fee (from 1.5% up) and will give you your money in whatever currency you want it in. That is a little more difficult because usually you have to have a reference from someone to do this. It's possible that you could go into one of these places without a reference and ask them if you can do a one-time transfer, I'm not sure.

If you have problems with the ATM options, give me a holler via PM and I may be able to to direct you some more.
First, do NOT pay the full amount to the realtor until you meet in the apartment on Jan 1st or a few days before, for you to make sure the previous renters have moved out and the apartment is in the condition you agreed on and you have a signed contract and the keys to the apartment. 1000 pesos is plenty for them to hold it until Jan 1st.
Second, Western Union has a weekly and a monthly limit for transfers to Argentina and the fee is expensive and the exchange rate is low.
Third, it will only cost you 240 pesos total for 20 withdrawals in the ATM and you get a great exchange rate too.

Do you need dollars or pesos?

You will NOT be able to get U$D from ATM's (as you probably know already!)

If you need dollars, you have a problem as changing the pesos into dollars will result in another set of fees!

BTW, I will be changing about $1,000 U$D before next week - if you would like to buy them you can have them for whatever the rate is that day.

Good luck!

Sara, take DA's advice - there is NO REASON to pay 5k this far in advance and you absolutely should not have to pay it until your first day in the apartment. I have never heard of such a thing. Even the owner of the beach house I rented 4 hours from here is going to give me keys in December and then meet me there the first day so I can inspect the apartment before paying the remainder. That would give you enough time to wait for your AmEx I think.

Also, per El Queso's note on the 300 peso limit, that has been lifted for all debits as far as I can tell. I have both a Visa and a Mastercard debit card, one from a credit union and one from Chase bank, and on both I can take out up to 900 pesos at a time at almost any Banelco, Link, or Citibank ATM.
DA said:
Third, it will only cost you 240 pesos total for 20 withdrawals in the ATM and you get a great exchange rate too.

This all depends on your bank.

For example, Bank of America charges something like $5 dollars per transaction, plus a 3% conversion fee! I know because I have a BOA card and although I rarely used it, I couldn't believe some of my friends who were using theirs and getting the same problem, and then I used it and went to look online and couldn't believe it. I now only use it in emergencies.

My other bank (a small, southeast regional bank named Trustmark) only charges me $1.50 per transaction and I get conversions at the current market rate. But comparing with my friends who live here as well, that's not the norm.

On top of that, the local ATMs are now charging 11.40 pesos (I may be a few centavos off on that) PER TRANSACTION, on top of the fees your bank itself charges. If your bank passes those fees through, that's a problem.

And yeah, I forgot about the limit at Western Union. I think the limit is either $2000 or $2500 per month.

And both EliA and Da are correct - you pay the DAY you move in, never ever before. you pay as you are signing the contract in the apartment itself.

As far as the 300 peso limit being lifted - I hope that's the case. I went to Jumbo yesterday and was only able to get out $700 pesos at a time. It's a Banco Galicia ATM. I used to be able to get $1000 pesos there at times.
Has anybody tried getting traveler´s checks ? I heard they are safe, no fees and are in USD ( some locals are getting ther USD saving off banks in this way.
captdave said:

Do you need dollars or pesos?

You will NOT be able to get U$D from ATM's (as you probably know already!)

Very true that, too. Although, event hough the prices for an apartment may be listed as USD, in the 9 or 10 apartments I rented before I was able to get a long term lease, I never had a problem paying in pesos at the current exchange rate with the owner.

Just an aside - in Paraguay you can get USD OR Guarani at just about any ATM, although they're not as plentiful as they are here in BA. I wish I could pull out dollars here!
Thanks. So far I've been able to pull out $700 pesos in one transaction at all of the malls I've been to. I'll probably end up doing the ATM thing, but I'm also not very comfortable walking around with that much cash on hand or with storing it in my current apartment everyday.

I've already visited the apartment and it's currently free. The realtor also seems very trustworthy. The realtor also made it sound like she was doing me a big favor (and I think she is) for letting it sit vacant for all of Dec. since I don't want it until Jan. but am willing to rent for at least 6 months. She made it sound like she wanted the money up front to ensure that I'm really going to rent it. I guess I'll ask her if she'd just be willing to take a bigger deposit because I have friends visiting in mid-Dec. and they could bring me cash if I wire the money from my bank to theirs (without fees).

Thanks David, they're willing to accept pesos or USD. I don't think buying USD will help much because I'd still need to make withdrawls and take ATM fees, but thank you for the offer!
nikad said:
Has anybody tried getting traveler´s checks ? I heard they are safe, no fees and are in USD ( some locals are getting ther USD saving off banks in this way.

The first time I came down here in 2006, I brought traveler's checks. I had a hard time cashing them, and none of the apartments that I tried to rent would accept them. I finally found a bank on Las Heras that would cash them (can't remember the name, but it was French-sounding). They were American Express traveler's checks.

As far as buying them here - she'd run into the same problem - how to get the money to being with.

Sara, it doesn't hurt to have cash anyway, as long as you are careful with it. I'd pull the money out of the ATM anyway, just to be safe, in case there is some problem getting the American Express card down here before you have to pay.

For example, if it comes via regular mail, you may find that the mailing itself delays more than a month getting to you here. If you have it sent by someone in the States, have it sent by private mail such as DHL or FedEx. I recommend DHL because it's cheaper, although someone recently told me that DHL pulled out of the US for private consumers and just does business transactions now. I haven't verified this.