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Argentina is a popular vacation destination, but many travelers are mystified by its ‘blue rate.’ Here’s what you should know before making your next trip.

Argentina’s economy is, at least for now, in a state of chaos, with inflation increasing exponentially. Many travelers who arrive there are mystified by a common Argentine practice: exchanging money at the “blue” rate (translation: on the black market), and paying up to 50 percent less for everything they buy in Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Mendoza, and elsewhere. It’s ubiquitous, yet not strictly legal, so here’s what you need to know about it for your next trip.

The market for dollars is so brisk in Argentina that the unofficial exchange rate is regularly 30 percent to 50 percent above the official rate. Many travelers arrive with U.S. dollars in cash (you can’t withdraw American currency from ATMs in Argentina, so it’s advised you bring a packet of cash with you, preferably new bills that aren’t tattered or torn, in denominations of $50 or $100).

The practice is so ubiquitous that the newspapers publish the blue rate next to the official rate each day. Locals regularly recommend their favorite money exchanger, even bringing them to hotels, with pesos, to safely swap with dollars (most will charge a small delivery fee). In addition, locals and travelers will visit a cueva, or unofficial bureau de change (hotels will even recommend them, every city has them, and in Buenos Aires, simply walking around Calle Florida will draw offers from people looking to buy dollars).

It’s worth noting that though the practice is common, you don’t need to feel pressure if you’re reluctant to exchange money at the blue rate. Instead, you can try paying for purchases directly in U.S. dollars. Thanks to the desire for them, many shops, restaurants and hotels will accept payment in that currency at a rate that’s much more favorable than the official one.

Nell McShane Wulfhart is based in Uruguay, and writes about South America for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @nellmwulfhart.

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