The little Banelco sign is worth a US$4 hit on ATM withdrawals in Argentina.
The Rapid Traveler was surprised when using his HSBC Online Savings card at an HSBC ATM in Buenos Aires to see a message that there would be a ARS 17.15 charge by Banelco. In a previous column he recommended this as a backup to Schwab High Yield Investor Checking. Not wanting to risk HSBC’s limited benevolence, he want on a hunt for alternate banks but all had pesky Banelco placards. He finally picked one and gave Schwab a whirl. The Schwab rebates overseas are reliable but not always immediate and has not posted from this transaction at time of writing.
A Rapid Travel Chai investigation uncovered that Banelco is a consortium of private banks and the dominant ATM network in Buenos Aires. In the rest of Argentina, competitor Link makes appearances, mainly at state-owned banks. Some people have found banks with some ATMs not connected to these networks, such as this thread on Thorn Tree. But, Schwab again seems the best option.
Credit cards at restaurants also mention note. This is limited to a few days’ experience so cannot claim to be universal, but it appears that the Visa network does not allow subsequent adding of a tip to a bill. On the first meal after arrival this led to embarrassingly paying a tip in US$ after the waitress had walked away with a hangdog expression at The Rapid Traveler’s lack of pesos. Other restaurants make sure to have the tip added before swiping the card. According to a hotel concierge, American Express does not have this problem, but he was unsure with MasterCard and The Rapid Traveler does not have no foreign transaction fee cards on either network.
The good money news is that it has not been nearly as hard to get coins for buses as was reported several years ago. The bus and subway network in Buenos Aires is excellent, buses running quite frequently on weekends (take that, New York).
Readers, what experiences have you had with ATMs, credit cards and coins in Argentina?