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Dollars to Argentine Pesos through Xoom

16 Dec

We arrived to Buenos Aires somewhat clueless of the rapid inflation and high prices. I had always thought people were exaggerating about how quickly the prices of everyday products increase, but now, the reality of 20-30% inflation is real to us too.

I’m no expert on parallel currency markets, but because of the economic situation here in Argentina, there are two dollar-to-peso exchange markets: official and blue/informal. The difference between the official and blue rates is significant. At the time of this writing, the official rate is US $1.00 to AR $4.88 and the blue rate is US $1.00 to AR $6.53. Check out today’s rate here.

Thankfully, we found out about Xoom.com, an online money transfer services that allows you send money from your U.S. bank account to yourself (or someone else) in Buenos Aires for cash pick-up or bank deposit.

The advantage of Xoom to cash withdrawals from an ATM is that Xoom offers close to the informal exchange rate, while banks operate with the official rate.

So far the process has been fairly smooth. We follow some basic guidelines we’ve learned from others’ experiences posted at BAexpats.org. Namely:

  • Send money from a checking account NOT credit card, as credit cards will most likely categorize the expense as a cash advance.
  • Make sure to use recipient’s full legal name on ID, no nicknames, etc. (If you are sending to someone else, verify this information.)
  • Don’t send more than $2999.99 (we never reach that!) for a transaction or it could really slow down the process.
  • Send money at least one day in advance so there’s time for it to process through XOOM and MMT.
  • Take your Passport (no DNI needed) and just the transaction number (no need to print the full email).

Last time I went in to pick-up cash, the local business here in Buenos Aires that handles the transaction, called MORE Money Transfers (MMT), handed out some information that I found very helpful. So, I’m posting that here:

NOTICE

Dear Customer:

Under present Argentine Authority’s regulations — A.F.I.P., Anit-Money-Laundering Law Nr. 25.246 and Financial Information Unit (UIF) Resolution 66/2012 — in accordance with F.A.T.F (Financial Action Task Force) rules, MORE MONEY TRANSFERS SERVICE is compelled to request from all its clients (those ordering or receiving money remittances) the following data:

  • Full name
  • Passport or MERCOSUR ID
  • Marital Status
  • Address in Argentina
  • Telephone number (in Argentina)
  • E-mail
  • What links you to the sender?
  • Activity or purpose of your stay in Argentina
  • Purpose or destination of the money of this transaction
  • CUIT, CUIL or CDI (if applicable)
  • Source of funds involved in this transaction
  • If remittances amount is larger than AR $5,000, a sender’s identification number must be provided. Passport, ID Cards, Driver’s License and SSN are equally valid.
  • If remittance amount accumulates with previous transfers (on annual basis) a sum larger than AR $40,000, you must provide information about the origin of monies involved, such as: a sender’s bank statement, senders source of income (salary receipt, employment contract).

As much as I hate waiting in line to pick-up the cash now that Xoom has become more widely used, it’s always worth it. So whether you’re about to travel to BA, have family here, or are living in BA, checkout Xoom and save some cash.

Xoom stories on BAexpats.org:

*Oh, I am in no way affiliated with Xoom or MMT, nor did I get paid to write this. Just trying to spread the word.

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Only $100 Pesos for the Week

27 Mar

$100 argentine peso bill billete

In order to finish the month of March on track financially, we’ve decided to limit ourselves to only $100 Argentine pesos for the next 6 days. That’s about $22.88 U.S. dollars. Needless to say, it’s not a lot of money as this city is not cheap.

We’ll give you a daily update on every centavo (cent) we spend and the meals it affords us.

Starting balance: $100

SUNDAY
– Baking soda for making biscuits $2.00
– 6 liter bottle of water (because our tap water tastes horrible) $12.75
– Dinner: Homemade vegetable soup
Balance = $85.25

MONDAY
– Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and kiwi (already in the fridge)
– Two bus rides (Maggie to and from work) $2.50
– Lunch: Homemade biscuits and raspberry Bonne Mamam jam, the best!
– Dinner: Leftover vegetable soup and biscuits
= $83.75

TUESDAY
veggies and eggsmexican food in buenos aires

– Breakfast: 1 egg and bowl of cereal
– Two bus rides $2.50
– Lunch: Sauteed onion and fried eggs with homemade pico de gallo and corn tortillas
– Veggies: Tomatoes, cilantro, lemons, bell peppers, onions, 12 eggs $47.00
– 6 liter bottle of water $13.20
– Dinner: Homemade black beans, rice, salsa and flour tortillas (see story behind the free tortillas)
= $21.05

WEDNESDAY
– Two bus rides (Maggie to and from work) $2.50
– Lunch & Dinner: Leftover black beans, rice, salsa and tortillas
= $18.55

Maggie was paid $100 pesos from a client, which throws us off a bit, positively. We’re not officially counting this income or the expenses paid from it; none of the expenses would have happened without the extra income. We’re putting it down just to be transparent. $100 (income) -$2.50 (buses) -32.50 (coffee with student) -$28 (I played soccer) -22 (taxi) = +$15 pesos

THURSDAY
– Breakfast: Flour tortilla with cinnamon and sugar!
– Lunch: Beans, cabbage and salsa
– Two bus rides (Maggie to and from work) $2.50
– Veggies: Green onion and 2 tomatoes $5.00
– Milk $5.50
– Dinner: Eggs with green onion and tomato (see pic)
= $5.55 (and we still have two days left!)

Our challenge is bringing out a very kind generosity from some of our new friends. Jason, a Canadian who has hired me to help build his company website www.techsalespros.com, let us fill up our 6 liter jugs with his filtered water. That saved us about $25 pesos! Also, Jaco, from South Africa, brought us some traditional, homemade “beskuit” (think biscotti) that his mom makes. His mom’s beskuit is literally the best coffee-dipping food we’ve ever had and will keep us fed.

South African Beskuit

FRIDAY
– Breakfast: South African Beskuit
– Lunch: The last of the black beans with cabbage and salsa
– Two bus rides (Maggie to and from work) $2.50
– Two bus tickets to our friends’ (Ashley and Scott) place $2.20
– Dinner: Hamburgers and french fries and U.S. sugar candy (think Fun Dip and Fireballs)

= $0.85

SATURDAY

– Breakfast: Cereal
– Subway tickets $5.00
– Medialunas and coffee at a café with out of town friends $37.00
– Two bus tickets back home $2.50
– Dinner: Pasta and tomato sauce donated by Ashley and Scott
= -$43.65

Our Excuse and Final Thoughts

We started Saturday, the last day of this craziness, with 85 cents and ended it way over budget. Here’s what happened.

We headed out to go pick up my friend’s cousin, Daniel, who was on vacation here from Mexico. We quickly learned that the subway line we needed was closed because of the race car event that was hopefully going to be our final destination. We now had to walk across the city to Daniel’s hostel. Our path led us past the racing event, and not knowing the track layout, we thought we should cross to other side of track.

Turned out that was a bad move.

We got stuck inside the loop of the track and weren’t allowed to cross back over. So we waited and decided to enjoy the race. I watched in complete joy as these crazy loud and ridiculously fast cars zipped by on the street where buses and taxis usually plod along in traffic.

Once we were allowed to cross the track, we were more than 2 hours late. Thankfully, Daniel was still at his hostel, so we took him back to the race track, watched the cars again, then headed out to find a place away from the crowds and noise.

I led us to a generic café. After all the walking and frustrating delays of the day it was nice to just sit and relax, so I went for comfort and ordered some croissants (medialunas) and a hot chocolate. The billed turned out to be quite steep. We would have gone over budget just from the public transportation alone, but this last café pit stop at the very end sent us way over.

That’s how it normally goes. If we fail to keep our budget it usually happens in the very end by some unexpected thing.

Later that night we were able to save from going further over budget only by the generous donation of pasta and pasta sauce from our friends, Scott and Ashley. I think this is the first week in my life I’ve eaten food specifically donated to me. Though this was a self-imposed challenge and we have money to buy food, it’s still humbling to receive food from friends. We are so grateful that we already have friends here who support us and help us to live out our goals. We certainly hope to be the same kind of people.

Even though we failed to keep our budget, we’ve learned quite a bit this week. We’ve learned about friendship, food creativity, and that we desperately need a water filter.

How We Get Free Tortillas and Salsa

First, just visit this website. It goes without saying the site needs a lot of work. So, Gaby and Pablo, the wonderful owners of Pancho Villa Tortillas, have agreed to barter with me. I’ll build them a new and improved website and they’ll deliver us some of their AMAZING food. If you’re in Buenos Aires and miss Mexican food, you seriously have to email them today to get your order. It’s so good!

Hooks Make a Home: Our Buenos Aires Apartment

20 Nov
Our Buenos Aires apartment

Entrance to our apartment from the street.

Before we arrived in Buenos Aires, we had set up to stay in a small studio apartment for six weeks. After weeks of some investigative searching for another apartment, we’ve decided to stay right where are for at least another 6 months. So happens that our apartment costs about half (US $400) of what the lowest rate seems to be these days for temporary apartment rentals. And we’re stuck to looking at temporary rentals, because we don’t have the Argentina equivalent of good credit — we don’t have a “garantia.” I write about this so easily now, but we beat our heads against many walls trying to find a way to get an apartment at the lower “garantia” price.

Since we’re sticking around, we’ve gone into nesting mode. We had to make some adjustments to best use the little space we have. One of the best purchases we’ve made were these two packs of hooks that stick to the wall. We’ve popped up 30 of those suckers.

We’ve made a coat rack to prevent us from just throwing our sweaters on the bed.

Coat rack

Custom-made coat rack. 8 hooks worth.

View from the kitchen

The bedroom / living room / office / kitchen table.

The bedroom / living room / office

The bedroom / living room / office.

It also helped that we added a few more inside the wardrobe.

View from the "office"

View of the wardrobe closet and kitchen from the office.

Wardrobe

An organized wardrobe. 7 hooks worth (3 not in view).

We love to cook, which is good, because for us to make it in Buenos Aires we need to. However, we’re used to a bit more counter and drawer space, so a few well-placed hooks have made all the difference. Now the drawers are tidy and the counter is free from clutter.

The kitchen

The kitchen.

The efficient kitchen

Our efficient kitchen. 8 hooks worth.

Kitchen counter space

Our kitchen work space.

With a bathroom this small…

The reading room.

A very personal reading room.

Seriously…

Shoulder room shower

A daily experience.

Maggie says the four hooks (2 for caddy, 2 for towels) in the bathroom were my best idea.

Counter-less bathroom

Thank you, Judy B., for the awesome handing travel kits!

We still have some nesting to do. Another budget saving tip is to ship the goods you need from the U.S. (many things there are cheaper and of better quality) to your unsuspecting friends or family who have booked the first trip to visit. Mom, Dad, Marcus, you’re the best! See you in December.

Saying No to Bank Fees

14 Nov

No, this isn’t related to current events in the U.S. Although, I am very happy to hear that Bank of America never went forward with their idea to charge $5 per month for using a debit card!

This is about how we get our money from the U.S. to our pockets in Buenos Aires paying zero bank fees. (These two suggestions apply just about anywhere in the world when coming from the U.S.)

This practical information is normally missing when we read other bloggers’ sites, so we thought we’d take a timeout from the photos and stories to share what we’ve learned about avoiding ATM and foreign transaction fees.

Getting Cash

If you’re not a resident of Buenos Aires, you can’t open a local bank account. So, if you want cash (you can only get pesos from the ATM) you have to withdraw it from your home checking account. Just like in the U.S., the fees for using another bank’s ATMs can add up. Right now in Buenos Aires they are about $4 per transaction.

Maggie and I don’t pay a penny in these fees, because we heeded the advice to open up a Charles Schwab brokerage account and investor checking account. You need the brokerage account in order to open the checking account, but you don’t have to use the brokerage account ever. Granted, to get money into your Schwab checking account you either have to mail in the checks or set up online transfers. We set up online transfers from our Bank of America checking account.

Once you have your Schwab account, use the debit card for cash withdraws only. Say yes to the ATM fee and on the last day of the month Charles Schwab will pay you back all the fees you incurred throughout the month.

Just don’t use that card for purchases. Chuck charges a foreign transaction fee for retail, restaurant and most other vendor purchases outside of the U.S., which leads us to the second suggestion.

Using Credit

We unknowingly signed up for an amazing credit card when we were married. At first, it was to help us earn points we could use to redeem for a flight. That turned out to be pretty amazing.

Since then, we’ve learned that with this credit card we don’t get charged foreign transaction fees. We didn’t even know such a thing existed, but it helps us keep what little money we have in our hands and not in the bank’s. Our credit card is no longer offered or I’d say get it. Just remember that your credit card matters. Only sign up for one that has no foreign transaction fees. You’ll thank me later.

Follow these two suggestions and you’ll save a decent chunk of change overtime. For us, if we’re going to make it in Buenos Aires, we need every bit of help we can get. This is one way we’re trying to keep money in our pockets.

**We owe a big “thank you” to all the helpful and knowledgeable expatriates at www.baexpats.com who have helped us figure this all out.**