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Cash Economy Baby!

I remember my first visit to the American Express office in Taipei, Taiwan.

I was there to receive a wire transfer for a business transaction, which was then converted from dollars to yuan, leaving me with a large bag of dough that I had to transport across town for my transaction.

I was startled to learn that carting around large amounts of cash was not unusual!!

Many people were streaming out of the American Express office with duffel bags stuffed with bills. I never really got used to it. I always felt that I was leaving the bank with a target on my back.

Argentina seems to be much the same. We will show up and pay the balance on our short-term rental with cash. Many Argentines don’t have bank accounts, or they keep limited amounts in the bank after the 2001 financial crisis. Everyone wants Euros and US Dollars (in that order). Cash is king!

*Sigh* It looks like we’re going off the grid! (I will miss the automated Quicken download of all of our expenditures from credit cards. I don’t want to hand-enter cash transactions!)

Lurking at the ATM

Unlike many other countries, an expat without a national ID number — which here is called a DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) — will have a very hard time opening a bank account in Argentina. (You cannot get a DNI without having some sort of resident visa.)

I have read tales online of a few rare expats who have managed to open a bank account without the DNI, but it appears to be exceedingly difficult. We considered trying to go that route, but the funny thing is, even if you can swing an account, everyone tells you not to put any money in the Argentinian bank because the government could seize the money and devalue it at any moment, a la 2001 (“the crisis,” as it is called here). We decided not to bother.

Most expats here without a DNI just lurk by the ATM machine, gathering cash every day and hoarding it to pay for rent and other bills.

It works like this: a) You can take out about 600 pesos per transaction at an ATM machine; and, b) You can only take out the equivalent of $US 500 per day total from all ATM transactions in a 24 hour period (about 1,680 pesos by today’s exchange rate).

Cash economy baby.