Visa starts offering preferential dollar rate for foreign tourists

by Facundo Iglesia
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On December 15th, Visa started to process card transactions made by foreign visitors to the country at the preferential “tourist dollar” exchange rate, officially launched by the central bank on November 4. The change means tourists, business travelers and other visitors are now able to buy nearly twice as many pesos for every dollar.

The new exchange rate is close to the “MEP” (Electronic Payment Market, by its Spanish initials) dollar. At roughly 320 pesos for each dollar at the time of writing, it is more attractive than the official exchange rate, which is 170 pesos.

Visa, together with Mastercard, which joined the program on December 2, represent “more than 90% of the market share,” according to an official source inside the central bank. “Only Amex, which has less than 10% of the market, is still not on board,” said the source. 

The difference in exchange rates prompted foreign visitors to bring cash and exchange their dollars on the informal market, which offered a substantially better rate than banks, exchange houses and other places that use the official rate. Florida Street in Buenos Aires, for instance, is a well-known place where “arbolitos” – unlicensed money changers – sell “blue dollars”, as the unofficial exchange rate is called. Now, visitors can get a similar rate legally by using Visa, Mastercard, and Cabal credit, debit, and pre-paid cards and paying with US dollars or any other foreign currency.

“After working with the central bank, emitters, processors, and the financial ecosystem, we managed to implement a solution that benefits foreign tourists who use Visa cards,” said Visa in a press release published today. 

The “tourist dollar” was designed “for all the expenses someone with a foreign address could have,” according to sources inside the Ministry of Economy. However, anyone who holds a foreign card, being them residents or visitors, can benefit from the exchange rate.

With at least 12 exchange rates available (there are different ones for tourism, music shows, soybean exports, and so on), the central bank and the Ministry of Economy are facing a US dollar shortage and trying to resist an abrupt devaluation. “Because it’s a formal sector, at the time of liquidation, [the tourist dollar] will also increase […] reserve accumulation, something that is very important for us,” said the source back in November.

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