Ever since we got back to Argentina we've noticed there's a shortage of available cash. Abnormally long lines at the banks and ATM machines... and quite often the ATMs are empty. So where has all the money gone?
Everyone is asking the question and nobody seems to have an answer.
From what we've been told, the problem became acute right before Christmas when the banks closed early for the holiday WITHOUT restocking ATMs -- all over the country! People who wanted to travel found themselves unable to access cash in order to buy bus tickets or put gas in their car. Those who had waited to buy Christmas presents couldn't get their money in time.
We were in transit Christmas day and had decided to send two pieces of luggage via bus rather than risk having to pay excessively high baggage fees at the airport. But when we got to the bus terminal, none of the four ATMs on site had cash and the one and only shipping company open on Christmas day did not accept credit cards. What to do?! Ivan finally found a bus line open that would change some of our U.S. dollars into pesos and we were able to do what we needed.
Since then we've been able to use the remainder of the money we'd had transferred down to buy the lot, as Ivan took care of back taxes and other expenses related to that. But this week we needed to start taking care of some regular expenses (like rent, bills, etc). Ever since moving here we've been using ATMs to access money from our account in the U.S.
Not the best system since they charge us at that end, at this end, plus an international exchange fee... totaling a whopping $17 or so for every $250 we take out. Ivan's trying to set it up at our bank here so we can simply transfer money down in one shot every month or two, but it is a long, involved process. As we found out when were trying to get the money here in order to buy the lot! And that was finally done on a different system than what we'd do on a more regular basis.
Anyhoo... since we haven't gotten that lined up yet, we are still using ATMs. Or trying to.
Yesterday Ivan ran errands first thing in the morning and getting money was one of the things on the list. An hour and a half later he called, obviously frustrated, to tell me he'd been to three ATMs and none of them had money. He'd gone downtown to go to an ATM there but couldn't find a parking space -- he'd driven around town three times already!
Since we were already planning a trip to Cordoba, I suggested we just get money there. Since Carlos Paz is a tourist town, it's not that unusual to have the ATMs empty on Monday morning during January.
But in Cordoba we ran into the same problem! Nothing at the first ATM, nothing at the second... Ivan asked someone if they knew where there might be a stocked ATM and the man shrugged and asked with a smile, "You mean in this country?"
We drove to yet another location and Ivan saw a cash delivery truck nearby and he was fairly confident the ATM would be stocked so he got in the looooooooooong line and waited over half an hour but in the end: SUCCESS! We ended up clocking a lot more miles than typical for a Cordoba trip because of having to search high and low for money.
Life here is different than the U.S., in that many places only operate with cash. No checks, no credit cards, no debit cards... only cash. This goes for rent, for utility bills, for most small stores. Really, the only places where we've been able to regularly use a credit or debit card are the bigger chain grocery stores and the gas stations.
Like I mentioned earlier, we're really hoping to be able to start transferring money down in one shot every month or two. If we can do that we'll avoid some (but not all) the fees we're currently having to pay; but even better, we'll be able to take care of some bills with online banking. Wouldn't that be great?!
Meanwhile we'll just pray that the cash flow problem is short-lived and we don't have to spend half a day again tracking down money to pay those bills!