So, as promised, here is a full account of the trials and tribulations associated with our various and unfruitful attempts to exchange pesos for euros here in Argentina. It goes something like this:
- Olive goes to her local and respectable foreign currency Casa de Cambio (Exchange office), print-out of e-ticket in hand and asks to change her pesos into euros for her upcoming family vacation.
- She is asked for her DNI (national ID number which acts like a SSN/Green card here) and complies.
- Said number is typed into a system which now connects all Casas de Cambio with the AFIP (read local IRS) and is promptly told that NO, she may not purchase said euros.
- When she innocently asks “why not?” (being a salaried and tax paying employee of a company in good standing) she is told “Who knows, you´ll have to check with your local AFIP office, all I know is you can´t buy them now, here or anywhere else.”
- Refusing to be daunted by the bureaucratic system, Olive calls dearest hubby, M, also a tax paying salaried employee and actual Argentine citizen and asks him to give it a try.
- M heads to his local bank and asks if he is allowed to purchase X amount of euros for his vacation. His DNI is entered into the same system mentioned above and he is told “Sure, no problem.” Wise man that he is, he requests a printout of said AFIP screen as proof, the bank provides and with this in hand we head to the airport the next day.
Haaaaa….here´s where things get a little crazy! Up to now this is a typical “tramite” or paper trail that one must undertake oneself in order to get anything government related accomplished in this great country and that is just fine. The fun starts when:
- As Olive stands in line with a helpful MM and a very curious Chip (read AIRPORT – lots of people to say hi to, suitcases to try to pull [hey, everyone else in the family is doing it, why shouldn´t he] oh, and without a stroller to strap him into because not so Super Mom forgot it at home in the rush of exiting the house with 5 bags and little time to spare) M rushes off to the National Bank branch located within the airport to buy those euros we were told we were entitled to yesterday.
- At the bank, M is once again asked for his DNI number. He provides and the now famous AFIP system pulls up his info and the agent says DENIED.
- WHAT??? HOW CAN THIS BE?? M asks to see the screen, since yesterday everything was just groovy and he notices that his taxpayer ID number (CUIL) is not correct. Now, this is a composite number created by the AFIP that contains your DNI along with several other digits generated by a logarithm I am not familiar with. Needless to say, M knows his CUIL number and points out this is not him.
- The bank agent, in an attempt to help, says “OK, well what is your CUIL?” M provides and there lo and behold on the screen appears M´s correct information, including the approval needed to purchase foreign currency.
- Without smugness (because my dear husband is not a smug man by nature, ever, that´s why people like him so much) he says, “See, there I am and just like the printout in my hand, its says everything is OK, so may I please have my euros?”
- “If only it were that easy,” says the agent “while this might be you, when I search for you using the criteria my system permits, which is your DNI, another you appears and that other you is NOT allowed to buy euros, even though we are standing in an airport, you have a boarding pass in your hand, you pay your taxes and you are attempting to go on vacation with your family and your hard-earned cash, I cannot help you.” (ok, so maybe I got carried away and ad-libbed a little there, but you get the idea, the tone was “I´d love to help you, flaco, but I can only carry out the transactions the system permits.”)
- At this point Olive has finished the check-in process and gotten tired of trying to keep track of MM jogging in and out of the bank to report Dad´s progress and chasing after a now very jazzed Chip who can´t believe there is NO stroller and SO MUCH SPACE! M exits the bank empty-handed and as is bound to happen on every family vacation we take involving a plane, Olive breaks down at the airport.
- Many colorful expressions are used to describe our female president, more than a few of them in a slightly louder than necessary tone of voice. Bags are dragged, tears are shed and stomping and huffing ensue (I am really good at both of those, btw)
- MM becomes concerned over the lack of available funding for our trip (bless her heart, she is 11 and I really wish she didn´t pick up on these things, ever, but she does) and so we begin to reassure her that all is well, we have plastic and are prepared to use it, hope is not lost, we just wanted to arrive with a little cash in hand.
- And so arrives the glorious moment when we stash our purple wad of pesos (valued at 5.15 to 1 with the euro you can imagine it has to be decent sized bundle to be able to buy even a useful amount of euros) in our hand luggage and headed for security, customs and all points beyond.
- Needless to say, said purple bills accompany us on the plane, to various hotels and vacation destinations. I wish in retrospect I had taken them out and shot pictures with various monuments; the Mediterranean skyline we saw in the south of France, the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, perhaps even munching on a croissant in a sidewalk café. Needless to say, I didn´t, because I am not that bitter nor am I about to let good ole CFK (as our lady leader is also known) ruin my trip.
I must wrap up with a sidebar to take a little sting out of the tale told here. I am not naive, I know all about capital flight in this country, that anyone considered upper middle class line will do everything in their power to open a foreign bank account and store their life savings, earnings, etc. there. There is zero faith in the local banking system and quite frankly, I am not surprised. The currency crash of 2000 and devaluation in 2001 (when from one day to the next EVERYONE´s bank account was devalued to a third of its worth the day before and a big chunk of Argentina´s shining beacon of a middle class was swept under the poverty line) was a recent lesson to many regarding why you can´t trust the banking system here. And yes, perhaps there should be greater restrictions on purchasing foreign currencies. But not at the airport, when the piddling amount you are requesting could never been money- laundering. And perhaps not when you are foreign national with a green card and definitely not when you are tax paying salaried employee who has dotted all the i´s and crossed all the t´s.
The bright side of the story? Well, when we got home, those lovely purple bills went straight back into the bank to pay off the nearly maxed credit cards used on said trip. Right back into our banking system and our national economy, I suppose, if you count VISA as part of the national economy (which I don´t). So I guess the system won.
There´s always the black market for buying bills, but I think that is synonymous with highway robbery and I take pride in thinking that I am still “too American” to operate off the grid like that. But keep pushing, Cris, and let´s see how everyone else reacts….