We have one last errand to run before we head out on our next trip: go to the bank. Aside from considering whether or not I had sufficient funds, I never thought much about going to the bank before. Now I do.
When I first got to Argentina, the question was “Will there be money at the bank?”. I went to the bank with my mother in law and they asked her to come back tomorrow. No bills. I was sure I didn't understand the language well enough. Clearly I had misunderstood.
Next it became, what time should I go? During business hours there can be lines that go around the block to use an ATM machine. Really.
Do I suck it up and take money out of the ATM machine? How bad do I need cash (considering few business take credit cards). Is it worth using xoom.com to get a better exchange rate (I have to drive an hour to pick it up), or should I suck it up and accept the official bank rate for withdrawing funds.
Last year, when my family and friends came to Argentina to celebrate our wedding we asked some to exchange U.S. dollars for pesos with friends here. In March of 2012, the official exchange rate was about 4.25 pesos to the dollar. Because the government of Argentina had recently restricted Argentine citizens from withdrawing US dollars or Euros from the banks, the value of the dollar on the black market shot up to somewhere around 4.60 pesos. Now, a little more than a year later, the restrictions are even tighter and the black market dollar is up to $8.70.
When I say black market, it sounds shady and frankly illegal. Oddly its not. It has a nicer sounding name: “dolar blu”, the blue dollar, and the widely fluctuating value streams across news broadcasts along with breaking news. The black market dollar is bought and sold openly everywhere. Its kind of bizarre.
So back to taking money out for our trip. I'm nervous. I'm not looking forward to it. Last time we went, I had a new hurdle. This one was harder for me to swallow, and when it happened I bitched about it on Facebook. In order to withdraw my money from my U.S. bank account, I had to fill out a 3 page form. The Yankee in me still gets angry just thinking about it. They want to know where the money came from, how exactly I earned it, why do I need the money, how do I plan to spend it, where I plan to spend it…. and most frightening for it's implications, I had to sign a statement saying that I would not use any of the funds to directly or indirectly support a political cause. What exactly does that mean?
The experience freaked me out a little. In the back of my mind I wonder things like– does that last Facebook post count as a political statement? Facebook is free so even if it does count….
It also pissed me off. Privacy apparently doesn't exist here. I am a guest in this country, I am free to leave if I don't like it. What makes me sad though, is that citizens have far greater restrictions and they can't easily leave if they don't like it.