If you’ve ever been to Latin America you know that Casa de Cambios (bureau de change) are a common sight. They’re literally everywhere. And almost every business has a side hustle exchanging money. Virtually everybody you meet in a touristic area will have a ‘friend’ that will supposedly give you a better rate than the banks.
In neighbouring Argentina, with its soaring inflation and beaten down peso, nobody keeps their cash in the local currency. When combined with currency controls, the constant need for dollars to avoid inflation drives a thriving unofficial currency conversion rate known locally as the Dólar Blue.
Given its proximity to Argentina with their financial woes, most first time travellers to Uruguay will assume that Uruguay’s currency situation is going to be similar to Argentina. Yet it’s not.
The Uruguayan peso is relatively stable. And quite strong. If you’re heading to Uruguay for the first time from Argentina, be prepared for a shock when you see the prices.
The peso has decreased against the United States (US) dollar over the last decade. But it’s done so at a rate that is relatively on pace with increases in the cost of goods and services. In underlying dollar terms, things cost about the same amount in US$ now, as they did a decade ago.
And unlike Argentina, the local Uruguayans can access US$ from their banks. Uruguay has no Argentine style currency controls and no limits on access to US$ cash.
You can use an ATM or walk into a bank and access US$ in Uruguay. The exchange rate will be at, or near, the current mid market rate available from xe.com. And this is where people get confused.
Because neighbouring Argentina has soaring inflation and an unofficial exchange rate that is often more than double the offical exchange rate, first time travellers to Uruguay will see all the currency exchange shops and fall into the trap of thinking Uruguay is the same as Argentina. It’s not.
The exchange shops you will see everywhere in Uruguay will give you a lesser exchange rate than the offical bank of Uruguay.
Currency exchange in Uruguay
Banco República is a state owned bank. There are many private and international banks in Uruguay. But Banco República is state owned. It will give you the offical exchange rate through its ATM’s and over the counter.
And to prove that Banco República is where you should change your money when travelling to Uruguay, I tested both Banco República and ‘Redbrou’ in Colonia Del Sacramento.
Redbrou is the most prolific private currency exchange shop with the most outlets. It’s the currency exchange shop you will see most often.
I changed $250 USD$ in Redbrou and $250 USD$ at Banco República. The exchanges occurred within 20 minutes of each other (they’re on the same street).
Here’s a chart showing the results of those two transactions:
|Time of Transaction||15:20pm||15:35pm|
The transaction with Banco República gave me $U 212.5 pesos more than Redbrou. And in Uruguay, that’s not an insignificant sum of money. It’s enough to buy a t-shirt or a Chivito sandwhich (the turducken of steak).
Walking into a bank as opposed to using the money changers (which are everywhere) will save you enough for a meal, coffee or a souvenir. Anything other than just giving money away in a currency exchange as a fee, is a good thing.
But just in case you’re still sceptical that a bank could provide a better exchange rate than the specialist currency exchange shops, here’s the two receipts side by side:
Money changers only take the best notes
Like Argentina, the Casa de Cambios (bureau de change) currency exchange shops are exceedingly picky about what notes they will except. They often won’t take any currency that is not the latest design or style. And they absolutely will not except any currency that has signs of wear and tear, or any form of marking.
If the note you present to a casa de cambio in either Uruguay or Argentina is not pristine, you’re at best going to be screwed on the rate. With the money changer lowering the amount they give you for the note. Or in a worst case scenario, you will find yourself unable to change the note at all and will be turned away.
During the experiment above, I used USD$100 and USD$50 notes. Mixed into the stack were a couple of bills that had pen marks. And one note that was an older style USD$100. The Redbrou Casa de Cambio exchange shop picked out the bills it wanted and refused to change the others.
On the other hand, Banco República didn’t care that the notes they received were all older and marked. I even drew both the cashier and managers attention, to the markings on the notes. They simply didn’t care. To Banco República money is money. As it should be.
A pen marking on a USD$ note makes no difference to whether or not it can be used or exchanged in the US. Or in parts of the world that don’t have currency controls or sanctions.
Final currency exchange tip for Uruguay
The final tip I’d give you when changing money in Uruguay is to take the money you saved by using Banco República instead of a currency exchange shop and use it to buy a chivito. A chivito may be the turducken of steak, but it’s delicious.
A chivito is a vegan’s nightmare. It’s a steak wrapped in ham, with an egg on top. And it looks like this: