Beating the Bank: ATMs in Argentina & Chile

Since late July, the Argentine banking networks Link and Banelco have imposed ATM charges of 11.45 pesos (approximately US$3) on every withdrawal by foreign customers. As banks struggle in the current financial crisis, of course, it’s unsurprising to see them try to milk every possible penny out of their customers, but the Argentine case has had a special characteristic: it was combined with a withdrawal limit of 300 pesos (about US$79) per transaction. Anyone using Link or Banelco ATMs could do at least three consecutive transactions, but this would have meant an additional US$3 fee for each transaction (as it did at the Palermo branch of Banco Supervielle, around the corner from our Buenos Aires apartment). Under those regulations, anyone spending a month in Argentina might easily have accumulated an additional US$100 in bank charges (in addition to those imposed by their own banks for using an out-of-system ATM).

Fortunately, there is a (sort of) happy ending. Under pressure, apparently, from international banks, Link and Banelco have been forced to rescind the 300-peso limit—it is now possible to withdraw at least 800 pesos per transaction, and perhaps more. The ATM charge of 11.45 pesos still holds, but that’s a lesser concern if there’s only a single transaction rather than three.

It’s worth repeating, meanwhile, that Argentine ATMs generally pass out large banknotes that can be difficult to change. This is a good reason to request an uneven amount such as 790 pesos, to ensure that you will get some smaller bills.

For a time, Argentine two-peso notes were supposedly in short supply because of a TV promotion – an Argentine station had been conducting a sort of lottery based on serial numbers. While that shortage may not be so obvious, finding sufficient coins for small purchases continues to be difficult, so having the proper change to board a city bus or pay for a newspaper is still a problem.

Meanwhile, in Chile, the Redbanc system has imposed ATM charges of 2000 to 2500 pesos (about US$4 to US$5) per transaction, but it has never even tried to enforce the sorts of withdrawal limits that their Argentine counterparts have. According to some Chilean residents, though, Banco Estado, Banco Desarollo/Scotiabank, and Corpbanca still do not collect additional ATM fees on foreign debit cards.

In fact, on arrival in Santiago yesterday, I was able to withdraw 200,000 pesos (about US$400) from a Banco Estado ATM with no service charge, but anyone using ATMs here should still pay attention to the instructions (which are invariably available in English as well). The first ATM I tried had told me that, if I continued with the transaction, it would collect a 2500-peso charge. I declined to continue.

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