An Argentinian Coin Story

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Walking On 9 De Julio

Walking On 9 De Julio

Have you ever tried to buy a $2 bottle of water, let´s say, with a $100 bill (or 100 €, or whatever currency you use)? Chances are, you won´t be welcome. Most shops don´t like to change big bills — they might think it´s a fake, or they just want to keep some change in the till.

Now, in Argentina, if you try to buy a 3 pesos bottle of water with a 5 pesos bill, you will get the same kind of unhappy look as if you were handing out a $100 bill. There is just no change in Argentina.

There are coins: 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and the less common 1 peso. Then come the 2 pesos bill, the 5 pesos, 10 pesos etc. We have a lot of bills. Just no coins. It´s a vicious circle: shops don´t give change, so we don´t have any.

Everywhere there are signs: “¡no hay moneda, no insista!” (we do not have change, don´t insist). So instead of receiving, let´s say, 25 cents for change, you will get a bubble gum or a candy. Great. But we still don´t have change.

If, and if, the shop keeper is in a good mood, you may get your 25 cents back. But the coins won´t be in the till (which always looks empty). The shop keeper will either leave for a few seconds and go to the back of the shop, either bend to reach a safe below the till. Argentina is the only country I know where people seem to care more about coins than bills. I can imagine a robber coming in: “gimme the change, keep the fuckin´ bills!“.

It could be funny if sometimes, we didn´t really need change. For example, we wanted to take the bus in Buenos Aires. Now sure of how much it was (or where it was heading to for that matters), we hopped on, a couple of 2 pesos bills in hand. No such luck. The ride was 1,10 pesos, and only change was accepted. There are no bus tickets sold at the convenience store, for example, and you are supposed to drop your change in a machine, one coin at the time, the bus driver supervising (and driving through a red light at the same time, but nevermind). After 200 meters, we were kicked out of the bus, because we did not have enough coins. Ooops.

We went to buy a Coke in a store nearby, hoping to gather the 20 cents missing. I got candies. Great. I don´t think it would fit in the bus´coin machine… Nobody had change. We ended up walking.

How do locals do? Do they keep a jar of change at home, just for the bus? Why aren´t more coins made?

Es un mal Argentino“, we were told. Ah.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I always enjoy your posts but this one really made me laugh. “gimme the change, keep the f**kin´ bills!“ That’s funny!

    I want a picture of you trying to shove a peppermint into the bus’s change box. I’m still chuckling at your frustration.

    Thank you Zhu, you always make my day.

  2. It’s weird how they don’t give change back…people need change for the bus!

    Another blogger can’t read my blog either…so maybe I should go back to public?

  3. Hola Zhu;

    I love your blog. You are cool and so hillarious. I am fan of Manu Chao. Yo espero che correr no es mi destino. Soy muy cansada de vivir en muchos lugares en mismo tiempo. Ajora vivo en Toronto

    My heart is milion places as well. I am making a film about third culture kids, global nomads aka restless souls for a Canadian Broadcaster. Would love to hear your story. Send me an email. The contact link is not working.

    Buon viaje,


  4. It’s becoming the same with some buses in the UK! You are supposed to have the exact change because the driver won’t have any. What are you supposed to do when you arrive with your money freshly changed from barbaric Euro currency? Yeah, you end up taking a cab who, conveniently doesn’t have any change so you leave him a big tip…

  5. Ah! Tell me about it! If you don’t have coins, you can’t make a phonecall from a cabe phone, you can’t buy candies, or water, you can’t ride a bus..and even taxi drivers scold you! Ah, Argentina..I love my country but I can’t stop complaining.

  6. @Bill Miller – 😆 I will do my best, although I doubt I have time to put anything in the machine before getting yelled at by the driver. Would you call the French and Canadian embassies if I´m arrested?

    @Khengsiong – No, that is just in North America. As the French say, the customer is king and the kings are dead. 😆

    @Bluefish – Yeah, maybe. I know it would be easier for me, for sure!

    @Ines – Hi Ines and thanks for your comment! I will send you an email.

    @Froggywoogie – I guess if we could convince the English to adopt the euro… oh well, nevermind 😆 It´s probably just an anti-French conspiracy! 😆

    @Thrice – It must be the European roots. We are the same, we love our countries but can´t help complaining about what is wrong! I love Argentina but I must say I found the coin thing pretty weird.

    @Sidney – Unfortunaltely, no…!

    @shionge – I always try to get rid of my change too (especially the pennies in Canada) but trust me, in Argentina, you hold on to it!

  7. haha. i must have missed this story, because i just found it!
    most people hate change. it makes a hole in the pocket, it jingles when you walk, it makes a purse too heavy to carry (never mind everything else that’s in it).
    but to kick you off a bus for offering to pay twice the fare is silly. it is small minded. i’m surprised someone on the bus didn’t offer to make change for you, or to pay your way.
    “i’m sorry, we don’t take paper.”
    you should have offered a candle and the piece of candy instead…

  8. “So instead of receiving, let´s say, 25 cents for change, you will get a bubble gum or a candy.”
    Comme un air de déjà-vu : en Espagne, il n’y a pas si longtemps, quand je venais en vacances avec mes parents et que ma mère m’envoyait faire les courses chez l’épicière, au lieu de me rendre le change en monnaies de 1 peseta, cette dernière me donnait un chewing-gum ou un sachet de colorant alimentaire pour la paella (substitut du safran, trop cher)! Que de souvenirs !!

  9. Chiruza Canadiense on

    Hahaha, I just read this….only 7 years later after posted ! xD

    People did in fact keep a jar of coins at home….you got a coin, you put it in the jar, and you used it only if it was for a “live or die” motif.

    Just kidding….as you guys were not locals, you probably didn’t know you could get change, coins, etc. at any bank. And yes, they were for free (no fee for getting change). You didn’t even have to show your ID or anything. You just had to have some time for queueing at the bank…..

    Living daily the reality you mention, I was amazed when reading that in Canada you would get ALL your change…up to the last cent.

    Now the coin problem was solved when taking public transportation (bus, train, métro, whatever). We have the SUBE card ( ), you can buy it and recharge it almost anywhere (métro stations, convenience stores, etc.) but now that I have a SUBE card, it happens that I’d rather use my OPUS card….if you know what I mean.

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