Learnings from traveling Brazil and Argentina in 2014

I recently had the opportunity to travel to South America for the first time in my life. I visited Buenos Aires in Argentina as well as several cities and islands in Brazil for a period of about 1 month.
Besides the absolutely gorgeous beaches and the amazing caipirinhas we enjoyed almost every day, there are also some interesting economic facts I learned that you may or may not be familiar with.
  • Argentina has extremely strong currency controls and the central bank sets the exchange rate between the Argentine Peso (ARS) and other currencies. For example, the exchange rate between ARS and USD is currently set at 1 USD = 8.56 ARS.
  • You can get a much better exchange rate, the so called ‘blue rate’ if you bring USD cash and exchange it in one of the local cuevas (exchanges), most famously on calle florida in downtown Buenos Aires. Currently 1 USD will fetch about 14 ARS or roughly 60% more than through the official exchanges.
  • You can see the current blue rate here: http://www.dolarblue.net/
  • Exchange dollars for pesos at an exchange rate other than the government defined one is illegal, yet tolerated. Many restaurants, hotels, pharmacies etc will accept dollar bills. They all have slightly different exchange rates, some will give you a better deal than others.
  • Argentines speak Spanish, yet they pronounce ‘ll’ and ‘y’ as ‘sh’. So ‘Yo me llamo Flavio’ will be pronounced Sho me shamo Flavio instead of ‘Jo me jamo Flavio’ like in other Spanish speaking countries. They also use ‘vos’ instead of ‘tu’ in most cases.
  • More people speak Portuguese in South America than Spanish, in other words the population of Brazil (200M) is greater than all other South American countries put together (about 190M). However in Latin America (which includes the large Mexico with over 100M people and some other hispanophone central American countries) we have more Hispanophones than Lusophones in Latin America
  • Brazil is an extremely expensive country if you live in the nicer and safer areas. A regular car costs about twice(!) as much as the same model in the USA. The Economist has an excellent article on why that is the case: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/09/economist-explains-15 – mainly very high import tariffs, high taxes, corruption and an expensive labour market.
  • Brazil has an extremely uneven income distribution, 11th worst in the world. The richest 10% earn 40x that of the poorest 10%. To compare, in the USA the factor is only 16 and in Switzerland it is 9. In other words, if you are rich in Brazil, you have the sweet life and can afford maids, chaffeurs etc easily. If you are poor, you are likely really, really poor, likely live in a favela and have very little chance of economic success. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality