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ARGENTINA | 17-02-2023 14:24

Big-spending tourists get raided by Argentine airport officials

Officials now using social media to research the movement of passengers who they suspect are using precious foreign exchange to bring goods into the country to sell.

Travelling home to Argentina soon? Then customs officials may be digging into your social media posts right now and drawing up your risk profile.

It’s part of the South American nation’s latest attempt to stem the flow of dollars out of the economy, researching into passengers who they suspect are using precious foreign exchange to bring goods into the country to sell, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The lengths the government will to go to in order to prevent illegal imports, no matter how small, is a sign of how bad the dollar shortage has become. Argentina needs every bit of foreign currency it can find to keep up with debt payments and imports of essential items, such as medicines or machinery. It can’t afford to spend them on consumer goods without undermining the exchange rate – thus the draconian controls. 

“People don’t realise that they are giving themselves away on social network,” said Eduardo Mallea, head of the foreign trade department at the law firm Bruchou y Funes de Rioja. “If you say in your social network account that you sell clothes, and at the same time you enter and leave Miami, they will catch you.”

The policy is targeting theUS $400 million Argentines spend abroad each month, mostly through their credit cards. 

As well as social media, authorities also check people’s flight details and any tax refunds they requested while abroad. 

 

Miami and back

The checks are supposed to allow authorities to focus on suspicious passengers, rather than stopping everyone at the airport. It seems to be working. Four of every 10 people stopped by customs officials have committed some infraction, the person said.

“This is not for a person who travels and brings some clothes or a mobile phone,” Guillermo Michel, the director general of customs, told the local press. “This applies to people who bring clothes for commercial reasons, or shoes for commercial reasons.”

For example, it is not uncommon for Argentines to travel to Miami with one suitcase, stay for less than a day and return with six suitcases stuffed with clothing to sell back at home, the person said. They do it because Argentine import controls tend to mean domestic clothing is more expensive and worse quality than abroad. 

Argentina has been suffering from a shortage of foreign currency for four years now, forcing the government to maintain strict controls on imports and dollar purchases to avoid further devaluation of the local currency. Still, reserves keep draining away.

“This shows that they are desperate for dollars,” said Miguel Kiguel, a former finance undersecretary. “It’s true customs have to control this, but it isn’t going to change anything in respect to dollars leaving the country.”

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by Ignacio Olivera Doll, Bloomberg

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