Like any big city, there are a number of running scams in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, a number of them involve illegitimate cab companies that tourists typically would not be able to distinguish between.
Taxis can be your savior when you are lost, intoxicated or just plain lazy, but you have to be careful.
Here are some tips when it comes to calling a taxi and how to avoid some of the common scams in Buenos Aires.
First, Check the company name
In Buenos Aires, you always want to take Radio Taxi.
They have several different sub-categories with cutesy names, but make sure you see the words “Radio Taxi” prominently displayed on the vehicle. Look-alike taxis can be pretty sketchy and it’s not worth the risks.
Radio Taxis are everywhere and can be called as well. Each Radio Taxi has a car number on the outside, which is handy if you are sending a friend home alone. You can jot down the cab number and call Radio Taxi headquarters to check up on it.
This is also very useful if you happen to lose something in the cab, Radio Taxi is good about holding on to lost items for you.
While Radio Taxi is the most trustworthy cab company in Buenos Aires, it is certainly not free of swindlers. Here are some tricks you’ll want to look out for when it comes to common scams in Buenos Aires, perpetuated by taxi drivers.
Common Scam #1. The Round-About Route
The driver will make as many turns, loops and detours as possible. Sometimes they’ll attempt to give you lame excuses about one way roads and traffic patterns, but more often than not they simply keep quiet and hope you won’t notice.
This is one of a few cab common scams in Buenos Aires (and every big city in the world) when it comes to taxis. But be sure this is what’s happening before you confront them. Often, they’re not trying to rip you off, the traffic just sucks.
How to fight back: If you know the best route, tell them.
You can be polite and make it a question like “It’s quickest to turn left here and take it straight to the corner, right?” Asking a question you know the answer to is a polite way to let them know that you are familiar with the area and that you will not be easy to trick.
If you don’t know the best route, you can sometimes fake it by pulling out a map or showing it on your phone.
Yes, the map gives you away as a tourist, but let’s be honest, your accent probably already tipped them off. If you pull out a map you can follow the roads and keep an eye out for unnecessary detours.
Common Scam #2. The Old Switcheroo
This trick involves taking your large bill, such as a $50 or more likely a $100 quickly switching it with a counterfeit bill of their own. They keep your original bill and give you the fake, claiming they cannot accept your counterfeit money.
How to fight back: It’s always best to pay with small bills, but we all know that in Argentina, small bills are not easy to come by.
If a large bill is all you have, warn the driver as soon as you get in and ask if they have change. Many drivers will NOT have smaller change. It’s up to you as a traveler to break your bill in a grocery store so that you have smaller bills for them.
Also, part of the counterfeit switcheroo is that they try to get you to pay the fare with whatever you have left. If they know up front that you have nothing else, they aren’t as likely to bother.
Common Scam #3. The Foreigner Tax
Some cabbies will up the fare simply because you are foreign. They figure you won’t know better and even if you do, you don’t have the language skills to fight back.
How to fight back: All cab meters should start at the same rate, though they do go up at night.
If you see the driver fooling around with the meter or notice that the starting price is higher than usual, say something or get out and find another cab.
Taxis are pretty affordable and widely used in Buenos Aires, but that doesn’t mean they are all safe.
Whenever you can, note the number of the cab you are in and send it to a friend. You can even ask the driver for the number so that he knows you are alerting someone about your whereabouts.
I have never felt unsafe in a taxi here, but I have certainly got into some arguments about price, so just be ready to argue, or, accept paying more!