Buenos Aires, Argentina Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/15
Personal Experiences from Buenos Aires, Argentina
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I studied abroad in Santiago, Chile in the past.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
North Carolina. I took the cheapest option, which, for me, was CLT to Miami, to Bogota, to Buenos Aires. Overall I think the whole journey was about 24 hours. There are direct flights to here from a few U.S. cities though, Dallas and Miami to name two.
3. How long have you lived here?
I got here in August, so five months ago now. I'm here until August 2015.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I teach English.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I can't speak about government housing. I live in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city (Las Canitas) for a very reasonable price.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I usually shop at specific stores rather than going to the supermarket (because this is cheaper). For example, for vegetables I go to a vegetable stand, for meats I go to "carnecerias" (butchers) and for chicken I go to "granjas", and for spices and other stuff I go to spice/diet shops. Jumbo is the best quality supermarket here but it's really pricey and anything imported is laughably expensive (like US$9 for a bag of Goldfish, for example).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Maple syrup (non-existent), spicy food, peanut butter, some specific US candies. Oh, and more English books. They're really hard to find here and are usually expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I've never eaten at any of the Argentinian fast food chains nor the American ones (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, a few more in the Alto Palermo Mall). In general, eating good fast food here is pretty hard. You can go to most bakeries and buy some ready-made items like "miga" sandwiches but you can make a better sandwich yourself. I do highly recommend the restaurant La Cresta if you ever find yourself in Almagro - fantastic wraps. Baking BA downtown has really solid takeaway salads.
I don't eat out too much because I can't afford it but there are a lot of really good sit down restaurants here, as you'd expect in a big city. But there's a lot of mediocre ones too. Have an idea of how good a restaurant is before you go because eating out here is way more expensive than cooking your own food.
I also recommend trying all the top "parrilla" joints and deciding which one you like best. Some of the more famous ones are: Parrilla Pena, La Cabrera (really good place to go with people who are visiting the city), Lo de Paka, El Pobre Luis, and La Brigada. However you can get a good steak from most parrillas.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes in the summer, but I don't get bitten up too badly. Obviously cockroaches and ants if you aren't careful
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I have only had one package sent here and it was a nightmare. I had to go to customs and wait almost three hours just to pick up a package. It really wasn't worth it.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, as another post said, physical appearance is a big deal here. Because of this, there seems to be a gym on every other corner. Quality can vary, as well as cost. The best "typical" gym here is Megatlon, but for me, it's out of my budget. I do crossfit here and only pay about US$35 a month.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Don't use credit cards. This is a cash society and the unofficial exchange rate is much higher than the official one, so you save a lot of money using cash. HOWEVER getting U.S. dollars IN Argentina may be pretty difficult. There is a service called xoom.com that transfers money from your U.S. bank account for a small fee and at a rate slightly lower than unofficial "blue" rate but still much better than the official rate. If you go to Uruguay, withdraw lots of U.S. dollars from their ATMs.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I speak fluent Spanish and do use it all the time. You probably need to know some basics but I think people speak more English here than most Latin American cities. Most of the young people speak English quite well.
Keep in mind the Spanish here is very different than any other dialect of Spanish.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be difficult. Most of the sidewalks are horrible and only a few subte (subway) stations have handicap elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The subte (subway) is definitely the quickest and best way to get around the city; do try and live close to a station. However, it's hard to get north to south by subway since there's only one line that completely goes from north to south and it's closer to downtown. The buses are reliable and cheap but avoid taking them during rush hour. Taxis are plentiful and safe, and very cheap for taxi standards. I've had no problem with safety in all of these forms of transportation.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Anything small and compact. Argentinians are horrible drivers so I wouldn't bring a nice car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is pretty good and not too expensive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
A lot of people bring their smart phones here to get unlocked. Otherwise, you will pay a premium for a good phone. Service is pretty good and cheap (I do pay as you go).
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Well if you teach English you'll be in great demand! There are probably a lot of companies looking for native English speakers as well.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People's everyday clothes tend to be nicer than in America. Business attire is professional in some jobs, and quite casual in others.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Major ones. It's such a shame that this country is going downhill fast because there are so many wonderful aspects about this city. But I don't feel particularly safe in any area of the city. I know a few people who have gotten robbed in pretty normal areas of the city and more violent robberies are prevalent even to other Argentinians in the poorer neighborhoods. As a general safety precaution, be vigilant in neighborhoods south of Avenida de Mayo, and avoid them at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I've had a few friends get pretty bad food poisoning so be careful. Medical care is free to everyone. I can't speak of any personal experience though.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
I think the air quality here is quite good. Most of the pollution blows into the province.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I got allergies here in the Spring but they weren't as bad as they were back home (allergies in North Carolina are particularly bad though...)
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
I was only here for a short time in winter so I can't speak a lot about it. It was mostly pretty reasonable although it could get pretty cold a few days. Spring was fantastic - picture cloudless sunny days around 65-75F degrees. Summer can get really hot but it's not as hot as a lot of people warned me about. It's pretty pleasant 3 out of 4 days, and the fourth day can be pretty uncomfortably hot and humid.
Anyone who is familiar with the Southeast of the U.S. will probably agree that the climate here is pretty similar. I think NC was hotter than Buenos Aires though.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's huge with a generally mixed morale. There are a lot of positives about this city but also a lot of negatives.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Cinemas here are pretty cheap, bars/clubs, going out to eat, going to an all day Argentinian asado (cookout), going to a show (even if you don't understand the language they're still entertaining), learn tango, etc. There's so much to do here. If you're bored, you're just a boring person.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's great for singles. I think dating here is quite challenging because Argentinian women require a lot of courting but luckily there is a lot of beautiful, interesting people to choose from. Families will probably enjoy their time too.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yeah, Buenos Aires is probably more gay-friendly than where I'm from in North Carolina.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I get some stares because I'm tall and blonde / clearly look American. If you're black you may receive some unwanted attention because there are not too many who live here. But I've never really seen any clear issues of racism.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trips to Iguazu, Uruguay (Punta del Este is a must in January). I like the simpler things too. Spending a few hours at a nice cafe and reading a book or meeting with a friend is a completely normal thing to do here. The parrillas (steakhouses) are awesome - I've had the best steak of my life here. Lots of great bars and nightclubs.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Take a day trip to Tigre, walk or bike through Constanera Sur (in Puerto Madero), go over to Uruguay or an Argentinian beach (Pinamar is one a lot of people like), eat good steak, etc.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mate, wine, a lot of high quality artisan products, good art work, chimichurri, etc.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
AMAZING and affordable steak and wine, really great weather, fantastic nightlife, beautiful people, unique culture in terms of Latin America. Also, if you earn in U.S. dollars, you will live very comfortably.
10. Can you save money?
Yes I think it would be extremely easy to save money here if you are earning in dollars. It's very hard to save money in pesos though.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The extent of the mess that is Argentina's economy and current political situation. It's very fragile and I do fear for the future of this country. You can feel the effect on everyday life (e.g. inflation). I think the people here are probably the least warm/friendly out of all Latin American people that I've met; I still have no Argentinian friends.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I'm not sure. It's a fantastic city on the surface but after five months here my love for this city is decreasing. I would definitely visit the city again though.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Wine (trust me there's better wine here), expectations that this is the "Paris of South America."
4. But don't forget your:
SPICY food (chili powder, Sriacha, hot sauce), maple syrup, any particular American snacks you can't live without.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Not a book, but if you're a foodie I recommend following the "Pick Up The Fork" blog. Lots of solid restaurant reviews and general food knowledge in Buenos Aires.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Buenos Aires has the potential to be one of the world's greatest cities but continuously horrid politics, a downward spiraling economy, increasing crime, and occasionally very unfriendly people hold it back.