Buenos Aires, Argentina Report of what it's like to live there - 07/21/20
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?
No, have previously lived in Concepcion (Chile), Santo Domingo (Ecuador), a tiny town in Costa Rica, Oaxaca (Mexico), Asuncion (Paraguay) and Nizhny Novgorod (Russia) and prior residence in Buenos Aires before becoming a government employee.
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?
Originally from midwest US. No direct flights as of now, but easy to get daily flights through Miami or New York (roughly 9 or 10 hour flight). Connections can also often be made through Chile or Brazil. Obviously all flights are cancelled right now due to COVID-19 but normally flights and flight options are numerous.
3. How long have you lived here?
We completed a two-year tour (and previously lived in the same city as private citizens three years).
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We lived in an apartment complex in the city as did MANY other singles and couples or small families. Larger families (or those who wanted to) lived in houses (often with pools and yards) out in the suburbs near the international school. In the city, the housing pool was diverse and spread out in several neighborhoods. Some buildings have gyms and pools, others don't. Some are closer to public transportation. Many are within walking distance of Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fruits and veggies are plentiful and low cost, especially if you go to fruit/veggie mini-stores (better quality than supermarkets). Any imported goods are more expensive (think peanut butter, breakfast cereal). The price of everything "went down" significantly while we were there as their currency crashed.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything liquid, like pancake syrup and olive oil, which are definitely more expensive at post and not permitted through DPO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can get almost anything delivered (at any time of day or night) through Rappi, Glovo or PedidosYa. They are correctly known for excellent empandas and steaks, though I differ on the praise for the pizza (they don't use tomato sauce for some reason???). You have AMAZING ice cream and dessert options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not really unusual. There are mosquitoes in the summer and we had some cockroach problems (also only during the summer) but it was nothing out of the ordinary for a huge overpopulated city.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO, pouch. Never tried local post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We employed a nanny and a housekeeper, as did many other people. We paid about $600 per month for the full-time nanny and if I'm recalling correctly, about $25 per day for the part-time person who worked 4-5 hours per day twice a week. Note that labor laws there are EXCELLENT for the worker and when you leave, you will pay a significant amount in severance and unused vacation days, partial annual bonus, etc. Do the math and see if it's worth it for you, but I can't complain when a system helps the worker! Also you'll have to physically go to the post office and send them a telegram with the date you'll leave which is a quaint but annoying detail. HR at the Embassy has all the details to walk you through all the employment details.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small gym. There are private gyms everywhere though I don't know the cost. I biked to work constantly and so did lots of people who lived farther away than I did. You'll see yoga classes in every park and runners all over the place.
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?
Yes, they are widely accepted and safe but they take FOREVER. It will boggle your mind how long the grocery store line is and that's because every person who uses a credit card waits several minutes for the terminal to connect.
ATMs are common and I believe safe (didn't use much because I just changed personal checks with Embassy cashier) but they for sure have a daily limit on them which can become annoying.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think Anglican, some Evangelical, other Christian denominations. The Jewish population is huge, but not sure if anything offered in English. Amazing place for Jewish cultural or historical studies, though.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Depends on what you're trying to do. In the trendier touristy neighborhoods there will be more folks speaking English, but this won't be the case at your local grocery store. The rest of Argentina also doesn't have a huge amount of English speakers unless you only go to tourist destinations. The University of Buenos Aires Language Labs are extremely well known and you can take classes in almost any language, including local indigenous offerings and Spanish for English speakers. Remember this is Rioplatense Spanish and may be VERY different from what you learned in school (or FSI).
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The sidewalks are often horrible (cracks, split level, dog poop literally everywhere, tiles that seem to be in place but when you step on them water splashes up from underneath).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, all of the above. Taxis are everywhere and safe to grab off the street. Subway is clean, fast, cheap and goes to a decent amount of places. Buses same. You need a card as neither takes cash anymore. You can call Uber--its legal status still unclear so RSO doesn't recommend, but it's clearly in use.
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?
Smaller would be better for parking purposes, but streets aren't so horrible that certain types of cars won't work at all. Also there are some decent road trips outside of the city.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes available, our sponsor called to set up an appointment for us and then we got it installed within a couple of days. It's not the most amazing speed or reliability, but it's mostly fine. Calling for service and cancelling takes a while.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The Embassy gave us a local phone which was plenty for me as I used an old unlocked one in the house with wifi to watch streaming services or play online. You can also easily buy a local chip or add minutes/data to the Embassy phone plan. We paid the equivalent of US$20 per month for a standard line for my spouse.
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?
I knew very few who teleworked and many more who found work at the Embassy, both full and part-time. I can't imagine local salary would be worth it whatsoever.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty in food kitchens, senior citizen homes, community service organizations, etc.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work (although this changed depending on managers and CG). Super informal everywhere else, laid back, casual. Only wore formal at the Marine Ball! Many work events with business casual as it is a post that receives lots of visits from the US.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpocketing similar to other big cities. Nothing happened to us during this tour though a camera was stolen from my backpack years ago while walking in a touristy area.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No particular concerns. I know more than one person who had their baby at post. My spouse had surgery and pre and after care. One of the best health care service systems in Latin America, though some clinics/hospitals are better than others.
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?
It's a typical big city with lots of traffic, but I never felt any effects from air quality or saw any warnings about same.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nothing specific. It's a big city with a decent health food/vegan scene so you will likely be able to find what you need. Our son ate 100% vegetarian the whole time he was there.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not that I know of.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons, hottest months are Jan/Feb and coldest May/June/July. It rains a decent amount in winter. Snows about once every 10 years. This is in Buenos Aires; obviously it's very different if you go on vacation to desert north or glacier south.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I didn't use them but I know most Embassy kids went to Lincoln School or Northlands.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes, they're all over the place. We found several Montessori or Montessori-ish. They are open hours that will be possible with your Embassy working schedule. We paid roughly $150 per month for a half day at the Montessori-style school near our house and then an extra hourly fee if we were coming late from work.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I believe so although our kiddo wasn't old enough to use many of them at the time.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's huge and disconnected. Tons of American college students or recent grads partying all over Palermo, who then stay to get decent jobs in offices that pretend to be located in the US. In general the feeling is positive. Morale at post is also decent. Not super community-based as it's a huge city where you can create your own life.
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?
See above. I know people who joined theatre or singing classes, local gyms, churches, etc. I personally took Russian classes and took our toddler to creative dance class. Whatever you want is out there!
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Anyone, really! Imagine the plethora of activities or communities you could find in NY and that's essentially it. I know many single colleagues who dated locals or other expats. Families also always had things to do.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
One million percent! One of the most progressive open minded cities I've lived in. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, the first country in Latin America to do so. Huge pride parade every year (November). Official ministry of non-discrimination. Intentionally work in regards to sexual diversity (see below for racial issues, however). If you're LGBT you can meet folks, date, get married, have assisted reproductive services here, you name it.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It's not too hard to make friends with local staff. However, in my experience, the country is very classist and racist still. They are not very progressive in terms of race yet and get a bit defensive when discussing it. It came up at work more than once and some folks were willing to talk and learn but many (the younger ones?) were adamant that it was just their sense of humor and we didn't understand. Imagine this: when the Indian Prime Minister was visiting, a local ridiculous tv station showed footage of him getting off of his airplane next to a split screen of Apu from the Simpsons. And this was playing on TVs in the consular section! This is a prime example of generalized racism but be clear that black USDH will face the worst of it. There used to be quite a large population of Afro-Argentines, actually, but this was over 100 years ago and they were almost wiped out due to different wars, diseases and oppressive government policies (notably President Sarmiento in the 1870s). In present day Buenos Aires most Porteños assume black people must be recent immigrants from Africa with little to no Spanish knowledge and living precarious lives and treat them as outsiders if interacting with them at all. This carries over to black officers and EFMs and more than one person told me they wished they knew this before coming.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender equality is not quite as much a problem and they are more willing to work on it publicly. However there is still rampant feminicides and overly sexualized commentary from strangers like taxi drivers.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great work experience, wonderful trips available north, south and west (everyone goes to Calafate, Cafayate and Salta/Jujuy), good food, unique cultural and linguistic experience. To us it was already home since we had lived there before so we had a local support system/community already in place, but it was easy to add to that. With some effort you can create family here, BUT note that there are prejudices to work through and deal with. This can't be ignored for any officer of color and those of us who are white should be aware and supportive.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If it's your life's desire, it's probably the easiest base from which to visit Antarctica (but note it's CRAZY expensive). Any other of the major cities in the country are worth a visit, as are Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay or Brazil all easily reached on flights for a long weekend or week's vacation. Not much in driving distance is amazing for a typical weekend.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Maybe leather goods or hand-painted signs called fileteado, but I wouldn't call it a shopping post. You'll be able to find stuff for souvenirs, though--check out the artisan fairs in many plazas on most weekends.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Big city living!! Everything you could want to see, listen to, do, eat, date, visit, learn, play.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Hands down the most important thing to know about it that isn't much talked about are the attitudes towards race and nationality. If you are a white officer you might be right in thinking it won't make much difference to you but it absolutely will for your colleagues of color.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but I would be intentional about being clear about what is important to do and say (or not) in a government workplace.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Snow gear (except for travels), "tu" Spanish.
4. But don't forget your:
Italian food cravings, interest in history and architecture, stamina for big city living.