Buenos Aires, Argentina Report of what it's like to live there - 04/29/22
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 have lived as an expat all my life, primarily in Asia and the Middle East/North Africa, but also in Europe and Australia.
2. What years did you live here?
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
U.S. Mission housing is varied, and during our tour, I found that the housing board did a reasonably good job of accommodating people’s preferences.
Singles, couples, and those who prefer city apartments: there are apartments in various parts of the downtown area, closer to the Embassy. One building is a short walk to the Chancery. Other apartments at short driving distance from the Embassy are available in more fashionable neighborhoods. Amenities of the buildings vary but usually include a large pool and small gym. Apartments were at least 3br/2.5ba, even for singles.
Families and those who prefer suburban homes: attached and standalone homes in the suburbs north of the city, closer to most of the schools mission families use. Commutes to the Embassy ranged from 15-50 minutes, with an average of probably 40 during rush hour, but in bad traffic it could take well over an hour. Most if not all houses had a small to medium-sized pool and 4+br/4.5+ba. All had a medium sized or larger yard, a patio, and a parilla. Some had large and lovely gardens. Most have quarters for live-in staff. Some had serious safety and maintenance problems (roof cave-ins, for instance, beware any house that has a flat roof because Buenos Aires is not a desert). Some were ugly and built like cement blocks with bare concrete floors.
Area rugs were not provided for us. Our home (for our family of three) was beautiful, and the best housing we’ve had in the Foreign Service: a brick home, gorgeous wood floors, fireplace, three large levels, large eat-in kitchen with a bay window nook. We had four large bedrooms (two of which were en-suite), and the third floor was a fully open, beautiful, enormous room with vaulted ceiling and exposed wooden beams and full bath. We used it as a playroom, and it was amazing.
Appliances: Full-size ovens were rare, and ours was one of very few homes that had one. Many people complained that their ovens were too small to fit any of their pans/casserole dishes.
Argentina is very pet-friendly (one of the best things about the country, in my opinion), and Argentines especially adore dogs. I do not know of any housing that didn’t allow pets. In fact, a friend who lived in one of the apartments asked the building management what process he should follow to get permission to have a dog in his apartment. They stared at him blankly for a second and then responded, “You… take your dog into your apartment.”
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Argentina has exceptionally protectionist economic policies, so unlike other places where imported products are merely expensive, imported products difficult to find at all in Argentina. At the same time, Argentina does not produce most of the products they block from being imported, so there is simply a void in the market for many products, like, for example, sour cream and any deli meat besides ham and mortadella. Argentine-made grocery products are generally of very low quality (lower even than products made in China, which is not something I ever thought I would say). The exception is beef, which is good quality and extremely affordable compared to the U.S. We bought whole beef tenderloins for about $15 at least once a week. “Chinatown” is pretty much the only place where you can find imported ingredients, from fish sauce to brown sugar, but supply is unpredictable. We used Amazon and Walmart.com for virtually all non-perishable and paper/plastic goods. Cost of anything locally is in constant flux because of the crash of the peso. Grocery shopping was always an extremely frustrating experience because stores would not allow you to spend more than 5,000 pesos at a time. It always caused such a production of the cashier having to get a manager and giving us dirty looks for having the audacity to buy more than $40 worth of food, as though we must be laundering money.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Vanilla and other extracts. We were able to get everything else we needed via online ordering.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Argentines are good at grilling meats. Grilled meats are amazing in Argentina. To me, basically everything else is terrible. The “pizza” is disgusting in my opinion. Having spent my whole life abroad, I’ve had some very bad pizza, including pizza in a remote region of the Philippines where they used ketchup for tomato sauce, but this was worse. We were able to find exactly one decent Indian restaurant, exactly one decent Japanese restaurant (Dashi, don’t bother with the sushi anywhere else), and (ironically) zero decent Mexican or Central American restaurants.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We had ants, but Raid traps we got from Amazon took care of them. We changed them out every few months, and they kept the ants at bay. Mosquitoes set up shop in and around the house during the warmer months.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and Pouch. Local mail service, even certified mail, is extremely unreliable. DHL is available and reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I do not think anyone who needs to employ regular domestic help should come to Argentina. In my opinion, Argentina’s labor law is a liability. I support robust labor laws that protect workers, but in my opinion, that is not this. You can do everything right, document everything by the book, and your employee will still sue you — and win. Frivolous lawsuits against employers by domestic staff seem to be exceedingly common, and in my opinion, becoming more so as the economy fails. It seems the employee always wins, even in cases where the employee was fired for theft or child abuse, the employee wins, and the court ordered settlements are outrageous. It seems as though you will be punished for having been generous to your employee. In my opinion, any generosity you have shown will be interpreted as something you legally owe them on an ongoing basis. It seems employees often “fall down” and “get hurt” at work and then sue the employer. I rolled my eyes at people when they tried to warn me about this, but it’s real. Even if you don’t get sued, the severance pay when you leave post will still be exorbitant. The work quality of staff, even TCN employees, is very low in my opinion.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Argentines are very into exercise and gyms. There are tons of gyms to choose from in every area of town and the suburbs, with varying amenities and fees. The Embassy also has a small gym. Argentines also spend a lot of time exercising outdoors, so there are dedicated outdoor workout areas/machines, lots of exercise classes to join (if you speak enough Spanish to follow), and areas for biking and roller blading.
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?
It’s a very cash-based economy. Some larger stores will accept credit card, but it’s unreliable even there. ATMs apply high fees for withdrawals. We used Western Union to get cash from our U.S. accounts. Even with the fees, it was the most cost-effective.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need Spanish for everything. I was amazed to find that Argentines are even more monolingual than Americans. Even highly educated Argentines frequently speak only Spanish. Language tutors are available and affordable.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, very much so. The sidewalks, even in the “ritzy” suburbs are torn up and a hazard, with or without disabilities. There aren’t a lot of ramps, but there are a lot of steps. Apartment buildings have elevators. There is nothing in place, to my knowledge, to assist blind or deaf individuals.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
It was when we were there, thought he public transit system was not reliable or efficient. We mostly used Uber, which was moderately reliable.
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?
I’d recommend a small SUV: something with some clearance, but small enough to park. Parking spaces are smaller than U.S. standard, and street parking is tight.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
In my opinion, internet was a nightmare to get installed, and we did not get any help with installation. When we arrived, it routinely took a month or more to get home internet installed. Speed is just okay. Service sometimes goes down when it rains or for random other reasons. Canceling service at the end of your tour is also a nightmare.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I just kept my T-mobile plan, but lots of people got local phones. It didn’t seem too expensive. But, like the internet, also seems to be a nightmare to cancel when you leave.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Dogs are beloved in Argentina. People love household pets here, which is wonderful. Many people use a wonderful veterinarian named Leticia. She speaks impeccable English, is an excellent vet, and a fantastic person. She routinely makes house calls, which is very convenient. Importing our dog was easy and cheap. Health certificate was all that was needed. We flew back and forth with him several times, and we never had an issue.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work: business attire or business casual, depending on your office.
Public places: literally anything you feel like wearing. I felt this was liberating after so many years in the Middle East.
If you get involved in the local and diplomatic communities, there are opportunities throughout the year for formal attire if that’s your thing.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The usual big city personal security concerns. During our tour, crime was on the rise as the economy collapsed. Use your home alarm (even though it’s a pain) and lock the doors and gates, even during the day. I heard of several daylight home invasions near the end of our tour in which the robbers simply walked in the unlocked front door.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I found medical care and resources to be abominable, and it seemed impossible to get a medevac. I found that despite assurances, nothing seemed to be competently and safely done in Buenos Aires. I had surgery at the “best” hospital in the city. The surgeon did not wear gloves or a face mask in the OR while talking to me and touching the surgical tools, just before the nurse putting in my IV accidentally punctured my radial artery and they quickly knocked me out. I have lasting damage from poorly applied anesthesia.
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?
Moderate in the city, good in the suburbs. Seasonal allergies are common.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere, obviously. Winters are very dismal. It’s basically gray and wet with little sunshine for two months. The rest of the year is lovely. Summers can get hot, but not as bad as D.C. Winters are not as cold either. Great outdoor weather most of the year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several schools to choose from, none of them the best we’ve encountered but also not the worst. Lincoln is the “American” school and the one that most families use, especially for older kids. Popular bilingual options include Northlands and San Andres (St. Andrew’s). There is also a French school and a German school. I would recommend doing your own research to find the right school for your family and not just default to Lincoln. If you have young kids, I think it’s especially worth giving them a real opportunity to master a foreign language at one of the other schools.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Tons. Soccer (obviously), swimming, horseback riding, field hockey, rugby, basketball, various other sports, dance, gymnastics, martial arts. All the schools have activities and sports. Most anything the schools don’t offer is available locally, but your kids may need to have Spanish to fully participate. If they do have some experience with the language, it’s a great way to increase their exposure and solidify their language skills and meet more friends.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, but not cohesive.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all I think, unless you need full-time help. Single men and women, regardless of orientation, overall found it easy to date and meet people (again, assuming you are comfortable communicating in Spanish). Great travel opportunities and plenty to do.
3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It’s easy if you’re willing to speak Spanish. You don’t even have to be good at it. You just have to be willing to engage in Spanish rather than English.
I never heard of any harassment or overt discrimination incidents, but my friends who were Black universally felt uncomfortable at post. They said that people stared at them as though they’d never seen a Black person before — which in all honesty is very likely the actual reason they were staring. Argentines are almost universally Caucasian. By the end of my tour, immigration from West Africa was on the rise, but still rare compared to immigration from other South American countries. Most Argentines also do not make distinctions among Asian ethnic groups — everyone from Asia is “Chinese.” Even high-ranking Argentine government officials referred to Asian people (in contexts where not one was from China) as “Chinese.”
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It’s a great place. For Americans, it’s one of the few posts outside northwestern Europe, I’d imagine, where you’d have fewer issues and more acceptance than at home. Although Catholicism exerts some influence in social issues such as divorce and abortion, it seems to have no effect in terms of LGBT issues. Same sex marriage is legal. Buenos Aires is very sex-positive in general, and that extends tot he LGBT community. No one bats an eyelash.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Leather goods and some wood products. Buenos Aires has ferias on the weekends where you can buy handicrafts, and on trips to the provinces there are a lot of cool things on offer. Some people had furniture made here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Idea that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America.
2. But don't forget your:
Flexibility because it is most definitely a developing country.
3. Do you have any other comments?
If you go into it understanding that it is a developing country with all of the challenges that come with that, you will enjoy it much more.