Argentina is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go! Erin from Sol Salute moved there and gives us her insight into what life in Buenos Aires as an expat is like!
Tell us about yourself
My name is Erin, I’ve been living in Argentina for the past ten years but I’m a born and raised Texan. I grew up in a tiny town in between Houston and Austin. Despite moving around so much as an adult, I had a very rooted childhood in the country.
What made you decide to move to Argentina?
I’ve always loved to travel, which led me to major in International Studies purely because it required a semester abroad. I chose Granada purely because I knew nothing about it. After that semester in Spain, I was hooked. After graduating from college, I was immediately back on a plane to Andalucia to pursue a post-graduate degree. Hotel Management degree in hand, I interned in Barcelona then got a job in the Virgin Islands.
All of this happened in a whirlwind of a few years. To escape a bad case of rock fever where I was living in St. John (like cabin fever but for tiny islands), I booked a trip to visit a friend in Buenos Aires. It was love at first sight. I immediately made plans to uproot my life and relocate to Argentina. Once here, I met another love at first sight. I married that one. Ten years later, we’re still here.
Tell us about the cost of living
Argentina is an economically turbulent country. It can vary from very expensive to incredibly affordable. Which it is will depend on the government in office at the time and where you earn your money.
If you work remotely and earn dollars, you’ll find the cost of living to be incredibly cheap here. Public transportation costs the equivalent of 20 cents US per ride. An Uber can cost as low as $3-5 US at the moment of writing (early 2020).
Wine is the national beverage and you can get a bottle of Portillo (that runs you $10 US in a Texas liquor store) for the equivalent of $3. If you’re willing to spend $5-10 you can have an excellent bottle that would cost between $20-30 in the US.
Beer is sold by the litre and costs around $1-$1.50. To get more bang for your buck (and save the environment), save your bottle and return it for a discount on your next bottle.
How did you find the job-seeking process?
As I mentioned above, ideally expats relocate to Buenos Aires with a remote job that they can use to earn dollars or euros in a foreign bank account.
Local salaries are very low and things won’t feel nearly as cheap as I described above. An entry-level office job can earn you as low as the equivalent of $500 US (which won’t go far after rent and groceries).
I’ve worked a number of odd jobs online ranging from scoring TOEFL exams to data entry. I’ve gotten a lot of freelance gigs on websites like Upwork.
In a pinch, teaching English is always a safe bet but isn’t sustainable long term as you’ll likely be running all over the city from client to client earning very little by ways of hourly income.
Do you need a visa to live in Argentina?
You can easily live in Buenos Aires without a visa, and I did for two years before I got my visa through marriage. Most expats go one of two routes.
First and most common, you can cross the border every 90 days for a new stamp in your passport. If you’ll be travelling a lot, this will be very easy. Uruguay is just across the river and makes an easy day trip. Chile and Bolivia are also very close and popular destinations.
The other option is simply to overstay your tourist visa and pay the fine when you leave. If you know you’ll be in Argentina for a set time, like a year, this is easiest. By overstaying you won’t have illegal status, but irregular immigration status. There is a set fine that depends on how long you’ve overstayed. It’s easy to pay before departure.
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
There is a huge expat community in Buenos Aires and it’s very easy to make friends within it. There is a Facebook group called BA Expat Hub (and its supporting groups for things like Classifieds etc) that organizes get-togethers.
However, it is much more difficult to connect with locals. People in Buenos Aires tend to stay friends with their high school best friends for their entire lives. They don’t exactly branch out as they’ve got an insular, tight group of close friends already and it can be hard to break into that.
Language exchanges are the best way to go about it as you’ll find locals who want to meet people from around the world.
What’s the best thing about living in Buenos Aires?
This is very subjective but for me, the quality of life for the cost of living (since I earn a salary from abroad that has a lot of flexibility). I have incredible health insurance for just $80 US a month. It seriously covers everything.
I love the country and am obsessed with exploring its lesser-known destinations. You can find places equally as beautiful as Antelope Canyon in the US, for example, but they’re isolated. No masses of tourists ruining the experience. It’s truly peaceful. Of course, major destinations like Iguazu and the Perito Moreno Glacier draw masses of tourists, but if you go just slightly off the beaten path you can find epic destinations to enjoy all to yourself. I find that rare in this day and age.
What’s the hardest thing about living in Buenos Aires?
For me, the hardest thing about living in Buenos Aires is the isolation. For example, due to high taxes importation here is extremely limited. That means I never get any care packages from family like I did elsewhere, the taxes I have to pay to receive the gifts cost sometimes triple the value of what’s inside! It also means that there is very limited variety byways of imports in supermarkets or clothes.
The isolation also comes into play in that Argentina is far south. Any flight to Europe can take upwards of 12 hours! Even visiting other South American countries can be difficult due to how expensive flights are in this continent. One can start to feel a bit stuck here, but I’ve solved that feeling by deeply exploring all that Argentina has to offer. I travel a lot here and love it!
How is your new home different from your old one?
Family and friendships here are THE priority for everyone. Families get together for an extended meal every week. Friendships last a lifetime. I love it, but coming from the US (where we see family mainly on the high holidays) it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming.
This also makes meals last forever. Which I 100% love. You aren’t going out to eat just for the food, you’re there to really talk and be with the person you’re with. When I meet friends in the States, we fly through a meal in half an hour, pay the bill, and that’s it! Even if I haven’t seen them in months! But in Argentina, I know we’ll be there for hours really spending proper quality time together.
If we had just one day in Buenos Aires what should we not miss?
My favourite neighbourhood is San Telmo! I feel it gets looked over as most tourists only visit it for its weekly antique market on Sundays, but you should visit San Telmo any of the other 6 days of the week as well. It’s home to an upcoming foodie scene as well so you can visit historic restaurants that are 200 years old and just around the corner get a bowl of ramen in the new hip Asian restaurant that just opened.
There are museums and an indoor antique market open all week as well, so you’ll not want for things to do here. Bring your camera because its colonial architecture and cobblestoned streets are begging to be photographed!
Of course, a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery and the Caminito in La Boca are both must-see sites as well and not to be missed!
When you think of your expat home, what comes to mind?
Living here has been a rollercoaster. You’ll go through phases (I definitely did!). The first year is exciting, it’s the honeymoon phase. Everything is beautiful, delicious, gorgeous, perfect! During the second year you start to see the cracks in the paint. I remember being very negative during my second year here, as if coming down from the first year’s high. The third year onward was acceptance. I never loved it as much as the first year but I also never hated it as much as the second.
It’s as if Buenos Aires and I have settled into a sort of rhythm and come to accept each other for who we are. Some days are good, some days are bad. But we’re in it for the long haul, sort of like a marriage!
I’ve heard similar things from a few other expats. I think it’s because as a city, it elicits strong and passionate reactions. You love it or hate it!
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?
Take public transportation. Get on the subway and brave a bus! But first, you’ll need to get a SUBE card and load money onto it (you cannot pay the bus drivers with cash). Get your SUBE card in any subway station and explore the city like a local. I love people watching on the bus and trains!
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Argentina what would it be?
Be patient. Things are less efficient than you’re used to in the United States or Europe. You have to come with an open mind and accept the challenges. If you come with an easy-going state of mind, you’ll be setting yourself up for success!
But also, pack everything you think you’d die without. Bring spices you love to cook with, all the clothes you could need for any situation (love hiking? Bring your gear!), bring everything. Most exotic spices and ingredients are hard to find or simply don’t exist. Clothes are incredibly expensive compared to the US, bring it with you! It’s cheaper to pay for extra luggage than buy the clothes here, I promise you.