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Living in Buenos Aires: A Complete Expat’s Guide
First and foremost, come with the proper expectations. I always look at life in North America as very easy when it comes to daily life. Things are more efficient, friendly customer service is a priority, and everything is built and designed for comfort and ease from free 2-day shipping to central air conditioning. Life in Buenos Aires can feel much more challenging on those fronts. Efficiency? What’s that? Prepare to be challenged, that’s supposed to be the joy of moving to a new country after all.
Also, while the day to day conveniences may not be as common here, the big things are more within reach. Fantastic healthcare is available for all, regardless of income or immigration status. I really enjoy public transportation (which is nonexistent where I’m from). Relationships are a priority and meals with friends and family go on for hours. Wine is very, very cheap (that alone is worth a move, right?). So when you’re angry that you can’t find fresh almond milk or affordable feta (FETA, I miss you so), focus on these good things.
Argentina Immigration Requirements
Colonia Visa Runs
Colonia, Uruguay is just across the river, close enough for a day trip and a new stamp in your passport. I was guilty of a few (a lot) of these runs myself. But to refer to them as “renewing your tourist visa” is erroneous. Just like most countries, when you enter Argentina, you receive a stamp in your passport that allows you to remain in the country as a tourist for 90 days. Technically you can renew this once more to stay in the country for a maximum of 180 days as a tourist per year. This is the same in most countries, like the United States. But unlike the US, it’s not strictly enforced here.
My personal recommendation, which is not valid legal advice, is if you choose to take the visa run route, vary your trips up. Take advantage and travel across South America. Visit Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, etc, rather than going to and from Colonia every three months. This is better for you (you’ll get bored of Colonia quickly), and the border agents in Colonia grow very tired of this habit. Grumpy immigration agents are sick of foreigners abusing the system and they can very well deny you entry or (most likely) threaten that this will be the last time they let you back in.
Overstay and pay the fine
If you’re planning on staying in Argentina for an extended amount of time, the best route is probably to overstay your visa and pay the fine on your way out. You’ll avoid interactions with immigration agents who could deny you re-entry. To find out where to pay the fine and how much it currently is, check the official immigration site here. At the time of writing, it costs $4,500 pesos if you’ve overstayed for under 2 years. It increases if you’ve been in the country for longer than two years.
If you feel uneasy with the previous two options, consider applying for a prórroga, or extension of your tourist visa for another 90 days. You need to apply within the ten days prior to the expiration of your tourist visa. Bring your passport, the fee (currently $2,700 pesos) and your visa (passport with stamp) to the immigration office in Retiro (Av. Antártida Argentina 1355). No appointments are given. Show up early (this service is allowed from 8am-2pm, but show up at 8) and allow between 1-4 hours. For full information, read the official site here.
If you’ve overstayed your visa, you cannot apply for a prórroga extension, you’ll have to pay the habilitación de salida (overstay fine, see above). You cannot apply for multiple extensions, you get one (since legally you can remain in the country for the length of two 90 day visas per year).
Illegal vs. Irregular Status
In Argentina, overstaying your visa doesn’t mean you are the country illegally like it does in the US. You will have an irregular immigration status. No aggressive immigration agent will hunt you down to deport you. You’ll need to pay the fine on your way out, that’s it. Now, whether you are allowed back into Argentina or not depends on the mood of the agent at the time.
There are horror stories of frustrated agents threatening that the tourist won’t be allowed back in after multiple overstays/visa runs. However, I haven’t heard of people actually not being let back in. Usually, an apology, proof of a return flight leaving Argentina or a promise to seek a legal residency are enough to get you through the door.
In summary, I don’t feel comfortable putting the advice to disobey a country’s immigration laws into writing. Every situation is different, but I can write that it’s common, that I did it for two years, and I don’t believe the practice will end any time soon.
Permanent & Temporary Residencies
If you’re lucky to come with a job sponsoring your visa, or you find that unicorn of a job after arriving, you’ll receive temporary residency. You can renew this each year and after three years of renewals, you’ll be eligible for permanent residency. I received permanent residency after marrying my Argentine husband, and the process was very simple. For more information about residency, requirements, and to make an appointment, click here.
How to Rent an apartment in Buenos Aires
Rental Agreements & Contracts in Buenos Aires
- Temporary contracts last for 6 months, are furnished and are priced in USD.
- Garantia contracts last for two years, are unfurnished and are priced in pesos (usually with a set adjustment for inflation every 6 months). The catch? You need a “garantia”, or someone willing to co-sign your contract that owns property in Buenos Aires. They’d be signing that they’re willing to pay your debt if you fail to pay rent. So, unless you have family in town, you probably will be renting with a temporary contract.
Where to look for an apartment
- What’s an ambiente? Rather than be described as 1 or 2 bedroom units, apartments are listed by the number of ambientes they have, including the living room in this number. So a monoambiente is a studio apartment and a 2 ambientes is a one bedroom.
- Consider reaching out to Airbnb rentals, asking if they’ll consider a long-term contract.
- Avoid paying high agency fees by renting directly from the owner, check listings on sites like Solo Dueños, Craigslist, or on facebook groups like this one.
Pago Fácil: How to pay your bills
How to get Health Insurance
There is excellent public healthcare in Argentina. The care you’ll receive from the doctors in public hospitals is equal to that in private clinics. The difference is in the wait times and quality of infrastructure. These hospitals are underfunded and overloaded. If you’re in a bind, financially, you can and should feel comfortable turning to public healthcare here.
However, if it’s within your budget, private healthcare options are abundant and affordable. You don’t even need have legal residency to sign up (I signed up on an expired tourist visa after living here for a year). Most jobs will include insurance in their benefits packages, covering a large portion of your premium. But if you don’t have a job, it’s not expensive to pay out of pocket, I do as a freelancer.
To be expected, the younger you are, the cheaper your premium will be. But it includes so much. My insurance covers 40% of all prescriptions, 100% of any blood tests, scans or ultrasounds (preventative care is encouraged), dental is covered 100%, and so on. The top companies are:
- Swiss Medical
- Hospital Aleman – If you find yourself sick and looking for a one-off doctor’s appoint to pay out of pocket for, the German Hospital is great for this. They offer insurance plans also, but I’d stick with OSDE or Swiss for that since they have a wide network of clinics and hospitals to choose from.
Packing List: What to bring to Argentina
But, here’s what you should definitely bring, regardless of how long you’ll be in Argentina:
- Electronics: Phones, computers, and everything in between will cost two or three times as much here as it does in the US or Europe. Bring your phone, laptop, kindle, camera, SD cards, headphones, extra charging cables, batteries. Bring ALL OF IT.
- Clothes: Clothes in Argentina are pricey and low quality. Bring everything you’ll need. Think about what you’ll be doing (hiking in Patagonia? working out? going out?) and pack accordingly.
- Medicine: If you need it, bring it. Especially if you’re taking any medication for mental illnesses, I’ve seen so many expats think you can just get things like that over the counter but you can’t. You can get basic antibiotics, birth control and things like that OTC but for any serious medication, bring what you’ll need or see a doctor for a new prescription here (have your doctor back home write down exactly what you need in case the same drugs has a different make up here).
Is this a big move? If you’re relocating to Buenos Aires for the long haul, then bring everything you can!
- Food: I wouldn’t waste space on things you can make from scratch, there are certain things you should absolutely bring. I always stock up on hot sauce (Valentina and Yellow Bird specifically), spices like Tony Cachere’s and specialty items like spirulina powder. I know plant-based protein powders are hard to find here as well.
- Baby items: If you have children, bring baby clothes, toys, and anything you need. These things are much more expensive here.
- Household items: Over the years, I’ve slowly brought down everything. I’ve brought sheets, a complete set of stainless steel pots and pans, and closet organizers. Of course, these things exist here (Argentina is hardly a deserted wasteland), but the difference in quality and price to what you find in North America or Europe is staggering.
Where to grocery shop in Buenos Aires
Where to find the hard to find
If you know you’re not going to be cooking much at home, then this all may be irrelevant to you. But if you fancy yourself a self-taught chef and want a fully stocked kitchen, this is where I’d do my shopping:
- Small neighborhood shops such as Granjas (poultry and eggs), Carniceria (you guessed it, butcher shop), Verdulerias (best produce around), Casas de Pasta (housemade fresh pasta shops), Fiambrerias (charcuterie shops) and so on.
- Chino supermarkets: These small supermarkets are the cheapest places to buy wine. You’re welcome
- Ferias Itinerantes: These markets that rotate and move neighborhoods each day. They’re a government initiative to offer good quality at affordable prices to help fight inflation. They have great produce, meat, eggs, and meats and cheeses at low prices. Check here to find one near you.
- Barrio Chino: Chinatown in Belgrano is small (only four blocks) but it’s the best place to get imported goods, hard to find ingredients and cheap bulk products (like rice, seeds, nuts, and quinoa).
- Bolivian Market in Liniers: It’s a trek to get to Liniers, but I think it’s worth it. There’s a lot of variety and it’s very, very affordable (even more so than Chinatown). I’ll go here and stock up on things like quinoa and chia seeds to last a couple of months. Take advantage and eat some amazing Bolivian food while you’re there, you won’t regret it.
Cost of Living in Argentina
The cost of living in Argentina is surprisingly not as low as you may be expecting. If you’re coming with plenty of savings or a job that pays in dollars, then you can enjoy a good standard of living in Buenos Aires. However, local salaries are not high (and if you’re planning on teaching English for income, forget about it). Earning dollars versus a low salary in pesos can mean night and day in your standard of living in Argentina.
Opening a Bank Account in Buenos Aires
To my knowledge, it’s impossible to open a bank account with your foreign passport. You need to be a permanent resident with a DNI or a citizen of Argentina. If you’re banking from back home (I still keep all my money in my US account), choose a bank that will refund ATM fees (they are high here!).
More about Buenos Aires: A Complete Buenos Aires City Guide
Want to meet fellow expats? There are a few great communities out there in the form of Expat Forums and Facebook Groups. Looking for reasons not to move to Buenos Aires, reason TO move to Buenos Aires or the pros and cons of expat life from those in the thick of it? Check out the following links:
- Buenos Aires City Guide
- Buenos Aires Expat Forum
- MercadoLibre – The eBay of Latin America, you can buy and sell anything you’re heart desires on MercadoLibre.
- Buenos Aires Expat Hub – A very helpful community on Facebook