Thursday, November 24, 2011

So you're moving to Argentina...

A family friend is planning on doing a semester abroad in Buenos Aires this coming year, and he asked me for some tips. After I wrote a quite long email, I realized that it was not the first time and figured I might as well share the information here. I do want to make clear up front that, particularly with the housing suggestions, these are my personal opinions based on my experience and other people certainly have differing ones.


The biggest challenge for foreigners (and Argentines from outside of Buenos Aires) when looking for housing in Buenos Aires is that most places require a 2-year contract with garantia-- a garantia is a legal agreement where you guarantee your end of the deal by putting up another property in Buenos Aires as collateral-- basically, you (or someone from your family) need to own a property in order to rent a property. This puts many people into what I like to call the Common/Mos Def quandry: Why do I need I.D. to get I.D.? If I had I.D., I wouldn't need I.D.

Your best bet at getting around the garantia requirement is offering to pay as many months as you can up front. You can try to bargain with people on the overall price this way too. Avoid any property handled by imobiliarias (real estate companies) as they tend to charge a lot more, plus they will charge you several months rent as their "fee". Where to look, then? We found our last two apartments on, and the print newspaper Clarin always has listings. A couple more things to keep in mind: if the listing is priced in dollars, you already know it's going to be expensive. And if you're already in Buenos Aires, when you call to find out about the place, get a local friend to call for you (local as in from specifically Buenos Aires; the accent matters). 

There are places offered with foreigners in mind that rent month-to-month and don't require garantia; this is certainly one way to go-- most are furnished as well, making it convenient if you're not planning on staying for longer than a couple of months. Obviously these places are considerably more expensive. 

As far as neighborhoods go, a popular choice for many foreigners is San Telmo, a cool, oldish/bohemian neighborhood that's very close to downtown. Lots of Europeans live there and tourists love it, which makes it obviously more expensive than a lot of other places, but it has beautiful crumbling architecture and there is always a lot of music and cultural stuff going on around there-- tons of galleries and restaurants, too. We lived in Almagro, which I really like, it's a more chill, middle class neighborhood in the geographical center of the city, which makes it convenient for a lot of places, but it depends where you are planning on spending most of your time. Villa Crespo, which is next to Almagro, is really nice too, as is Caballito. Boedo and Once are a bit rougher, but we lived in Once for the last year and though it´s not the prettiest neighborhood, it´s close to the center, and you´re smack dab in the middle of a huge orthodox Jewish community, which makes for an interesting change. 

I personally would probably not live in Palermo because I find it trendy, annoying and unnecessarily expensive, same with Recoleta. I wouldn't recommend Constitucion or Flores because they are dangerous, nor Belgrano because it's quite far from the center. Having said that, Palermo and Recoleta are two neighborhoods that will be the first places Argentines will tell you to live in if you are American or European. It really depends on what you're looking for and what kind of budget you are dealing with.


Subway (subte) and buses are both good options for getting around the city. They are both heavily subsidized by the government, making them quite affordable, and the buses run 24 hrs/day. Many routes are just as likely to be packed at 4am as at 4pm. Taxis are considerably more expensive, and given that the buses run 24hs. a day and are widely used, I at least barely ever used them. At the same time, when I say expensive, I mean in comparison to the other options-- given the current exchange rate, many routes won't cost you more that $5 (assuming that they don't charge you for being foreign, which is not unusual).


You're going to want to pick up a Guia T, which tells you all the bus routes and is sold in all kiosks, and you're going to want to get a subtepass (metro card), too, which if I remember correctly you can just buy at any metro station and put money on as necessary.


The cheapest place to buy your typical groceries is generally the Coto supermarket chain; it's even cheaper than the chinos (Chinese-owned supermarkets). For fruits and vegetables I always went to verdulerias (vegetable stores, often narrow stalls between larger stores) because they are generally less expensive and often offer better quality with a wider selection than the grocery chains. Same thing with cheese-- I normally went to the neighborhood quesería, and the few times I bought meat it was far cheaper to buy it from the local carnicería (all meats) or pollería (just chicken), and they will cut whatever you want up for you, the way you want (as long as you can explain it). Las dieteticas (health food stores) are good for dry beans, whole grains and spices. If you're looking for anything "exotic"- which means marshmallows, hot sauce that's actually hot, Asian ingredients and passion fruit, go down to Barrio Chino. It will likely be far more expensive than you are used to paying, but if exists in Buenos Aires, it's probably there.

Additional Random Tips

Peanut butter is scarce and expensive. Jalapeños and other chilies can be found with the Bolivians (they will probably warn you that they are "very hot"). If you care about the taste of coffee, make sure you bring your own. Save your change and use it sparingly, because it is a highly-valued commodity. Don't introduce yourself as "americano" unless you want to be told that all South and North Americans are "americanos" (even though they will turn around and introduce you to someone else that way). And more than anything, relax and accept that people think about life differently, things are going to take longer than you are used to, and that with time the things that you find extremely bizarre (hosing down supermarket floors in the middle of the day) will become (bizarrely) normal.

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