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An Expat’s Guide to Living in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Buenos Aires is a vibrant, complex, and fascinating city to live in. Over the years, Buenos Aires has become an increasingly popular destination for expats and digital nomads. 

The city offers plenty of cultural experiences, with several museums to explore, concerts to attend, restaurants to savor, a lively atmosphere, and exciting day trips and weekend getaways to embark upon. It's usually mentioned as one of the best places to visit in South America.

As an expat moving to Buenos Aires, you will often find the porteños, the inhabitants of Buenos Aires, curious about why you are living in Buenos Aires. You will get used to locals frequently asking you: "¿Qué haces acá?" meaning, “What are you doing here?”. 

With the continuous economic crisis and Argentine bureaucracy, many local porteños are puzzled that foreigners voluntarily choose to live long-term in Buenos Aires. 

After seven years of living, studying, and working in Buenos Aires, I have gathered the best tips and tricks for living in Buenos Aires to share with you. 

Here is my expat’s guide to living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

What is Life in Buenos Aires Like?

A glimpse of the modern city center

Buenos Aires offers a more relaxed lifestyle that may differ from the pace of life in your home country. In Buenos Aires the emphasis on nurturing friendships and enjoying social events often takes precedence over work. Spontaneous meet-ups with friends are common. Meeting up for an afternoon snack, a walk in the park, or to share a mate, the traditional Argentine tea-like drink, is sure to happen. 

We can’t talk about living in Buenos Aires without talking about the economy; especially inflation and exchange rates in Argentina. For the last many decades Argentina has been struggling with a harsh economic reality, which will also affect you if you move to Buenos Aires.

If you earn in a foreign currency like USD or Euros while living in Buenos Aires, the devaluation of the Argentine peso can work in your favor with a good exchange rate. This means your income from abroad stretches further, resulting in a lower cost of living and affordable prices for everything. This alone makes living in Buenos Aires affordable compared to other cities.

However, it is also important to acknowledge the impact of inflation on daily expenses, including groceries, clothing, and rent. Prices tend to rise frequently. Over time, this will also affect and increase your overall living expenses.

If you thrive in an environment where change is constant and enjoy spontaneous gatherings, Buenos Aires might be the ideal place to live for you. On the other hand, if you prefer stability and predictability, it's worth considering whether Buenos Aires aligns with your lifestyle preferences. 

Ultimately, the city's dynamic nature can be a thrilling adventure for those who embrace it. 

Is Buenos Aires Safe for Expats and Digital Nomads?

Buenos Aires is a relatively safe capital city compared to many other big cities around the world. 

Over the last years, petty crime has increased due to the economic situation. The locals will warn you about how dangerous the city is. You have to watch out, be careful, and be aware of your surroundings like you would in any big city.

Here are a couple of tips for staying safe in Buenos Aires:

  • Keep your phone in your pocket – A phenomenon that has been increasingly common in Buenos Aires is the so-called motochorros, or translated motorbike robberies. Thieves on motorbikes drive by distracted people on the street or by a bus stop. They grab the victim’s phone directly out of their hands and drive away.
  • Check your subway schedule beforehand – There are stories of gangs of petty thieves hanging out on the subway stations to spot confused foreigners. They follow them around until they find the perfect time to target them. To avoid being framed, check out your subway itinerary beforehand. When you arrive at the station, walk confidently to your train to avoid being spotted and targeted.
  • Put your backpack in front when the locals do – Some areas in Buenos Aires are not the nicest to hang around in. However, it can be hard to figure out when you have entered an area where you need to be more careful. A simple trick is to look at what the locals do. If you are walking on the street, and everybody else have their backpacks in front, then do the same. This is a good indicator that you are in an area where you should be extra careful around your belongings.

That being said, I lived seven years in Buenos Aires and have never been mugged on the street.

Do You Need to Speak Spanish to Live in Buenos Aires?

Before moving to Buenos Aires, you should know that the Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires has a very distinctive accent and, at times, completely unique vocabulary. 

Argentine Spanish stands out prominently due to its usage of "vos" instead of "" (you) and the pronunciation of "ll" (the double L) and "y" as a sh-sound. For instance, "calle" (street) becomes "ka-shay" instead of "ka-yay" like it would be pronounced in many neighboring countries.

You will also find that many common words are different from other Spanish-speaking countries. There also exists a rich array of local Argentine slang, commonly called Lunfardo

So, the Spanish you will encounter in Buenos Aires will seem vastly different from what you learned in school.

To speak or learn some basic Spanish will make life in Buenos Aires so much easier! The locals working in shops, super markets, and green grocers normally don’t speak much English. Even if it's tough to learn Argentine vocabulary, start by learning basic Spanish. With this, you'll be able to go far and learn those new words once you're here in-person. I recommend using Mondly to start learning Spanish before you arrive.

Most local porteños will be friendly and understanding toward foreigners trying out their Spanish skills. For me, this makes Buenos Aires a perfect place to learn or improve your Spanish! 

Neighborhoods in Buenos Aires

Boca is charming but not one of the best places to live

Buenos Aires is a relatively large city with many different neighborhoods. All the neighborhoods have their own vibe and feel to them. 

During my years living in Buenos Aires, I have lived in quite a few different neighborhoods. From the popular Palermo neighborhood to the more local neighborhoods of Parque Chas and Almagro. All of them have their own charm. 

A thing to keep in mind when looking for an apartment in Buenos Aires is where your daily life will be. Choose a housing option that is well-connected to your work, school, or past-time activities. Certain areas of the city are not too well-connected, and you can end up spending too long commuting. 

Best Places to Live in Buenos Aires

The most popular areas to live in Buenos Aires for expats and digital nomads are:

  • Palermo
  • Villa Crespo
  • Recoleta 
  • Belgrano

For a more local experience of living in Buenos Aires, you might also consider:

  • Almagro 
  • Caballito 
  • Villa Urquiza
  • Nuñez 

Worse Places to Live in Buenos Aires

There are a couple of neighborhoods in Buenos Aires that you might want to steer clear off: 

  • Downtown around the Congress
  • Once 
  • La Boca
  • Barrancas
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How to Get Around in Buenos Aires

The public transportation in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires public transportation system is great and easy to use. The facilities might be a bit old and poorly maintained but they are working.

You need the local transportation card, called SUBE, to use the public transportation in Buenos Aires. The SUBE card works for all different types of transportation in Buenos Aires; subway, buses, and trains. 

The SUBE card can be purchased in convenience stores and kiosks around the city. It is not possible to pay for the tickets for public transport in cash anymore so, a SUBE card is a must when living in Buenos Aires.

The Subway

The subway in Buenos Aires is called el Subte, and it connects the center of Buenos Aires with most major neighborhoods. 

The subway runs with a frequency of around 3 to 5 minutes during weekdays and a little bit less frequent during the weekends. During rush hours, it can be hard to get onboard, and expect some pushing and elbows.  

The Local Buses

Buenos Aires has an extensive network of local buses running all over the city. If you are going somewhere where there isn’t a nearby subway stop, check out the bus connections.

The local porteños have a very strong culture of queuing at the bus stop. Some bus stops can service several bus lines. So, the people in front of you might not be taking the same bus as you. Don’t be afraid to jump the line, if nobody in front of you is getting on your bus.

To stop the local buses in Buenos Aires, you need to signal to the bus driver by raising your hand.

The Trains

In Buenos Aires, the trains connect central parts of the city with the suburbs of the Buenos Aires Province. For your day to day life in Buenos Aires, you will most likely not use trains. 

For day trips to the Tigre Delta or La Plata, the trains are the best option. 

Social Life in Buenos Aires: How to Make Friends?

A local part of the city at sunset

Social life in Buenos Aires is often highlighted as some of the biggest pros of living in Buenos Aires. The locals are friendly and open to new-comers. Many porteños are very interested in hearing about how you ended up in their city.

To meet new people in Buenos Aires, applications and websites like InterNations and MeetUp are widely used. In my experience, there are also plenty of locals that sign-up for these events to either practice their English or meet people from abroad.

You can also use Facebook groups for expats in Buenos Aires to meet like-minded expats. One of the most active Facebook groups in Buenos Aires is Buenos Aires Expat Hub.

Not to mention, by living in Buenos Aires, you're deciding to call home an incredibly beautiful country. And not just one in South America but one of the prettiest in the world. So even though making friends shouldn't be too tough, you can also decide to spend your weekends going on day trips or longer getaways. Just be sure to take into consideration just how big Argentina is so you'll most likely need to take advantage of domestic flights if you want to cover a lot of ground.

Visa Options for Moving to Buenos Aires

Strolls through the city will soon be your ideal weekend

Many expats enter Argentina on a tourist visa. Most nationalities are given 90 days tourist visa on arrival to Argentina.

Long-term visa permits or residencies in Argentina are called residencia. For most visa permits in Argentina, you will first apply for a temporary residency (Residencia Temporaria). After three to five years depending on your nationality, you can apply for a permanent residency (Residencia Permanente). 

Check the Argentine Immigration Office for the different options for long-term visa permits and the specific requirements for each of them. 

Digital Nomad Visa in Argentina

Recently Argentina launched a digital nomad visa allowing remote workers to legally reside and work from Argentina. This will give you 180 days in the country, with the chance to extend for another 180.

This visa is designed specifically for those who work online for companies or clients not based in Argentina.

The requirements for this visa include:

  • National from a country that does not require a tourist visa to enter Argentina
  • Passport + additional photos
  • Create account on RADEX
  • Proof of employment + CV
  • Application fee

If you meet the requirements based on your application on the online account, you'll receive an email to schedule a face-to-face appointment at the nearest embassy or consulate.

Student Visa in Argentina

One of the easiest visa options in Argentina is to get a student visa. So, if you are considering going back to school or learning a new skill, this might be the best option to get a long-term visa in Argentina. With a student visa, you are also able to work in Argentina.

For the student visa, you will need to find an education that is accepted by the Argentine Immigration Office. As a general rule of thumb, any undergraduate degree, Master’s degree, or high-school degree from a local institution will be accepted. 

It will be more difficult to get short courses or language school classes accepted by the Immigration Office.

Your education institution needs to register you as a regular full-time student in the Immigration Office’s online system and provide you with a print-out of this registration. With this registration and your personal documents (passport, criminal records, etc.) you can start to apply for a student visa in Argentina.

Work Visa in Argentina

To get a work visa for Argentina can be a little bit more complicated than a student visa. You need to have a company to sponsor your visa. 

For a company to be able to sponsor a work visa for a foreigner, they need to be registered at the immigration office as a valid company for sponsoring work visas. Not all companies are interested in going through this process.

However, I have worked for small local start-up companies where they sponsored one of my international co-workers. So, it is possible! You just need to find the right company. 

Visa Overstays & Visa Runs

Before the launch of the digital nomad visa, a popular solution for expats and digital nomads to stay long-term in Buenos Aires is to either overstay their tourist visa or do visa runs every three months. Honestly though, some still do this and choose not to apply for the visa.

To overstay a tourist visa in Argentina means that you simply stay past the expiration date of your visa. Whenever you leave Argentina, you will need to pay a small penalty at the immigration office. 

To do visa runs in Argentina means that you leave Argentina every three months (or 90 days) before your tourist visa expires. By leaving Argentina, even though it is only for a couple of days, and entering again, your tourist visa will be renewed for an additional three months. 

The downside of both overstaying and visa runs is that you can’t legally register in Argentina. You can’t get the Argentine ID number, called DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad). Without a DNI, you can’t get an Argentine bank account and many subscription services will also not be available for you. You also won't be able to use the public healthcare system as easily and should invest in a travel health insurance like SafetyWing.

There have been recent rumors in the expat communities in Argentina that the Argentine immigration officers at the airports have started to be a bit more strict on the visa runs. For example, by making annoyed comments to foreigners who seem to be doing it. You need to keep in mind that it is a legal gray area. 

What I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Buenos Aires

A view of the sprawling cityscape

  • Your daily schedule for everything will be adjusted – Are you used to having dinner at 7 pm? Forget about that in Buenos Aires! Are you used to going to bed at 10 pm? No way! Everything in Buenos Aires starts late, and to really adjust to living there, you need to adjust your schedule as well.
  • Economy is a big topic in Argentina – At the beginning I was surprised about how knowledgeable and well-informed the general Argentine is about macroeconomics. While in many other countries, we are used to a more or less stable economy, Argentines have to learn to understand and navigate a complex economic reality every single day. Chatting about exchange rates and inflation while waiting for the bus becames everyday life.
  • Work internationally, avoid earning in pesos – One of my own personal biggest mistakes while living in Buenos Aires was to accept a job earning in Argentine pesos. When you earn in pesos, you are extra vulnerable to all the fluctuations going on in the Argentine economy. So, if you can get a job or freelance gigs earning in a foreign currency, don’t think twice about it! This alone will make your cost of living in Buenos Aires significantly cheaper.
  • Football (Soccer) is almost a religion – Up until today, it can still surprise me how much importance soccer has in Argentine society. When Argentina won the World Cup, we got additional bank holidays. At the university, I have had exams extended because there was a Súper Clásico-match between the two biggest soccer clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate. It is impressive how much importance and influence the sport has on everyday life.

Do You Want to Live in Buenos Aires?

Buenos Aires is a fascinating and complex city to understand and get under the skin of. Some parts of the city almost look like Paris or other European cities, while others look like any other big city in Latin America. 

I enjoyed my 7 years living in Buenos Aires. However, in the end the economic situation and political uncertainty became too much, and it made me decide to move back to Europe. 

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