I arrived as a tourist for the first time in December 2008 and spent the Christmas and New Year period in Buenos Aires with a friend. I fell in love with the city, finished the contract I was tied into in Merida, Venezuela and came back to Buenos Aires to live and work in April 2009. I am still here.
This short article is full of tips, advice, ideas and perspectives that I have picked up over the past three years in Buenos Aires. They are perhaps not true for everyone and they are deliberately written with female readers in mind, but they have been developed from three years of real, personal experience… gold-dust for anyone about to arrive.
I work full time as a freelance writer, I earn enough to rent a one-roomed flat on my own in Capital Federal and I have just started studying towards a degree in Fine Arts at one of the universities here in the city.
However, getting to this position was a true up-hill struggle for three years. It was definitely worth it, but finding fun, happiness, comfort and, most importantly, “a home” in Buenos Aires is full of the same daily trials that we all experience in any place we choose to lay our hats.
So… if you are female and in town on a visit, looking to study or thinking about putting down some roots for a while in Buenos Aires, here are a few tips from one female voice to all the others…
1. Integrating into society
Without a doubt, one of the most important things for me was to integrate into society and make friends. I arrived alone, I didn’t know anybody in the city, I had a really small job teaching English for a few hours and I was renting a small room in a house belonging to somebody much, much older than me. Not a good start.
If you are alone and you want to make friends, you have to get involved. This means joining groups, finding weekly activities, doing an internship perhaps or finding some kind of employment as quickly as possible… whatever it might be for the time being.
There are loads of free things to do in Buenos Aires, lots of groups that meet to socialize and the events are free and lots of companies / NGOs looking for people to help them on many projects. Things got instantly better for me when I began interning for an NGO. I had a project to focus on, people to socialize with and ways of getting to understand Argentine culture and customs.
Most Argentines go out on the weekends with the friends that they made when they were 1 day old, etc. (except for those who grew up in other parts of the country and now live in the capital for work or study reasons). When you have friends who receive you into these groups, it is really lovely, but it does take time.
After three years in Buenos Aires I can truly say that I have lots of friends who truly are my friends and who care and think about me, but it does take time, you will always be from another culture and it is important to accept and embrace those differences rather than worry about them and let them plague you.
In general, I feel very safe as a woman in Buenos Aires. There will be people who tell you otherwise and, I have to admit, that I was robbed once by armed robbers in the city and they took my cell phone. Therefore, I cannot say that Buenos Aires is the safest place in the world and nothing happens to you.
However, do I go out at night alone without worrying? Yes. Do I travel home at night (4am after going to a club)? Yes. Do I walk eight blocks from the bus stop in stead of getting in a taxi to my friend’s house? Yes.
I am careful, but I feel just as happy in Buenos Aires as I did when I lived in London, UK.
To be a little mor specific… it is obvious in Buenos Aires when you have taken a bad turning. The streetlighting is bad, you can see figures in the distance running in and out of the rubbish or across the streets in an eratic fashion and you simply doubleback from where you came and take a different route.
Don’t get your phone out in the middle of the street, don’t carry large quantities of cash or credit cards at night, never cross through a park at night (no matter how small or how safe you feel), young children in groups can be just as dangerous as big guys with weapons and, if in doubt, always be safe and call a taxi. Taxis have meters and it is safe to take one alone, so if you are concerned, just hail one down.
3. Basics: Housing, Jobs, Finances etc.
Without any shade of a doubt, Craigslist Buenos Aires is the best site for housing and jobs or other kinds of cool activities/lessons, etc. You can find it all on this site. It is still the site that I visit most for work and fun.
If you want to take cash out on your card (debit or credit), the best machines for foreign cards are those with the LINK signs. Other banks sometimes get flagged by your bank and you ight have to do the really annoying task of calling your bank to get them to unblock your card for you.
If you want to rent long-term, and you want to rent alone, you will need what is called a garantia. However, there are ways around this… most Argentines who are not from Buenos Aires find problems with this too because owners and estate agents in Buenos Aires don’t accept garantias from outside the capital.
Therefore, don’t believe all what you hear and don’t listen to people who tell you that all foreigners pay more. I don’t and my friend from the US doesn’t either. You need to find a direct owner who will rent to you. I pay three months rent in advance, but I pay exactly what an Argentine would pay, I don’t have a garantia and the contract is in my name.
You must be persistent and keep looking.
4. Going Out
If you are alone in the city, there’s nothing wrong with going out alone, even if you are female. I have plenty of friends now to go out partying with, but sometimes I still choose to go out alone. The vibe is great, lots of people speak to you and it is, as I have said in my experience, as safe as any city can be to be in.
If you do get the urge to give going out alone a try (it is a great way to meet people, because the Buenos Aires crowd is very friendly), I suggest the following bars…
El Living for great music and large screens with music videos all night long. Marcelo T. de Alvear 1540
Sonoman for a basic bar, young crowd and inviting patio. Fitz Roy 1655
Makena for excellent live music (funk, rock and reggae in general). Fitz Roy 1519
La Puerta Roja for a variety of people from all over Latin America and pool tables. Chacabuco 733
The Gibraltar for English speakers and pub food. Peru 895
The Bangalore for open fires in winter and a half-decent curry. Humboldt 1416
Boris Jazz Club for high class evenings of sophisticated live jazz, blues and funk from famous Argentine faces and spectacular cocktails. Gorriti 5568
5. Love and all that jazz
Yes I have been in love. Yes I have fallen out of it. Yes the Buenos Aires crowd (the men) are flirtatious and yes, they will try to pick you up with a throw away line and some fun conversation at any given opportunity.
However, in my opinion, the male interest is not invasive. In general, the Buenos Aires male community knows when a woman is really not interested and I have spent many evenings just chatting with guys, without any fear that at the end of everything they are going to be expecting more.
But, yes, wolf-whistling is a favourite past time, flirting is a must and asking you for your facebook page, the most important line of the night. Enjoy it, I say!
(If you’re female and gay, I have heard that the scene is relaxed and fun, but more than that I am unable to help. Sorry).
6. Study, Long-Term Contracts, Choosing to Commit
Choosing to study in Buenos Aires was one of the best decisions I have made here simply because of the joy that it brings me to learn something new in an environment which is fast-paced and focused.
However… make sure you are clear about my circumstances… I study at night, so my class mates are generally older (around 28 years old) and therefore more focused. I study fine arts and everyone on the course is passionate about the subject itself. I study in a private institute and therefore study cannot be allowed to go on and on for years, which puts the positive pressure on.
Formal and long-term study and the signing of a two year contract on my apartment was proof enough that I was ready to commit to Buenos Aires for the long haul. Therefore, now comes the time for the… VISA!!!
Without a doubt, the two easiest ways for getting a visa in Buenos Aires are via the study or the work route. However, beware!
Only some private institutions are recognized at Migraciones. PubIic universities are always recognized, but private uwniversities (like mine!) can sometimes find themselves in problems in this area. Therefore, try to research well. I researched thoroughlyand still got caught out and I am now trying to go through the work route instead.
For a work visa, you will need to find a job “en blanco,” which means that your job must be legal. For that you need to work for a firm which is paying its taxes via AFIP. this is not easy, because most Argentines work “en negro,” illegally. So, again, be patient, do your research and take opportunities as they come up.
In general, marketing outsource companies based in Buenos Aires are a good bet for legal work because they are normally managed by international companies which have their paperwork in order.
However, make sure that you like your job, because your visa will not remain valid if you start working for another company, even if that company is “en blanco” too.
8. Inflation, Currency Restrictions, Argentine Politics
I will be very brief, but it needs to be said.
If you are thinking about staying here long time, just be aware of the inflation. In 2009, a coffee cost around 7 pesos. Now, most places charge between 10 and 12. That is a huge difference. A cereal bar in a kiosk in 2009 was about 1.50 pesos. Now they can be anything up to 3.50 pesos.
I recently went to Brazil for the weekend. Even though I have a UK passport, I wasn’t allowed to change my Argentine pesos into Brazilian Reais without proving where I had bought my pesos. I had taken my pesos out of the cash machine a day before for my trip, so had no way of proving the source, and had to wait to change my money until I got to Brazil.
Argentines are being restricted in terms of the amount of US dollars they can buy and take out of the country. Even though my friend is from the US, this new restriction applies to her too, because she has an Argentine working visa. Success in one area means restrictions in another.
If you make the move to Argentina, make sure that it is because you truly want to. Regardless of all the difficulties I face with still not being able to get a full visa (which means having to leave every 90 days – hence the recent trip to Brazil), I love every day of living in Buenos Aires.
I wouldn’t be without my morning and afternoon mate, I love going out to party after 2am and I enjoy the banter of my Argentine friends, but it is not going to be for everyone. So… Use your 90 day tourist visa wisely and spend three months in the city to get a real feel for the place. It’s taken me 3 years to decide to lay down my roots, so don’t be in any rush.