Thursday, October 23, 2014

Living in Argentina


• How much does it cost to live in Argentina?

The cost of living in Argentina can vary widely depending on your lifestyle. A reasonable minimum for a single person who plans to rent a room in a shared house would be around US$700 800 900 (this number changes monthly!) 700 per month. Buskers, squatters and those who really live on the edge could probably get away with a little less. Those used to a relatively comfortable life that includes eating out, taking taxis and weekend trips will probably want to budget for at least US$1,000 per month.

These numbers are assuming that you are either exchanging USD in a exchange house, known as a cueva, or getting the blue rate for dollars or another currency via a wire transfer service. If you wire yourself money from a dollar account you will receive considerably more cash for the same amount of money than you would from an ATM — which gives you the official rate. The same scenario applies for those with overseas accounts in other currencies — we have a free money transfer service right on this site. The moral of the story is, with the economy as it is now, don’t get money from the ATM. If for some strange reason you plan to use an ATM or credit card regardless,  you should budget to spend 30% more than the figures stated here.

Foreigners who live in Argentina diverge greatly in how much they spend month to month. The big gap has to do with whether one earns pesos or another currency and whether one lives an ‘Argentine lifestyle’ or not.

The purchase of imported products and travel within the country will greatly increase expenditure. Sometimes it seems there are two economies — one for foreigners from developed countries and one for South Americans — speaking Spanish certainly gives you an edge in obtaining goods at a local price as opposed to a ‘tourist price.’

High quality prepared food, clothing and electronics are expensive in Argentina. If you don’t need many luxuries you can live quite inexpensively. If you want to enjoy some of the comforts of home, which includes pricey imported items — such as peanut butter and brand name shoes, your life in Argentina will cost considerably more.

The safest bet to prepare for a widely fluctuating economy would be to budget for US$1,000 per month if moving to Argentina. Many foreigners would say that should be US$1,200/month if you want to live an average expat lifestyle — which means taking a few classes, having private health insurance, going to museums and movies, eating out at middle-of-the road establishments a couple of times a week and to have some extra cash on hand in case of an emergency. A family of four planning on installing themselves in a major city will be fine with US$2,500 per month.

A single person should expect to pay at least US$350 per month on housing to rent a room in a shared house or apartment in a major city. Those who want to rent their own apartment will certainly need considerably more and should prepare to spend around US$700-950 for a studio or one bedroom plus a deposit of equal value and possibly other fees.

It’s worth noting that the Argentine government considers AR$2,000 per month an adequate amount to reside here — that’s what they require retirees to demonstrate as proof that they can afford to live here without mooching off the government. In July 2010 the ‘rentista visa’, which is awarded to those who can provide proof of a monthly investment income, jumped from the previous requirement of AR$2,500 per month (US$ 611 or €372) to AR$8,000 (around US$ 1,957 or €1,192) per month, making it inaccessible to many who previously qualified.

If you plan to eat in the most fashionable restaurants every night, take weekend trips to Mendoza and Punte del Este, own a car (or always take cabs), get a little nip and tuck here and there and live in a beautiful classic building overlooking the city, you could easily spend up to US$ 3,000-4,000 per month.

• Can I make a living teaching English there?

A native English speaker without a strong regional accent can teach English in Argentina, even without TEFL certification (although having one helps, if only moderately). Make a living? If it’s your only source of income it will be a challenge unless you stay a while and really work it.

Look at teaching English more as a short-term way to make a modest income — only the most dedicated people seem to have the wherewithal to make it a profession here. It’s certainly not like teaching English in China or South Korea, where you can actually save some decent money. Teaching English can be fun for the short-term but unless it’s your personal passion, you might want to consider finding something more profitable to do if you plan on staying here a while. See FAQ: Teaching English in Argentina at Wander-Argentina.org.

• What about visas?

We’ve outlined information about tourist visas here, but what happens if you want to stay in Argentina longer than six months? One option that many ‘perma-tourists’ (those who don’t do the paperwork to get residency) choose is to take the boat ride over to Uruguay, usually Colonia in order to get a new entrance stamp every three months.

Many people do this for years without a problem, but you never know — especially in Argentina. Sometimes a passport full of stamps in and out of the country throws up the red flags and in a rare cases, people caught doing this are ordered to get the ball rolling on their residency papers or leave the country. The government occasionally cracks down on those who renew their tourists visas over and over again, although it depends on a few factors such as the number of renewals, the nationality of the violator and by all appearances, the mood of the immigration official. Anecdotal evidence leads us to believe that long-term ‘perma-tourists’ with non-EU passports are more vulnerable to being hassled.

In addition to the new visa fees for some tourists, the penalty for overstaying a tourist visa was raised significantly in 2009, from AR$50 to AR$300 (US$72 25) pesos, paid on the way out.

Those who get sick of the day trips to Uruguay sometimes choose to simply overstay their visa and pay the fine on the way out of the country. It is the most painless and cost effective option for those staying long-term (but you didn’t hear it from us.) There are those who are uncomfortable living as ‘illegal aliens,’ but we haven’t yet heard of any cases of people being forbidden to reenter the country for overstaying their visa. In fact, the government calls those who overstay their visa ‘irregular’ not ‘illegal’. If you chose the overstay route, you may get a bit of a lecture from the immigration officer when you pay your fine, but that’s about it.

There are variety of opinions about this topic among foreigners in Buenos Aires, but those who go to Uruguay every three months to renew their visas over a period of years are basically advertising that they’re bending the rules, and you can’t blame immigration officers for wondering why someone from a developed nation would do that for years on end without legalizing their status. Certainly the thousands of Ukrainians, Chinese and Africans who overstay their tourist visas in Argentina are not taking a boat to Uruguay every three months for a new stamp.

Although rare, it should be emphasized that in the last few years we have heard a few reports of people being told they need to legalize or leave the country after repeated trips to Uruguay to renew their tourist visa.

After living in Argentina a while one learns that playing by the official rules and trying to do things ‘correctly’ doesn’t always work in one’s favor, however illogical. That trait can be rather endearing, particularly for those who wish to linger in Buenos Aires for years without paperwork headaches.

• How do I get immigration status that will allow me to legally reside in Argentina?

There are a number of options to receive residency in Argentina, among them the pensioner visa, student visa, work visa, investor visa, religious visa, medical visa and via marriage or childbirth. If you have about US$1,000 to spare, you can just contact a lawyer who will walk you through the steps and take care of the paperwork. Depending on what country you come from it may be easier to do the paperwork in your home country. The best way to figure it out for your particular case is to start with a phone call to the Argentine embassy in your country.

If you are already in Argentina and speak Spanish a much cheaper, albeit more frustrating option, is to simply go to the immigrations office, take a number, explain your desire to reside in the country and ask what would be the easiest way for you to get a visa. Some may find that their monthly pension income is sufficient to get them residency or that enrolling in some classes will permit them to get a student visa. In 2004 there was a free-for-all legalization program in place to legalize all the Chinese, Ukrainians and yes, even gringos residing in the country without the proper paperwork. That program has now been rotated to only apply to those of Mercosur countries, but it will probably be reinstated at some point for other nationalities.

To receive any type of visa you will need a notarized copy of your birth certificate, your criminal records from your home country, a copy of your fingerprints and a copy of your criminal record in Argentina (or lack therein — you can get both at your local police station along with a ‘certificate of residence,’ which will later delivered by a police officer to your home) four passport photos and the processing fee, which starts at US$100. Depending on the type of visa you are seeking, you may also need to present financial paperwork, a health certificate and open a local bank account.

The bottom line is that Argentina is a huge country with a relatively small population; as long as you’re not indigent or a hardened criminal (and maybe even if you are) you can probably find a way to stay in the country. In practice, the immigration process isn’t always efficient or easy, but if you have the wherewithal and patience to get a long-term visa, you should be able to.

Keep in mind that, that unless you have a really good lawyer doing your paperwork for you, you will inevitably experience a few headaches along the way. Once it is all over though, five years after receiving your National Identity Card (DNI), you can apply for Argentine citizenship.

A new option that is emerging for those dedicated to staying in Argentina is to apply directly for citizenship, which is technically permitted by article 20 of the Argentine constitution. Although this option has less restrictions and is quicker, the process is more expensive if you pay a lawyer and there is always the risk the application for citizenship will be declined.

• Can I survive living as a travel writer in Argentina?

Everyone wants to be a travel writer these day. Depending on how you look at it, it’s quite optimistic or completely unrealistic to think you can simply move to Argentina and start making a living as a travel writer if you don’t have prior experience. You can always try — you will certainly be in good company. Just make sure you have an adequate amount of money saved up before you move here. Many of the local English publications and websites (Wander-Argentina included) do have internship programs but you’ll usually need your own equipment and you won’t make any money.

If you have previous published clips you can definitely pitch articles to the ever-shrinking numbers of travel publications out there. Hopefully you are quite talented and persistent — there are a lot of people trying to do the same thing. If you are one of the few scribes in Argentina writing for high-paying glossy publications such as Condé Nast, then life is good.

• Is it difficult to start a business in Argentina?

Those with an entrepreneurial vision will probably find that Argentina has a lot of room for new businesses that import good ideas and quality of product and service. There is certainly demand for services that currently do not exist. Figuring out what kind of business would do well here is just a matter of living in the country a while and seeing what products or services are needed.

For example, a whole foods café and juice bar in the heart of San Telmo would be a good bet while opening a steakhouse or a bakery similar to those throughout the city would be a bit redundant. We can deduce that a microbrew in a nice neighborhood would do very well — there are only a few beers available in the country and the micro-brew beers that do exist have limited distribution.

Love it or hate it, even Starbucks, which came into the country in 2007 seems to be doing well despite charging prices equivalent to what the average Argentine earns in one hour for a coffee drink (see this interview for more on that). Why? The concept of serving specialized, quality coffee drinks in a ‘cozy atmosphere’ where one can sit down on a couch and read the paper is completely new to Argentina. Novelty alone isn’t self-sustaining though — a consistent level of quality will keep people coming back.

Similarly, creating much needed jobs while taking advantage of lower labor costs to provide services for overseas clients will put any business at an advantage. Admittedly, finding quality employees can be difficult, but due to the current economic crisis there are a growing number of foreigners with abundant experience and a good work ethic in Buenos Aires looking for jobs.

Starting a business in Argentina will be a paperwork headache similar to getting residency. There are 15 paperwork procedures totaling around $AR 2,000 that need to be completed in order to start a business, you can see them outlined on this very helpful website.

Once again the easiest way to go about it would be to hire a good lawyer to help you complete these steps. If that’s not an option you may want to consider whether you have enough capital and/or vigor to start a business in the first place.

Once the paperwork is out of the way, many of the foreign business owners we’ve met seem quite happy with their businesses. The challenges for business owners aren’t over once everything is up and running though. Among the ongoing problems — none of the unique to Argentina — are: finding and retaining good employees, enforcing contracts (the courts are very slow and not practical for minor disputes) robbery and possible shakedowns by corrupt police or inspectors.

To get a realistic idea of what you’re in for, it’s a good idea to talk at length to other business owners about their experiences.

Argentina is open for business, there is money to be made, there are plenty of people who want jobs — just be sure to get a very good handle on the lay of the land before you undertake the challenge.

Have a question? Send it over via our contact form and we will get back to you and/or post your question with a reply.