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Moving to Buenos Aires: Illusion vs. Reality

Last week a friend of mine shot me an e-mail out of the blue inquiring about his options in Buenos Aires, were he to give up his life in NYC and move down here. He mentioned that while he´s been reflecting on his circumstances for awhile now, what brought Buenos Aires in particular to his attention was this article in New York Magazine from late February.

Without going into too much detail, this article, which is now somewhat infamous in various expat-circles down here for its hedonistic and overly self-indulgent view on living abroad, goes on to tell the story of a guy ¨who would be nothing¨ if he were back in NYC, according to his (tactful and surely likeable) best friend, but because of his good fortune in being born in a country that now has a very favorable exchange rate, can pretty much live on his own terms, ostensibly assuring he remains far from ¨nothing.¨

Now, it seems, everyone´s getting on the bandwagon: just a few weeks ago came another piece on the dramatic increase of visitors and expats to Buenos Aires, this time from the Washington Post, which hailed the city for its great value, and claimed the driving force behind it all is ¨$250 (USD) rents.¨

I get a fair amount of inquires from people asking about moving to BA all the time, so I´ll try to clear up what I think are a few misconceptions about the whole ordeal.

Shall we…

Just so nobody gets offended, let me stipulate ¨all views expressed in this blog are strictly the opinions of the author¨ (duh).

Anyway, as I see it, the majority of long term expats living down here fall into 1 of 2 camps:

1) Burnt out middle-aged person, either:

  • Looking for a less stressful environment or career change that will be much less riskier here (because the dollar, euro, or pound value) than at home
  • Someone who has ¨come to,¨ having some sort of spiritual, self-growth or existential experience beckoning them to indulge their passions, whether it be art, tango, music, etc.
  • Divorced, bald, or otherwise ¨normal¨ male who believes his nationality and portfolio will instantly compensate for his deficencies, and, in a land of economic stability and a weak currency, will parlay itself into dividends much greater than back home – namely attention from attractive females
  • Just to be fair: middle-aged women with the same agendas…see “Under a Tuscan Sun,” or “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (I much prefer Stella…that Taye Diggs…whooo weee)
  • Or any combination thereof

2) Young people fresh out of college or just a few years out, either:

  • Looking to delay the inevitable for a year or two under the guise of ¨learning Spanish¨
  • Beating the ¨system¨ by living in splendid poverty, all in an expression of solidarity with the world community at large
  • Trying to kick-start a career doing something they like and make it happen while they can, before (more) debt and obligation piles up, in art, tango, writing, film, etc.
  • Or any combination thereof

 

 

 

It´s the Economy, Stupid

Obviously I´m only being half-serious here, but I think the underlying point is the same: money talks. No matter what anyone tells you, and I´ll highlight this in bold just to underscore its significance, If someone tells you money has absolutely no bearing on their decision to move to Buenos Aires, either they´re filthy rich or they´re lying.

But ¨nooo¨ you say, ¨money has nothing to do with my decision to move here. I love Buenos Aires because it´s beautiful – I love it so I can dance tango every single day for the rest of my life.¨ Wrong. If you didn´t possess the critical advantage of having stable work in a country with a stable currency (and as a result, being able to accumulate at least some sort of modest savings) there´s absolutely no way you could come down here and while away the afternoon sipping maté and listening to Carlos Gardel – you´d be working in an office making Xeroxes, cutting up meat, or doing something else boring and nomal like almost every regular Argentine person does. That´s the bottom line. I´m not any better – I came here because I wanted to live abroad for a year after I graduated, and it made perfect sense to come to South America, where I could realize that possibility, as opposed to Europe, where I´d likely only be able to last a few months. Sure, I chose Argentina over, say, Peru, because I was attracted to what the country had to offer. But people come to live here – perhaps not always first and foremost, but make no mistake it´s an integral part of the decision-making process – because of money, dinero, plata.

So that´s the background. Now I´ll post the letter that my friend sent me, and my thoughts on it. Here´s what he wrote:

Que Pasa Amigo? I asked x to email me your blog site and email address when I heard you were living in the south pole. I had no idea that you were moving down there. Reading your blog has given me fresh insight as well provided some decent distraction and daydreaming (about B.A., not you, don’t get any ideas). After reading an article in New York Mag about Buenos Aires and pondering about my situation in New York I started considering making a move like you did. New York and maybe the U.S . in general is such a dog eat dog atmosphere that I am looking to go to a laid back place where quality of life and personal enjoyment takes precedence over efficiency and profit. If I had any sort of built up capital (like most of the expats mentioned in the NYMag article) I would move down there asap and live like a king, maybe start my own business. Unfortunately I don’t though, so I can only dream about what might be in the future and live vicariously through other people in the meantime. Here comes the barrage of questions: What made you move there? What is your plan while you are down there? Is this a possible permanent move, or a year off type deal before law or some other sort of graduate school? I apologize for that, I’m just facinated with the decision. Enjoy your time down there my dear gringo.
Respek,¨
 

Now, my 2 centavos. 

 

First things first – I hate to ruin the party, but that article is far, far from the reality I´m living down here. Sure, if I had loads of cash and thought nothing of blowing it all on girls whose only interest was what model Louis Vuitton wallet I use (didn´t say there´s anything wrong with that; just can´t afford it) perhaps I could be living it up like these dudes. But – as opposed to my time abroad in Barcelona, where I was probably going out 5 nights a week – a normal week for me now involves going out twice, maybe 3 times, and eating out even less. Though, I´m at the end of my cash rope and when I first got down here I was doing it up a bit more…the point is I don´t really like that article for a few reasons:
  1. It´s unapologetically shallow. God forbid some of us aren´t coming down just to chase skirts and pad our self-esteem because of favorable exchange rates; maybe we´re actually trying to learn another language, meet interesting people from all over, and just get a new experience out of life. Yes, the women are pretty down here. But guess what – there are alot of really attractive girls in the U.S. too.
  2. It just generally sugarcoats everything. Moving abroad anywhere is alot more difficult than just plopping down and expecting everything to work out. I´ve been here almost 8 months now and while I have a few close friends, I still don´t really have the connections I have with people at home. Though, I’ve been focusing most of my efforts on meeting locals, so it’s been more difficult – it’s not so easy to just move to someone else’s city and integrate yourself seamlessy into their group of friends and family, when everyone’s known each other their entire lives and you for 5 minutes. Ask anyone who’s changed cities in elementary school or high school. Now consider language and cultural barriers. Also, there are cultural differences in food, language, bureacracy, transport, etc. etc….it´s not just a big fairytale. This article tries to sum up everyone´s honeymoon period at the begining. If not that, it interviews people with alot of money who live it up and do almost nothing, aside from their hobbies, which is far from my situation (and yours, I´d imagine).
  3. In regards to the Washington Post article, the article quotes a woman who says she’s living the good life on only $6,000 a year. Then it says she pays $250 a month in rent. So, let’s break it down. $250 x 12 = $3,000. That leaves $3,000 to live ” the good life.” Or, $250 a month – 750 pesos a month. Not exactly balling out of control, unless you consider Pizza and Empanadas haute cuisine. It’s difficult enough to maintain even a most basic standard of living – even by the standards of a young person from the US without much money – on 250 a pesos a week. And that’s almost exclusively riding buses and taking the subway. I find it hard to believe one can live “the good life” on 188 pesos a week, and this is coming from someone who thinks 2-ply toilet paper is an indispensible luxury. At any rate, I assume the woman isn’t lying; so I can only conclude that the whole story isn’t being told. Probably her fiance brings as much as she does or more into the household, thus enabling them to do Buenos Aires up proper. What’s more, because of the bureacratic leasing process, it’s very, very difficult for foreigners to obtain the same rent prices on apartments that locals get, which explains the absolutely booming apartment buying market, and the booming short-term renting market. But if you think you’ll be able to rent a decent apartment, short-term, for $250, think again.

The whole point of this isn’t to disparage some poor woman or the Washington Post; it’s just to make clear that in reality, things cost alot more down here than everyone seems to think – especially if you are here alone. And what about inflation! Back in the day, Argentines like (or hate) to tell me, you could go to a grocery store, get a jug of milk off the shelf, and by the time you got rung up the price had gone up.

So enough ‘hating for one post. Now onto the good news: Buenos Aires is a nice city. It´s probably the most cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and perhaps fashionable city in all of Latin America. The people can be flaky and can be really irresponsible – unfortunately I have way more than a few anecdotes on this – but they are nice people overall and very friendly. Yes, the prices are nice too, especially coming from NYC, but there is so much tourism right now apartment prices are being inflated almost every month. But it´s a cool city and offers nightlife, concerts, restaurants, and cultural events that rival almost any city in the world (against Bmore no contest though, obviously – as Mayor Martin O’Malley says, “Best City in the World.”). For example there’s a Jazz festival this week. For the past few weeks there’s been a book festival, and three weeks ago there was a fantastic independent film fest. I saw a really great series of shorts by – get ready for this – a surrealist Czech animator living under the Iron Curtain, Jan Svankmajer (he’s no joke though – Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton both cite him as a major influence), and an interesting anti-US propaganda piece. The point is, the city always has things going on.


So, why’d I choose Argentina?

I wanted to come here because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and the only interviews I got at school – not that I tried to get too many, but still – were basically sales gigs selling computer software or industrial hardware…not exactly where I saw my life headed. I studied in Spain and I´ve been to Italy a few times, so I really dug on the Latin culture. It was obvious for me that I should at least try to enjoy my life and do what I want when I can – before kids, cars, debts, women, etc. make this impossible – and what I like to do, what I f*ing love to do, maaaan, is travel, meet people, and have an interesting time.I came down originally as an English teacher, but as you can read here it´s near impossible to make it down here as one without dipping into your savings, at least if you want to live a semi-enjoyable life and not work 50 hours a week – I assume from your email this is precisely the situation your coming to escape from, not to get into. I´ve done alot of other random things along the way, and now I´m looking into starting something up with a friend. As it is my flight back home is scheduled for August – have to be back for a very important wedding – but if our biz proposal looks like it has potential I would definitely consider coming back. All negativity was meant to be directed at the magazine, and at the *illusion* that I think it tried to pass off – in my opinion – as a general reality.

Now that everything´s cooled down let me be the first to say, if you make a decision like this You Are the Man. I´m happy I did, and it´s exactly for all the reasons that you just gave me. In short: what´re you waiting for? Don´t sign a new lease. Save all your pennies – just think every $10 glass of beer in NYC you spend could buy you 5 1-Liter bottles of beer down here! Start taking some spanish classes. Start reading about the city. You won´t regret it for a second. And so what if it doesn´t work out? For God’s sake you’re 23 years old, and you have your whole life ahead of you, blah blah blah. But it’s so true. You can always go home, or maybe go to Rio, or Spain, or wherever you please. Well, why not? If you´re young, and don´t have any (or perhaps minimal) obligations – porque no (read up on that)? Ok buddy. I hope I didn´t break up the fantasy too much – I suppose I´m way past the honeymoon stage. But it is a great place and you should really come see it for yourself.



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23 Responses to “Moving to Buenos Aires: Illusion vs. Reality”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Great post! I hate the responses to that article where people said that they were just here because they loved the culture. Heck, if money was no problem for me, then my butt would be in Paris! Along with my Argentine girlfriend and a lot of Porteños I know.

  2. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  3. Dalila Says:

    Hi, I agree with Jeff, great post! I linked your blog to mine: http://trendypalermoviejo.blogspot.com/ Hope you like it! Saludos.

  4. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  5. Meghan Curry Says:

    Hi! I am Meghan Curry. Allen Salkin interviewed me for all of about 30 minutes total a few months agao. With that “wealth” of information he made me the bookends of his Washington Post article. He got a few things right and a lot of things wrong about me and why I am down here. I’ll let you read about his mistakes on my blog, http://www.spicycurrynews.blogspot.com, in the article titled “Back Page News.”

    I won’t go into the nitty gritty here but I will say that I agree with the man who wrote this original post. There is a lot more to living in abroad and specifically, a lot more to living in Buenos Aires than most recent news articles have talked about.

    One thing that recent news articles haven’t talked about is that the effect the legions of expats rushing to Buenos Aires have on the people already living here. It is a catch 22. On one hand they are importing money but not exporting it out. Generally expats don’t work in the Argentine marketplace but they do spend lots of money visiting or living here temporarily. On the other hand, prices keep inching higher as the stability-deprived economy tries to grab dollars and American prices. Regular Argentines trying to spend regular Argentine pesos are left with t-shirsts that cost 70 pesos, dish soap that costs seven and a housing market that has become like a desert mirage.

    I’m pretty peeved that I even agreed to be interviewed by this guy because he made me look like a flake and made it look like living in Buenos Aires was the easiest thing in the world.

    To answer some of the rhetorical questions in this post I will conclude by stating the following things:

    1. I came to Argentina to learn Spanish. I loved the accent and I wanted to know what it was like to live in a bustling, booming megacity. I worked my tail off as a waitress and bartender the year before I came. I didn’t want to get addicted to a good cash flow. I saved ever cent I could and finally came to live in BsAs in February of 2005. I had saved up to live almost a year without working. I didn’t live very well while I was down here but I did have time for 8-10 hours a day of Spanish practice. Now I’m borderline fluent. Being fluent has been a dream of mine since I was 16 and I gave up a career and sold my condo to do it.
    2. My fiance does bring in a nice income. With what he makes we are able to put mine aside for the future. But we aren’t making a freakish amount so we have to be very careful. We almost never go out to eat and that is why I cook so much at home. I haven’t bought a single item of clothing since before Christmas. I am living the life my grandparents lived after the war.
    3. I have finally given in and have begun to work part time via the Internet because of our need for an immigration fund. And with a 12 – 20% inflation across the boards, our money sure doesn’t go as far as it used to.

    I’m glad to find there are more expat Blog sites out there. Living abroad can be a rewarding, mind-blowing, wonderful experience. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Keep writing and spreading reality!

    -Meghan Curry

  6. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  7. admin Says:

    Nice of you to weigh in Meghan. I definitely agree the author took his fair share of liberties, though I suppose a short term stay here is still a great bargain, even considering tourist inflation. It´s being here for the long-term that´s not so much.

    When I look at housing prices these days I´m amazed, especially in comparison to the ones I saw just last (North American) summer when I was deep in the search myself. It seems like every block from my place on Santa Fe down to Cordoba has a new building coming up…even my old, crumbling place was just approached by developers for demolition.

  8. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  9. Damien Says:

    In re the NY Magazine article – I know two of the folk “interviewed” for the article. Unfortunately, the writer made stuff up about them, and took quotes from different parts of their interviews and used them as answers to questions he never even asked. Basically, he saw an opportunity to exploit some expats he met here and make some money off of it. A shame, since the only one who would have been “nothing” back in New York and now thinks he “something” here, was the writer.

  10. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  11. scott oracle Says:

    so I need someones help. I am stumped. I just got a job offer to go work in BA for Oracle and it pays about 27,000 US Dollars a year. Is that a good amount to live decently, like prett comfortabley??
    you are all good writers, but no one talked about hard numbers, and when they did, they were sort of displayed as not to accurate.

    email me
    scott.brannon@oracle.com

  12. Posted from United States United States
  13. admin Says:

    Are you seriously asking will $27,000 USD provide a decent standard of living? According to the Latin Business Chronicle, Argentina´s per-capita GDP is just around $5,500 USD. Considering that just under 35 % of the population lives in poverty, think how high this figure is skewed upward. In all probability, the median income is much lower. Even still, in some parts of the U.S. – Idaho, for example – you can live on $27.000 just fine. Young journalists (who are, by most estimates “professionals) in NYC often make around that amount – and that´s NYC. I don´t have any cold, hard stats on this but from talking with friends and others I´d conjecture to say that average middle-class salaries fluctuate between 900-1,200 pesos a month. So, yes, with 27 G´s you should be able to live like a king, and even save some…just watch out for the gatos.

  14. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  15. Laura Says:

    Great insights…keep up the good work, will drop a link to your blog into mine.

    Meghan, interesting to hear your side of the story. I get emails all the time from people who read the article and having never even been here, plan to pack it in and move here. I have to share the reality of rents, guarantias, work, inflation, etc. I will put a link to your blog in my blog.

    As far as why my husband and I moved here…We’re a couple in our 30′s; he’s already an expat from France; and quite honestly we wanted to take advantage of the great health care for my pregnancy. At least as long as the peso holds out against the dollar we can afford health insurance that we couldn’t have touched in the U.S. It doesn’t help that we were living in the middle of shallowsville Miami where the cost of living was rapidly rising as fast as the hurricanes hit. Living here I’ve made more and better friends than I ever did in Miami and we’re able to live much better at this time. I expect that will change in the future but in the meantime I’m enjoying the health care for my pregnancy and improving my Spanish to a level suitable for bilingual work later on in the States.

    I approach the expat experience from a different perspective so if any of you want to check it out feel free http://movingtoargentina.typepad.com

  16. admin Says:

    Laura – Appreciate the contribution – and the plug ;) . To be sure, there are a host of different reasons why people come down, but in the end most connect somehow with monetary issues.

  17. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  18. Emily Says:

    Terrific post, and I agree – money is a huge factor even just for visits. In fact, the money thing is what makes visits even possible. I can’t say I feel ***awesome*** about contributing to inflation and whatnot, that’s an ethical question I’m still mulling over. On the other hand, my fella and I will be able to spend a few months there this year on account of it’s so cheap and I can’t say I’m not wildly excited about that (busman’s holiday for me; I freelance and the work comes with). The cheap factor makes it possible – but the fact that BA is an amazing, world class city makes it desirable. I’ma eat some shit out of some helado, let me tell you.

    And really, I just wanted to post ’cause: “B’more to BA? ” My two favorite cities in the world. How could I stay quiet? If you’re still around come November I’ll bring you a case of Natty Boh.

  19. Posted from United States United States
  20. Brian Says:

    Where do I sign?

  21. Gringo Says:

    Hey,

    This damn NYMag article is doing more harm than good!!! Well, tell your friend to read this response to the myth:

    http://www.sitebits.com/2006/buenos_aires_dreaming.html

    The points of interest to “normal” males (aka balding middle-aged, as you put it) are also addressed.

  22. Posted from Canada Canada
  23. Dave Says:

    Hey,

    Great blog! I’m really getting the excited about my move to BA in December. I’ll be making about $90K USD per year from my online company while I’m in BA, but I want to buy a 1 bedroom apartment to cut down on my costs. I’ve got about $50K USD saved, but I haven’t been able to find anything for that price online. Any ideas about where I should look to buy a nice one bedroom with some sort of garden for that amount – Palmero, San Telmo, etc.? Any response would be helpful.

  24. Posted from United States United States
  25. admin Says:

    Hey Dave.

    I rented while I was in Buenos Aires, and being a recent college grad, paying cash for an apartment was as much on my mind as social security.

    So I’m probably the wrong guy to ask about buying housing. I think the BA Expats group is the choice haunt of the middle-aged expatriate community, so browsing through their forums may yield decent advice: http://www.baexpats.com. Also, a friend of mine runs a housing consulting company to assist expats with new purchases in Buenos Aires, so you could try him too: http://realba.blogspot.com/.

    Regardless of my lack of experience with this type of market, what I can offer you are a few universal truths about Buenos Aires:

    1) MC Hammer and Mike Tyson excepted (a white bengali tiger reserve is hardly a basic necessity), anyone making $90,000 USD a year should be able to live like a king and still save 40 – 50,000. As mentioned before, the median income in Argentina falls around $5,000. Imagine you were making $180,000 while living in the US (I think the median income falls right around 30K). So with absolutely no effort, within two years you should be able to add 80 – 100 thousand to your savings. If you could actually succeed in the superhuman feat of spending all of this within a year, you wouldn’t have to worry about housing anyway because you’re business would be done.

    2) Palermo, Recoleta, Belgrano, Nunez, Retiro, Puerto Madero and any touristy/upper-class barrio wil quickly eat up your square feet allotment. A few months ago I read in Clarin that foreigners made up 40 % of those buying new property in Puerto Madero; for Palermo, the number was around 25 %. While you may draw the ire of your block for contributing to every realtor’s wet dream – tourist inflation – if you buy in a neighborhood populated by locals you’ll only be competing with those earning pesos, and should be able to afford a significantly larger place than you would in the aforementioned barrios. Neighborhoods like Caballito, Villa Crespo, Almagro and even places like Vicente Lopez and Olivos that sit just outside BA proper would offer more bang for the buck, not mention place you amongst actual Argentines – imagine that.

    Suerte.

  26. Posted from United States United States
  27. Is there anybody out there? » TravelBlog Archive » From Bmore to BA Says:

    [...] Moving to Buenos Aires: Illusion vs. Reality [...]

  28. Posted from United States United States
  29. Angelica Says:

    Great response to the articles! I just recently read an article in the New York Times about Buenos Aires and was instantly attracted to the idea of moving there. I myself am not rich and live in NYC. But I thought since I’m only 22 and I have no family why not try something new. I’m Puerto Rican and I love Latin Culture. I actually thought of continuing to work here in NYC and purchasing a small home in BA to visit on vacation days, then once it was paid off move there for some time. I already plan on leaving NYC in 2 years to travel the world, but perhaps BA could be my last stop where I rest for a bit. Who knows? Just want to say thanks for the insight. It really made me think a bit deeper about things.

  30. Posted from United States United States
  31. Mike D Says:

    I know that this discussion was quite a while ago, but I figured I’d jump back in. Is it virtually impossible to get work in BA as an English teacher? I’ve taken a whole bunch of Spanish lit courses in college and I’ve been thinking about moving to Spain or Argentina; BA seems more interesting to me, though.

  32. Posted from United States United States
  33. Finn Says:

    Great article, It’s great how you bring down Buenos Aires, and bring it up higher than before in the end.

  34. Kent D Says:

    I’m considering relocating to BA from Florida to live with my girlfriend who is from Corrientes, Argentina. I have some money saved. but I’m wondering how difficult it would be for me to work there, or, start a business with my girlfriend? Any help you or advice would be greatly appreciated.

  35. Billy Says:

    Hi Dave, I’ve spend a great time last month in Buenos Aires, I’d rented a furnished apartment in Palermo. I suggest that service called ForRent Argentina: Buenos Aires apartments For Rent
    Good Luck!
    Billy

  36. Posted from Argentina Argentina
  37. Amber Says:

    Hi everyone!
    I spent a great time last month in Buenos Aires. I rented a furnished apartment in Recoleta, Buenos Aires, near the down town. I suggest that service called ForRent Argentina: Buenos Aires apartments For Rent
    Bye,
    Amber

  38. Toby Says:

    Hi dude,

    I really enjoyed your blog, it’s very well written and informative, and you clearly give things some thought, which I respect and love about us as a species.. :)

    I also liked your use of ‘Is there anybody out there”, which is topical since I saw Roger Waters on Wednesday doing ‘The Wall’ at the O2 (London). Frig-mothering-tastic!, I cannot do it justice.

    Anyway, a few things spring to mind (since I am thinking long and hard about moving to BA on a business trip).

    We 3 of close friends are thinking of moving to BA with our savings and staying for a year or possibly 2. We would use our savings* to buy us the time to finish some software, a book and a script/directoral treatment. Which, while thoroughly worth-while is also quite indulgent, possibly naive and foolhardy!

    I would appreciate the wisdom of your years of experience in letting me know whether there is any reality in our expectations? at least as far as having any quality of life with rent and CoL expectations such as these?

    I hope you are having a fucking awesome time whatever, mate.

    Take it easy.

    Toby.

    * which we figure to last 2 years if a 3-bed place can be gotten for £500 a month and having a ‘good night’ twice a week is about a £100 a night.

  39. Adam Says:

    Incontestably indulgent, probably naive, and perhaps foolhardy–but why not? If you’re the type to comment on a blog post five years after it was published, maybe you’re just cavalier enough.

    I’m moderately ashamed to admit that the consumer price index of Argentina has not been at the forefront of my concerns over the past few years, but if vaguely-informed hearsay is to be believed, dollars (and especially pounds), still go far. With three or four people to an apartment, all the more so.

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