See more Living in… posts by Bruce Haring.
It’s home to the Pope, the tango, Eva and Juan Peron, leather- and silver-clad gauchos, great steaks, and fabulous wines.
But it has a dark side as well. It accepted an estimated 9,000 fleeing Nazis after World War II, including such notorious criminals as Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. It was home to the “Dirty War” of the 1970s, where dissidents simply disappeared. And it’s known for hyperinflation and a war with Great Britain over the Falklands, a needless conflict that basically settled the rights to a few head of sheep.
The country is Argentina, one of the most fascinating places on Earth — and a great place to live if you enjoy a tinge of Old World exotic with a modern society. Today, it’s an independent republic, whose mix of European refugees with South American migrants has created a vibrant society that seems familiar yet foreign, a mysterious place that is just finding its place in the world after years of fitful growth, economic problems, and the aforementioned darkness.
The Argentine lifestyle sees work start at 8 am, and then break for a three-to-four hour siesta for lunch and a nap.
Buenos Aires is the capital and biggest city, weighing in with 13 million residents and known as the Paris of Latin America. But Cordoba, Rosario, and Mendoza are also over a million strong, and there are several cities trailing just behind it. Yet ranching and farming are the two biggest occupations in the country, whose topography ranges from plains to jungle to mountains and glaciers.
The cost of living is moderate, but still way below what you’d pay in the US for most items. Get a three-bedroom apartment for under $1000, a bottle of fine wine for $6, and a high-end dinner at under $75 (depending, of course, on what you’re ordering). Yes, inflation is always an issue, and some claim Argentina is no longer cheap. But you should be able to navigate on a moderate budget, and your Argentinean friends will soon invite you for asado parilla, a barbecue of grilled meat that everyone who eats meat enjoys on a constant basis.
It’s a Laid Back Place
Don’t expect to be a hard-charging business person if you settle there. The Argentine lifestyle sees work start at 8 am, and then break for a three-to-four hour siesta for lunch and a nap. Then you return (perhaps), and shops are open until 9 pm. Government offices tend to go for a steadier 8 to 5, but there’s a little leeway in that as well. The best opportunities seem to be in teaching English, or working for a foreign firm that has an Argentine office.
But there’s plenty of room for artists, as there’s a thriving film industry; and the IT industry is just getting warmed up, with one of the most developed broadband markets in Latin America, and some of the fastest and least expensive plans.There’s only slightly over 14% market penetration, leaving plenty of room for growth. Healthcare is free, but lags a bit behind Western standards of care. The good news is you will get treatment.
So grab a cup of mate to jump start your day, and join the throngs whose main activities seem to be strolling and admiring the grand architecture of Buenos Aires or heading to the beach at Mar del Plata. The Argentineans will call you “mi amor” after knowing you for minutes. Just be careful — if you are too chatty with waiters or other strangers, they will presume you are trying to pick them up.
In order to enter Argentina, you need a valid passport. If you are a US citizen, you don’t need a tourist visa, but you will need one if you plan to stay for more than three months. That’s the visa of temporary residence. A lot of people get a tourist visa, and then decamp to Uruguay to renew their Argentinean visa. It’s technically illegal to do so, but so many do it that it’s generally overlooked.
Best bet if you want to stay for a while: ask the Argentinean embassy nearest you for details on the best fit, and get an experienced professional to navigate the red tape if you plan on residing and working there. The Argentinians are accommodating, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy, and things will go smoother if you have an experienced hand on your side.
The country is the largest Spanish-speaking society that universally employs voseo, the use of the pronoun vos instead of tú (“you”). It helps if you can speak the language, but there are enough English speakers in the big cities that you can easily navigate through most situations.
If you fall in love in Argentina, you’ll have to go to the Civil Registry Office where you live in order to get married. The Argentines recognize hetero and gay marriages, but don’t recognize religious ceremonies. Just be sure to show up at Civil Registry 29 business days before the wedding date to put it on the schedule.
Prostitution is legal in Argentina, but brothels and other forms of organized conduct are illegal. The drinking age is 18, but you practically have to have an elementary school blazer on to be asked for ID.
Once you get there, you’ll want to stay a while. The flight to Argentina from the US is a long one, and not inexpensive. But there’s no hurry — in Argentina, no one likes to feel stressed. So relax, contemplate, have some grilled meat, and enjoy.