Read This Before Coming to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Reading Time: 16 minutes

I lived in Buenos Aires in 2005. At that time, I paid 360 pesos a month for rent. I made 10-20 pesos an hour teaching English. A cafe con leche con tres media lunas (the standard Porteño breakfast) was 3 pesos; 5 pesos in the fancy parts of town. A lot has changed since then!

Since coming back to Buenos Aires last week after 16 years away, it feels the same but it feels different. In many ways it’s like coming to a new city for the first time. I was doing a lot of research before I came, and lots of things were hard to find. So here in this post, I’m going to lay out all the things I wish I knew, and needed to know before I came!


BUENOS AIRES REQUIREMENTS

First and foremost, the biggest and most obvious change is that we are starting year 3 of a pandemic, so naturally that adds a little extra confusion. Hopefully I can help to clear up some of that mystery. In order to enter Argentina as a tourist from the US (by plane), as of August 2022, the following items are required:

  1. Declaracion Jurada (fill it out within 48 hours before your flight)
  2. Travel insurance that covers your entire stay (including Covid coverage; I used SafetyWing)
  3. Passport (with at least 6 months remaining before expiration)

Here is a list of items I was asked for by American Airlines when I checked in at SFO in January 2022:

  1. Vaccination card
  2. Negative PCR test results
  3. Declaracion Jurada (show the pdf you were emailed)
  4. Proof of insurance (I used SafetyWing)
  5. They asked if I had an exit flight, but didn’t ask to see proof
  6. Passport

Here is a list of items I was asked for upon arrival in Argentina in January 2022:

  1. Passport
  2. Vaccination cards
  3. Negative PCR test results
The testing site at La Rural in Palermo, near Plaza Italia Buenos Aires

I was never informed by anyone to get another PCR test done, nor did anyone follow up with me about this. However, I did it anyways. You can register for a “turno” (appointment) here. It is located in a large building next to Plaza Italia in Palermo. When you go, make sure to provide them with the number you use for whatsapp. You will message them to get your results through an automated system via whatsapp after 48 hours. You can also use the chat feature on their website to receive your results if you did not receive them via whatsapp.


TRANSPORTATION FROM THE AIRPORT TO BUENOS AIRES

Of course, one big concern once you arrive in Buenos Aires, is of course- how do I get to the city? I arranged for a pick-up through a mutual friend and the driver asked to be paid cash in American dollars. I paid $25. This may be on the higher side, though I was okay to pay this because it alleviated a lot of stress- carrying cash on me, having luggage, being tired from arriving, door to door transportation, being new to the city, etc. However, there are certainly other ways:

The city bus:

The city bus number 8 goes between Ezeiza Airport and Plaza de Mayo. Once you arrive to Plaza de Mayo you’ll still need to take a taxi, subte, bus, or walk to wherever you’re staying. I only recommend this route if you are not carrying many things of value. It takes around 1.5-2 hours and costs less than $1 USD.

Apps:

Uber works in Buenos Aires. There are also a few other apps that work here as well: BA Taxi, Cabify, Didi. However, I haven’t been able to register in Cabify without a DNI (national resident number). I’ve had luck using both BA Taxi, and Didi however. Fares can be between $20-25 USD, depending on the time you arrive. It’s better to pay in cash so you can get the blue rate (I’ll explain this a bit later).

Taxi:

There are taxis just outside the airport, and will cost around the same as an Uber, $20-$25. Make sure they turn on the meter. If they refuse to use the meter, get another taxi.

Shuttle:

I haven’t tried this, but one of the companies I see mentioned a ton in Facebook groups is Tienda Leon. They have an app as well. You can reserve a spot on a bus, or in a van.


HOUSING IN BUENOS AIRES

Normally when I want to go somewhere new, and find a place to stay short term, I start with Airbnb. However, this lead me to a lot of dead ends. I requested to stay in several places, and the requests just expired, and nobody responded to my messages. Eventually I was able to get into contact with a host on Airbnb, I requested, he accepted, but one week later Airbnb canceled it. It is still unclear why. So we decided to talk on whatsapp instead. Without Airbnb as the middleman, there were no additional fees, so I ended up paying more than $100 less than what I had planned to pay via Airbnb.

In conclusion, Airbnb can work, but it’s not very used here, so probably better to look elsewhere.

Here are a few options for your housing search in Buenos Aires:

  1. Ask in Facebook groups, like the Expat Hub. When I posted there, I got a ton of people private messaging me with available apartments. This group has all kinds of classified ads, including housing. Use the search function in these groups and search for “housing,” and see what pops up.
  2. Zonaprop
  3. Alternativa
  4. Mercado Libre

I am not advocating for or against any of the above links. They are just places to search. You will still need to be cautious, use your best judgement, and do a little research into what fees you may have to pay. It’s likely you may have to pay a commission, sign a contract, and make a deposit.


BUENOS AIRES NEIGHBORHOODS

Okay, so now you have some information about how to find housing. But the question remains – where do I want to stay? I’ll provide a bit of information about the main neighborhoods around Buenos Aires.

Palermo Hollywood:

Just northeast of Palermo Soho, is Palermo Hollywood. It’s a bit more residential than Soho but also has some bars and cafes around, and is close distance to Soho.

A bar in Plaza Serrano, Palermo Soho Buenos Aires

Palermo Soho:

This is the area most popular with foreigners. Most meet-up events are around this area. There are tons of hip cafes, bars, restaurants, and boutique shops. If I were to do it again, I would try to stay in this area. There is a Saturday market in Plaza Serrano.

Villa Crespo:

A more up and coming neighborhood. Great location between Palermo and Caballito. It has Parque Centenario which is great for running. Lots of cool bars and restaurants. Less touristy and crowded than Palermo. Near to subte stations.

Belgrano:

A largely residential and upscale area with relatively low crime. Houses tend to be a bit bigger, and streets are less busy, a very quiet neighborhood.

Colegiales:

Situated between Belgrano and Palermo, this neighborhood is mainly residential. It’s quiet and has great cafes and restaurants.

Recoleta:

This is probably one of the more wealthy neighborhoods in the city. It’s home to the famous Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. The general population in this area tends to be on the older side.

Microcentro:

This area is near to the Casa Rosada (the White House of Argentina), and is the spot where all of the subte lines converge. Calle Florida is here, which is a walking street where you can find shopping, and money exchange. It’s a pretty convenient area to stay because transportation is quite easy from here.

A cafe in San Telmo Buenos Aires

San Telmo:

Back in 2005 this is where I hung out the most. It was a pretty Bohemian area, with lots of cool bars and live music. These days it feels a bit less popular. There is the Sunday market in Plaza Dorrego which is great, and it’s easy walking distance to the microcentro. Known to have lots of tango lessons around this area. The architecture has much more character in San Telmo, and has an older feel. More authentic, less touristy.

Balvanera:

This is the area I’m staying in now. It’s a generally quiet area, not much in the way of entertainment or parties. There are a few restaurants around, and supermarkets and fruterias are easy to find. The streets are usually fairly busy during the day, and it’s about an 8 minute walk to the subte station.

Almagro:

I lived in this neighborhood in 2005, and recently took a stroll through it again. It feels safe, it’s along subte A, has the basics of everything you need. Not much night life. Feels more like a quiet family neighborhood.

Caballito:

Very similar to Almagro. Quiet neighborhood, underrated. Near subte stations. Nice parks. Good spot between Palermo and Sant Telmo.

La Boca neighborhood Buenos Aires

La Boca:

Known for tango, and colorful buildings. A bit far from everything else in the city, so it’s not super convenient to get around, though buses do go there of course. Very, very touristy. Markets and expensive, touristy restaurants.

A view of the Puente de la Mujer in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires

Puerto Madero:

This area is on the other side of the river, behind the Casa Rosada. It’s a newer, upscale area. Mostly full of banks, offices, restaurants, and bars along the water. It is a pretty safe area, and a great place to stroll. Not very residential.


MEETING PEOPLE IN BUENOS AIRES

One of the best things about traveling is meeting people. Now with social media, that is even easier. When I was here in 2005, I had just created my MySpace page, and found friends via Craigslist. Things have changed drastically since then!

The cover photo of the BA Expat Hub FB group

The best source of information is easily the Buenos Aires Expat Hub. Join the group and spend some time scrolling through the posts, and use the search function before asking a question because very likely it has already been asked by someone else.

There are a ton of events going on in Buenos Aires every single night, and the Whatsapp groups are very active. There is a group for everything- sports, basketball, meet-ups, specific neighborhoods, etc. You can probably find these groups mentioned in the Expat Hub Facebook group. If you can’t find them, then just ask. Several people will be more than willing to provide you a link to join! 🙂


MONEY

Probably one of the first things you’ll start to hear about is the fragile state of the Argentinean economy. High inflation and devaluation of the peso. As a result, there are two forms of exchange: The red rate and the blue rate! I made an entire blog post just about money in Argentina.

The red rate:

As I write this, it is currently $1= 104 pesos.

This is the official government rate, and the rate you’ll get at the bank, when you take money out of an atm, or pay with a credit card. You do not want this rate. This rate is a bummer.

The blue rate:

As I write this, it is currently $1= 217 pesos.

This is the unofficial, or Black Market rate. This is the rate you’ll get when you pay in cash. You want this, this is good.

Okay, but how do I get the blue rate? There are a couple ways:

WESTERN UNION FOR BUENIOS AIRES

Create an account (it’s easy!), connect your foreign bank account, and send yourself money. Make sure to use a promo code when sending money to eliminate the transfer fee. The promo codes I’ve heard of lately are: GECO, DIGITALWU50, DIGITALWU100.

Then when you arrive in Argentina, you can just go to any branch and pick up your money. Make sure to bring your passport with, and make sure you enter your name on the electronic transfer exactly as it shows in your passport so you don’t run into any issues.

The Western Union gives the blue rate. Go straight home and drop off your money once you pick it up, so you’re not walking around the streets with big piles of cash. I recommend this option for its ease. It also feels less stressful than bringing a ton of cash dollars with you on the plane.

MONEY EXCHANGE:

You’ll need to find a ‘cueva’ that is willing to exchange on the blue rate. If you walk down Calle Florida, you’ll see a ton of people yelling out ‘cambio cambio.’ You can exchange with them. Better yet, ask someone who has been here for longer where they do their exchanges at, so you’ll have an idea of somewhere trusted. I’ve also heard that many of the ‘Chinos’ are willing to do exchanges, but only after they’ve seen you a few times and trust you aren’t going to rob them. (A ‘Chino’ is what Argentines call small shops or markets that are generally owned by Chinese people).


SIM CARD:

This was one of the easiest tasks. I went to a Claro store, of which there are several. I got my ticket, waited around 10 minutes, and then my number was called. The guy working at the Claro store counter was very helpful. I had to show my passport, he registered me, and gave me a new Argentine sim card. It cost 1200 pesos (about $6 USD) for 10gb for 30 days. In order to recharge after 30 days, I just need to go to any kiosko. Simple as that!

The new iPhone 14 doesn’t even have a sim card tray, which means you’ll need an e-sim. Check out the Argentina e-sim options.

TRANSPORTATION AROUND THE CITY:

Buenos Aires is a big city with lots of options for moving from place to place. There are tons of city buses (colectivos), the subte (short of ‘subterraneo’- underground), and even a train that will take you to other great spots just outside the city. Luckily Google Maps exists now, so figuring out how to get places, and where to change is much less complicated than before.

Sube card

SUBE CARD:

The first thing you should do for yourself is get a Sube card. It costs 90 pesos ($0.40). You’ll need to put some additional cash on the card, which will be deducted each time you tap it on the train, subte, or bus. You can do a ‘recarga’ (recharge) at most kioskos (if they have the blue Sube sign) and inside the subte stations. There are machines labeled ‘recarga.’ You just need to put your card on the scanner, tap the screen, load your cash, and just like that you’re back in business.

Buenos Aires subte map

SUBTE IN BUENOS AIRES:

Each subte ride costs 30 pesos ($0.15). Almost all subte lines lead to the Microcentro (often Avenida de Mayo), except for the yellow line H, which crosses over lines A, B, D, and E. Blue line C goes through Avenida de Mayo in the directions of Retiro and Constitucion stations. You need to scan your Sube card when you enter, but not when you exit.

BUENOS AIRES BUS:

The price of the bus varies, depending on where you’re going, but usually between 18-30 pesos. When you enter the bus, you’ll need to tell the driver the location you’re going to (generally the name of the street where you’re getting off), he’ll type something in, and then you can scan your Sube card. Once the little green check mark appears, you’re good to go!

The train to Tigre, on Anded 2, Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES MITRE TRAIN:

The Mitre train line will take you out of the city to the surrounding areas of Martinez, San Isidro, etc. and ends at Tigre. The price is usually about 18 pesos. Take the Subte to the Retiro station and follow the signs for Mitre. The Tigre line is on anden 2 (platform 2). Scan your card, and enter. It takes about 1 hour to get from Retiro to Tigre, but it’s worth the ride.


BUENOS AIRES SAFETY

The idea of safety is definitely subjective, and like any major cities, Buenos Aires also has its fair share of pickpockets and scams. Stay alert, don’t carry a lot of cash on you, and wear your backpack to the front as you’ll see locals doing. Try to avoid using your cell phone on the street as much as possible. Here are the scams I’ve heard of so far:

MOTORCYCLE ROBBERY:

If you’re using your cell phone while walking down the street, a motorcycle will drive right past you, sometimes even up on the sidewalk, grab it out of your hands and drive away quickly (“motochorros”). It all happens so fast, it’s hard to react. I have heard that sometimes the police are involved, and they’ll take you to the station to make a report and it takes ages. The best thing to do, if you have an iphone, is to go straight home first to use the ‘find my iphone’ app on one of your other devices to try and locate where it has been taken as soon as possible.

DIRTY WATER IN BUENOS AIRES:

I just heard about this one recently. A girl was walking on Avenida de Mayo, when suddenly a bunch of dirty water fell on her from one of the balconies above. A couple people pretended to help her, and in the confusion, they grabbed her backpack and ran. Unfortunately it had her laptop, cell phone, and a few personal and meaningful items she may not ever get back. Be vigilant, just as in any big city, and be aware that even something as random as dirty water falling from a balcony can be a trick.

I’m definitely not saying there is more crime in Buenos Aires than in any other city, but just use your street smarts, and stay aware while walking in public. Do what you would do if you were in New York City, Los Angeles, or Rome. Be aware.

BUENOS AIRES CONCLUSION

There are definitely things to look out for when you travel, and Buenos Aires is no different. That does not take away from the beauty and love that this country has to offer. Enjoy the best city in the world, and don’t forget to create your Western Union account here!


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