Buenos Aires: A wild and crazy ride

“Wild, wonderful, West Virginia” – this is one of my favorite license plate slogans in the US. I like to apply it to Buenos Aires as well; it can definitely be both of those things! I realized today I have not blogged a single time in September, the first month in two years without any blog posts, so I need to change that. And the reason is pretty simple – there’s just so much going on! I have been here five months now, and it has, indeed, been a fun ride. I came because of a very cool job offer (which I have not blogged about yet) but then all sorts of other things started happening as well. I am very conscious of the fact that life in Argentina is not easy for most people, that the economy is a mess, and that the political situation is rather depressing. However, as a privileged foreigners I have things happen here that I can’t see happening anywhere else that I have lived, especially not in Norway.

Example: over the course of the last week, I have both been practicing to sing back-up (a very small piece on one song, but still!) on a recording, to take place in a week, and acted as a hand-model in a photo/video production for a purse. How funny!! I am not a fantastic singer, and I don’t have amazing hands, but both are great experiences and things that make me think that every day is adventure here. I have been interviewed on the radio, I have played polo with great players, I have sailed the Paraná river, I have danced lots, I have done some very interesting things professionally… I go running in beautiful parks, yesterday I biked for two hours on great bike paths – in the rain, which means most people here doesn’t go out, so we could go as fast as we wanted. I sometimes sell my baked goods, which I think is hilarious. I sing more than I have in a long time. I study languages. I go the movies and to theater. I have met interesting and crazy people. And the polo season has started, which means free matches at the Campo de Polo in Palermo. And in a month or so, the jacarandas will be blooming! I am so lucky!!

One part of my Buenos Aires honeymoon is over, though: I loved the fact that my apartment was really quiet, even though it is close to a big avenue. However, that all changed two weeks ago: I have construction on one side, and demolition on the other. And they start EARLY… BsAs is a noisy city, no doubt about it. And it doesn’t go great with my home office… Oh well!

I have some trips and things to blog about, so I will probably backdate those to make it look like I wrote more than one blog post in September. :)

Posted in Buenos Aires, Norsk i Argentina, Noruega en Argentina, Personal | 4 Comments

Housing for foreigners in Buenos Aires

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This is what I want…

I get questions about rentals in Buenos Aires all the time, especially medium-term, so I figured I’d make a little summary. I divide them in three broad categories:

  1. Short-term rentals geared towards foreign tourists
  2. Medium-term rentals, which are usually furnished, temporary rentals used both by foreigners and by Argentineans, such as students from other parts of the country
  3. Long-term rentals mainly accessible to Argentineans or others with a guarantee

1. Short-term vacation rentals: There are lots of options for tourists, and this is what I did when I came to Argentina on vacation several years ago. After the 2001 crisis, many people invested in property and make good money renting them out to foreigners in dollars. The typical websites for this is VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) and AirBnB, but there are plenty of others specific to Buenos Aires as well. You can also use Craigslist Buenos Aires for this. For tourists, I think the nicest areas to stay are Recoleta, Palermo Chico/Barrio Parque/Botánico, and Palermo Soho. (To me, Palermo Hollywood is a little too far from the action and a little dead during the day. Microcentro is too noisy and not nice at night, and San Telmo, while of course quintessentially Buenos Aires and beautiful, just seems to get more and more insecure.) These rentals are usually paid in dollars, through either credit cards, PayPal, or cash. (Often you pay a part of it before arrival and the rest in cash when you get here.) These rentals can be both whole apartments and houses, or a single room.

2. The medium-term rentals, alquileres temporarios, is sort of a mix of the fancy rentals geared towards tourists, and more basic apartments often rented by students, both foreign and national. You can often get a good discount on an AirBnB rental if you contact the owner and negotiate a price – they might be interested in giving you a really good deal if you stay for several months, because it of course makes it easier for them and secures them a long-term income, especially in low season. What you can do is take it off AirBnB; the trick is to not write your email, because the system will block the message, but you can write something like “please contact me on my full name at the server that starts with G.” Temporary rentals are usually always furnished and contracts are usually up to six months, sometimes with the option of renewal. You can find these rentals through agents (who usually take 20% commission) or websites such as SoloDueños, Craigslist, ZonaProp, CompartoDepto, and others.

Foreigners often resort to these because of the restrictions on the longer term rentals. The good thing is of course the flexibility, the bad thing is that if you are here to stay, you may not want a place that is all furnished. I find that the rentals geared towards tourists are usually very nicely decorated but with a lot of stuff, paintings, etc. which makes it harder to make it your own. The ones used more by students tend to have simpler furniture (furuhelvete as we would say in Norway – pine, pine, pine) but that also usually means that you can do a little more with the place. I asked my landlady to take away as many decorative cushions etc. as possible, I am not using any of their lines, and I will ask them to paint the bedroom white for a cleaner look. I put on white lines and towels to make everything look simpler and bigger and I stuffed most of the decorative items in a closet. Now, if there was a way to wish away the red accent wall in the living room… Oh, and don’t be too scared by the ads – while apartments in Norway are usually styled and photographed by professionals, here the ads are simpler and there are often random people and animals in the apartment photos!

...and this is what you might get

…and this is what you might get

3. The long-term rentals are regulated by strict laws, and tenant rights are quite strong, so these contracts require a few things that most foreigners do not have, especially not early on:

  • Garantía: This is a guarantee granted by a friend, family member or employer who has to be a property owner, preferably in Buenos Aires proper (CABA, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires). Basically the grantor promises to pay rent if the renter does not pay, and to intervene if the renter does not vacate the premises when he or she has to. Of course you have to be pretty close to someone if they are going to agree to give you this guarantee, so it is not an option for new arrivals without family here, unless their company provides it. I do know that sometimes rental agencies or owners will accept you without the guarantee if you pay a large deposit or agree to a higher price, but I have not been able to do this.
  • Some require a pay slip from your job.
  • Deposit: It varies a lot what the deposit is, but usually at least two months rent.
  • Commission if you go through an agency.

After some time here, it is usually easier to get into this third rental market, because you start making more contacts and find out about things through word of mouth, but if you can find a good temporary rental, that is a great option as well. The websites are basically the same as for the temporary rentals. The big difference is of course the price – the long term rentals, which are basically all in pesos, are really quite economical compared to most places. Then again, you need furniture and often items such as fridges, washer etc. which are big investments.

Happy renting!

Posted in Buenos Aires, Norsk i Argentina, Noruega en Argentina, Preparation, Travel | Leave a comment

Health insurance for foreigners in Buenos Aires

This will just be a short post because I get asked this from time to time: What to do about health insurance as a foreigner in Argentina? Argentina has a decent public health system compared to many Latin American countries, but many foreigners opt for a private pre-paid health insurance, often referred to as medicina pre-paga or medicina privada. Note that it is very easy to sign up, even tourists with just a passport can join an insurance plan. If you don’t have a bank account here to do an automatic transfer, some companies accept cash payments while with others you use RapiPago or PagoFacil, where you go to a kiosk or other provider and pay in cash through these payment systems. Of course, if you work here, you will most likely have some coverage through your job, so this post really applies to freelancers and others who need to take care of their own health insurance.

First of all: Do you need to get private insurance? If you are here for less than three months and have travel insurance, you don’t – you’ll be covered by that. Some travel insurance plans are longer term and cover trips up to a year. If you are traveling for a short time without travel insurance, you have two options if you need medical help: going to the public hospitals, or paying out of pocket for private. Public can be totally fine, but many chose to go private because it is easier and usually quicker. Also, this is not the USA: the prices are much more affordable and you are unlikely to end up with a huge medical debt. The facilities and the professionals are usually excellent.

If you are living here medium to long term, the considerations are really the same: pay for insurance, go public, or pay for private health care if you need it? Personally, I would feel a little guilty taking advantage of the public health system when there are so many people in great need. If you are young and healthy, maybe you are fine without insurance, as long as you have some money to pay for health care when you need it. I have opted for private insurance as it seems like the safest and most responsible thing to do.

Second: What plan to get? There are many different companies who offer medical insurance. As a foreigner, one of the best option is the plan offered through Medicus and Expat Connection. Check it our here: Local insurance for expats. They have three levels, with the main difference being the providers – in the most economical plan you can only use Medicus’ own facilities. The prices are great because it basically acts as a pool, something you don’t get when you sign up as an individual.

The company considered to be the best is OSDE, but it is also usually the most expensive for individual plans. I opted for Swiss Medical based on recommendations and the pricing. (With the inflation it goes up quite a bit every month but hey, it’s my health!)

Posted in Buenos Aires, Daily life, Norsk i Argentina, Noruega en Argentina, Practical info, Preparation, Travel | Leave a comment

Luján, Buenos Aires Province – Or, Lots of Travel for Three Pesos

IMG_20140718_152335About a month ago, I visited Lujan, which is a small town about 70km from Buenos Aires. It is known mainly for its basilica, as Wikipedia tells us:

Luján is best known for its large neo-gothic Basilica, built in honor of the Virgin of Luján, the patron saint of Argentina. Every year, more than six million people make pilgrimages to the Basilica,[1] many walking there from Buenos Aires. The city is known as La Capital de la Fe (Capital of the Faith). It is popular day-trip for non-believers too, with abundant grill restaurants (like most places in Argentina) and souvenir shops with kitsch religious memorabilia.

But the main reason that I went to Lujan, was that some friends and I had talked about places to go on the train. The trains coming in from the towns around Buenos Aires are pretty shabby, but also extremely cheap, starting at AR$1.10 (around 9 cents of a dollar), which is a third of what the cheapest bus ticket in the city costs… So we thought it would be fun to take advantage of this to see some places in the Province of Buenos Aires. Of course this limited our possible destinations, since there are not trains everywhere, but we figured Lujan was a good choice.

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We met up at Once train station and got on the 8 o’clock train to Moreno, where we would change to another train. This particular line, the Sarmiento, is sadly known for the large accident two years ago that killed 55 people, and is very run-down and not very nice, although they were getting new trains just days after our trip. We got on one train, then we had to move to another, and we took off half hour late. This meant that we missed the connection in Moreno, and had to wait another hour there. In total, it took us 3 hours 40 minutes! If it wasn’t for the waiting, it would have been a lot faster of course. The first train was quite the experience; people were smoking a lot of cigarettes, and a lot of pot… That was a surprise! All the windows were open, which was good for the smoke but also made it freezing cold. I felt a lot of compassion for the people who take this trip every day! The second train was more comfortable. Still cold, but no pot. It was also more expensive, a whooping 1.75…

IMG_20140718_163857Once in Lujan, things were good: We visited the basilica, had a nice lunch, went to the transport museum, and drank mate along the river. In the summer, there is lots of activity on the river front, but it was very calm now. The transport museum was fantastic, one of those small town museums with a really dedicated guy who took us around and told us all sorts of fascinating anecdotes. Their collection includes things like an old Buenos Aires street car, the “pony express” wagons that was the precursor to the train, the Popemobil from John Paul II’s visit in the 1980s, and two horses that were used to ride to New York in 1925… A very eclectic place.

On the way back we opted for the combi, i.e. nice express bus, but with traffic and whatnot it took us 2 hours 20 minutes, and cost 31 pesos, more than ten times what we paid for the train… All in all, a very fun day and quite different!

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Posted in Buenos Aires, Travel | 1 Comment

Algaia – Beautiful Vegetarian Food in Colegiales

P1150952I am slowly trying more and more vegetarian places here in Buenos Aires, and one I will definitely be going back to is Algaia in Colegiales. Algaia is a restaurant, a place for cooking classes, and a provider of ready made meals (viandas in Spanish) that you can put in the freezer and pull out for a quick yet health and nutritious dinner. The owner, Nicolás, is a chef from France, trained in the French classic culinary tradition, who ended up cutting out animal products and alcohol. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires he worked at famous San Juan Café, and then later started Algaia.

Anyway, the most important was that the food was great! I had “meatballs” made of celery and oats, I think, and they were amazing. Tasty, fresh, delicious. For dessert, a very healthy brownie. Looking forward to going there again! We went on a weekday, when they have a shorter menu, so I am excited to go back on a weekday when there is more variety.

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Posted in Buenos Aires, Restaurants, Veggies | 5 Comments

My Inner Martha Stewart

IMG_1777For the newest students of Norwegian, I channeled my inner Martha Stewart: I made sugar cookies, decorated them with red, white and blue sprinkles, and put them in tiny individual cardboard boxes. On each box I glued a white card that said “My name is” in Norwegian and then the student’s name, and a small Norwegian flag. I may not be a great teacher but my cookies are pretty good! (I am a teaching twice a week at the Instituto Sueco Argentino – it is a nice way to help out the Norwegian community and those who are interested in it. Although I think I am a pretty bad teacher; I love learning languages myself but find it pretty hard to teach!)

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Posted in Buenos Aires, Comunidad noruega, Noruega en Argentina | 3 Comments

Precios cuidados

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Precios cuidados is a government program where certain products are supposed to be made available at a cheaper price and not go up as quickly as inflation. Oh the irony – the government, which has caused the 40% inflation the country is experiencing, then tries to freeze prices… Anyway, this caused me a chuckle: even Coca Cola (only regular, not Light or Zero!) and Fernet, the Argentineans’ drink of choice, is under the program! Is Coca Cola really where we should be concerned to keep prices affordable…?

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Posted in Buenos Aires, Politics | 4 Comments