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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Buenos Aires

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Relocating to Buenos Aires

  • When looking for somewhere to live, don’t restrict yourself to within the capital. Buenos Aires isn’t just the 48 neighborhoods within the city boarders.
  • Expats have come to Buenos Aires from all corners of the world, so it has a very diverse and modern population.
  • Research all the areas of Buenos Aires carefully before choosing which one to find accommodation in. Each area offers a different side of Argentinian life.

Located near the Río de la Plata, where the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers meet, and surrounded by fertile plains, Buenos Aires was founded in the early 16th century. The city was under Spanish rule until 1816, when Argentina was declared independent without once more falling into royalist hands.

Thousands of people started moving to Buenos Aires when the city, as the center of the young Argentine nation, opened up to large-scale immigration in the 1850s. Newly arrived in Buenos Aires, these immigrants, especially from Spain and Italy, transformed the new capital into a wealthy and sophisticated metropolis.

The Bohemian City That Lost Its Sparkle

In the latter half of the 20th century, however, Buenos Aires lost a bit of its glamour. Even after attempts to re-democratize the country, moving to Buenos Aires still was not all that attractive an option. Along with the rest of the country, the Argentine capital suffered from a serious economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, which led to socio-political unrest among the impoverished population.

However, after Argentina’s bicentennial celebrations in 2010, moving to Buenos Aires has once again been gaining traction. The city is as vibrant and bohemian as ever: Not only has its reputation among international tourists reached new heights, but more foreigners move to Buenos Aires for work, as well.

Look Outside the Limits

When moving to Buenos Aires, you will obviously need a place to live. Among expatriates, the choice of residence is influenced by such factors as proximity to work, transportation, and international schools. Nonetheless, it helps to know a little about the various neighborhoods and suburbs before you move to Buenos Aires.

The city consists of 48 different quarters. These neighborhoods, from Saavedra to Nueva Pompeya, only form the capital itself, however. The autonomous federal district is surrounded by the Buenos Aires Province. Outside the official city limits, the urban sprawl of Gran Buenos Aires extends much further.

Life in the Capital: Comfy & Cultural

As of 2016, it is estimated that just under 2.9 million people are living in Buenos Aires itself. As such, the city suffers from neither rapid demographic growth nor overpopulation. The Gran Buenos Aires region is turning into one enormous conurbation as more and more people move to Buenos Aires and its surrounding towns, and today more than 13 million people live there.

In Buenos Aires City’s 48 neighborhoods, you’ll find an interesting demographic mix of ethnicities and nationalities. A small number of porteños are mestizos (“mixed-raced” descendants of Amerindians and European colonists) or Afro-Argentines. Most Buenos Aires natives, however, trace their ancestry back to the immigration waves from Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, or other Latin American nations.

Diverse Demographics

In addition to the immigrants from Italy and Spain, numerous German, Irish, Portuguese, French, English, Welsh, Scandinavian, and Russian hopefuls decided to try their luck moving to Buenos Aires, especially in the late 19th century. Among these, there was also a considerable number of European Jews: Buenos Aires still boasts Latin America’s largest Jewish community. Its heritage can be seen throughout the city in traditional Jewish neighborhoods, such as Villa Crespo.

Later, Syrians, Lebanese, and Armenians also started moving to Buenos Aires. Then, in the decades following World War II, migration trends shifted to new arrivals from other South American countries, mainly Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay, and a number of East Asian communities emerged. Since then, Argentina has once again become a favorite among expatriates and immigrants from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, South Korea, and Japan, and regardless of origin most move to Buenos Aires.

Exclusively Expats: Sticking With the Familiar

Today’s expat residential areas are a far cry from the historical immigrant quarters in Buenos Aires. As mentioned, most expatriates opt to find a home in close proximity to their workplace, a public transportation node, or their children’s school(s). Nevertheless, there are some neighborhoods (barrios) that are especially popular among expats moving to Buenos Aires. These will be introduced on the following page.

Expat Accommodation in Buenos Aires

Belgrano and Palermo: International Hubs

Belgrano in the north of Buenos Aires is home to several sub-districts. It features both commercial areas, such as Belgrano C, and upper-middle-class neighborhoods, particularly in Belgrano R. Historically, Belgrano has also housed much of the local Chinese community, and many German immigrants preferred to settle here, too. The Pestalozzi School is also located in Belgrano and offers courses in both German and Spanish.

Palermo, a northeastern neighborhood with many embassies, is the largest of Buenos Aires’ districts. Like so many of the city’s other quarters, it is, unofficially, subdivided into several different neighborhoods.

Palermo Soho, for instance, attracts a young upper-middle-class crowd favoring a bohemian lifestyle. Younger, single expats tend to feel right at home in this vibe. Affluent families, on the other hand, will most likely prefer the upper-class areas in Palermo Chico, adjacent to the residential Barrio Parque, with its luxurious real-estate developments for the rich, the famous, and the beautiful.

Together, Recoleta and Retiro, also in northeastern Buenos Aires, form the elegant Barrio Norte. Both neighborhoods have a high population density and each their fair share of day-time commuters. Generally, these areas are considered among the fanciest in town.

Recoleta boasts a number of foreign embassies, green spaces, and beautiful architecture and is said to be the most ‘European’ neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Retiro is a tad more affordable, though for the most part exclusive. Paradoxically, however, it also houses one of the city’s most (in)famous slums, Villa 31.

San Nicolás and Montserrat: History & Heritage

San Nicolás houses the business district of Buenos Aires, simply referred to as El Centro (the center). The shopping-friendly Florida Street and the district’s proximity to touristy Montserrat explain why it’s a favorite destination for visitors, too. San Nicolás has also historically been Buenos Aires’ English neighborhood since the first British consulate opened there in 1794.

Neighboring Montserrat has more actual living space than San Nicolás. Despite its tourist attractions and its administrative significance as the political center of Buenos Aires, some expats do live here. It is one of the oldest areas in town and is closely associated with the capital’s Spanish heritage. If you work in the finance and banking sector of San Nicolás, a home in Montserrat could be convenient.

Escaping the Centre

Beyond the city limits, the provincial suburbs in Zona Norte (North Area) are of particular interest to well-off expatriate families. Although the northern suburbs include some impoverished areas, they also feature lots of elegant residential areas. A number of English-language schools have their campus in the northern part of town, too. The Zona Oeste (West Area) and Zona Sur (South Area), however, contain many poorer neighborhoods, industrial zones, and commercial areas.

Recovering From The Crises

Since the recent economic crises, the demand for housing in Buenos Aires has been fairly high. Many Argentines no longer have the financial security to invest in property and thus delay purchasing a flat or house, which has naturally put a lot of pressure on the rental market.

Until around 2012, the real estate market in Buenos Aires had been gradually recovering, even though prices hadn’t quite returned to the same level as before the recession. At the time of writing in 2016, things are looking even better for the real estate market in Buenos Aires – it was even listed as one of the 6 top emerging real estate markets of 2016. After the currency controls were loosened under new leadership, the currency has moved closer to the market equilibrium.  This has led to house prices in Buenos Aires being some of the lowest in South America, Of course, many expats choose to rent rather than buy. Due to inflation, the rental market is rather costly, and expats on a budget have to compete with Buenos Aires’ middle-class and student population, particularly at the start of academic semesters. Furnished housing and serviced apartments are readily available, but these may be better suited for short-term stays.

You can start house hunting on your own with the classifieds in El Clarínand La Nación or with property sites such as ZonaProp. However, if you aren’t familiar with the city and the cryptic Spanish in housing ads, it would be much easier to hire a real estate agent. If they have experience with foreigners, they should be able to advise you on rental contracts and the garante (guarantor) system: Before signing a contract, you have to find someone to act as your guarantor in case you cannot afford the rent or damage the property.

Bureaucracy and the Communas

Once you have found a place to stay in Buenos Aires, chances are your address will be different from the residence listed in your immigration papers. Whenever this is the case, you must notify the National Immigration Office of your change of address. As a legal resident of Argentina, you also need a national identity card (Documento Nacional de Identidad).

In the city of Buenos Aires, you can take care of such bureaucratic issues at your Sede Comunal, also known as Centro de Gestion y Participación. Each of the 48 neighborhoods of Buenos Aires belong to one of 15 comunas, and the Sede Comunal in each of these comunas serves as a go-to office for the residents of that particular comuna. At this office, residents can pay taxes, obtain a driver’s license, and take care of other bureaucratic matters. To find contact information and opening hours of your Sede Comunal, please use the city homepage.

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  • Paolo Greco

    My wife has found her job through InterNations. That is great as our fresh start in Buenos Aires was kind of tough for us both.

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    If you want to meet interesting international people in Buenos Aires, go to the InterNations events! I am doing that -- everyone is doing that.

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