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Staying Safe in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a big metropolis, 3 million people live in what is known today as Ciudad Autónoma and 10 more millions in Gran Buenos Aires (the metropolitan area). Like in any big city, some areas could be more dangerous than others. The following is an overview on how to stay safe as an expat in Buenos Aires.

You're pretty safe in Puerto Madero, Recoleta, Belgrano or Palermo. But always look behind your back. La Boca could be more dangerous, visit it during daylight and avoid walking alone in desolated streets. Microcentro is safe during office hours but not so at night.

Getting Around

If you need a taxi avoid getting one on the street. Your looks or accent will turn you in and thus an expected five minute ride may become an hour long unsolicited and expensive city tour. You'd better phone (or even email) a taxi cab from one of the many reputed taxi companies found online (just google taxi + buenos aires and choose one from the top of the list).

By the way, arriving at Ezeiza airport, you're an easy target for taxi scams. I suggest you to book a taxi or better a remisse at one of the many company booths inside the airport's arrival lobby. A bus to the city and then a shared taxi is another, cheaper, option available.

Advice for Gentlemen.

Attention with enticing, smiling and fast-forward local girls at bars and pubs. The black widow is more than an urban legend in Buenos Aires. So be careful who you invite to your room, especially if the pick-up process was expeditious and you're not precisely a Don Juan. Viudas negras are women that pick up foreigners to rob them while they're asleep. And there is no fun, they'll drug you first. The drug commonly used is colloquially called burundanga and will send you to Morpheus' arms for 1 or 2 hours. Your willpower is cancelled and you'll remember almost nothing when you wake up. You will still figure out pretty quickly what has happened, after realizing your Dollars or Euros, camera and laptop are gone.

Advice for Ladies

In Buenos Aires, and in Latin America in general, you'd better never go out alone at night. Never return home alone late at night. Avoid walking alone in parks too, even during daylight. This is not sexism, it's common sense. Whenever you reach your apartment building's front door, have the right key ready in your hand (not in the bottomless pit called female purse). Waste no time to get inside.

General Safety Tips

Below are some extra tips to keep a low profile on the streets, which will lower the chances you'll be chosen as a target. Survival is a mimetic game.

  • Avoid using bling, gold or expensive  jewelry or watches.
  • Never flash your fancy tablet or smartphone in public, be discreet with the use of electronics.
  • Carry a map and use it to control where the taxi driver is taking you. In case you have a discussion raise your voice a little. A side note, contrary to Nordic cultures, in Latin America never expect people to do what they are supposed to do without some encouragement. Firm but respectful bossing may work wonders at the right moment.
  • Never get into a taxi if there is someone (male or female) accompanying the driver.
  • Never walk in deserted streets at night. Avoid parks at night.
  • If some person appears out of the blue and extends his hand pretending to shake yours don't do it and keep walking. It may be a tactic to mug you.
  • Be careful at ATMs. Unlike Europe, ATMs in Argentina are never to be found in the open. They're inside the banks or in attached little Plexiglas fortresses. Look around before and after getting to the ATM and never count your money outside.
  • When taking the subway (Subte) bring all your valuables to the front of your body, awkward as it may sound. That means, carry your backpack or purse to the front. Yes, better to look like a kangaroo than to find somebody cut your bag with a knife and stole your stuff. Never carry your wallet in the back pocket of your jeans!
  • Never hitchhike! Never, nowhere in Latin America. Car-sharing with strangers or the German concept of Mitfahrgelegenheit is also risky business.
  • Unless you're highly trained in self-defense and you really really really know your life is at stake, don't try to react. Don't become a (dead) hero. In case of a threat, play cool, comply and remember your priority is to get away alive.

A final tip, carry a couple of 100 Pesos bills in an easily accessible pocket, separated from other valuables. Many muggers will quickly run away if you give them some cash, leaving you and your other belongings alone.

Buenos Aires is not more dangerous than any other similar sized metropolis like New York or Rio. I just put all the bad stuff together for you to be informed. And the tips are intended to make your experience foolproof and enjoyable. Most of my foreign friends that visited Buenos Aires never had a problem. So don't freak out. Just be careful, keep your eyes open, and enjoy the best city in Latin America!


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