Who hasn’t seen the movies and dreamed of spending time in Buenos Aires? It’s like the Paris of South America, full of culture and good food and beautiful buildings. Like New York City and London, it’s a melting pot of various cultures and cuisines. The weather is temperate all year long and unlike many other capital cities in the world, it’s possible to enjoy life in Buenos Aires, instead of living hand-to-mouth.
Housing will almost always be your biggest expense, no matter where you live. If you have a DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) or a friend willing to sign your lease for you, you’ll be able to pay local prices and get unbelievable deals on rent. Of course, those apartments will be unfurnished so if you’re looking at spending just a month or so in Buenos Aires, you’re better off paying for a slightly more expensive but furnished place.
But how much? Well, it depends on if you’re booking through Airbnb or with a local agent and where you want to live and in what kind of space. You can pay anything from $250/month for a furnished room in San Telmo to $1500/month for a one-bedroom in Palermo. Utilities such as water, gas, and WiFi are usually included in rent. If you’re planning to work from home, ask for a speed test (free at speedtest.net) before committing to anything. Many places require a 3-month minimum so if you’re staying for a shorter period, prepare to pay a slight premium of less than 10%.
Public transportation in Buenos Aires is some of the best I’ve experienced in the last 2.5 years of travel. It’s very cheap because it’s subsidized by the Argentine government and fairly extensive. There are only six subway lines but there are dozens of bus lines that run all over the city. It can be a little confusing as bus lines have variations such as 115A and 115B and they’ll veer off and go in different directions sometimes. Fortunately, Google maps is great at letting you know exactly which bus to get on, where your stop is, and tracking you along the way even if you’re not online so use it liberally.
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In order to ride the buses and subways in Buenos Aires, you’ll need to get SUBE card, which is like the Oyster card in London or the Ventra card in Chicago. A SUBE card can be purchased at nearly any kiosk for 25 Argentine Pesos (about $1.60) and needs to be loaded with credit. Most bus and subway rides will cost anywhere from 6-7.50 pesos and you’re able to run a deficit of up to 20 pesos before you absolutely must recharge. This comes in really handy at night or on Sundays when most kiosks are closed.
Taxis and Ubers are also reasonably priced, even if you’re going long distances. That said the bus will often be a fraction of the cost and is very easy to catch if you’re living somewhere central like Palermo or Recoleta.
Don’t plan to shop for clothes, make-up or electronics in Buenos Aires. The locals are known to head to Santiago or Peru or the USA to do their shopping and with good reason as import taxes can easily double the cost of these items.
Prepaid cell phone plans are also quite expensive as most of them limit you a small amount of data per day (usually 30-50mb) and once you go over that, you’ll tear through your credit very quickly.
On the plus side, groceries are very reasonable and eating at a local restaurant will be about $20/person, assuming you ordered a drink or a bottle of water. Many restaurants will also have lunch specials (called Executive menus) so be adventurous and take advantage of those.
Most shopping is a luxury here but experiences can be had for very affordable prices. You can see a show at Teatro Colon for as little as $4 or as much as $65 per ticket, depending on where you’d like to sit. Wine shops around the city hold wine tastings you can attend to learn about Argentina’s production for anywhere from $20-100, including the wine and snacks.
You can eat at world-famous steakhouses or at the Buenos Aires’ top restaurants, including an expensive bottle of wine, for around $200 for 2 people. There are free walking tours of the city or you could splurge and spend $50 on a bike tour per person.
Medical care is more expensive for foreigners than for locals but is still very affordable. Visiting a doctor for a check-up will range from $20-50.
Is it worth it to Live in Buenos Aires?
In a word: yes. Buenos Aires is a pain to get to, being so far away from North America and Europe but is well worth the effort. It’s a vibrant, reasonably affordable city, with a lot of culture and great locals. It’s big enough that you won’t feel bored but small enough (because of its system of neighborhoods) to feel homey. Spend a little time there and the people at your local wine shop and produce stand will recognize you and chat with you. And when you want anonymity, all you have to do is leave your neighborhood.
With its culture, beautiful buildings, and neighborhood focus, it reminds me a lot of Paris. The biggest differences are the language and that Parisian produce is much better than what you’ll find in Buenos Aires. If you’re looking for somewhere with a decent expat community, affordable prices, and great wine, Buenos Aires is where you should go.
This post is by Amna Shamim, a writer / marketing consultant who quit her life in NYC and now travels the world, basing out of a different city every 1-2 months. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Hobo On The Go and read her favorite for-client articles at here. Whether you’re looking for a great writer or just want to let her know about your adventures, please feel free to reach out.