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First Time in Buenos Aires- Expat Crash Course On Your First [24] Hours

Is this your first time in Buenos Aires? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about the city and everything you need to do in your first 24 hours. From navigating the airport transportation without getting ripped off to getting the best exchange rate for your dollar, we walk you through each step. minutes

05/06/24

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About the author

Hi, I'm Marco Sison. I worked in finance for Fortune 50 companies before retiring early at 41 years old. I have been an expat for over 10 years, living in over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries outside the USA. I am a trusted resource on personal finance and overseas retirement for US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Association of MBAs, the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE, and the Amazon Best-Seller- Abroad: Expats That Thrive.

QUICK SUMMARY-

  • Focus on safe and trendy neighborhoods like Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Soho, and Recoleta.
  • Uber is the easiest and fastest way to get from the airport to the city center for roughly $12
  • Use Western Union to get cash and take advantage of the informal exchange rate (Blue dollar rate)
  • The city has a European flair and is considered the “Paris of South America.”
  • Using an airport taxi can mean getting scammed and paying double what you should.
  • Using ATMs to get Argentine Pesos can mean losing 16% on the exchange rate

I’ve been trying to move to Buenos Aires for years, but between the pandemic and my partner’s university schedule, we couldn’t get to South America until this year. We’ve lived in CABA for four months now, and BROTHER, I wish I had moved here sooner!

Known for sultry tango shows, delicious steakhouses, and famous Malbec wine, Buenos Aires, sometimes dubbed the “Paris of South America,” has an undeniable European flair you don’t get in other Latin American cities.

While this is my first time in Buenos Aires, this is my new favorite city in Latin America. Buenos Aires ticks off sooo many boxes for a retirement destination, we are contemplating buying housing and keeping it as a homebase.

This post may contain affiliate links. I may get a commission if you purchase something using my link. Please note, there is NO ADDITIONAL COST to you. For more information, please see my disclosure.

6 Quick Tips To Prepare For A Move To Argentina

TIP 1. Use Western Union to get more pesos- Western Union is still the best way to change money in Argentina. As an added bonus, you get a $20 Amazon Card and Free transfer fees for using our sign up link.

TIP 2. Argentina is another country that requires an onward ticket- Be prepared to show a departure flight or a return ticket. You can get a cheap onward travel ticket $16 here.

TIP 3. Your home insurance will not cover you in Argentina- Protect your health with international health coverage that costs less than what you would pay in the United States.

TIP 4. Get FREE quotes to save on moving costs- International moves can get expensive. You can save hundreds of dollars using this form to get professional international moving companies to compete for your business.

TIP 5. Keep a permanent address with a travel mailbox- Keep an address in your home country to receive important mail from getting lost. A virtual travel mailbox ensures you don’t lose an important tax return, bank statement, credit card, or government document in the mail.

TIP 6. Pick up some Spanish Skills- Only 6% of locals speak English. You’ll make life in Argentina easier by knowing more than “Hola.” Get a free 7-day Spanish language crash course your transition here easier.

Explore Palermo Hollywood: My Favorite Neighborhood in Buenos Aires
Discover Palermo Soho: Buenos Aires’ Trendiest Expat Neighborhood
Using P2P Whatsapp Groups To Change Money In Buenos Aires 
[2024 Update] How-To Use Western Union & Argentina Blue Dollar Rate To Maximize Your Cash
Exchanging Money in Argentina [2024 Update]: USD/EUR/ARS Exchange Cheat Sheet

With nearly 3 million people and 48 neighborhoods, Buenos Aires is a sprawling metropolis that can be overwhelming at first glance. Additionally, due to rapid inflation and an abrupt shift in the presidential elections this month, most of the information on websites is terribly outdated. I started the Nomadic FIRE YouTube channel to help other expats navigate this changing environment.

Our channel’s first video guides an expat’s first 24 hours after arriving in Argentina. We go over the best neighborhoods for foreigners, the easiest way to get from the airport to the city, mastering the Buenos Aires’ transportation system, choosing a cell phone plan, the best way to get Argentine pesos, and how to stay safe.

While we will have deep dives and in-depth write-ups on each topic individually, the video and this guide work together to give a practical overview packed with insider tips designed to get you settled ASAP.

Neighborhood Tour And Recommendations

Some folks would chastise my list of neighborhoods below as expat bubbles since most foreigners would choose one of these three neighborhoods to stay in Buenos Aires.

But even in trendy Palermo SOHO, you won’t get the mega touristy passport bros and sexpat drug and prostitution vibe of Medellin’s Parque Lleras. However, you will find significantly higher rents in the places. Studios average around $500. One-bedroom apartments are around $700. Two-bedroom apartments cost about $900.

I’ll give you two cheaper alternatives (Belgrano and San Telmo) that I didn’t provide in the video, though I will tell you right now NOT to stay in San Telmo.

Palermo Soho- Hipster Central

There is no doubt which neighborhood attracts the most foreigners. Palermo Soho is where Buenos Aires trendsetters and beautiful people shop, drink, and mingle.

The area bursts with creativity, showcased in its street art and galleries. The colorful murals and quaint cobblestone streets provide a bohemian backdrop for blocks of unique shops, cool hangouts, and trendy boutiques by day. When it’s time to take five, pop into a chic cafe for an afternoon coffee or mate. At night, Plaza Serrano’s array of bars and clubs buzz as a nightlife hub for this vibrant city.

Most expats and foreign tourists stay in Palermo Soho, making it the perfect place to connect with like-minded individuals and expand your social circle. The barrio is not just a place to live; it’s a lifestyle, marrying the creative bohemian charm with the pulse of modern living – a perfect blend for expats seeking a dynamic urban experience.

Palermo Hollywood- Foodie Heaven

I chose Palermo Hollywood when I first moved to Buenos Aires. If you’re visiting Buenos Aires for the first time, you’ll frequently hear about Palermo Hollywood and its vibrant dining scene. This neighborhood is a paradise for food enthusiasts.

It’s much quieter here than nearby SOHO. You’ll trade the plazas filled with shoppers and tourists with tree-lined streets with a smorgasbord of dining options offering everything from traditional parrillas to high-end sushi to international fusion cuisine.

I start many mornings nursing a meticulously brewed cold-press coffee or treating myself to some scrumptious facturas (local pastries), all while basking in the area’s effortlessly relaxed atmosphere.

While Hollywood isn’t the nightlife and entertainment mecca that SOHO is, the area comes alive at night with a buzzing energy of bars, secret lounges, and live music venues.

Recoleta- European Charm and Architecture

As you venture away from the trendy streets of Palermo Soho and head further into the Buenos Aires city center, you’ll discover the elegance and charm of Recoleta.

Stroll through the wide tree-lined avenues and marvel at the stunning European architecture that defines this upscale neighborhood. The old-world charm of Recoleta gets people hailing Buenos Aires as the Paris of South America.

Don’t miss these must-see attractions:

  • Recoleta Cemetery: Wander through this iconic cemetery, where elaborate mausoleums house the remains of Argentina’s most prominent figures.
  • Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes: Immerse yourself in world-class art collections, including works by Goya, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh.
  • Café La Biela: Relax at this historic café, a favorite haunt of intellectuals and artists, and savor traditional Argentine pastries and coffee.

Recoleta exudes a sophisticated ambiance, making it an ideal place to indulge in cultural experiences and savor the refined atmosphere of Buenos Aires.

Belgrano Local Vibes

I didn’t cover Belgrano in the video, but it is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, primarily because of Barrancas de Belgrano Park. Every morning, I would walk the park and watch several groups meeting up for yoga class or HIIT workout.

The evenings usually had dance classes or community tango events. The weekends always had crowds sitting on blankets and enjoying a picnic.

The best places to eat are near Belgrano’s Chinatown, an energetic quarter filled with authentic Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants, gift stores, and Asian supermarkets.

You’ll hear far less English spoken here as you’re further removed from SOHO or Recoleta tourist attractions. As a matter of fact, there isn’t much to “see” in Belgrano. Outside of Chinatown, I wouldn’t recommend many things from a tourism perspective.

But for expats living in Buenos Aires, Belgrano offers much more affordable housing, and you are still on the Subte D (blue line), which makes Palermo or Recoleta easily accessible for a night on the town.

Venture from the elegance and charm of Recoleta into the local vibes of Belgrano, immersing yourself in the authentic atmosphere of this unique neighborhood.

Avoid Living In San Telmo- Housing Is Cheap For A Reason

When the sun is out, San Telmo is generally a fine place. During the day, I encourage everyone to check out the neighborhoods, the tourist attractions, and the massive Sunday market. Sure, some corners smell like piss, and homeless are more prevalent, but beggars generally are not aggressive.

It’s a different story at night. San Telmo gets sketchy after dark. Some expats on Facebook groups will swear up and down how safe it is and that cities in the US are much more dangerous. However, every single porteño (person from Buenos Aires) I asked gave me the same advice- Avoid San Telmo at night.

Airport to City Center Transportation

First thing to know is Buenos Aires has three passenger airports. Most international flights arrive at Ministro Pistarini International Airport, also known as EZE or Ezeiza Airport. EZE is about 30 KM or 18 miles from Palermo or Recoleta. The city’s subway or Subte doesn’t run to the airport, so the best way to get to the city center is by Uber, Taxi, or bus.

Uber

Uber is a convenient and affordable transportation option to get from the airport to the city center. The price at the time of this writing was around 12 USD.

Taxi

You can take a taxi, but even the “official Ezezia taxi,” which is supposed to provide a fixed rate, still gets terrible reviews and has complaints of scams by travelers.

Price quote for Buenos Aires EZE airport  official taxi
EZE Official Airport Taxi Quote

The current price from EZE to Pamermo Hollywood is 25,600 ARS or ~$27 USD.

Uber screenshot showing price of Buenos Aires EZE airport pickup
Uber Airport Price During Rush Hour

Uber only costs ~$10 USD, and you don’t have the stress.

Bus

A bus from the airport to the city center costs about 10 US cents. That cost is not a typo. Public transport is cheap in Buenos Aires. But the bus takes longer, you’ll have to drag your luggage on board, and you’ll still need to figure out how to get from the bus station to your Airbnb.

Exchange Some Spending Money

OfficialWestern UnionVisaBlue Dollar
961881985803
USD to ARS Currency Exchange Rate As Of 12/19/23

The currency situation in the country is fluid. On December 13, 2023, the newly elected President Milei’s Minister of Economy devalued the Argentine Peso (ARS) by more than 50% as part of sweeping economic changes designed to curb the country’s soaring inflation. The advice here holds when the official rate is lower than the parallel unofficial “Blue Dollar” rate.

screenshot of official Argentina Peso to US Dollar devaluation exchange rate

At the time of this writing, the FOREX rate from USD to ARS is roughly 985 on the Blue Dollar and 803 on the Official exchange rate.

Western Union

To obtain cash in Buenos Aires, use Western Union to take advantage of the higher informal exchange rate, giving you more pesos than an ATM. I even have a referral link that gives you a $20 Amazon gift card for signing up.

screenshot showing the Western Union exchange rate from Argentinean Peso to US Dollar
Get a $20 Amazon Card By Signing Up To Western Union Today!

INSIDER TIP: Using A Credit Card In Buenos Aires- Until recently, it was standard advice for foreigners coming to Argentina to bring stacks of cash to exchange for pesos and never use credit cards. Never using your credit card was a frequent warning, as banks and, by extension, credit cards always used the official rate, not the more favorable blue dollar rate.

However, starting in early 2022, Visa and Mastercard started offering an “MEP” rate (Mercado Electrónicos Pagos), sometimes called a “foreigner tourist dollar” rate that was very close to the blue dollar.

screenshot showing the official Visa Foreign Tourist Dollar  MEP exchange rate to the United States Dollar

I use my credit card as much as possible now. The convenience and cashback of my credit cards offset the slight difference between the MEP and Blue rates.

However, many restaurants and shops have recently stopped accepting credit cards or tack on a 15% to 30% or more fee to use a credit card. I tend to carry a small amount of pesos for immediate expenses and use a debit or credit card for larger purchases, just in case.

Money Exchange

If you bring US dollars and want to exchange Argentine pesos, you’ll want to use a “Cueva,” literally translated from Spanish as a cave, to get the best exchange rate.

This goes back to banks and official money exchangers using the official exchange rate and not the more beneficial for foreigners, blue dollar rate.

But the “cave” name is a misnomer. Cuevas are rarely sketchy back-alley deals. While they operate in a semi-legal gray area the government tolerates them. Cuevas/cambios (money changers) are prominently displayed in any major neighborhood.

Cambios accept most major currencies, but the best exchange rate is given for new, crisp, undamaged $100- USD bills.

INSIDER TIP: Carrying Cash- Even using a familiar cueva, we are still extra cautious. It’s too easy to guess that a foreigner going into a money exchanger carries a lot of cash. Always prioritize your safety.

ATMs

ATMs are widely available throughout the entire city, allowing you to withdraw Argentine pesos using your bank or debit card. Since the devaluation, the official bank rate has moved closer to the unofficial rate (985 vs. 803). However, you still get 18% less pesos getting money out of the ATM, so I continue to use ATMs as a last resort.

Getting a Cell Phone Plan

When I first get to a new country, I always use Airalo. An Airalo eSIM ensures I have internet access the moment I touch down. I can look up connecting flight information, call an Uber, or locate an airport lounge without worrying if the airport has free WIFI (some airports don’t- I’m looking at you, Antalya, Turkey).

Once I get to my Airbnb, I head out for a local SIM.

In “What I Wish I Knew Before Arriving in Buenos Aires: First 24 Hours for Expats” video I share that Claro, Movistar, and Personal are the main cell operators. You can purchase a prepaid SIM, or ‘chip’, at local convenience stores, but you’ll be challenged to activate the card using Spanish-only instructions.

For a more straightforward experience, I recommend visiting a Claro store. There, I obtained the ‘Turista Prepago’ plan, which costs about 7,000 pesos (approximately 8 USD) and offers 25 gigabytes for 30 days.

Public Transportation

I save over $20,000 a year by living abroad. Want to know where a major chunk of savings comes from that no one talks about? Transportation! The US is a car culture, and millions of dollars of lobbying by car companies have ensured that the public transportation system sucks. Not in Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires has the best public transportation system I’ve experienced outside of Europe.

Buenos Aires has an extensive underground subway system supported by an extensive bus network. I’m not exaggerating when I say you can get nearly anywhere in the entire city for less than $1.

According to the latest research from AAA, the average yearly cost to own and operate a new vehicle in 2022 is $10,728, or $894 per month. AAA | American Automobile Association

Sube

Everything starts with a SUBE card. You can’t pay for your fare using cash. The SUBE card is your passport to access Buenos Aires’ public transportation system.

The SUBE card is a rechargeable smart card that allows you to travel seamlessly on buses, trains, and the subway in Buenos Aires. Here’s how to make the most of it:

  • Purchase a SUBE card at authorized vendors or subway stations.
  • Top up your card at kioskos, most metro stations, or online to ensure you always have enough credit for your travels.
  • Use the SUBE card to tap in and out of public transportation, making your journey around the city hassle-free and cost-effective.

With your SUBE card ready to go, you’ll have the freedom to explore all that Buenos Aires has to offer without the stress of purchasing individual tickets for each ride.

Subte

The metro in Buenos Aires, called Subte, consists of six subway lines and 85 stations and serves as the backbone for my daily transportation needs in the city.

The metro is frequent, easy to navigate, and on time (mostly). The green D line connects the expat neighborhoods of Belgrano, Palermo, and Recoleta with downtown Buenos Aires and popular tourist attractions like the Obelisco and the Casa Rosada.

City Buses

If you plan to explore Buenos Aires, you can rely on the city’s extensive bus system for convenient and affordable public transportation. However, unlike the frequent and on-time Subte, the city buses, also known as colectivos, tend to operate on a…ahem… let’s say, looser interpretation of a scheduled itinerary.

There are few things more frustrating than trying to get somewhere on time and waiting for a bus number that hasn’t arrived, but seeing 3 or 4 of a different bus number go by at nearly the same time.

Dining, Entertainment, and Sightseeing

Buenos Aires is a busy capital city that rarely sleeps. You’ll have plenty of places to Eat, See, and Do living here. But in your first 24 hours, you likely won’t have time to do much sightseeing. I recommend spending time around your neighborhood getting to know your barrio’s cafes, restaurants, and attractions.

Cafe Culture

Cafe culture is big in Buenos Aires. These charming spots are not just places to eat but integral parts of the Argentine culture and social scene. Every bite tells a story of the city’s rich immigrant history, from traditional medialunas to artisanal pastries.

Here are some of the must-visit cafes and bakeries that will surely satisfy your cravings and provide an authentic taste of Buenos Aires:

Cafe/BakeryLocationSpecialties
La BielaRecoletaMedialunas, coffee
El Gato NegroCongresoChurros, hot chocolate
Las VioletasAlmagroFacturas, afternoon tea

Each of these places offers a unique experience and a chance to connect with the heart of Buenos Aires.

Traditional Steakhouses

Carnivores rejoice! If you are an unabashed steak lover like myself, Argentine cuisine will feel like meat-eater heaven. Delicious juicy steaks, including cuts unavailable in the United States, are always grilled using smokey wood charcoal. Asado (grilled meats) is a culinary tradition here.

Here are a few paraillas (literal Spanish translation for grills, but used to describe a steakhouse) in Palermo where the tradition and ritual of asado come to life.

  • La Cabrera (4.4 stars): A popular choice known for its mouthwatering cuts of meat and vibrant atmosphere.
  • Don Julio (4.5 stars): This iconic steakhouse is celebrated for its top-quality steaks and extensive wine selection.
  • El Preferido de Palermo (4.4 stars): A charming spot with a cozy ambiance serving up delicious steaks and traditional Argentine dishes.

What To See

If it’s your first time in Buenos Aires, you’ll have plenty to see and do just within your neighborhood. Explore the vibrant street art in Palermo SOHO or the historic architecture of Recoleta without leaving your barrio.

But if you have time or are just excited to get out and explore, here are some of my favorite attractions and historic landmarks that narrate the city’s rich past and offer a glimpse into Buenos Aires’ captivating history.

  • Recoleta: Visit the iconic Recoleta Cemetery, where ornate mausoleums, tombs, and sculptures create a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. This is Eva Peron, Argentine icon, actress, and First Lady of Argentina, final resting place.
  • La Boca: Wander through the vibrant Caminito street, adorned with brightly painted houses and bustling with tango dancers, artisans, and street performers- one of the city’s most Instagramable locations.
  • San Telmo Fair: The barrios Sunday Feria, or Sunday Fair, is the city’s oldest and most famous. What started as a simple antique market has grown into a massive artisan craft, food, and entertainment street fair. The booths start at Plaza de Mayo and follow the busy street filled with entertainers and buskers up Calle Defensa for several blocks until Parque Lezama.

INSIDER TIP: Gringo Prices- As is common in most countries, expats and foreigners will get a different price than locals. Speaking Spanish can mitigate tourist pricing, but always ask for the price of anything in advance.

Safety Issues in Buenos Aires

I found Buenos Aires to be the safest city I’ve lived in in Latin America, and the statistics back it up.

Argentina ranks as Latin America’s second safest country on the 2023 Global Peace Index.

However, foreigners who stand out can be targets for petty crime and pickpockets. You should remain alert, as one would in any metropolitan area. Be attentive in crowded spaces, especially at the San Telmo market, and be mindful of using your cell phone on the bus.

Avoid flashing your wallet, jewelry, or other expensive items in public. Locals here dress chic and conservative and don’t flash designer wear and bling like the US.

When exploring the city, stick to well-lit and populated streets and use a reputable transport company or registered rideshare app, like Uber, Didi, or Cabify, especially at night.

Key Takeaways: First Time in Buenos Aires

This cosmopolitan city has lots to see and do, but keep things simple in your first 24 hours in Buenos Aires. Transition to local life by indulging in traditional food like empanadas at cozy cafés, discovering hidden gems within your neighborhood, and savoring slices from your soon-to-be favorite pizza joint.

At night, as the sunset hits the skyline, unwind at a charming ice cream shop, a sweet introduction to the city’s delights.

International moves can get hectic, but you can relax and enjoy your gelato. This expat crash course ensures you’re well-equipped to navigate Buenos Aires, setting the stage for expat life in your new home.


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    About the author

    Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to show you an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, student loans, and countless bills. After getting laid off in 2015, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old. I have traveled the last eight years to over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US. I have been featured in: US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Association of MBAs, the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE, and the Amazon Best-Seller, Abroad: Expats That Thrive . [view press...]


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