If you’re a digital nomad who is looking to live and work in a South American city for a little while then Buenos Aires should be somewhere close to the top of your wish list. The fact that you will find so many other wandering online workers and ex-pats already there is testament to just how appealing this city is to travellers and workers from outside of Latin America.
So why is it such a good place to live and work? Well, the fact that Buenos Airies is arguably the biggest multi-cultural melting pot in Latin America is a big plus. Because of this, BA - unlike many of the continent’s other principal cities - has a thriving art scene, countless theatres and live music venues, and a mouth-wateringly varied culinary scene. Throw in the underground feel of some of the city’s more edgy neighbourhoods, the beautiful charms of its colonial architecture, laid-back locals and, of course, a universal love of dance and it’s clear to see why this town is such an easy one to fall in love with.
Despite its immediate charms though, Buenos Aires can be – initially, at least – a little overwhelming. Indeed, it is common for newly arrived wandering online workers, particularly those who have never visited South America before, to take a while to find their feet in this intense and often overpowering metropolis. So, if you are thinking of heading here for an extended period of time, you may find it helpful to get a ’heads up’ on some of the key features that you’ll need to address when working as a digital nomad.
Hopefully, the following tips will help you to do this:
Know your way around the city’s myriad transportation options
While BA’s public transportation infrastructure is not as efficient or comprehensive as those in cities like Hong Kong or Berlin, it is certainly amongst the best Latin America. The city’s underground subway system (known locally as ’Subte’) covers the entire metropolitan area and is generally pretty good. While strikes can often occur out of the blue and happen more often than is good for a city of this size, the system as a whole – busy as it is – is safe, reliable and cheap (fares are roughly USD$0.50). The only bad thing about the Subte is that it stops running far too early (around 11pm).
In contrast, BA’s buses (colectivos) operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Despite the best efforts of the drivers (most of them hare around like they’re driving a Super Mario Cart), bus journeys can be pretty slow at times as traffic jams are part and parcel of life in BA. On the plus side, colectivos cover a wide area (there are 140 bus routes) so they can be a good option when travelling around at non-peak times.
If you’re looking to save on cash then hailing down one of the the cheap-and-cheerful shared minivans that ply the city is likely to be your best bet. These operate in a similar to way to Turkish Dolmuses, i.e. you wave you arm to get the driver’s attention, pay a flat rate, and then sit in the back with other travellers until you get somewhere close to where you want to be. In general, these vans are best used in and around the city centre.
Be savvy when looking for a place to live
When you first arrive in BA and start talking to ex-pats (they seem to be everywhere), you will more than likely find they recommend Palermo as being the de facto ’best’ place for non-porteños to live. The reason for this is that Palermo is a stylish neighbourhood with modern, elegant apartment buildings which tend to make ex-pats feel safe. The truth is though, Palermo is no more or less safe than somewhere like San Telmo, another popular neighbourhood which has a more alternative, run-down (’grungy’ is a fitting adjective) feel to it. There is of course nothing wrong with Palermo and, if money is no option, you will probably enjoy basing yourself there. San Telmo offers cheaper rents (although still not ’cheap’ as such), as does Recoleta, another area which is favoured by foreign ex-pats because of its charm and proximity to the city’s main attractions. If you’re keen to save money as soon as you arrive then the areas around San Nicholas and Montserrat are likely to be better options. Although these neighbourhoods are both close to the city, the associated traffic, pollution and general hubbub ensure rents in this area remain relatively low.
Don’t assume your usual working practices will be accommodated
Out of habit, you will probably head for a cafe or coffee shop on your first day working in BA. Unlike Europe and Asia, Argentina (along with other Latin American countries) has yet to adopt this working practice en masse. Sure, there are plenty of places that offer wifi hotspots, but finding a mains power outlet is another thing altogether – they really are few and far between (and if you are lucky enough to find one, chances are you’ll be told to leave it alone quite curtly by a member of staff). Although I am loathed to say it, McDonald’s can often be a better option when it comes to finding a decent public place to eat, drink and work as the coffee is pretty good and plug sockets are normally in good supply. Moreover, the staff don’t seem to mind that much when you hook up and stick around for a while.
With all this in mind, finding an apartment with Internet connectivity included is often your best bet. If you’re hoping to rent a basic flat and then get wired for Internet after you move in then you should be aware that getting connected via Cable, ADSL or Wi-Fi is pretty much impossible without a DNI (Argentinian ID card). Obtaining 3G connectivity from providers like Claro and Movistar is possible, although those in the know say it is often a lot more hassle than it’s worth.
Although many wandering online workers come to Buenos Aires to take advantage of the low cost of living they’ve heard about (believe me, it’s nowhere near as low as it used to be); most people stay because it is one of the most infectiously cosmopolitan cities on the planet. It is hard to feel bored or fed up in BA, even when you’re working your socks off, as the energy and intensity of the city has a way of making you feel alive and ’up for it’ pretty much all of the time. Stick around for a few months, learn some Spanish and make the most of all that this enchanting town has to offer and I guarantee you too will fall in love with BA in the same way as countless others have done before you. Who knows, you may even end up staying for good...