How to be a digital nomad in Buenos Aires
After living in Buenos Aires for two months, I understand why it’s such a popular destination in South America for digital nomads. With its low cost of living, easy access to internet and co-working spaces, and abundance of fun after-hour activities, the city has a lot to offer. In this article I’ll share my experience working remotely in Buenos Aires.
Why Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is one of two major South American cities (the other is Medellin, Colombia) that consistently ranks highly on NomadList.com. This is a site that ranks cities all over the world based on several criteria. Most attractive for me was the cost of living (under $1300 a month) and the high rankings for nightlife, fun, and ease of finding places to work.
Although it’s a long way from the United States, Buenos Aires is a major travel hub in South America, and easy to get to.
When I was traveling in New Zealand in 2016, I couch-surfed at a house in Christchurch for a few days. The home was full of Argentinians, and they were very welcoming, fun, and gave me a great impression of Argentine hospitality.
Considering all of these factors, I decided to make Buenos Aires my first stop while traveling in South America.
Argentina has one of the most relaxed immigration policies in the world, making it easy for a remote worker to stay for as long as they would like. Visitors are issued a tourist visa, good for 90 days, upon entering the country. For most travelers this is free, although passport holders of specific countries must pay a small reciprocity fee. Wikitravel has a useful section for this here.
For tourists, proof of onward travel is a requirement for entering the country. However, during the multiple times I went through immigration, nobody asked me for this. The only time I ever needed this was during check-in for my flight from the United States. Airlines usually enforce this rule, even if the country doesn’t. This is because they will be stuck paying for your return flight if you can’t get through immigration. To be on the safe side, I booked a ferry trip from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, Uruguay, and this worked as proof of my onward travel.
While getting in is easy, staying is even easier. I met several expats in Buenos Aires who had lived there for years on a tourist visa. Every 90 days they would simply take a day trip to Uruguay on the ferry through Buquebus. Argentina doesn’t have a limit for how many times this can be done in a year.
I met a few expats who just let their visa expire (although I’m not recommending this). The only penalty for doing this is a small fee when leaving the country, regardless of how long the visa has been expired for.
Where to Work
Buenos Aires is an international, cosmopolitan city and there are plenty of places to find fast, reliable internet. I used several different options while I was there.
About half of the time I worked from my Airbnb apartment. I found one that specifically boasted having high speed internet, but this is not a given for all Airbnb apartments. If you plan to stay in an Airbnb, communicate with your host ahead of time and ask about the internet speed.
The other half of the time I worked from a co-working building. Buenos Aires has multiple WeWork buildings, and I signed up for hotdesk at the one downtown in the Retiro neighborhood. This building is beautiful, has lots of great amenities, and amazing views from the higher floors. WeWork is also open 24/7, something that is hard to find throughout the rest of the city.
The only downside to using a WeWork is the cost. Right before I arrived in Buenos Aires, WeWork switched from pricing in Pesos to USD, effectively making the rates the same as you would find in the United States. So this is definitely the higher end option. However, there are plenty of cheaper co-working options, mostly in the Palermo neighborhood. Coworker.com offers a good search tool here.
Besides co-working spaces, there are cafes all over Buenos Aires that offer free Wifi. And since Buenos Aires is like almost any other city, there are plenty of Starbucks to work from as well.
Where to Live
Of the many neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, I preferred Palermo, Recoleta, and the downtown area along Avenida 9 de Julio.
Palermo is the neighborhood where I lived during most of my stay. This is a large neighborhood, and the two main hubs are Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho. I lived in Palermo Hollywood, which has a lot of restaurants and bars. I could walk to Palermo Soho, which has a lot of shopping and nightclubs. Because it’s several kilometers away from the downtown city center, there are fewer high rises and the architecture consists more of three- or four-story town homes.
I spent most of my time in the city center at the northern end of Avenida 9 de Julio, which is where I took Spanish lessons and also where the WeWork building is. Although it’s the city center, this area is less expensive than Palermo, and many times while I was riding the subway to Spanish class I wished that I had just booked a place here. However, this area is more congested than Palermo. At night the narrow streets away from the Avenida are narrow and dark, so it’s more dangerous to walk around.
Recoleta is a smaller neighborhood between Palermo and the downtown area and is a happy medium of the two locations. It is less congested but still has the feel of a European city, and there are several nice bars and restaurants in the area.
One thing I wish I had known before booking a room through Airbnb is that there are a lot of lodging options on Craigslist that are less expensive. However, most of the listings are in Spanish. But that’s good practice.
What to do
- Learn Spanish! After spending time in Asia and Eastern Europe with no real problems, I figure South America would be a piece of cake. Boy was I wrong. Everything in Buenos Aires is in Spanish, and most store clerks, waiters, and taxi drivers don’t speak English. After a few days of looking like a fool trying to buy things or order in restaurants, I decided to take an immersive Spanish class. There are many options throughout the city, but I recommend Casa de Spanish for its good pricing, small class sizes, and great teachers.
- Go to restaurants and bars. The city has so many options and the prices are cheap, so I usually ate out instead of at home. One of my favorite bars is Buller, in Recoleta. Besides the good food and craft beer, they have a rooftop bar that overlooks the famous Recoleta Cemetery. For more familiar dishes, I went to Chicken Bros, in Palermo, which is an expat bar with great chicken wings and one of the few places to throw a Halloween party each year. Also in Palermo, a good spot is called Nicky’s NY Sushi. A high-end joint (get a reservation ahead of time), this is the only good sushi in town. If your server offers you a tour of the wine room, don’t turn it down.
- Go to the Cemetery. The Cemetery in Recoleta is a great spot to explore for a few hours. This is an above ground cemetery full of mausoleums laid out in a network of paths, like a miniature city. The mausoleums are small works of art, since some of Buenos Aires’ most affluent and famous residents are buried here.
- Weekend in Tigre. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, just take the metro about an hour northwest to the town of Tigre. Located in the Paraná Delta, there are many activities available along the river, such as camping, kayaking, boat tours, or hanging out at a beach. There’s even a waterpark, or for something more laid back just enjoy asado from one of the many restaurants lining the river.
- Eat asado. With beef being one of their main industries, it’s insanely cheap to buy premium cuts at the butcher and get amazing steaks in restaurants. But the best way the meat is served is at an asado, which is like a BBQ where the meat is slow cooked over wood embers for several hours. Don’t pass it up if you are lucky enough to be invited by a local to their home for asado!
Tips and Tricks
- The subway (el subte) is the easiest way to get around the city. Start by buying a reusable Subte card from one of the ticket booths at any of the stations. These can be recharged at kiosks around the city.
- Uber is another way to get around, but the laws around it keep changing. When I was there, it was technically still illegal, so it was common to sit in the front passenger seat (which I guess looks less suspicious). If you want to avoid breaking the law, taxis are very easy to hail and also very cheap, just make sure they are using the meter.
- ATM fees are really high in Argentina. If you’re not lucky enough to have a bank that reimburses your ATM fees, try to use cash sparely. However, it’s always good to have some cash on hand, since credit cards won’t always work. My visa card usually worked fine in restaurants but was almost never excepted at grocery stores.
- Get comfortable with eating late if you want to adopt the local schedule. In Argentina, 10pm is a common time for dinner. Meeting for drinks usually occurs even later, and if you want to go dancing don’t even think about showing up before 2am. A night on the town usually lasts until sunrise. Don’t be offended if friends show up late or not at all, since plans are always fluid.
- Learn to love Maté, a traditional South American infused drink. The drink is usually shared in a group and consists of Yerba leaves in a Maté cup mixed with hot water. Whoever made the mate is in charge, and will pass the cup back and forth among those drinking. When it’s your turn, drink until the water is gone and return to cup. Don’t just have a sip and pass it along, this is a rookie mistake! If you decide you don’t want any more, say “gracias” when returning the cup.
Buenos Aires is an excellent city to work in remotely. The cost of living is low, the city is manageable and easy to get around, and there is a lot of fun stuff to do in your free time. In addition, there are lots of coworking spaces and a growing community of remote workers and expats. My only complaint with the city is that there are not many outdoor activities. If you like hiking or camping, you’ll have to travel elsewhere in Argentina (like Patagonia) to find this.