A practical guide to Argentina

This post is a brief guide that will help you with practicalities when on your Year Abroad or travelling in Argentina.

Argentinians are lovely and super friendly, especially around Buenos Aires. Here they share many cultural aspects with Italians, due to the massive Italian immigration wave Argentina experienced during the second half of the 19th century. This can be noticed in some words they use, and in the cuisine characterised by a big pizzas, pasta and helado (icecream) culture. The taste is not comparable to the Italian flavours, but is still very good.

On the contrary, in the north Argentina shares more cultural aspects with its neighbour Bolivia which I fell in love with, but people are more reserved, in accordance with their indigenous background.

What every part of Argentina has in common is the love for meat and their Sunday asados, wine, dulce de leche in everything you can think of, and of course mate! If you get over the initially bitter taste you might end up coming back with your mate and keep the habit back in England!

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Bare in mind one thing: Argentina is not cheap! I personally find it way more expensive than Europe for some things, especially in terms of transport (not urban), clothes, toiletries and supermarkets. Due to the high inflation, prices rise quite quickly on a monthly basis, which makes the information found on travel guides and blogs quite unreliable.  

What is cheap compared to Europe, especially England, is eating and drinking out, hairdresser and beauty treatments.

Transport within Argentina 

Argentina is huge, consequently are distances. Your concept of ‘near’ would probably not be the same as the one Argentinians have. They are very used to long journeys on buses (Bondis as they call them).

 Via land

Plataforma 10 is the main online platform to buy tickets in Argentina. If you want to avoid paying a small commission then going to the bus terminal, is your best option. Although you may find some really cheap buses, it can be a good idea to ask locals what companies they recommend – in order to avoid awful service and reckless drivers, or as I experienced, a fire on the bus! 

Via air

These are the main airlines operating domestic flights in the country: LAN (LATAM), Aerolineas Argentinas, Andes.

Bare in mind, there are prices for residents and prices for foreigners and there is a big difference between the two! If are buying your ticket online, it is impossible to escape paying the price for foreigners because they will ask you to provide your DNI number and an Argentinian credit card. 

I flew with LAN just once and I was in Europe when buying the ticket so I just paid the price for foreigners. All the other times I flew with Aerolineas Argentinas and this is what I have learnt when buying tickets:

You basically have two options to save some bucks buying tickets with a price for residents:

  1. Buying them from the local Aerolineas Argentinas shop paying a fee (30 USD) for the service – this option is still worth the discount! If you have friends in Argentina you could asking them to buy them for you before you arrive.

    3. Another option if you already are in Argentina, or again if you know a local, is to buy them through the Argentinian call centre. However, you can only do this if you are paying with a visa and for a maximum amount of 2000ARS. 

Although this might sounds all complicated, there’s no need to despair: low cost companies are soon coming to Argentina! 

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Toiletries

Phamarcity is the equivalent of Boots and Superdrug in the UK. Quite surprisingly, in Argentina you will go through the shelves hundreds of times trying to find a shower gel. All sorts of toiletries are more expensive than in Europe, and many European brands cannot be found. Therefore, you might want to bring your favourite toiletries with you. If you don’t want to carry too much stuff, an option would be to buy a couple of Lush shampoo bars before leaving, they will last for months! They do an amazing job and are earth friendly which is a big plus 🙂

If you use a particular brand in your beauty routine you better stock up before your trip, forget Amazon, as it doesn’t exist in Argentina, and shipments from Europe, which are unbelievably slow, expensive, and a lot of hassle.

Plugs 

The plugs are similar to the European or the Australian/Chinese version, so to invest in a good adaptor would be an excellent idea. They now sell adaptors that include usb ports, to recharge your devices all at the same time!

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Contact Lenses

If you wear contact lenses like I do, stock up before leaving Europe because they are extremely expensive in Argentina! The liquid is also more expensive, but definitely affordable.

Health

Public Hospitals offer free health care for everyone even for foreigners, but waits can be extremely long. Therefore, try to opt for private-care system, the travel insurance will cover your expenses.

Hygiene at restaurants is high in most of the country, and my experience with tap water was very good in the province of Buenos Aires. Avoid to drink tap water if you have a delicate stomach in the north of Argentina.

Vaccinations

I personally didn’t get any vaccinations before traveling to Argentina. I would just get Yellow Fever and take malaria tablets if you are planning to visit remote areas of the Amazon when visiting the other countries in South America.

Vegetarians and vegans

In Argentina life is hard for vegetarians, and even more for vegans! Animal fat is absolutely everywhere: in bread, empanadas, facturas (croissants), etc.., so read carefully the labels or ask. But even in a carnivore country like Argentina, the vegetarian and vegan movement is on the rise. You can find vegetarian restaurants in every city and even in regular restaurants you can always find an option for you. Check out the HappyCow website for some help. To shop go to a local market and you will find fresh fruit and veg in abundance! Lactose Intolerant and vegans can find soy milk in the juices section of the supermarket. AdeS is the brand to look for! Otherwise make your own nut milk or local vegan restaurant might be selling some, like Chirimoya does in Salta! If in Buenos Aires check out Deli Market, an Argentinian version of Holland and Barrett, or go to China Town for soy meats. 

Money

Lesson number one I learnt in Argentina: it’s impossible to open a bank account and get a debit card (caja de ahorro) without the Argentinian ID (Documento Nacional de Identidad).

The only way is to withdraw cash with your card. The annoying thing is you are only allowed to withdraw a maximum of 2000 Pesos per transaction, which has a commission of roughly 90 ARS$ (more or less 5 €), plus the fees your bank charges and the money you loose with the exchange rate.

Although this fee is impossible to avoid, you should try to have a card that does not charge you for withdrawing abroad. Lots of credit cards offer this perk, as well as other debit cards like Monzo and Revolut – offering the Mastercard live exchange rate.

Tipping

In restaurants and cafes it’s common to tip about 10% of the bill and tips can’t be added to credit-card bills.

Visa 

Anyone entering Argentina, like in most of the countries in the world, should have a passport valid for at least six months from the date of entry.

On presentation of a valid British or European passport you will be granted a 90-day stay in the country. Those from the USA, Canada and Australia don’t need a Visa up to 90 days, but must pay a ‘reciprocity fee’ before arriving: this adds to around 100 USD .

Extensions:

  • For a 90-day extension on your tourist visa, you need to go to Buenos Aires’ immigration office Dirección Nacional de Migraciones. The fee is currently AR$600 for non-Mercosur nationals. If you are overstaying your visa you need to pay a AR$600 fee.
  • Another option if you’re staying more than three months is to do like I did and cross into Colonia or Montevideo (a short boat ride from Buenos Aires), or into Chile, Bolivia or Brazil (to visit Iguazú falls) depending on where you are, for a few days before your visa expires, then return with a new 90-day visa. This only works if are holding a passport that doesn’t need you a visa to enter the other country. 

Customs:

When entering Argentina via land, travellers may be searched for drugs and will have fruits and vegetables confiscated.

When flying to Ezeiza, electronic items, including laptops, cameras and mobile phones, can be brought into the country duty free, provided they are not intended for resale. Electronics are expensive in Argentina, due to import restrictions and Apple products are not widely available!

A quick note: Coca leaves, which I use everyday in teas are only legal in the north of Argentina, in the provinces of Jujuy, Salta and Tucumán, so avoid to bring them with you outside of these provinces.

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Sim Cards 

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The providers in Argentina are: Movistar, Claro, Personell and the newbie Tuenti. You will find buying a a sim card without the DNI quite tricky, but the shop assistant or your friends might help you with that. For pre paid plans without a DNI the best option is Tuenti, it works very well and is also quite cheap! 

Clubs 

If Argentinians eat around 10 pm, don’t expect to go out until 2 am! Get used to the flavour of Fernet and Coca Cola because this is the national drink here!

Dangers

The economic crisis of 1999–2001 brought a lot of people into poverty, consequently crime has risen, especially in the capital. Be especially watchful for pickpockets on crowded buses, on the subway and at the street markets like in San Telmo.

Bus terminals and train stations are quite safe and full of people, but always keep an eye on your bags and place the strap around your leg, and do the same when you are sitting in cafes or restaurants. Of course, be careful showing off expensive electronics.

I hope you find this post helpful, safe travels!

Allegra

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