By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist and Susan Callahan, Associate Editor
[Editors Note: The Argentine Peso is not a stable currency, so the prices mentioned in this article which are expressed in pesos are changing, sometime daily. Keep your eye on the dollar or euro equivalent quoted to understand what your true costs of living will be. Update: in August of 2014, Argentina again defaulted on payments to its international bondholders. That drove the exchange rate of pesos to US dollar to 14 to 1 an he exchange rate of pesos to euro to 18 to 1]
Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina in South America, is called the "Paris of South America". Dynamic, sexy, exciting, the home to the tango is a magnet to increasing numbers of visitors every year. Tourists feast on succulent steaks covered in chimichurri sauce, take in the sultry tango and gorge on culture, football, music and art. And, like the famous Malbec red wine, there’s just something about Buenos Aires that hits the spot. More than a few visitors decide two weeks just isn’t enough and decide to call the city home. But is Buenos Aires within your budget? Could you make it work in the city and afford a decent standard of living?
According to xpatulator.com, Buenos Aires is number 252 out of 300 in the overall cost of living rank – number one is the most expensive city to live in the world (Tokyo, by the way) and 300 the least. The average annual salary in Buenos Aires is $20,000 (€14,600) according to PayScale, a leading provider of global employee compensation data (www.payscale.com). A Project Manager in the Information Technology sector gets on average $25,526 (€18,497). A Software Engineer receives $17,871 (€12,954). A job in local or state government pays around $11,000 (€8,030) and a position in a hospital will pay around $15,000 (€10,950). Freelance work from US companies and a position in a multinational pays much more. Travel in Buenos Aires and the rest of the country is not as cheap as it once was, but it is still affordable if you make a decent wage. Buenos Aires is much pricier than the rest of the country for eating out, rent and entertainment.
Before we get to specifics, there's a fact of life in Buenos Aires that is no longer a well-kept secret among locals---inflation. In fact, inflation so pervades the everyday budget decisions of the locals that you'd be wise to factor in about 20% increase for every year you intend to stay. One of the unusual features of life here for expats accustomed to the itsy-bitsy creeping in inflation from the Northern Hemisphere economies are the big leaps in prices and salaries you see in Buenos Aires. It's nothing for medication to double in a year or for your doorman's salary to suddenly leap up by 30%.
The other fact of life -- a dirty little secret-- is that there are 2 tiers of prices in Buenos Aires, one for the locals and another higher price for foreigners. Recently, even President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner confirmed in the February 10, 2011 edition of the Buenos Aires Herald that there are price variations "according to the place, the neighborhood and the client's face".
As a foreigner, you pay a higher fee than the locals when you enter a National Park such as the national park near Bariloche. As a foreigner, you pay a higher price for airline tickets on the Aerolineas Argentina, the local airline, to local destinations within Argentina. Can you imagine American Airlines or British Airways getting away with that?
Since, as a foreigner, you can't change your face, you should be prepared to haggle and stand up for yourself if you feel you are being over-charged.
What should you budget to live in Buenos Aires? [Update: the following figures were created at a time when the pesos to dollar rate was approximately 4 to 1. The exchange rate has since climbed up against the pesos, and , as of December 31, 2013, the exchange rate is over 6.4 to 1, dollar to peso, and 8.8 euro to peso.]
Rent: $500 (€365)
Food: $190 (€139)
Health: $97.50 (€71.14)
Utilities: $15 (€11)
Cell: $15 (€10)
Internet: $30 (€21.90)
Transport: $16 (€12)
Entertainment: $50 (€37)
Gym: $40 (€29.20)
Total: ¬- $953.50 - out of $1,667 a month salary
$500 (€365) a month rent
Rent in Buenos Aires varies greatly between neighborhoods. Choice of properties is large, ranging from a simple apartment to a sprawling, multi-level place with a pool. On average, you will pay $500 (€365) a month for a small one-bedroom apartment in the city. This type of property, and price, is geared towards overseas citizens. In the priciest areas of the city -- the very Paris-like area called Recoleta --rents can exceed $1500 to $3000 in apartments targeted for expats.
Argentines rent property with the assurance of a warranty called a "garantia" (a family member who owns property), and prices are generally lower if you can choose from the non-tourist agents.
$0.45 (€0.33) for a liter of milk
$2 (€1.46) for 500g of cheese
$1 (€0.73) for 1kg of rice
$1.10 (€0.80) for a liter of Coca Cola
$3 (€2.19) for 1kg of fresh beef filet
$3 (€2.19) for a whole chicken
$2 (€1.46) for a loaf of bread
Food shopping is relatively inexpensive in Buenos Aires – expect to pay around $190 (€139) for a whole month’s food. Argentina is one of the world's largest cattle-raising countries and meat tends to be cheap, while cheese and dairy eat up a little more of your budget. Vegetables and fruit are widely available and inexpensive. Choose from large supermarkets (chains such as Disco, Carrefour), small stores and markets. [Update, runaway inflation has reared its ugly head in Argentina again. As of December 31, 2012, food prices are almost 5 times what they were when this article was originally written. Expect to spend at least $500 US (7000 argentine pesos--as of September 2014 ) or €400 a month for food.]