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Interview with Amelia – a Canadian expat living in Buenos Aires

Updated 11 Oct 2019

Amelia is a photographer from Toronto, Canada. After visiting a friend in Buenos Aires, she fell in love with the vibe and energy of the city. Soon after the visit, she made her own move to Argentina. Since 2011 she's been living in Buenos Aires with her two dogs Enzo and Santo. She now runs photography guided tours and workshops in the city. Check out her website for more info on her work in Buenos Aires.

Read more about expat life in Buenos Aires in our Expat Arrivals Buenos Aires city guide.

About AmeliaAmelia_Argentina1.jpg

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Q: When did you move here?
A: I moved here on the 3rd of February 2011.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: No spouse or family.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I first came to visit a friend in November 2010 for two weeks, and I loved the vibe and the energy of the city. I am no stranger to relocating on a whim and decided to take a chance and give Buenos Aires life a shot! In order to stay, I needed a job, so I decided to create one for myself and started Day Clicker Photo Tours. It’s a service that offers mini workshops and photo instruction mostly for tourists. I teach you about your camera and how to improve your travel photos and we visit the off the beaten path bits of beautiful Buenos Aires.

My work life has evolved over the years and in addition to Day Clicker, I have Amelia McGoldrick Photography to feed my love for portraiture and lifestyle photography. I shoot a ton of portrait sessions as well as events, weddings and commercial freelance work. I also work on ships that take tourists to Antarctica and beyond, as the on-board photographer and lecturer.

Living in Buenos Aires

Q: What do you enjoy most about Buenos Aires? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I love the city vibe here. It’s a beautiful, vibrant and fun city to live in and you certainly can’t complain about the price of meat and wine! Life here is totally different from home. So many things, too many to list! It’s not a first-world country, and at the moment Argentina is in an economic crisis, so the quality of life for locals isn't great.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: The good outweighs the bad. Unfortunately, theft and safety here is a big issue. You have to be very careful and aware of your surroundings. Most things I miss are food related. I miss Canadian bacon, cheddar cheese, Ranch and Caesar dressing, the list goes on and on! I miss Amazon delivery to my door. My mom, my friends, my family, the lake in the summer and, if you can believe it…. SNOW! But, I live a very good life here and I make small adjustments and adaptations to everyday living and realize how lucky I am.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: It’s difficult to explain in a short answer. As a friend just now described it; ‘everything is upside down’ compared to how life is in Canada. It’s a bit backwards; a lot of things that should be easy are very difficult. But you just find a way to adjust and make your life like an adventure. Oh, and find your patience. You need LOTS of patience, creativity, and an open and relaxed mind.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Argentina?
A: Electronics are insanely expensive here. If you are making non-peso money, you are totally set. The cost of living is very low if you don’t earn pesos.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Buenos Aires?
A: The bus system, although chaotic at first glance, is actually really amazing if the traffic cooperates. The subway system is easy to navigate and quick. It’s improving with newer cars (almost all now with air conditioning FINALLY!). It’s super cheap to get around, less than 50 cents can get you across town.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Buenos Aires? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: I pay for local health insurance through Sanatorio Guemes, which is about 60 USD a month. Inflation is insane, so the price goes up about 10% or more each month. I have had very good care here. The doctors are skilled and I have not had an issue. I have heard that Hospital Italiano is a wonderful private hospital, albeit expensive. The public hospitals are a bit run down, but you can get free healthcare as a foreigner (however, the wait time is very long) and the doctors are well trained.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Buenos Aires or Argentina? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Violent theft. I see it, I have been a victim, and I have had friends held up with a gun or knife in their faces. Phones are the easiest to steal and resell. As long as you are careful, wear a cross-body bag, and mind your surroundings and your belongings, you will be ok. Though La Boca is a big tourist destination, the area surrounding it is poverty stricken. It’s best never to wander outside of the specific touristy area of La Boca.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Buenos Aires? What different options are available for expats?
A: There are many options available, the cheapest being shared housing in big beautiful old homes with other expats and/or locals. I am very lucky to have a wonderful apartment in Palermo Soho for me and my dogs. If you have the time to search a little, there are so many great apartments at a fraction of the cost of city living in Toronto. Some solid advice is to book an Airbnb for a few weeks; they are crazy cheap compared to other big cities. Settle in and see if you like the apartment and the neighborhood or take this time to look for other options. Usually, if you ask and can negotiate, Airbnb hosts will offer you a price outside of Airbnb that is a lot cheaper longer term.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: The city is huge. Personally, I loved living in Villa Crespo, Almagro and Villa Ortuzar. They're close to the hopping vibes of Palermo but have a nice local feel. It’s loads cheaper to live in these areas compared to the prices in Palermo, which are still very reasonable.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular group? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Buenos Aires?
A: I find the city and its people to be very accepting overall. People are friendly, curious, and perhaps somewhat cautious. It can be difficult making local friends as friend groups tend to stick to themselves. I am lucky and have about a 50/50 expat-to-local friend ratio. Of course, some try to take advantage of la gringa (a term used to refer to a foreign English-speaking woman). It’s just something you have to live, become more ‘street smart’ and not let it bother you. Always call someone out who is trying to sell you something and quoting US dollars. It happens a lot, a gringo  accent is heard and the assumption is made that you have a wallet full of US dollars that you are dying to spend. It’s unfortunate and it's one thing that makes me really sad.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Again, super lucky. I fell into a nice circle of friends when I came to visit my friend, who was already semi-established. So when I returned, I had a nice pocket of friends. Because a lot of friends are expats we do have to deal with ‘despedida season’ where the expat friends feel their time is up in Buenos Aires and move to greener pastures. It’s tough losing close friends that are like your family. But it is the way of the expat.

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: As I mentioned, I have about a 50/50 ratio. We have a lot of expat groups (that include locals too) and there are many events and outings going on at all times. There is always someone looking to make a new friend. Always. There are lots of Facebook groups for expats hosting a ton of events.

Working in Buenos Aires

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I finally got my DNI or permanent residence here about three years ago. It was a nightmare of red tape and paperwork, but now there is an online system. I really should have consulted a lawyer as I made so many mistakes doing it alone. It was a life-changing experience. The process was very difficult for me, but with the help of friends (and some strangers), persistence, patience and a few new grey hairs, it finally happened.

Q: What is the economic climate in the city like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: In a word: Brutal. The country has been in chaos economically for a very long time, and will get worse before it gets better. My advice is to find an online job that pays in non-peso currency. You have to have permanent residence to work legally here. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to find work en negro (without residency). English teaching is probably the most common way to earn, but if you can find that online job, you’re set!

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: I work for myself and don’t have a business partner, so I’m not inside the work culture per se.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to your city or country?
A: There are many Facebook groups to join to help with the transition. My friend started the group Buenos Aires Expat Hub. It’s for locals and expats and it is very well run. It has loads of info from where to get the best pizza to tips on getting your permanent residency and everything in between. BsAs Girlfriends Group is another great resource, and obviously for women only. It’s a wonderful, safe environment to search, ask and find answers to questions as well as make new friends and discover local events. Grumpy Expat is for expats worldwide. It’s a very supportive group to grump about your host country and wonderful to know you are not alone out there!

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