Here are a few tips to make your visit to Buenos Aires and Argentina more beneficial for you!
- Tax free shopping is a great way to save a bit of your money during your stay. Shopping in Buenos Aires is quite expensive, so you should really pay attention to these instructions how to make it ~13% cheaper to you. When you are strolling around Buenos Aires, look for stores with the sign “Global Blue – TAX FREE” (I posted their logo below). Tax free in Argentina means without VAT (normally 21%), but as Global Blue takes its own slice of the cake the real advantage you get is somewhere between 13% – 14%. Global Blue only works on items produced in the country of origin (in this case only Argentine produced products). It’s best to explain the process through an example. We bought a pair of shoes for Maria from a store called Normandie, It offered the Global Blue tax free system and we took it. The cashier printed out a Global Blue receipt, which we had to take to Ezeiza International Airport. The cashier also gave us a pamphlet and it explained the whole process (including a map of Ezeiza detailing where to go). When we left Argentina, we went to the desk at the middle of the check-in desks. There was a man checking each product for “Industria Argentina” and marking the receipts accepted for cash in. After this we had to go upstairs to an another desk to cash our tax free receipt. 3 days later Global Blue had paid us our massive return of 3.99 euros to our bank account. We only realized the opportunity for Global Blue tax-free shopping during the last few weeks of our stay, so we didn’t purchase more than one product from a tax-free store. This is a guide for you to have an eye out there and only shop from these stores to save over 10% of your purchases.
- Get your medical checks before your departure. We didn’t get a medical certificate saying that we could do exercise in a gym, so we couldn’t get a membership in a gym in Buenos Aires, unless we paid for 15-50 euros for a certificate that would be free in Finland. You should also get your teeth checked. I (Julius) can tell from my personal experience that the dentists in Argentina aren’t as tidy and clean as in Finland. I’m not saying that they are bad, no. I happened to find a very good private dentist that took my wisdom tooth out for about 120 euros, gave me medicine and a later “check-up” date was also included in the price. I would still advise you to get your teeth checked in Finland.
- In Argentina there are a few supermarket chains, the biggest are the Cencosud -group (Jumbo, Disco and Dia, a Chilean company) and Coto (an Argentinian company). The prices in the stores are not that much different, but the coupons and the daily offers may differ a lot. When you are leaving your flat to do groceries, you should always check online which store has an offer for you today. For example, Coto may have Wednesday to Thursday -15% off when you pay with a credit card, while Cencosud has nothing. This will save you a lot of money. Also another thing to note is that any credit/debit card with a metal chip on it is considered as a credit card in Argentina, so don’t be fooled with an offer of “Today -20% with a debit card”. The Cencosud group has an interesting way of marketing products and stores nearby. Almost every time you make a purchase, you get a coupon giving you a discount for between specific dates at a specific store nearby. When we left Argentina we had at least 20 coupons for a sushi place, you can’t miss them.
- To say it shortly: Spanish required! Some of the people (10-20%) speak some English, but they don’t want to speak English so don’t expect to hear it from anyone. If you go to a hospital, prepare for Spanish. If you go talk to a police officer, prepare for Spanish. The bright side is: You will learn A LOT of Spanish!
- At least during our stay the monetary system of Argentina was very upside down. For example when we were going to Uruguay, we wanted Uruguayan pesos before we left, but the banks didn’t give them to us. They said “We can give them to you if you have a receipt that you bought Argentine pesos with your Uruguayan pesos”. Most of apartments will have their rent in US Dollars, but you CAN’T get ANY dollars from Buenos Aires. If you want to pay in pesos, you will have to pay a higher exchange rate (10-20% more) so the person renting the apartment can go to the black market and get the dollars from there. During our stay we didn’t meet a person who would want Argentine pesos instead of Dollars, this creates a problem of inflation as not one person has confidence in the peso.
- During our stay we noticed the inflation. Argentina is not as cheap as you think it would be: Some of the prices are even higher than in Finland! It’s good to have some savings before coming to Argentina as an exchange student. When we arrived, a small pastry, factura, in a nearby bakery cost 1,8 pesos – when we left some stores sold the same facturas for 2,4 pesos. It’s not much, but 30% increase in half a year is enough to notice it in your daily choices in a supermarket.
- Always ask the price, even in the coffee stores, the prices can vary a lot and the prices can be different for the foreigners. For example we went to a video-rental place near our flat in Palermo and the guy at the cashier wanted a deposit of 150 pesos (~30 euros) for renting a movie. We were confused and we asked him if this deposit was for everyone and he replied “No, its just for foreigners.” This is the kind of treatment the Argentinians give to Foreigners so you’d better prepare yourself for a “gringo extra” in any stores. Our law teacher Diego Fissore told us that its completely legal, as long as the company is not owned by the state (f.x. the post office, police etc.) According to Fissore, a private company can ask a customer for any amount of money for its services, just as the video-rental company did.
- Get the SUBE -card when you arrive. The city of Buenos Aires used to run with coins, but nowadays most of the commuters use a card called SUBE. You can get it in most of the post offices in BA. It’s simply a plastic card. You can put any amount of money on your SUBE in hundreds of kiosks in the city in just a few moments and use it in Buses, the metro (Subte) and the short-distance trains.
- There are free activities in Buenos Aires such as Hipodromo (excluding special races) and some museums. Check online for more info!
These were only the things that we didn’t know pre-hand or take into account for some reason. Don’t take this as a “to-do-list” -before leaving.