Tuesday 22nd November 2011

Expat Interviews: Me, My Dog and Buenos Aires

As part of our new Expat Interview series, we interview expatriates who are living throughout the world and ask them what it is really like to live in their host country. Today we meet Rease Kirchner, A US expatriate who packed her belongings to fulfill a life-long dream of experiencing life outside of the United States. Find out what Rease has learned about the culture and customs in Argentina and what she loves and hates about life in Buenos Aires.

Where are you currently living?
I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Where in the world were you born?
I was born in St. Louis, Missouri in the USA.

Why did you move overseas and why did you choose your host country?
I never got to travel much as a child because my family wasn´t big on vacations, so the idea of traveling always seemed so wonderful to me. I studied Spanish as one of my majors in university, so living abroad in a Spanish speaking country not only sounded exciting but also a great career move as it would rapidly improve my Spanish skills. I studied abroad in Mendoza, Argentina so when I decided to make the big move, Argentina stood out to me because already felt like home.

How long have you been living in your host country?
I have been in Buenos Aires for about a year and a half now.

Who did you relocate with?
I moved with just my little dog! I wasn´t willing to wait on anyone else to live my dream so I just picked up by myself and moved.

Was it hard to get a visa for your host country that was appropriate to
your circumstances?
Yes, it was. US citizens are granted an automatic 90 day visa but after that you are expected to leave the country. For the first 9 months of my time in Buenos Aires I was forced to visit Uruguay every 90 days just to stay legal. I was able to get a work visa eventually when a company sponsored me, but jobs like that are not easy to come by.

What is the medical care like in your host country? Do you need medical
insurance and, if so, how much is it?
Health care is public in Argentina. Anyone who needs medical attention is welcome to go to any public clinic or hospital. They also have private care though, which is much better, especially if you want to be seen by a doctor sooner. Usually you only get private through your work and it is a small amount deducted from your paycheck.

How do you make your living in your host country?
I am co-owner of ARES Media Network, which is a network of websites that grew from our very first website, Travelated, a budget travel and funny travel stories website. I write and help manage content.

Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes, I am fluent in Spanish and I do think is it important to speak Spanish here if you really want to have a meaningful experience. However, there is a huge expatriate community in Buenos Aires and plenty of expats never fully learn the language, so you would certainly not be lonely if you couldn’t speak Spanish.

Are there any local customs, laws or traditions that it is important for potential expatriates to be aware of and adhere to?
For local customs, it is customary to kiss everyone you meet on the cheek. This is not just for the first time you meet them, but every time you greet someone you are expected to kiss or touch your right cheeks. This is shocking for some males because in many Latin American countries this is only done male to female and female to female.

As for laws, it is illegal to purchase alcohol or drink in public after a certain time on the nights before elections because for all citizens it is mandatory to vote.

Do you ever get homesick?
Yes, I often miss the food or just conveniences of the US. Customer service is not a huge priority in Argentina, so when I need to get things done or depend on other people, it can be very frustrating.

How long do you plan to remain in your host country?
I always said I would stay for a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of two. Now that I am at my 1.5 year mark, I am planning to leave in a few more months. It is not because I no longer enjoy my life here, I just want to experience other things.

Have you purchased a property in your host country or do you rent? What is the cost of housing like in your host country?
I rent a furnished apartment. The apartments here are very expensive as it is a big city. It is extra expensive for non-citizens because leases are generally 2 years and no one will rent long term to foreigners, even if they have legal residency without a guarantor. Most landlords require a 2 year commitment and 1-2 guarantors that must be native Argentines. If you cannot meet those requirements you will be forced to pay temporary/tourist rental prices. A one bedroom apartment in a nicer part of town is at least $700 USD a month, usually much, much more.

What is the cost of living like in your host country?
Inflation is a big problem in Argentina. To live on your own you would need to earn at least 4000 pesos (about $950 USD) and that would be if you could get a roommate. Food, especially at restaurants is very expensive and clothing is as well.

What do you think about the locals?
I think Argentines are generally friendly. There are extremists who hate foreigners but overall they are welcoming to foreigners and welcome our tourism and expat communities. I have issues with the men and the dating customs because Machismo (basically the belief that men are the power holders) is very prominent here. It is normal to be called out to on the street very crudely and men take the lead in all relationships. As an independent American woman, it is not easy for me to deal with.

What are the three things you like the most about your host country?
1. Work is slower paced
2. The ice cream is incredible.
3. I enjoy the type of Spanish they speak here.

What are the three things you like the least?
1. The way dating/men work here.
2. The food.
3. The poor customer service.

Do you have any tips for our readers about living in your host country?
Do not expect Argentina to be cheap just because it is in South America. You will need a lot more money to survive than you think! Also, be ready to have your Spanish knowledge tested, Argentines speak what they call Castellano and use different pronunciation, vocabulary and even verb tenses than what you learn in school.

Do you have a comment about this article, a further question or even a correction? If so please do let us know.
We may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all comments will be published, please be nice!