Work Abroad but earn in USD

Friday, July 29, 2005

Was It Worth It?

A reader wanted to know whether I thought it was worth it to make the move. Having lived here only two and a half months, it may be a little premature to start reflecting back already, but I'll give it a shot.

Reader's Comment

It has been very interesting to follow your ups and downs as you make your way through a foreign culture and frustrating red tape. Kudos on your successes. Was it all worth it? Would you do it all over again? Is the experience worth all the headaches and inconveniences that went along with it? (Then again, I suppose the headaches ARE part of the experience).

My Response

I would say, yes, it has been worth it and yes, I would do it again. I've only really begun to get settled in. I've bought my apartment, but I haven't moved in yet. I've started learning Spanish, but I'm nowhere near the level I'd like to be at. I've started expanding my business and working more in the local market, but I'm only just beginning. So, things are finally starting to move and I'm getting more comfortable with how things work here.

Just today the last of my things from the U.S. arrived. So, by no means am I ready to really reflect on whether this has been a good long-term decision. However, it has been fun and exciting so far. The headaches have been minor.

I should also point out that I am by no means a "do it yourself" kind of person. I appreciate and respect the value that professionals bring to the table. I hired a visa lawyer to handle my immigration, a corporate lawyer & accountant to help me with my company and business issues, a real estate firm to handle my apartment search, and an architect to do the interior design and renovations to my apartment. Additionally, I have a trusted local partner and my own organization to help me with all other issues that crop up. Things have been very smooth for me and I really don't have any complaints.

In the grand scheme of things, the problems I point out here on the blog are pretty minor. I'm not losing any sleep at all. I'm mostly just trying to inform readers (so they're not surprised) and point out some of the little annoyances I've found about the differences here. I realize that can make this blog seem overly negative at times. There's a whole lot of fun stuff that I don't write about -- my trip to the fútbol match, going out to the pubs and parties with friends, eating out at the great restaurants, and even the good time I have at work each day (I have the privilege to work with a great group of people).

I don't write about this stuff mostly because it's either personal or not something an audience would be interested in, so I'm realizing that not including this can give the incorrect impression that I"m not enjoying myself, which is not the case at all. I even had one person e-mail me and say that I seemed like an "awkward, mostly disagreeable gringo." I couldn't help but laugh a little at that one. People who know me understand that I'm a very agreeable and easy-going person.

So, in summary, I'd venture a guess that a few years down the road, after looking back on everything, I'm going to say it was 100% worth it. Just ask me the question again in a year and you'll get a more accurate answer.


Making It Financially As An Expat

Today's question concerns the financial considerations of becoming an expatriate. For expats who are moving on their own, without the support of their companies or without being officially assigned overseas, it can be especially difficult financially. Not only are you not receiving any reimbursements for the move -- in many cases you might not even have a job lined up! If you think finding a job or starting a business in your home country is hard, just imagine trying to do it overseas. So, let's address these issues here.

Reader's Comment

I've been following your blog off and on for a couple of months, as I am also considering an "expat move" in the next couple of years -- and BA is definitely on my radar, although I haven't been yet (I'm going early next year to check it out).

Your first entry suggests that you decided to move to BA even before you had a solid business plan or (permanent) place to stay. Did your business provide you with sufficient financial means to support yourself without additional income? If so, why did you need to start another business? (other than the obvious desire to engage in something productive rather than just slack). In other words, how are you getting by? By the way, how much does the 2,500 pesos/month requirement translate to USD these days?

How Much Preparation Is Needed?

Let me first clarify that I did not decide to move here without a solid business plan. I've been doing software and web development since 1997. I opened my first offshore office in India in 2001 and made a gradual transition to Argentina once I learned about the benefits the country had to offer. I started by using local web development companies here. Once I got more comfortable with the business environment, I began to hire contract workers. Only recently did I make the decision to incorporate a local company and directly invest in the country.

When I made the decision to invest, I did so with a local partner that I had worked with over the last two years and who has proven to be capable and trustworthy. Over the last couple years, I also worked on changing my business plan to one that required me to sell our services over over the Internet, through resellers, and by word of mouth. It obviously isn't practical to be moving to a foreign country if you're expected to be out on sales calls all day long.

Living On Pesos

The exchange rate as of today is 2.85 pesos per dollar -- which means the $2500 peso requirement translates to $878 dollars per month. Aside from housing, I find myself hard pressed (as a single person living alone) to spend more than $3000 pesos per month. Right now, I think it would be prudent for any foreigner to have an income of at least $2000 USD monthly, however, before considering a long-term move here. The reason being twofold -- fluctuations in the exchange rate and the very real risk of inflation. You don't want to be scraping to get by in a foreign country.

Also be aware that when it comes time to renew your visa, the authorities will examine your bank records to see whether you've made the minimum monthly transfers into your bank account here. If you haven't, you won't be given the visa renewal. So, don't take risks financially. Make sure you can afford it before making the decision to move.

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Correction: Work Authorization

Today, I received a comment from a reader about working and starting a business in Argentina. This reader brought up an interesting point and I realized I made an error with one of my previous posts. I'd like to take the time today to apologize and offer a correction.

Reader's Comment

You mention getting a residency visa/DNI for a variety of reasons, which I can certainly understand. But you say that even with those, you are not "allowed" to work in Argentina because the government doesn't want you to take a job away from a native. (I know that this is the case in most countries.) So, how is it you can start a business if the government makes it so tough to do so? Or does the rule not apply to entrepreneurial-type activities? Or, more to the point, exactly how can an expat earn a living in BA?


I don't know from exactly where (perhaps it was from the Argentina consulate or something that I had read), but I was under the assumption that foreigners who have a "visa de rentista" (which is my class of visa and the kind of visa that most foreigners in my situation get) are not permitted to work in the country. I was mistaken. I called my visa lawyer over at ARCA and they definitively confirmed that anyone with a DNI and CUIL are legally authorized to work in Argentina. I was incorrectly operating under the impression that the rentista visa only allowed one to pursue entrepreneurial activities within the country. So, I stand corrected. I apologize for the error.

If you have a DNI and CUIL (no matter your visa), you can get a job here in Argentina, start a business, work as an independent contractor (monotributista), etc. So, this makes a DNI and CUIL even more important than I thought they were. Not only does the DNI give you the right to live here, if you want to work here legally, you need to have it.

While we're on the subject of my mistakes, let me add the disclaimer that I am not a lawyer and most certainly not a lawyer in Argentina. So, I wouldn't be surprised if there are more mistakes in this blog. I'm writing from my own layman's understanding of how things work. Please, please, please contact a lawyer in Argentina before relying on anything that's stated here. I'll be happy to provide a recommendation. And if he tells you something that contradicts my blog here, please do let me know so I can post a correction.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Medical Tourism in Argentina

Today our article, suggested by a reader, is about medical tourism here in Argentina. Medical tourism has been in the news lately. There seem to be providers popping up all over the world. There are tourist hospitals in India, Thailand, and the rest of Southeast Asia that have been doing a booming business the last few years catering to tourists.

South America is finally getting in on it as well. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Costa Rica, the airport was filled with ads -- in English -- for plastic surgery centers. For the same price as a nose job or a breast augmentation in the U.S., you could go to Costa Rica, get the same procedure, and recover in a 5 star resort with people waiting on you hand and foot. Sounds good to me. It appears there's at least one company in Argentina now that is catering to this market. Here's the comment from our reader.

Reader's Comment

I've started planning a trip to Buenos Aires. I'm going to get Lasik surgery and am using Plenitas. Are you familiar with the idea of "surgery touring"? I believe Europeans do it more than North Americans. Everybody I talk to thinks I'm crazy for going to South America for something like surgery and I'm tired of explaining that Buenos Aires is a first class city as sophisticated as New York, that it's the Paris of the New World, etc. I don't think I have anything to worry about; do you?

Great Healthcare

This is a very timely question. Just yesterday I signed up for a health plan with Hospital Alemán, which is within walking distance of my new apartment. For just $160 pesos per month (about $55 USD), you get a health plan similar to one in the U.S., but with no deductibles and no co-pays. There is also a 50% drug benefit as well. Quite simply, this is amazing. Clearly the private healthcare system here is doing something right. When I investigated HMOs in the U.S., I'd be paying $350 USD per month along with co-pays, obviously. I ultimately went with a high deductible PPO plan, since I'm not sick too often.

Even ignoring the exchange rate issue for one moment -- assuming the peso was 1:1 with the U.S. Dollar, the price would still be less than half of what you'd pay in the U.S. for insurance. That's pretty amazing if you ask me. The fact is, they have doctors here that come to your house when you're sick, so you don't have to get out of bed, go to some office, and wait there with all the other sick people and catch who knows what else. Whatever it is, they're doing something right.

Medical Tourism in Argentina

I have no experience with these medical tourism companies, but the fact is, I'm sure they're just marketing organizations. There is no hospital here called Plenitas. You might save yourself some money if you just came here and directly went to one of the better hospitals here (they all have country themes, i.e. the German Hospital, English Hospital, Swiss Hospital, etc.) and meet with the various doctors and choose one you are most comfortable with. All the hospitals have doctors that speak English. I don't know that it is necessary to go with one of these medical tourism companies.

In general, I think it is a great idea to have medical procedures done abroad. If I needed something done, I'm sure I'd do it here. It makes no sense to pay thousands and thousands out of pocket when you can take a 12 hour plane flight and pay less than half for the same procedure with the same level of quality. Unfortunately, most of the American public has been indoctrinated by the F.D.A. and the Federal Government to believe that medicine outside the borders of the U.S. is somehow "unsafe".

I especially get cracked up when I hear the government or the drug companies saying how they can't vouch for the safety of the drugs that are imported from Canada. For years drug companies have been relocating their factories outside U.S. borders to save on labor costs and their international factories are kept up to F.D.A. standards with regular inspections, etc. The only difference is whether they put a U.S. label on the bottle or a Canadian one. They just charge five times more for the U.S. bottle. They're all the same pills.

So, don't believe the lies, come to Buenos Aires, and check things out for yourself. You don't need some government "expert" who's on the payroll of the American medical establishment to tell you whether it is safe to do a procedure outside the country. Come here, talk to the doctors, look at the facilities yourself, and then make up your own mind. Make sure they're up to your standards and then you will be the one who decides whether to do the procedure or not.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Getting Dollars Into Argentina

I received a very important question from a reader about getting dollars into the country in order to buy an apartment. First the question and then the response.

Reader's Question

Did you transfer dollars from a bank out of Argentina to your Argentine bank and then have them converted to pesos, then reconverted to dollars to pay the seller at closing? Or did you do a wire transfer into your Argentine bank and get out dollars directly?

I did a wire transfer in dollars and received the money here in dollars. However, most transfers are required to go through the central bank to be converted into pesos. If you use certain exchange houses here you can do the transfer in dollars. Your realtor here will provide you with a recommendation. The cost is usually 1.5% of the amount they transfer for you, which is still cheaper than doing two currency conversions.

Be aware that there is a new law that says transfers over a certain amount (I'm not sure what the amount is) will have 30% held by the central bank for 1 year before the full amount is released. This is ostensibly to prevent speculation. I've been told there are people who can get around this regulation one way or another.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Airline Tickets For Pesos

I just wanted to let everyone know that I recently bought 20 airline tickets on Aerolineas Argentinas for some in-country flights that my family and I will be doing in November of this year. We're going to be flying all over the country. I'm the only one in my family with a DNI, but they let me buy all the tickets at the peso rate rather than the peso rate for me and the dollar rate for everyone else.

If you've been following this blog before, you'll know I commented on the fact that Aerolineas Argentinas makes foreigners pay the tariffs in dollars, while locals with a DNI number can pay the rate in pesos (an impressive 65% savings). Well, assuming they don't re-price the tickets at the airport and pull any shenanigans, we'll have purchased 20 in-country flights for about $140 USD each instead of $400 USD each -- a savings of over $5000 USD on airfare! If you've been waiting for a reason to get your DNI, this is just one more reason to go for it.

I'll be booking the hotels next with my DNI and I'll let everyone know what the savings are there.

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Bought My Apartment

Well, its been a long time since my last entry, but I finished the purchase of my apartment last week and received the keys. I actually felt like I was in a B movie during the closing -- it was quite hilarious. The seller literally sat across me and we both watched as someone counted the huge stack of cash for the amount of the purchase.

The money left with a guard in a bulletproof vest and went straight to an armored truck that was waiting outside. I can't stress enough to anyone considering buying an apartment here that it is very important to have the closing at your bank. This lets you take the money right out of your account or safe deposit box and give the cash directly to the seller right there in the bank. If you close somewhere else, you'll have to either carry the cash yourself to the location or hire someone else to carry the cash for you -- not a good situation.

In the end, everything turned out fine and it was a smooth closing for all parties. Now I just need to furnish the place and I can move in.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Returning to Argentina

A few days back a reader wrote in with a question about returning to Argentina. I'll do my best to answer this.

Reader's Question

I was born in Argentina, but my parents moved us to Miami when I was two. Luckily, I'm a US citizen and and Argentine citizen. I do have to get a DNI when I get there and renew my Argentine Passport. Do you have any information on whether things will be eaiser for me as far as renting/purchasing property, starting a business, etc. because I was born there and I speak fluent Spanish?

My Response

I do know that there is a law that states Argentine citizens must enter the country using their Argentine passport. This is very common throughout the world -- citizens are always requested to enter their country using their country's passport.

In reality, I doubt this is enforced. You said yourself that you've been several times to Argentina before. Nevertheless, you may want to contact the Argentine consulate to see if they could get you your documents before you go. I do remember when I was back at the Argentine consulate a year and a half ago, I overheard someone who was in the same situation as you. His parents moved him to the U.S. and he had no connection with Argentine. Well, now he was trying to travel outside the country and needed a passport. Since he wasn't a U.S. citizen, he was there trying to get an Argentine passport.

The consulate made him fill out some paperwork and informed him that he must get his DNI first and only then would they give him the passport. I imagine its the same thing for you. You'll need to apply for your DNI and then get your passport. If you need help, I'd recommend you contact ARCA and I'm sure they'd be able to look up your status with the National Registry and tell you what to do.

Starting a Business

As an Argentine citizen who speaks fluent Spanish, I can say that you will surely have an advantage over us yanquis who don't. I'm forced to rely on my staff to deal with a lot of the people I would rather be interacting with directly. If I had the ability to speak fluent Spanish, I'm positive things would be much easier and quicker for me here.