Work Abroad but earn in USD

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Watch Out For The Malaria

Yesterday I was at the post office, mailing some books and other items to Argentina in anticipation of my arrival in mid-May. Anyone who has been to a post office in the US (actually this is probably universal) knows that they are famous for their world-class customer service *wink*. Since I had about 30 things to mail out that day, the clerk started talking to me about the fact that I'm moving to Argentina. On the way out, she advised me to, "Watch out for the malaria."

This is the second time someone has advised me to watch out for the malaria in Argentina. The other time was from my own mother on one of my previous trips down there. I hate to pick on my own mother here, but this once again reminded me of the fabulous ignorance of the average person (my own family included) with regards to places outside the USA. I was always somewhat skeptical about those surveys that say 50% of Americans can't locate Canada on a map, but these days I'm not so sure.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 25, 2005

The American Thinker on Argentina

A reader recently posted an article from the online publication The American Thinker about Argentina's advance to the left. In a nutshell, the article argues that Argentina is becoming far too close with Fidel Castro and moving away from friendly relations with the United States. There are some serious problems with some of the arguments made in this article, so I'd like to set the record straight on several points.

Refusing Asylum to Dissidents

The article alleges that Argentina is somehow at fault for refusing asylum to a Cuban dissident who took refuge in Argentina's Cuban embassy in Havana. However, since when is it Argentina's responsibility to provide asylum to Cuba's dissidents in its embassy? If a Chinese dissident ran to the American embassy in China, would we provide asylum? Not a chance. They wouldn't even get past the marine guards. An embassy exists to provide asylum to its own citizens when they're in trouble in a foreign country. If Argentina allowed all Cuban dissidents to seek refuge in its embassy, pretty soon relations between Cuba and Argentina would break down. Just because the United States still refuses to have normal relations with Cuba, doesn't mean the rest of the world should antagonize them.

Prosecuting Former Leaders

The article continues by saying, "The Argentine government also has targeted Argentina's only pro-American ex-president, Carlos Menem, a good friend and ally for his entire ten years in office, for repeated prosecutions. Not one of these actions is that of a friend of the U.S, but they all serve Fidel Castro's destructive agenda."

What they don't say is that there is evidence that Menem pilfered government coffers and stashed his loot in Swiss bank accounts. Additionally, Menem has fled to Chile rather than stay in Argentina and contest the charges. One can hardly blame Argentina for trying to stamp out corruption at the highest levels. Even if the investigation is politically motivated, what does it say about Menem that he refuses to stay and contest the charges against him?

I hope in the future that readers will read these kinds of opinion pieces with a more critical eye. Fellow US-based readers should understand that the "Washington Consensus" may not always be the right plan for every country. If a free and healthy and sovereign democracy wishes to pursue a leftist or socialist economic policy or further relations with Cuba, then who are we to tell them no?


Thursday, March 17, 2005

English Language Movies in Argentina

A reader wrote in the other day with a question asking, "I'm extremely partial to movies. How are the theaters there in Buenos Aires? Can I still see Hollywood releases there? I'm interested in moving to Argentina, but if I can't see my movies, it might be a no-go."

English Movies Are Widely Available

You'll be happy to hear that you can get the same Hollywood movies in Buenos Aires that you can in the United States. In fact, many of the "blockbuster" movies are released here at the same time as in the United States. It used to be that if you lived abroad, you'd wait 6-9 months after a US release before the movie would arrive overseas. With the advent of the Internet and concern about piracy, studios are now releasing their biggest films simultaneously around the world.

Great Theaters Too

The movie theaters here are also very nice. They have the latest digital sound, big screens, and stadium seating for a pleasant viewing experience. In fact, some theaters allow you to reserve a specific seat ahead of time -- something not possible in the US. This frees you from the requirement to show-up an hour beforehand if you like going to the cinema on weekends.

As a fellow movie buff, I can attest to the quality of the theaters here. You will not be disappointed. Just make sure to read the advertisements for the movies to ensure that you are going to the English showing. Some movies will be in English with Spanish subtitles, others will be dubbed into Spanish. The advertisements for the theaters in the newspaper will tell you what language the movie is in.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 14, 2005

Argentina's National Boycott of Royal Dutch/Shell

The Times Online reports today about the effect of the national boycott of Shell Oil. Last week Argentina President Nestor Kirchner accused Royal Dutch/Shell of predatory pricing and called for a national boycott. He called for the Argentine people not to buy anything from Shell, "not even a can of oil." The piqueteros, eager for something to protest, have taken up the call and are setting up protest lines outside Shell stations.

If you've spent even a little bit of time in Argentina since the financial collapse, you're familiar with the piqueteros. If not, a little background: They are a militant group of the unemployed that generally roam the city and cause trouble -- setting up blockades to prevent access in/out of the city, disrupting the subway, and occasionally vandalizing McDonald's. What you may not know is that in recent months they've literally run out of things to protest.

Causing Trouble For the Sake of Trouble

Recently one of my Argentine friends told me about a talk show where they invited one of the leaders of the piqueteros to discuss the issues with the host. The host asked him what were the demands of the piqueteros. What would it take to stop the protests? What were their grievances? They guy had no response. He couldn't think of what he wanted changed. At this point, the piqueteros are just protesting and asking for a higher unemployment benefit from the government. They've lost any semblance of legitimacy and lost all their support from working people as well, who just see them as a nuisance now.

Kirchner Puts the Piqueteros Back To Work

The call for a national boycott has energized the piqueteros and given them something to do. They claim that they are not preventing anyone from crossing the picket lines, but this is a highly dubious claim -- they've always enforced their road closures with blockades and long wooden batons. Shell shouldn't expect the government to come to their aid either, if the piqueteros are enforcing the picket line. In the past piqueteros have vandalized businesses, regional headquarters of corporations, and even a police station with no response from the government.

With Argentina's head of state calling for the ban, it is extremely unlikely that the government will come to Shell's aid and allow customers to get through the protest lines. The effect is a de facto government shutdown of Shell stations within Argentina. I'll tell you this -- even if Shell stations were giving away gas for free, I would not go there if I knew piqueteros would be protesting there. You'd likely get your car vandalized, or worse.

We'll see what happens when the government resumes talks with the foreign-owned utility companies, which are trying to negotiate an end to the ban on price increases for gas, electricity, and water. Needless to say, its not looking good for them. There is at least one lesson for expatriates to learn here. If you're thinking about investing in a business in Argentina, carefully consider how much control and government oversight you will be subject to.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

English Language Schooling in Buenos Aires

Today I received a question about English-language schooling for children in Buenos Aires. I'm sure this is a very important concern for those of you with families who are moving to Buenos Aires, so I'm going to address this publiclly here in the blog.

Reader's Question

I'm moving to Argentina on a two-year assignment for my company. I'm concerned about continuing with English language education for my children. The last thing I want to do is return to the US and have them behind in their studies. Both children are in elementary school right now. This is only a temporary assignment to help me advance my career and it is not a priority for either them or myself to learn Spanish.

English Language Schooling in Buenos Aires

Probably the oldest and most reputable English language school for children is the Lincoln International School, which is situated in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires. The Lincoln International School is accredited in the United States K-12, so there will be no problems at all when your children return to the US and continues their education.

It is also noteworthy that surrounding this school is a large English-speaking expatriate community. The area is full of yanquis and has grocery stores with imports from the USA, English-language bookstores, and many other English-language services. You could probably live in this area without having to learn much Spanish at all. Nevertheless, the stated goal of the Lincoln school is to produce children who are bilingual, so expect your children to get plenty of Spanish experience, whether you try to learn or not.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Video Systems Overseas (NTSC vs PAL)

If you're thinking about bringing any video devices to Argentina, such as a DVD player, a camcorder, or a home theater projector, you'll run into a problem pretty quick. Argentina's video system is PAL N, which is different than NTSC, the system in the United States. PAL N is also different from PAL, the system used widely throughout Europe. You have to match PAL devices with PAL devices and NTSC devices with NTSC devices. You can't take an NTSC camcorder and plug it into a PAL TV. It won't work.

A Solution Exists

Luckily, there are PAL/NTSC video converters out there that will change the signals from one format to the other. This will let you bring your devices with you to Argentina and ensure they will work on an Argentina television. Otherwise, you're going to be forced to leave all your stuff at home and buy everything new once you arrive in Argentina.

A Special Note About Home Video

If you buy a camcorder in Argentina there will be problems with all the video you shoot if you attempt to view it back in the United States. On the other hand, if you keep your US camcorder, you won't be able to play the video on an Argentina TV without the PAL/NTSC converter. If you don't plan on relocating to Argentina permanently, it would probably make sense to keep recording your video in NTSC for the long term.

As someone who enjoys photography/videography, this was an important issue for me. My family wants to see photos/video of my new home, so I decided to do all my video in NTSC. I will use a converter to view it here.

The Professional Option

If you are building a home theater and you plan on having a lot of different video sources (i.e. DVD player, satellite, camcorder, video game system) and you want to pair these with a high-end video device like a plasma television or a projector, you might want to invest in a video processor. These devices are literally mini-computers. They take any video singal, whether it be from a PAL, NTSC, PAL N, computer, etc, and they convert it to EXACTLY FIT your video device. An example of one of these devices would be the iScan HD+ from DVDO.

The iScan product from DVDO is one way to ensure that no matter what display you end up using, it will work with whatever source you feed it. If you plan on moving around the world a lot, this would be a good long-term investment if you want great video no matter where in the world you happen to be living.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Argentina's New Bonds Trade Up

Bloomberg reported today that Argentina's new bonds are already trading-up, despite the fact that they haven't even been issued yet. The bonds are trading on a "when-issued" market ahed of the April 1 swap date, when holders of the defaulted bonds will swap their old bonds for the new ones that are not in default.

About The New Bonds

These new bonds are denominated in dollars, not pesos -- meaning Argentina can't print money to pay them off. They're also immune from inflation in Argentina's economy. Obviously they will be subject to US Dollar inflation and all other risks that go with holding assets denominated in US Dollars.

These new bonds are paying an 8.3% yield and they mature in 2033. However, they are currently trading a 91 cents on the dollar (up from 87 cents on the dollar), giving them an actual yield of 9%.

What Does This Mean

The market is confident about Argentina's ability to repay these bonds -- at least in the short term. Argentina's bonds are trading at just 4.7% above US Treasuries (which is considered to have almost no risk). Brazil, which has bonds rated three levels higher by Moody's, has a yield of just 4% above treasures. Argentina's bonds, despite being much riskier according to Moody's, are trading at just 70 basis points (meaning the interest rate is just 0.7% higher) than Brazil's bonds. Rafael Ber, an analyst with Argentine Research in Buenos Aires, thinks Argentina should be at least 150 basis points above Brazil, based on the two countries history of defaults.

So, Are The New Bonds Risky?

For the short-term, it seems like the answer is no. Now that Argentina's debt has been restructured, it currently stands at 72% of GDP. For comparison, the USA has debt at 66% of GDP. However, Argentina is currently operating at a budget surplus and is bringing in enough tax dollars to easily service their debt and pay for their current government programs. These bonds would actually be a good way for expatriates to earn a high yield, assuming the the following conditions continue to be met:

  1. The Argentine economy continues to grow.
  2. The government continues a budget surplus.
  3. Government spending is restrained and grows no faster than GDP.

Will these factors exist for the next 30 or so years until the bonds mature? Who knows. If you're an expatriate living in Buenos Aires, however, you should be aware of the local economic conditions. If it looks like things are going downhill, you can always dump the bonds. The problem last time is that most investors in Argentina's bonds were elderly European retirees who didn't bother to keep up with the condition of Argentina's financial situation. The smart money sold the bonds before they went into default.

Would You Really Recommend These Bonds?

Not to anyone who doesn't live in Argentina. I'm a firm believer of "invest in what you know". Any expatriate living in a country should be aware of the local economic conditions, giving them a common sense understanding of what to do. As an expatriate, you should know about economic conditions months before other people. If you think the country's on a downward trend, sell, don't wait until its too late. When a country is headed down the tubes, there will always be warning signs. Pay attention, read the newspaper, and make sure to spot them. Still, don't put your entire nest egg here. Only risk what you can afford to lose. This is still an "emerging market" country.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Get Your Residency Visa Early

Today I received an e-mail from a reader asking for information about getting a residency visa for a move she was planning on making in May. This would give her just two months to get the visa. Needless to say, I recommended that she start her visa process the very next day. Everyone needs to realize that Argentina is not the United States. If you think bureaucracy is slow in the USA, just wait until you start to deal with Argentina.

Dealing With The Consulate

After I already had been approved by the Department of Migrations in Buenos Aires, it took 2 weeks just for me to get an appointment at Argentina's consulate in the USA. Why? Because they had just one lady who handled visas for the entire Southwest United States. In fact, she only took phone calls two days a week for a 3 hour period. Thank God I had a good Argentine lawyer who could deal with these people.

When I actually did go to the consulate in person, she was very polite and kind, but it was clear that processing visas in a timely manner is not a priority for the Argentina Consulate. I was also lucky to have started my visa application well before I intended to move to Argentina permanently. My visa was approved nearly a year ago and I'm still not living in Argentina on a full-time basis.

The Importance of Good Contacts

Having good contacts is the key... a good lawyer can save you months and months of hassle. Before I started using my lawyer, trying to get anyone to help me with the visa was impossible. There was no motivation on the part of the people at the consulate to answer any of my questions. Once my lawyer started the process, though, everything went quickly. It isn't about threatening people with lawsuits either. Its about personal relationships.

People are willing to deal fairly with someone they know and are used to working with. When I finally arrived at Migrations in Buenos Aires, I met my lawyer in person for the first time and watched as he went and informed the government officials in the waiting room that I had arrived. I was quickly moved ahead of the 70+ other people waiting for their papers to be processed in Migrations.

I found out later that most arrived at 5:00 AM in the morning to queue up so that their names could be added to the list. People arriving after 6:30 AM will find that the line is so long already that they will have no chance of being seen during the day. People literally arrive at 5:00 AM in the morning and say until the close of business, waiting for their name to be called.

Because of my lawyer's personal relationship with the people here at migrations, I not only got my visa processed quickly, I was spared this ordeal of waiting all day long. I was able to arrive at 9:00 AM and be done and out of there by 10:30 AM and still have a productive day.

My Visa Lawyer's Contact

Since so many people have asked, I'm just going to post the contact info here on the blog:

Argentina Residency & Citizenship Advisors
USA Phone: +1 (888) 748-3435

To the couple starting their visa process tomorrow -- good luck! I certainly hope you can get it done in time. To everyone else reading, start your visa today. It doesn't matter if you won't move there for another 6, 9, 12 months. Start early, be prepared! There's no downside to taking care of things ahead of time.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Living in Argentina: European Quality Lifestyle, Bombay Prices

When traveling to a foreign country on holiday, we usually don't take the time to get a feel for the general cost of the country. Many times we're traveling on packages or tours that have been pre-paid or we make sure to bring enough money with us to get everything we'd like on the trip. However, for expatriates choosing to live in a foreign country, it is important to actually have a good understanding of the local prices. A recent study published in early March 2005 by UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) in the Business Times in Singapore placed Buenos Aires just after Bombay on a list of the cheapest world cities.

Cheapest World Cities

  1. Bombay (Mumbai), India
  2. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  3. Kiev, Ukraine
  4. Bucharest, Romania
  5. Sofia, Bulgaria

Most Expensive World Cities

  1. Oslo, Norway
  2. Hong Kong, China
  3. Tokyo, Japan
  4. New York, United States
  5. Zurich, Switzerland
  6. Copenhagen, Denmark
  7. London, United Kingdom
  8. Basel, Switzerland
  9. Chicago, United States
  10. Geneva, Switzerland

Recent Changes

The recent displacement of major US cities from the most expensive list has a lot to do with the depreciation of the US Dollar, making the United States more affordable in European terms. Tokyo also feel to third place on the most expensive cities list due to the depreciation of the Yen. On the other hand, the high rankings for so many European cities are due to the rapid appreciation of the Euro in recent years. If this list were compiled before 2001, Buenos Aires would certainly be nowhere near the top of the cheapest cities list. On the contrary, it was the most expensive city in South America.

However, if you ask a porteño whether they think their city is cheap or not, you'll likely get laughed -- or worse. Salaries did not adjust upward to compensate for the depreciation of the Argentine peso, so a porteño who was making $1500 pesos before the devaluation would still be making $1500 pesos after. The difference, though, is that those pesos were once worth $1500 USD and now they are worth about $510 USD. The prices of locally-made goods have adjusted downwards as well, but expensive imports are now prohibitively expensive for most porteños.

Implicatinos for the Expatriate

If you're coming to Buenos Aires to live here and you will be earning dollars or euros from your home country, the effect is that your spending power will be multiplied by a factor of three to four if you can purchase local products and services. If you're always buying imports, you won't see much savings. Electronics, luxury items, and many other imports are subject to high import tariffs to stimulate local industry.

If you plan on coming to Buenos Aires and seeking a job here, be prepared to take a large pay cut from what you're used to earning. You may not find the city so cheap if you're earning your salary in pesos. However, if you're a businessperson looking for competent and capable workers, you'll find they're readily available and quite the bargain here in Buenos Aires.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

US Tax Rules For Expatriates

Yesterday, I met with my accountant to explore the tax benefits of expatriating. This post will only be relevant to US readers, so others may one to skip this one.

Standard Disclaimer

Let me preface this entry by saying that I am not a lawyer, an accountant, nor am I trying to give advice in any way. I am simply stating what is my own understanding of the rules and regulations regarding expatriate tax status. I could be totally mistaken. You should by no means rely on what I'm posting here to prepare your tax return. I take no responsibility should you get in to trouble by relying on what I state here.

Foreign Income Exclusion

Now that we're done with the disclaimer, let's get on to the good stuff. The first and biggest benefit to expatriate tax status is an $80,000 income tax exclusion. What this means is that you get to take the first $80,000 you earn and wipe it off your return, as if you didn't earn it. Assuming we're talking 2004 numbers, that's worth $17,027 in income taxes you won't be paying. NICE!

Are there caveats, rules, and exceptions? You bet! That's way beyond the scope of this blog post, though. The best way to get yourself up to speed is to talk to an accountant who's familar with expatriate tax preparation or do what I did -- download and read Publication 54 from the IRS website. It won't be fun, but it will be informative. You owe it to yourself to be fully informed. Here's the short version:

  • Your can only get the exclusion on income earned as a result of being an expatriate. Moving out of the country doesn't mean you get to exclude $80,000 of stock dividends, for example.
  • You have to live outside the country for 330 days of the year or its a no-go.
  • Your primary residence has to be outside the country and you have to have established local community connections in your new home.
  • You're still going to owe Social Security & Medicare on the $80,000 under most circumstances.

Moving Expenses

You're also going to get to deduct moving expenses from the USA to Argentina. This means that if you ship your furniture/car/family down there, Uncle Sam will let you deduct that. I decided to sell everything in the USA and re-buy everything from scratch when I arrived. So, too bad for me. I'll still get to deduct the plane tickets, though.

Housing Exclusion

Under certain circumstances, you can deduct all or a portion of your housing costs while you are overseas. The rules regarding this are so complex that my accountant couldn't even come to a determination as to whether or not I qualify for it -- I'm in a sort-of gray area. She is writing a letter to the IRS on my behalf to obtain a ruling as to whether or not I qualify. So, I'm not really able to explain whether or not you can get this deduction, since I don't even know if I can get it. I can only say that it is available and that you might be able to get it. Check with your tax professional or the IRS.

As you can see, the possibility does exist for you to save a significant amount of money. Its a little tricky to figure out at first, but well worth the effort. I know for sure that I'll be saving at least $17,000 a year (and perhaps more) just on Federal Income Tax. We're not even talking cost-of-living savings yet. For me, that's worth 2-3 international vacations each year -- money that I would otherwise be paying to Uncle Sam.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 07, 2005

Finding an Unfurnished Apartment Online

I've commented previously about finding a furnished apartment to rent for a short period -- a few months at most. What about when you decide to move to Buenos Aires for good? Well, today's article is about just that. Luckily, there are several good websites to view Buenos Aires apartments. Today, I'm going to point one of them out and also give you a few pointers to help you use it.

Clarín Classifieds

One of the best resources is the classifieds section of Clarín, Argentina's largest newspaper. The search feature is very good. The only thing lacking is that there are no pictures. So, you'll have to go in-person to view the apartment to see whether it is what you are looking for. Nevertheless, you can still use this to help you find prices and availability in the neighborhoods you're looking at. Go to the Clarín Classifieds page and then click on "Cases y Departamentos," assuming you are looking for either houses or apartments to rent/buy.

Spanish Cheat Sheet

To intelligently use this page, you'll have to understand a little bit of Spanish, so you can set the options you're looking for. Here's a little cheat sheet:

  • casa / house
  • departamento / apartment
  • inmuelbe / property
  • en venta / for sale
  • alquiler ofrecido / offered for rent
  • ambientes / rooms
  • fecha de publicación / date of publication
  • desde / from
  • hasta / until
  • zona / zone
  • localidad / location
  • buscar / find
  • Captial Federal / the city of Buenos Aires
  • Gran Buenos Aires / Greater Buenos Aires, includes areas outside the city

Now that we have the basics, we can do a search. Suppose we are looking for a 3 bedroom apartment in Barrio Norte, a touristy/expensive area of Buenos Aires. We're not willing to pay more than $1000 USD per month, though. Here's how we'll do it. Under "Inmuelbe", set it to "departmentos", since we're looking for an apartment. Next, under "Operación", set it to "Alquiler ofrecido", since we are renting not buying. "Zona" should be set to "Capital Federal" and "Localidad" should be set to "Barrio Norte".

Now we are on the "Ambientes" section. Keep in mind that while we describe houses by "bedrooms" in the USA, they describe them by "rooms" in Argentina. If you ask for an apartment with 3 rooms, you will probably get a two bedroom apartment. So, we're going to set "ambienties" to four, which should give us one main room and three bedrooms. Keep in mind that this is not exact, though. It could be two great rooms and two bedrooms. You'll have to call to find out about a specific property.

From here, let's set our minimum price at 0 by putting a 0 in the "desde" field. And our maximum price was $1000 USD, so let's put 3000 (exchange rate is about 3 pesos per 1 dollar) in the "hasta" field. The next option is "Incluir avisos sin campo precio" which translates roughly to "Include ads without an obvious price". We'll leave this checked to pull up the maximum number of listings. Of course, if there's no price listed, we'll have to call and find out. Still, better to see it than not see it. Just because a price was omitted doesn't mean it won't be in our price range. Better to have too many choices than too few.

Next, let's select "La última semana" under "Fecha de publicación". Chances are that if an apartment isn't rented, it'll be published each week in the newspaper until it is rented. If you go older than that, there's more of a chance the apartment will already be rented out. Now just click "Buscar" and wait while the site finds your listings.

So, let's see if we can decipher the listings now and discover what the apartments have to offer. The first one that pulled up for me looked like this:

Barrio Norte 1800 | Alquiler ofrecido | Departamentos | 4amb
4amb c/dep 2 cochs semip T/al fte v/pa- nor suite + bño
cto espect Liv v/ Dom 27 de Febrero y Sab 05 de Marzo
de 15-19hs Laprida 1385 16º"A" y Av Sta Fe 4822-5959

At first, its a lot to look at. However, we can try and decipher it piece by piece and discover what this apartment has to offer:

  • 1800 / price of the apartment in pesos.
  • 4amb / number of rooms.
  • c/dep / this stands for con dependencia, which means there is a small room for the home service personnel.
  • 2 cochs / shorthand for 2 cocheras, meaning there are 2 parking spaces in the garage for cars
  • semip / short for semipiso, meaning this is one of only two apartments on the floor
  • al fte / short for al frente, meaning this apartment is at the front of the building with a view to the street
  • v/pa / not positive on this, but I believe it stands for vista panoramica, or panoramic view
  • nor / short for norte, the building should be pointing north, so you'll be getting northern sunlight with this building
  • suite / a suite is a room with an included bathroom (i.e. a master bedroom), so there is one master bedroom in this apartment.
  • + bño / short for baño, or bathroom, refers to the fact that there's one other bathroom that's not located inside a bedroom. This apartment has two bathrooms, with one in the master bedroom and one that's probably in a hallway.
  • espect Liv / short for espectacular living, they are saying that the apartment has a spectacular living room. Yes, they do use the English word "living" for living room.
  • Dom 27 de Febrero y Sab 05 de Marzo de 15-19hs / Feb 27 & March 5 between 3:00 - 7:00 PM, these are the two days and times that the apartment will be open for anyone to walk-in and view without an appointment, an open house.
  • Laprida 1385 16º"A" / the address of the apartement. Laprida street, 16th floor, apartment "A".
  • y Av Sta Fe / and Sante Fe Avenue, the major cross-street of the apartment
  • 4822-5959 / phone number of the realtor, so you can call and make an appointment if you want to view the apartment at a different time than the open house.

I hope this little overview will help everyone in their search for apartments. Of course, various ads will be using different abbreviations, but this little cheat sheet should help you understand most of what's listed. Of course, if you have a question about a specific ad, I'd be happy to help you interpret. Good luck with your house/apartment search!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Getting an Argentina Website / Registering a Domain

If you plan on selling your product or service in Argentina, it may help to have a website. If you already have a website in English, one choice would be to simply make a Spanish version. However, a smarter option would be to get an Argentina domain name and custom-tailor the site for the Argentina market.

The first step is to get a domain name in Argentina. Don't be fooled by VeriSign,, and the other US-based registrars who will try to charge as much as $50 per year for a foreign domain name. You can register as many Argentina domain names as you want for free directly with the Argentina Network Information Center. Even if you don't plan on actually using the domain name for several years, it would be helpful to reserve it now to prevent any other organization or person from taking the name.

Since domains are free in Argentina, there are a lot of people out there who will take all the domains they can get, hoping that one day you will have to pay them a large sum of money to buy the domain from them. By registering the domain yourself first, you can avoid all that hassle. Your ISP will need to configure their DNS servers to host the domain for you. If you don't have an ISP that will do this for you or you don't know how, allow me to plug my own firm, GeoDesign.

For a very small one-time fee, I will gladly host your domain on our DNS servers until you are ready to make use of it. We can either redirect it to your normal website or just have it pop-up an "Under Construction" page, whatever you prefer. We hope you'll consider us some day when you decide to create a site for the local market. I'm the only gringo (or yanqui, as they say in Argentina) here; everyone else at GeoDesign is a native porteño, so we have an excellent knowledge of the local market and how to connect with the Argentine people.

We'd also be happy to actually complete the registration process for you, if you don't want to deal with the Spanish web-forms that are on the Argentina NIC website.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

Porteños and their Soccer Madness

If you click on my profile picture and enlarge it, you will see me in the foreground an Argentine friend of mine sitting next to me wearing a white and red cap. This picture was taken in the River Stadium during a soccer match between River and Boca. My friend is a Boca fan, but since this game didn't offer any visitor seating, she went with my girlfriend (who's behind the camera) and I, despite the fact that she hates River.

Well, let me tell you that during the game she was about ready to kill herself. Every time Boca scored a goal the whole stadium became deathly silent and she bit her lip, trying not to say anything. She was worried, and rightly so, that if she stood up and started cheering for Boca, the people around us would literally kill her.

Getted Outted As a Soccer Traitor

Well, today she informed me that her brother, who is a River fan, found my blog and the picture of her with a River cap on. The first thing he did was call her husband (who is also a River fan) and inform him. After that he called her coworkers at her office and told them as well. So, now they are all making jokes that she is a "fake Boca fan" and not a true supporter of the team. In fact, she asked me to remove the picture.

So, before I do remove it, I just wanted to share this with everyone so they can see the extent of the soccer madness that pervades Argentina. Being an expatriate, I don't have a preference for one team or the other. I'm happy to go with all my friends to the various games. However, this would never be considered by people who live there.

My friend and her husband both love soccer, but because they support rival teams, they will never go and see a game together. In fact, if they did go to a game together, they'd sit apart in different sections since they support different teams. Maybe there are people like this in the USA, but I sure haven't met them.

It Starts At Birth

One of my former coworkers once told me a story about his young nephew, who was only three or four at the time. Since different people in the family supported different teams, they were each trying to recruit the boy into becoming a fan of their favorite team -- all this before he could even understand the rules of the game. It was a literal contest between the people in the family. They had a fresh and impressionable mind and they were in a race to secure his allegiance to their soccer team. I forget now who it was that said it, but one of the members of the family would tell the boy, "Only homos support such-and-such team, you should be a fan of my team instead."

Porteño Hell

If its true that there's an individual hell for all of us, I think that damned porteños will be forced to sit through soccer matches of their favorite team and watch them lose game after game. You can always tell who is River fan and who is a Boca fan the day after the match. If River won, the Boca fans will literally be walking around town in a depressed stupor, as if a family member just died. This might even go on for several days. The River fans meanwhile, will be grinning all day long and will be walking around with a little skip in their steps. You'd think they just won the lottery.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 04, 2005

US Expatriates Do Not Give Up Their Citizenship

I had a reader write in the other day wanting to know information on getting a residency visa. "But I don't want to give up my US citizenship," he wrote. Moving to another country will not cause you to lose your citizenship. In fact, the government can't take it away from you under any circumstance. The only way you can actually lose your citizenship is to renounce it abroad in front of a US Consul and sign a sworn statement attesting to that fact. Even then, they won't let you give up your citizenship unless you have already acquired citizenship in a foreign country.

Acquiring foreign citizenship does not mean you lose your US Citizenship, though. The Supreme Court has ruled that US recognizes dual citizens. Even if you acquire citizenship in a foreign country, you still cannot lose your US Citizenship. Even if the foreign country you acquire citizenship in requires you to renounce your previous citizenship, it still won't have any effect on your US Citizenship. They can make you swear to whatever they want, the only way you can lose your US Citizenship is by going before a US Consul and doing so.

So, if you are thinking of expatriating but worried about losing your citizenship, you have nothing to fear. Explore the world outside your country, meet new people, have new experiences. You can always come home if you don't find what you're looking for.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 03, 2005

South America Continues Its Turn Left

With the swearing in of Uruguay's first left-wing president, Tabare Vazquez, Uruguay has become one more country in South America's new collection of left-leaning governments, following the lead of Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina. Nevertheless, these new leftist governments have not taken any of the dramatic steps that might be offensive to the USA or Europe. Industries are not being nationalized and foreign investment is still welcomed.

So, what does this mean to expatriates living in Argentina and the rest of South America? I'm not quite sure yet, but I'm hopeful these left-leaning governments can do what they've promised and help lift their citizens out of poverty.

It is very easy for politicians in Washington to tell Argentina that they're spending too much on government housing and social assistance when they're a world away. I wonder whether the IMF and US Treasury officials would have the same views if they lived in Argentina -- if they saw street children asking for food while you ate? Would they say the same thing if they witnessed the cartoneros on garbage day, rummaging through everyone's garbage cans to look for cardboard or tin they can sell to the recycling plant?

Pure unrestrained capitalism works a lot better in some areas of the world than in others. There always need to be checks and balances to ensure capitalism doesn't spiral out of control. It is a heartless system by design and so it must be overseen to ensure things don't get out of hand.

Still, it will be interesting to see how these new governments fare and whether South America will continue to trend leftward. It seems that all of South America has spoken and clearly rejected the "Washington Consensus" of the 1990s, with the mass privatization of industry and cuts in social spending. I certainly hope these new governments can find a middle ground.


Getting Stuff Into Argentina Tax Free

I received a comment today from a reader asking more about the import tax situation, so I want to respond to that for today's issue. The questions are below:

Reader's Comment

Do you know what the rules are on import duties for people who bring personal property into Argentina with them? Say a family moves there, intending to stay several years, but only brings what they can take on the plane with them. Would they have to pay the 50% tax on electronics & other goods brought in?

Importing Personal Goods At The Airport

When you arrive in Ezeiza International Aiport, you clear immigrations first and then go to customs to pick-up your bags. As you depart the airport, customs will x-ray your bags. It seems to me that the best way to approach this would be to act like you're a tourist and just try to clear customs without payment of any tax. If they know you're a resident, things are going to get a lot more complicated. They're going to try and tax you -- and then you're stuck arguing with a customs officer in Spanish about the value of your goods. Not fun.

Importing Personal Goods By Container

If you have a lot of stuff to bring into the country, you can send it in a shipping container. The good news is that if you have a temporary residency visa, you will be able to bring in personal goods tax free. The bad news is that you will need to purchase an bond from an insurance company which costs about 10% of the goods' declared value. But, this will let you ship in a whole lot of stuff via a container. Worse, is that you have to pay this 10% bond each year that you live in Argentina until you get your permanent residency visa.

What I Decided

Since I'm not shipping my whole house, I decided not to go the container route. I'm going through the airport and I'm bringing a ton of electronics into the country in my suitcases, but its all stuff that is reasonable for a traveller to bring. Here's some of the stuff I'm going to try and get away with bringing in tax & bond free:

  • Camera, Camcorder, Accessories
  • Laptop Computer, Accessories
  • Digital Projector (since I can't bring a TV, I'll use a projector to get my big screen)
  • Video Converter For Projector (allows it to work on Argentina TV signals)
  • MP3 Player, Portable DVD Player, 200+ DVDs/CDs in a CD Binder
That's it! I'm going to buy the rest of my electronics there. The big issue for me was getting a big screen TV without spending $10,000 in Argentina. With a digital projector ($2000-$3000), I'll be able to setup a dedicated home theater in one of the rooms in my apartment. That'll give me a 100+ inch screen and I'll be a happy camper. My family is also planning on visiting me a few months after I move down there, so you better believe that each time I have a visitor, I'm going to have a shopping list of stuff I'll ask them to bring me.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Argentina Swaps Debt, Foreign Investors Are Screwed

Surely most readers here know about Argentina's economic problems. Well, today Argentina's president declared victory, since apparently the majority of the foreign bondholders accepted their debt swap offer. What this means is that the foreign investors will turn in their old bonds (which Argentina is not paying interest on) and get new ones (which they will pay interest on). The catch... the new ones are only worth 20-30% of the value of the old ones. I'm very sorry if you bought one of those things.

This should be a lesson for expatriates living in Argentina... keep your money out of this country. People have asked me about how to open a bank account when they arrive, transferring their savings here, etc. Just don't do it! Keep only the money you need on a monthly basis. Don't think about putting your life savings in this country.

Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't invest in Argentina. Lots of people are making money on real estate, businesses, etc. But don't take your liquid assets and put them in banks here. Argentina is not the place for your nest egg. Did you know that some banks require you to buy private insurance against government confiscation of the money in the account? I'm not joking.

Before you consider an investment here, realize that you are investing in a high risk environment. There are certain things that are safe here and certain things that are not. It seems like every 10 years or so Argentina has a financial meltdown... which means we have another 5 years to go until it happens again. So, just be vigilant. You don't want to be the next foreign investor that loses their shirt.

If you have an idea for an investment or business and you want me to give you an opinion, let me know. I won't do a thorough analysis for free, but I'd be happy to give you a gut-check opinion. I'm familiar with what kinds of things are going to work here and what's going to be difficult/risky.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Bringing Your Electronics / Laptop to Argentina

The power system in Argentina is very much different than the USA. If you are from Europe, however, chances are all your electronics will work in Argentina. If you read my previous article on electronics customs taxes, you’ll realize why you might want to bring your electronics with you to Argentina rather than buying new. The only problem this presents is that your stuff might not work there if you are from the USA.

So, how do you find out? First, a little overview on power… just enough to make you familiar. Power is measured in volts and hertz. In layman’s terms, volts are the amount of juice flowing into the device and hertz is the number of times per second the electricity cycles through the device. In the USA, our system is 110v / 60hz. In Argentina, the system is 220v / 50hz. This means that the devices in Argentina need about twice as much juice, but fewer cycles. You need to make sure your electric devices that you intend to bring will function on 220v / 50hz power or you cannot bring them without converting the power (more on that later). In addition to using different power than the USA, Argentina has different plugs as well.

Adapter Plugs

You can go to your local travel store and buy a plug converter that will adapt your plug to an Argentina plug. Argentina actually has two kinds of plugs, a European style plug and an Australian style plug. So, it would be helpful if you had plug adapters for both types. I bought my plug adapters at the Samsonite Outlet store near me, but any good travel store should have them.

Finding Your Device's Power Requirements

To determine whether you can bring your device, you have learn about its power requirements. To do this, we must locate the power requirements info on your device. Most devices will state their power requirements on either the power cord, the place where the power cord extends from the device, or on power transformer of your device if it has one. If the device says 110v/60hz, your device will not work on Argentina's power. If you MUST bring it, you will have to convert the power. If you're lucky, the device will say 110-220 / 50-60hz, which means the device functions on any voltage between 100 and 220 and any hertz between 50 and 60.

There may be variations to this number as well. It might say 100-240v / 50-60hz. The key info you are looking for is that 220v is within the acceptable range for the device's volt requirements and 50hz is within the range of the device's hertz requirements. If those two numbers are included in the range, you're good to go! Most good laptops, MP3 players, digital camera chargers, and other devices that are designed for portability will work on worldwide power and have a large range of acceptable power inputs. For things that are not designed to be moved (i.e. kitchen appliances), you're probably out of luck, but you can still check to make sure.

Converting Power

If you have a device that you must take with you, it is possible to buy a step-down converter that will change the power from 220 to 110 so that your device can use the power properly. Keep in mind that this converter will only change the volts from 220 to 110, not the hertz. On some devices this doesn't matter. Some devices will say they function on 60hz, when in fact they can be used with 50hz. Other devices will only work on 60hz and even if you convert the volts to 110, you'll still be out of luck. Call the manufacturer to make sure.

Good luck with your electronics! After learning all this, I've become much more vigilant about only buying electronics that work on worldwide power. I want to make sure that from now on, whenever I travel or move somewhere, I can bring my stuff with me and not have to worry.