Work Abroad but earn in USD

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Plan Before You Make Your Move

I've gotten a few comments lately from readers who, after a vacation to Buenos Aires, are anxious to come and live here, but quite frequently they fail to plan adequately. The owner of ApartmentsBA made a very good comment about this that I'd like to share and then discuss.

Reader's Comment

Keep reality in focus. It can be 'romantic' or exciting to just walk away from life but have a solid gameplan. I can't emphasize this enough. I see so many foreigners (especially Americans) moving to BA to live out some fantasy. Most of them live here just a few months and reality sets in. They have no prospects for a job or making money and have to move back home.

Unemployment rates have drastically fallen from their highs but keep in mind that salaries are extremely low here and cost of living is going up. There are many bilingual, educated, English-speaking college graduates here. They aren't making a lot of money, so why would someone pay you more? You have to look at things in terms of that. Most Americans I talk to that want to live here can't speak any Spanish (let alone decent Spanish) yet they still think somehow they will find this great paying job and live their dream life.

The reality is that you have to plan well. Honestly, look around and you will see that most foreigners fail here. In fact, El Expatriado is one of the only ones that I know that has succeeded and it's because he had a solid foundation and good business plan and planned things out.

The Reality of Argentina

Most of us are not independently wealthy. We need income to survive. Right now Argentina is cheap enough that, if you bought a place to live, you could live well on $1000-1500 USD per month. Could you live on less? Sure, but you'd need to be frugal and watch your budget closely. Lots of things we have in the United States and take for granted are luxuries here. If you want to try and replicate the lifestyle you had in the United States, you'll need more money.

All the Americans (and Argentines) I know here that are doing well financially are either selling their products / services abroad or working in the tourism / hospitality industry here, earning their money in dollars. If you get a job here, expect to be paid between $400-1000 USD monthly, depending on your skills. And that's only if you can find a job that is somehow working with foreigners where your skills would be needed.

The Buenos Aires Labor Market

The point ApartmentsBA makes about having to compete against locals is a good one. I could potentially hire an American here to work customer service for my U.S. clients, but the Argentine that I hired speaks English, Spanish, and French. His English accent is very good, so it doesn't bother my U.S. customers much. Since he's a local, he can also help me with whatever I need done locally as well - odds & ends. I also wouldn't be paying anywhere near $1000 USD per month for that position.

The only way I'm paying someone $1000 USD per month here is if they're brining in business or they're such an effective manager that they can run the business for me and I don't have to even think about it anymore. The point is, you'd only pay a salary like that to a very special person. So, it is unrealistic for an American to think they're going to come here and earn that.

The Importance of Good Planning

I had a software development center here in Buenos Aires a full year before I even gave one thought to moving here. It was only through my repeated trips to Buenos Aires that I realized how much I liked it here. Since I do most of my selling over the internet and through word of month, I rarely met my clients in person. So, for me, it didn't really matter where I lived. That's not a normal situation for most people.

Don't think it'll be easy to just come here and start a business either. I've had an office here for 2 years and today my Argentina sales add up to about 3% of my business. Don't expect anyone here to pay you in dollars for your services. Also, the reason I have Argentine partners is that they need my help to sell to people from the U.S., not the other way around. People are going to be much more receptive to entering into a partnership with you if you can drive sales to people in your country, not the other way around. Don't expect to find someone who will magically help you sell your products and services here. Your Argentine partners will expect you to be working the magic.

So, it isn't impossible to come here and live well. It does take good planning, however. Think things through. Your best bet may be just to stay in the U.S. a little longer and work on that nest egg. If you really save and be very frugal, you can work up the savings required to live here. Remember, with just $1500 USD in income per month and owning a property you'll be well off. If invested properly, that doesn't require such a huge amount of savings.

Good luck, and I hope to see you all soon in Buenos Aires. Just be smart about it!

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger ABA said...

Thanks for highlighting this point El Expatriado. I think it will do more to help people than anything. Most of the consulting clients I get thank me for putting some reality into their plans. I'm all for living life and doing exciting things and moving to a foreign country. But I'm also a realist and like to be realistic.

I pay my employees very well for locals. In fact, I've given 4 raises in the past year which is unheard of here. Some of them are making the equivalent of u$s 1,000 per month. I'm spending a fortune on salaries. Still, many of them are making half of that and even that is a good paying job. All of them speak English and of course fluent Spanish.

It's kind of comical because I get resumes on a daily basis from ex-pats that want to work for my company. I'm always amused because most of them can't speak Spanish, but then are quick to point out they speak perfect English and my client base is Americans. But then I remind them I can just hire a bilingual local.

I predict you will see more and more call centers moving here. I already heard of one company that wants to move their call center from India to BA. That has to tell you some serious signs about the potential here. The really educated have good English. I have one girl in my office people think is from London because her accent has a British accent since she studied 8 years in a UK language school. I met other girls like that here.

Couple that fact with the fact that corporations can get some tax incentives, labor is still cheap, and the time difference from the USA is only 2 hours from the East Coast and you can see some clear signs of the potential in this city.

The funniest thing I think is that people assume that a local can live on 1,000 pesos a month so they assume they can come here and live almost on nothing. You all need a reality check. Keep in mind that many locals have the husband working, the wife working, and maybe even the kids working. Their kids live with them until they get married. They live in a very small apartment or the provincia (outside of the Capital area). They take the bus to work. They scrimp to eat, don't dine out often, etc.

Then take the average ex-pat here. There is NO WAY you could live like that. It's like comparing apples to oranges. Not even counting business expenses, I spend several u$s thousands of dollars per month just living and enjoying life here. I go out to eat a few times a day. Every single day, I am in taxis like 12 times per day. I go on tons of dates, entertainment, clothes shopping, travel, etc. Expensive rent.

It's easy to blow money here. Of course you can have a really cheap life as well but people should stay realistic as well.

2/28/2006 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger SaltShaker said...

I'm constantly amazed when I get e-mail or see postings on various boards from people who think that they're just going to come down here and: "teach English to the locals" (there are so many people trying to do that already, and the better ones are the locals who are bilingual...), or "take a job as a X" as if all they need to do is walk in and flash their resume. You try to explain what it would take to get a legal job with residency/DNI, etc. and they just don't believe you. And somehow, they seem to think that low costs won't also equate to low income - I can't count the number of people who tell me things like, oh, well I make $100,000 (dollars) a year, so I'll be able to live like a king down there - not understanding that for the same job, down here, they might be making (if they can get a job at all), a quarter or less of that.

3/03/2006 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger ABA said...

Hi SaltShaker,

You are soooo right. I never cease to be amazed. Look at message boards across the internet and you will read about people that come here for vacation, go back to USA, UK, Europe and quit their jobs planning to come and move here.

I had these two girls in my Spanish class when I first moved here. These girls were from Sweden. They came here and fell in love and they dreamed of this amazing life here. One was an advertising executive and I think the other was an accountant. They couldn't speak ANY Spanish.

Both I think told me they came down with less than u$s 25,000 in savings. I was blown away by that. One night I went out with one (she was pretty hot). She told me that back home she could pretty much get what she wanted with her skills (and looks). Here she couldn't even get a job as a waitress. I felt bad but thought to myself that this girl was foolish. Here a pretty girl is a dime a dozen.

I know a CFO of a company here that is an affiliate of an international company. She has worked at the company like 10+ years, speaks PERFECT English as she studied in the USA, has an MBA and I think she was telling me she only made something like u$s 35,000 per year. If they aren't going to pay someone that is perfectly bilingual, MBA, worked there 10 years more than a school teacher makes in the USA, why would they pay you more??

Those are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself before you move here.

3/04/2006 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger BadTux said...

Those are questions that apply to any immigrant to any country, not just Americans wanting to emigrate to Argentina. The hard reality is that the migrant's life in any country is typically a hard one. He doesn't speak the language well (or at all, in some cases), will be a fish out of water in a foreign culture for all the rest of his life because things that locals take for granted that "everybody" knows will be totally foreign to him, and will largely be relegated to low-level jobs that provide a poor standard of living compared to what he may have had in the home country. Many Indians and Pakistanis who migrated to Canada as computer software engineers are now working as taxi drivers, for example.

The upside is that the immigrant's children, having grown up exposed to two cultures and with a higher educational level than most of the locals, will be poised to join the middle or upper classes of the country of choice. And in countries like Argentina and Uruguay where there is no real discrimination against second or third generation children of immigrants, your grandchildren might even end up at the top of the country's pecking order. But it is the rare migrant of the first generation who manages to pull off more than merely surviving in a foreign culture, and typically only when he or she possesses skills that are in high demand locally but without a large local supply of talent and where there is already a huge expatriate community already there to support him.


3/06/2006 01:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BT's comments are right on the money. I think people seeking an expat experience desire (and often assume they will naturally get) a position of power and status in the new society. This is different from the immigrant, who has some expectation of having to work from the bottom up. It is understandable that having expat expectations and ending up treated as just another immigrant can come as a shock.
Interesting blog, by the way.

5/26/2006 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I can fully understand all the comments I've read here..but what if life in the USA has become so filled with madness that moving,emigrating to a new land ,outweighs the downside of learning a new language,new culture,bringing your money to Argentina to invest and maybe make a small difference by improving someone else's life along with your own?Maybe it is naive but I do not entertain ideas of striking it rich in BA,but I have NEVER been welcomed so warmly,and made to feel as at home by Portenos that read,talk,meet with friends,certainly have many concerns and problems,but do not live in the constant fear that passes for normalcy in America since 911!Argentina needs a lot of things and maybe there is room for some infrastructural or business investment that can return a few grand a month and pay some Argentines a living wage.try doing that in California!As long as I remain respectful and grateful for the opportunity as a guest in a foreign land,who knows?

2/11/2007 03:29:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, I appreciate your comments on moving to Argentina. I am an acupuncturist looking to move to Cordoba this time next year. Do you think that I will have a difficult time finding clients and do people know about acupuncture and chinese medicine? My spanish is intermediate and I plan on taking more classes before I arrive. What suggestions might you have for me?

6/10/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger R. Charmz said...

Hey, Thank you for the advice. I'm planning to move to Buenos Aires at the end of September with little or no planning what-so-ever. Fortunately I have a Canadian based web development company and plan to keep and service my Vancouver based clients while attracting new Canadian business while living abroad. My largest fear with relocating to South America is the fact that I speak absolutely no Spanish. Given the volume of outstanding projects that I have at the moment I will easily be able to hire an Argentinian web developer / designer for up to $1000, possibly more, per month. Would this be the best way for a person like me to get started in Buenos Aires? I may not stay there long term but am very keen to establish quality relationships while I'm there.

9/02/2008 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

R. Charmz,

OHHH BOY! Do you have a awakening coming for you!

Hire a web developer for $1k/m?

You are dreaming. I am an American living here in BA. I also own a decent sized web development company here. Developers and designers are hard to find. Most of them that are bi-lingual - and work for themselves. However, there are some great people you can find are going to have to pay much more than $1/k month.

I pay my developers $2-3k/m. They are senior, and damn good. We pay there insurance, lunch, and transportation to and from work. 3 week vacation, we go out every Friday... etc. etc.

So if you think you are going to find developers for $1k/m time for a reality check. You are going to have to pay them great, treat them well, and value there service.

Expect to pay $3k for good developers (including benefits and perks).

9/29/2008 09:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could someone please email me with advice regarding emigration to Argentina? I'm a US citizen, and engineer/scientist. I was previously fluent in Spanish, but I'd need to take refresher classes for a year while saving money. I know Argentina is suffering from a 'brain drain' where scientists and engineers are fleeing. Does that mean there is a need for such people? jnewto at gmail dot com ... thank you!

11/10/2008 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous kabuki said...

From what I'm reading here, I don't feel too bad so far.

I'm hoping to retire to BA, so won't be needing to find work. Sounds like I ought to be okay if I can buy a little apartment and have $1200-1600/mo income in american dollars.

1/25/2010 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, interesting discussion. I agree, there is usually the tacit understanding that to emigrate to a new country means to start from the bottom up. Sometimes, though, people get carried away and think it will be a breeze.

I'm curious about the distinction that someone made between being an expat and an immigrant. I always thought that with 'expatriate' there was the connotation of being some sort of a refugee. But even if that wasn't true, why would you guys not consider yourselves immigrants?


8/06/2010 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger agonzal said...

Resurrecting a thread! I'd like to know more about anonymous that owns a web development firm in BA and pays his employees $3k a month! Soon to be US expat, I do C#, Java, PHP! At those rates, sign me up!

9/07/2011 04:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog was written in 2006, agonzal. If the economy was rough for expats back then, imagine how much worse it's gotten now.

11/14/2011 05:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are there many people from Spain moving to Argentina?I have heard alot of Spaniards are moving to south America as the situation in Spain is not so good and it is cheaper to live in South America than it is in Spain

2/28/2012 09:29:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home