Work Abroad but earn in USD

Monday, February 27, 2006

New York Times: Working Abroad Helps Your Career

The New York Times had a great article on Saturday about how many young people are now working abroad after graduating before starting their careers back home. Last May I found myself in the same exact situation. I didn't feel like going to work for one of the many corporations that were recruiting at my university. So, I set off to Argentina. Apparently, and according to this article, this sentiment is shared by 35,000 other young Americans.

Interestingly enough, this doesn't seem to have any negative effect on one's career. On the contrary, the article mentions that many companies are looking for people who've traveled, lived, and worked abroad. In fact, "Foreign experience demonstrates entrepreneurship, resourcefulness and independence, according to recruiters." Of course, I'd have to agree with them. Living abroad gives you a perspective on the world that you wouldn't have otherwise.

So, I'm going to contradict my post from yesterday -- just do it! Of course, it is a lot easier for someone who's college-aged to pack-up and leave the world behind than someone who has a family to support and an on-going career. Just make sure you have enough money for a plane ticket back home and parents who can bail you out if things don't work out.

And if you're the parent, then you better be reading my post from yesterday about planning well before moving. Because there's no safety net for you folks. My own parents have quite the libertarian streak, so I made sure to plan well before coming here. I'd give them a 50% chance of telling me to go and collect cartón until I could afford my own plane ticket back. If you have parents like me, then maybe its not such a good idea unless you already have work lined up.

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Shame on U.S. Democrats

Allow me to stand-up on my soapbox for a minute and wag my finger at U.S. Congressional Democrats for threatening to block the Dubai Ports World deal. I get sick to my stomach at this blatant and obvious xenophobia coming from my own country. What makes it worse is that they know there will be no security implications by this deal whatsoever -- it is a cheap trick designed to stir up racial hatred and score cheap political points.

Expatriates living in Argentina see it happen here all the time when the politicians go ranting and raving about the IMF or the World Bank or foreign-owned utilities, about how foreigners are all evil and out to destroy the country, blah, blah, blah. The fact is, it is a cheap political trick that appeals to the very worst in our nature.

I'm ashamed at this behavior coming from the party I typically vote for. I have to say that I'm glad Bush is willing to stand-up to this kind of xenophobia, even though it is costing him points politically. This is probably one of the only times you'll ever see me saying Bush is doing the right thing, but I'm not such a partisan that I won't call bullshit when I see it.

I think that, as expatriates, we all have the obligation to try and discourage xenophobia, especially when we see it coming from our own country.


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!

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

What are you running away from?

Check out this recent AP article, titled Run away to South America. The author mentions that most of the single expatriates she met in a Chile language school "came here to escape something." Doing a Google search on the phrase "move to South America" brings up the website called Escape Artist, which provides "resources for Americans fleeing America."

What I Was Escaping From...

I wasn't running from any one thing in particular, but rather an idea of what my life would become if I stayed in the United States. My life was quickly headed towards the bland and uninteresting existence that awaits most college gradates. I had just finished college and reached a turning point - I could focus 100% on my small business and try to seriously grow it, or take a job at one of the many large corporations recruiting out of the university. I watched as all my peers took jobs at Fortune 500s, moving to various places around the country that all seemed boring to me doing jobs that all seemed boring as well.

I decided I would focus on my own business and give it my all. That would require coming to Argentina, as my office, employees, and business partners were all here. More than that, though, it would be something challenging. I would be a fish out of water, forced to adapt to a new language, culture, and way of doing things.

I think I had just seen the movie About Schmidt and, despite being just 25 at the time, I had the very real fear of waking up in another 35 years at some corporate office having wasted my life and never done anything exciting. So, I made the decision to come here. Perhaps it wasn't the safe or conservative thing to do, but it felt right.

The Results

In the end, it ended up costing me a lot, and I don't just mean monetarily. In addition to selling everything I owned, I lost a 5-year relationship, the opportunity to easily visit with friends & family, and certainly all my built-in understanding about how society and things work. Things that I took for granted back in the U.S. have to be learned all over again here.

Still, I'm glad I did it. While I'm still adjusting here (hasn't even been a full year yet), I'm doing much better than when I first arrived. I'm learning about how things work and starting to understand the culture better. I don't see myself leaving anytime soon. In fact, I just signed a two year lease on an apartment.

I'd very much like to hear from the rest of the readers out there. Why did you or are you planning to come to Argentina? Are you running from something?

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Attending Rock Concerts in Buenos Aires

On Tuesday the scene outside the River stadium was complete chaos as ticket holders rushed to enter the stadium. At 9:45 PM, when the Rolling Stones started playing, the line to enter the stadium was still 10 blocks long. Many of the people waiting to get in were foreigners who had bought their tickets from scalpers, on Mercadolibre, etc.

The news showed despondent Chileans, who traveled all the way from Chile (since the Rolling Stones will not make a stop in Santiago) to hear the Stones perform in Buenos Aires, who said they'd paid $500 USD for their tickets and now had no way to enter the stadium. Most Argentines had shown up to the stadium at 5:00 or 6:00 PM, aware that they would need several hours just to get inside and find their seat.

The concert promoter decided not to hire the River stadium security apparatus and instead chose a private security firm to handle things. Clearly they couldn't handle the sold-out show.

Message to expat concert-goers: Just because you can walk-in to a concert 30 minutes before the show in your own country, don't assume anything in Argentina will be conducted with that level of efficiency. Argentina is the queue capital of the world and they will find a way to make you wait.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Living 'DNI'-less

Life can be tricky in Argentina without a DNI. I've said it over and over again on many different posts. When you're here without a DNI, people just assume there's something wrong with you. Everything becomes a hassle and an explanation. Everyone wants to know why you don't have a DNI. The fact is, if you don't have a DNI, Argentines assume you don't have the right to be here. Now, one particular reader has tried to contradict me on this issue, so I want to share that comment as well as another comment I just got today.

First Reader's Comment

I know Expatriado is a big fan of the DNI, however,we did rent a house, buy a car, open a bank account and get health insurance without a DNI. We did get them as we intended to stay here awhile, but the only real tangible advantage is the discount for travel in Argentina.

Second Reader's Comment

I've been here almost 2 years now, and EVERYTHING YOU HAVE SAID ABOUT LIVING HERE WITHOUT A DNI IS TRUE TO THE LETTER. The problem is, I found this out the hard way (actually living it and now trying to go through the process of obtaining one after the fact, so to speak).

I'm here legally now for 2 years. When I started the [residency] process, I assumed it also involved my getting DNI, but when I finished, and asked about the DNI, I was informed that that was a TOTALLY DIFFERENT PROCESS THAT I HAD TO GO THROUGH WHICH WOULD NOT BE MADE ANY EASIER JUST BECAUSE I HAVE MY TEMPORARY RESIDENCY NOW.

What You Can Do

Your best bet is to contact ARCA and ask them to intervene on your behalf. They can check on your status with Migrations and then request the DNI for you if your visa is valid. However, if you have a temporary residency permit, check that it isn't expired. You never mentioned whether you made sure to renew it each year. The expiration date is printed there in your visa page on your passport. The temporary residencies are for one year and need to be renewed every year until you file a petition for permanent residency.

If you haven't renewed your residency, you may be overstaying your visa and might not have legal status. This is something you should look into right away. Countries don't like it when people overstay their visas and they can use that as a reason to deny you a renewal. So, you should check on your DNI and visa situation right away.

You are right about the DNI situation -- it is totally different than your residency. I recommend ARCA a lot on this blog and some readers give me a hard time about it since they charge more than other visa lawyers out there. But the fact is -- if the other lawyers don't get your DNI, don't get your CUIL, and don't renew your visa for you each year, you're not getting good service.

Every year, a month or two before my visa is up, I get a friendly phone call from ARCA asking me to stop by their office and drop off my passport. A week later they have my new visa for me. It's like clockwork. I'm convinced that the one thing every long-term expat needs is a good visa / immigration attorney to keep you legal and keep you on the government's good side. Remember, we are all guests in Argentina and they can ask us to leave at any time. So, it is important that we make sure to have our immigration situation squared away.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

U.S. Immigration Crackdown Targets Argentine Model

President Bush made it clear in his State of the Union speech that immigration enforcement would be a new priority for the year 2006. Since his approval ratings are down and the public has rejected his 2005 agenda for Social Security, it appears he's latched onto that tried and true method of whipping up popular support -- BLAME THE IMMIGRANTS!

Setting the Right Priorities

And who is the government targeting for deportation? Murders, sex offenders, welfare recipients, muslim radicals? You'd think they'd all be fair game for deportation.

Nope, INS has decided in its infinite wisdom to deport Argentine model and former Playboy Playmate Dora Noemi Kerchen, who has lived in Miami for the last 5 years. In fact, she already had her visa application in the system and was awaiting approval. Let me add to the chorus by asking, what the hell were they thinking? Why don't they start with the undesirables before deporting self-sufficient models who are obviously no drain on the government. Talk about stupid.

As expected, a number of companies that she works with have already filed the paperwork for her visa petition to bring her back to the United States. So the net result of all this will be to seriously disrupt the life of someone who was clearly no threat to the country and not a drain on government resources. In the end she'll be back in Miami after the paperwork goes through. In the meantime, they wasted time deporting her instead of some criminal. Such a waste.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Renting an Apartment Can Be Difficult For Expats

Now that my own apartment will be used as a vacation rental (it can be seen here) I have to move out. This means trying to find and rent an apartment here in the city. Unfortunately for me, this has not been as easy as you might think. After going through this process, I can see why the furnished apartments offered by ApartmentsBA and many other rental agencies are so popular here with foreigners. Rental agencies just don't make it easy for expats to rent a place.

What You Need to Rent

Just like back in the U.S., to rent an apartment, the owners will require you to show proof of income, evidence of employment, etc. They'll also want something known as a "guarantee". A guarantee is someone who owns a property who is willing to use their property to vouch for you. Usually this is a family member. If you don't pay your rent, the landlord can begin proceedings against the guarantor.

This puts expats in a particularly tricky position. Since they don't have family here, it is very difficult to find someone to give you a guarantee. You'll have to know someone really well, and they will have to trust you completely, because they are literally putting their property on the line for you. When I rented my office for the first time, my local business partner, who I knew for 2 years, was my guarantor.

Now, if you work for an international company, usually the company acts as your guarantor. However, if you are moving here as an individual, you won't have a Fortune 500 company standing behind you. That means finding your own guarantor. In my case, I figured it would be simple. I own property in Buenos Aires, so I can guarantee myself.

Wrong! Apparently you can't serve as your own guarantor. This makes things a bit more complicated. So, I'm back in the same boat as all the other expats here who don't own property -- searching for someone to provide me with a guarantee. Luckily, I do have someone who can do this, so that problem is solved.

So, assuming everything goes OK and there's no paperwork issues, I'll be able to rent the place. What a hassle, though. The first place I was going to rent turned me down flat out. I even offered to pay them a year's rent up front and they still wouldn't rent it to me. It seems some owners just don't want to deal with foreigners at all -- even if they do have all their paperwork in order.

If you're here without a DNI, it'll probably be next to impossible for you to rent a place. And if you don't have someone to be your guarantor, you're probably out of luck as well. After going through this experience, it is obvious why so many foreigners just rent the short term apartments. It's a whole lot easier than having to go through all this rigamarole trying to rent long-term.

Note to readers: I think someone could make a good business here providing guarantees to foreigners renting here. If you're someone who has a background in evaluating someone's credit risk, it could be a good opportunity.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Use Those Greenbacks: Picking Up a New Skill

For this post, I just wanted to make an observation. One of the things all expatriates should be doing while here in Argentina is taking advantage of the overvalued dollars they're holding on to. The key with Argentina is that you need to learn to buy locally.

Buying the Right Things

What do I mean by buying locally? Simple, buy stuff that's made here and that doesn't have an international price. If you walk into an electronics store, you're going to get overcharged no matter what you buy. All the stuff is imported. That means you're paying the international price, plus 21% VAT, plus an import tariff. The final price ends up being at least 50% higher than what you'd pay at home (and sometimes even more).

In general, food and household products are cheaper here, but not if you buy the imported brands. The same goes with furnishings for your house. If you buy imported, you'll pay a lot more. Even the locally made stuff is not incredibly cheaper.

The one market that is 100% local is services. That's the very best buy that you're going to make here. If you've ever wanted to learn an instrument, pick up golf, tennis, or some other sport, or take a class, this is where you should be doing it! The fact is, a golf instructor in Buenos Aires can't sell his services to Europe. He has to sell them to residents here. Its a local market.

I just recently started using a personal trainer at the gym -- something I did once or twice back in the states, but would never consider using on an on-going basis due to the expense. Well, here in Argentina it is possible because the fee you're paying is literally one-fifth of what you'd pay in the U.S.

Next up will be working on my tennis and/or golf game -- I've always wanted to improve. I've also been considering classes for photography, dancing, flying, and sailing. I'd be interested to hear what kind of classes and skills the rest of you are picking up, if you'd like to comment.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Long Term Rentals

Even though there are vastly more long-term unfurnished rentals in Buenos Aires than short-term rentals, it can be harder for expats to find one. The vast majority are published in Spanish language newspapers with cryptic abbreviations that mean nothing to an English speaker. For example, did you know that "c/dep" means it has a maid's quarters and "PH" means the apartment is in a small horizontal building with just 1 or 2 stories?

A reader wrote in with this question today about how to best locate a long-term rental. Since I'm doing this right now for myself, I thought I'd share my tips about how best to approach this.

Reader's Question

I have been in BA for 3 weeks and it looks like things are going to work out business wise, so I am going to start looking for a long term rental - 1 year preferred. I am currently in an apartment for about 6 more weeks with Reynolds. My initial impression is that the short term rental agencies are pretty weak as regards long term rental solutions. Any advise or referrals would be appreciated. Thanks Expatriado for allowing me to use the blog in this manner!

What Not To Do

Some real estate agencies that specialize in working with foreigners and relocation companies will do a search for you. For this, they may charge you 10% of the entire contract value, which is outrageous when you realize you'll have to be paying a commission to the real estate agent that is offering the apartment as well.

Find an Apartment Like an Argentine

Your best bet is to just use classified ads in Clarín and La Nacion or the online editions of both these papers. This is how ordinary Argentines search for their apartments and this is how you are going to find an appropriately-priced apartment in pesos.

There is another advantage to using the ads -- you have the possibility of finding an apartment that is offered by an owner, without a real estate agency. This will let you skip out on paying the agency commissions, which is a big plus. That's right, both landlords and renters have to pay the real estate agency commission -- stupid, but that's how it works.

The downside is that you're doing all the legwork yourself. It takes a lot of time to search through all the ads, call them up, ask them to describe the apartment so you know if it fits your criteria or not, then make appointments to go and view the apartments. This is further complicated if you don't speak Spanish that well or not at all. Sometimes the owners get nervous when you can't speak well and just tell you on the phone they're not interested in renting to you.

Some Help For Fellow Yanquis

If you would like to go this route, I can offer my personal secretary to help you out in your apartment search. She is doing this for me right now and doing a very good job of handling my own search. She'll take your apartment criteria, look through the newspapers, call the owners, and make appointments for you -- one after another, every 20-30 minutes. For me, this is just as good as using a real estate agent and you don't have to pay 10% to anyone.

There's also the added benefit of an Argentine voice on the other end of the line when she asks for the price. In the ads where the price is not listed, she always asks the price before giving out my name to make the appointment. Once they hear a gringo name, the price goes up by 30%, so be careful.

If anyone out there needs someone to help them, feel free to e-mail me and I'll see to it you have some help with your apartment search.

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