Lea Levy left the southern tip of Africa to set up shop in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Nearly a year into her ambitious endeavour she reports back on life in the South American capital, and gives Expat Arrivals some insight into her company Connect-123, a project that looks to give students an experiential learning opportunity in exchange for volunteering their time.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Cape Town, South Africa
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Q: How long you have you lived in Buenos Aries?
A: About a year, since December 9th 2009.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: Yes, I moved with my husband from the USA with two small children aged three and 18 months at the time.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to open another office of our company, Connect-123 Internship & Volunteer Programs. We assist students in finding career-related work experiences with local organisations where they volunteer their time for free, in return for experiential learning.
About Buenos Aires
Q: What do you enjoy most about Buenos Aires, how’s the quality of life?
A: Buenos Aires has many parks and various lovely neighbourhoods. Public transport is also really accessible and affordable.
Q: Any negatives about Buenos Aires? What do you miss most about home?
A: Negatives will always be on a personal level, but nothing that cannot be overcome. Being able to communicate in Spanish definitely makes life easier! We miss fresh produce and food quality/variety from South Africa.
Q: Is Buenos Aires safe?
A: It is a very busy city, but we have never felt unsafe. People are out and about late at night and woman often will walk alone. That said, common sense is required and pickpocketing definitely takes place. Computers and handbags can also be stolen from inside cafés or coffee shops if you are not alert.
About living in Buenos Aires
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Depending on family and lifestyle, the larger areas of Recoleta and Palermo offer a range of apartment rentals. For larger scale family homes with gardens, areas such as San Isidro, Nunez, Belgrano, Vincente Lopez, etc. are more suitable.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Buenos Aires?
A: It varies, but in general you get what you pay for. Thus, it's possible to find anything from student flatshares to high-end, excellent housing options!
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Accommodation is much less expensive than in cities such as New York, Moscow or Hong Kong. That said, however; there are “guarantias” that landlords require which could mean payment of up to two years rent upfront!
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: People are generally friendly and well travelled, but do not expect them to speak English. There are great expat groups to mingle with, but I have a mixture of friends, such as other local parents at our son’s school, and clients.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Buenos Aries?
A: You have to make an effort, but in general it wasn’t hard at all. A work in progress still for me.
About working in Buenos Aires
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Since I am self-employed, it has and still is unresolved. But I believe I had poor legal advice. Unless a company brings you in, this might be one of the most difficult parts of relocating to Argentina.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Buenos Aires, is there plenty of work?
A: In my experience it seems like there is work, for skilled professionals, but not necessarily for any foreigner.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: It definitely has a less formal rhythm and slower pace, but then I do not work in a corporate environment. I have just waited weeks to receive feedback on emails sent. Very frustrating at times!
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: Nothing unusual.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
Q: What are the schools like in Buenos Aires, any particular suggestions?
A: There are various excellent local and private schools. I’d suggest to narrow down the list depending on the area you choose to stay in.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Public and private seems similar to other countries, with private options upholding an excellent standard!
~ Interviewed November 2010