In total, in a little over two months, I have moved apartments six times in Buenos Aires and I am currently looking for lucky number seven. I have been royally f$&ked over so many times when trying to find accommodation in this city, that I now feel a wave of nausea when I hear the phrase: “Have you tried Airbnb?”
Some of my top horror stories include:
- Renting an apartment through Airbnb advertised for three people with two bedrooms, to later find out we were all crammed into one room with sofa beds, which conveniently was also the kitchen, bathroom, *and* living room.
- Paying a ludicrous (I mean Jim Carey kind of ludicrous) amount for living in a half-finished home that the landlady promised “will be so great” when there was only half a kitchen, a prison-cell like bedroom with minimal furniture, and 1/3 amount of the luxuries that we were promised to have (who knew a wardrobe was a “luxury”?).
- Sharing a double bed with my flatmate for over a month while spending double the amount my friends pay for their own double bedrooms.
Now, contrary to what these previous statements suggest, I’d like to think that I am quite a nifty person; I can sniff out a good deal and I get a real kick out of finding something cost-effective. Yet somehow this city has completely flummoxed me; Buenos Aires really has it in for me, apparently. I have been in a compromised positions with housing, and with money deals in general, more than I ever have before in South America and in Europe.
Truthfully, the majority of it has been pure bad luck, and I can only presume that my karma is obviously at an all-time low. Yet one reason for my housing nightmares was a severe lack of knowledge on how the system works here. The ways to organize living situations are different, and the amount of housing on offer here is severely lacking.
Therefore, I have created a guide of what to do, and what to never, ever, ever do so that you do not follow my unsteady footsteps as a foreigner in Buenos Aires, headfirst into scam after scam.
Top Tips for the Search
Tip #1: Research A LOT before you arrive (if poss)
This may be too late for some reading this, as you may be quivering in your seats, convinced you’ve already ruined your trip three days in. Relax, you haven’t necessarily jeopardized your time here if you haven’t been surfing Airbnb relentlessly for the last nine months. In fact, I have friends who (irritatingly) turned up fresh from the airport, popped on to Craigslist for three and a half minutes, and then breezed over to the landlord to sign a contract. However, those people have probably done something sensational in a past life because this is not the case for the vast majority.
Now, I followed the advice of one of these lucky irritants and decided to just rock up and hope my charm would ease me into a perfect shared house with perfect housemates within the first 24 hours of arriving. Surprise surprise, this did not happen. My core advice, then, is to really research before you come out. Not just a few days before, but months if you can.
My colleague found her apartment three months before leaving the UK, and she has the best house of anyone I’ve met here. Also, if you do not have the opportunity to see the apartment face-to-face then give Street View on Google Earth a quick search, to check that there are not any nasty surprises that crop up. For example, although “near a supermarket and nightlife” might be on your criteria, nobody wants to actually live above a seedy nightclub or a very busy supermarket.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, as there are always horror stories for every situation. However, if you follow the advice continued in this post such as the best areas to live in and the best websites to use, then you should not be mucked around too much.
Tip #2: Not everything is in Palermo
I am not denying that Palermo is great, so you can pause on the angry reacts. That really would not reflect the truth because we all know how much the Palermos have to offer.
However, the danger of living in Palermo is that there is a strong possibility that you will enter into what I call “The Palermo Hole.” This hole is a kind of warped perception that life really is all about hipster cocktails and gluten-free pizzas. It is very hard to leave The Hole as it (supposedly) has everything you can ever imagine wanting less than a four-minute walk away from your flat. Suddenly, your standards have entered a very weird zone and you’ve forgotten that you’re actually in Argentina and not in some posh, sterile utopia where all your problems are solved with a room-temperature craft beer.
If you work in Palermo (as I do) sometimes you may not escape The Hole for weeks; you then enter the Real World of Florida Street (or anywhere else) and feel a violent culture shock slapping you in the face from simply riding the Subte for seven minutes.
I’ve listed a few other areas that are very good possibilities for folks that do not think they need to rely on the constant supply of poached eggs and smoked salmon.
Villa Crespo is situated right next to Palermo and, depending on where the flat is, it is really a 20-minute walk into most of the bougie barrio‘s bars and basic brunch spots. This place, however, has not been completely “Palermofied” yet, but it won’t be long so now is the perfect time to live there.
Estate agents and landlords wanted to change its name to “Palermo Queens” so they could up their prices, as the name Palermo instantly makes the barrio more expensive, but luckily the locals objected. Villa Crespo has relatively good transport links, and (obviously) is not as expensive as Palermo so if you’re looking to be close by to Soho/Hollywood but have a tighter budget, Crespo is the place to go. It is also home to some of our favorite things in Buenos Aires, such as the fabulous Armenian restaurant Sarkis, the wine and cheese deli La Cava de Jufré, and Bullers Beer that offers an AR $60 craft beer at happy hour.
You may have heard of San Telmo’s Sunday Market, as it is famous for its cobbled streets, its antique stalls, and El Hornero which serves, in my opinion, the best empanadas in the city. It’s also extremely picturesque full of gorgeous 20th-century buildings and churches, with time-warping tango in the streets, blue skies and art exhibitions on every corner.
This is a really lovely area to live in if you’re lucky to find listings available. This might not be the cheapest, but it’s (arguably) more worth your plata culturally and artistically than Palermo. As a bonus, if you find yourself needing to be downtown on the reg, San Telmo is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Given the city’s notorious traffic, this is good news.
Similarly to Villa Crespo, living in Almagro means you’re relatively close to Palermo, yet you will be paying significantly fewer pesos. It isn’t quite as attractive as Villa Crespo, Palermo(s), or San Telmo, but I think it really shows you an authentic, lovely middle-class barrio, with a good central location close to the important sites.
A couple of highlights of the area include the flower show on Acuña de Figueroa and the book fair that crops up at the park on Plaza Almagro every weekend. It wouldn’t be in the top couple of my recommendations just because it can be a little busy and commercial, but if you don’t mind not having a yoga studio around the corner then it may be the place for you.
Belgrano & Colegiales
These are quieter neighborhoods which are more residential and definitely somewhere to consider if you are moving to Buenos Aires for a long time and want some peace away from the more touristy, busy spots. These two barrios have more green parks and there is anything from apartment buildings to stately homes.
The word I would use to describe both these areas are “pleasant,” so again if the party-party life doesn’t call you, you could opt to live here. Another bonus is that Chinatown is within Belgrano, which is an excellent place to stock up on anything spicy that you can’t find among the flavorless aisles of typical Argentine supermarkets.
Okay if I’m being honest, I have not yet warmed to Recoleta. Sure the architecture is grand, luxurious, elegant: this city isn’t called The Paris of the South for nothing. Yet the high prices and the absurd quantity of expensive bakeries and coffee shops also breaks away from the authenticity of the barrio.
This is, however, a personal preference and I have a very good friend that loves it there as it is smack in between the buzz of Palermo and downtown, making it a decent place to live if expats would prefer a more peaceful, carb-loading lifestyle. Keep in mind the high prices, though…
Tip #3: Don’t limit yourself to one website
Believe it or not, Argentina does have a fair amount of websites that lay out some good accommodation, and it is quite likely that you have already heard of them. Regardless, I have listed my top finds.
Airbnb is a classic: anyone who has ever left their local town will have most probably used this app at one point or another. It is famously useful for travelers looking for short and long-term accommodation as you can either rent a room in a house or rent entire flats or houses. I would almost call myself a bit of a regular Airbnb-er, as I have used it for all of my holidays and travels.
On the whole, it is simple to use and there aren’t any catches, just make sure you message the landlord prior instead of clicking “book” straight away, and always try and visit (if you can, obviously not applicable if you are wanting to organize it prior to arriving).
Here are some examples of good Airbnb houses I have found (which are all full right now, in case you suggest I move there). The first one is in Palermo Soho, and is a shared house for five people, and is affordable. The second one is in Villa Crespo (bordering Palermo Soho).
I found our dream flat here, however, Argentina decided to trick me one last time by revealing some sneaky commission rules which allow realtors and estate agents to take as much as 1/3 of the price, which really is ridiculous if you are only renting for a month or two. Regardless of the sneaky commission, this is a very good website if you’re looking to stay six months or more and know who you want to live with.
This is where most of my friends found their accommodation, and it usually has many options for shared houses in central areas. The only problem that I have found with it is communication: there is a severe lack of it. You contact the landlord via the website which sends them an email and often it gets sent to junk or is unread. If like me you send multiple messages, it is very hard to know whose house you are looking at when they reply as it is not attached to the details of the house, unlike Airbnb. Also, I have probably sent around 50 messages and you only hear back occasionally, so it’s a bit of a luck of the draw.
Spare Rooms BA
This is a really excellent website if you are by yourself looking to move into to somebody’s house. This is specially useful if you’re looking to improve your language skills as you can stay with a Spanish-speaking family or group of friends and be completely immersed in those Español vibes.
For Rent Argentina
I only discovered For Rent Argentina later in my searches, but it seems to be a pretty good website to find temporary apartments. They have a lot of listings and other than paying a one-time US $45 fee, it seems pretty scam-free. You can search either by neighborhood or by types of houses; overall its a 10/10 for me.
Tip #4: Word of mouth is crucial
This is relevant for whether you decide to book your house before you arrive, or during your search in the city. If you have had friends staying in Buenos Aires before then ask them where they stayed and directly contact the landlord. It is significantly easier taking out the middleman of a website or an estate agent and directly contacting somebody. Otherwise, when you arrive and make a friend or two, ask about their landlords. More often than not, reliable owners have a whole string of houses that they run at the same time.
Top Tips For When You Have Found a Home
Tip #1: Meet your landlord and/or flatmates before moving in
This seems like an obvious one, but it is advisable to meet your housemates before you move in. You never know who you may be living with, and although first-impressions aren’t everything, if you meet somebody who tells you his passion in life is collecting used socks or drumming inside the house, you know the yin and yang might be slightly off-key.
It is also (very) important that you build a good relationship with the landlord/lady. They are the people who ultimately hold the power as they have your money and can either not return a deposit, or charge extra rent. Unfortunately, Buenos Aires is like a paradise for businessmen and women who fancy ripping off foreigners for a few extra dollars and the thrills of it. I have met landlords who say if you have somebody stay over in your room you have to pay an extra US $15 per night, or that you have to pay a cleaning fee of US $20 weekly to keep the apartment at a perfect standard. These extra charges are not normal and definitely not necessary.
If you meet the owner before you move in and your gut tells you that they are not completely legit, run away ASAP and never look back. My gut told me that my previous landlady wasn’t just a chanta (someone who doesn’t always tell the truth and has a tendency to pull the wool over your eyes) but also an all-around horrible person. I decided to risk it as there wasn’t anything else available… Well what a mistake that was. It simply is not worth the stress and I would recommend moving into a slightly worse house with a nicer owner, rather than spending your five months terrified that the landlord will rip you off or evict you for something small.
Tip #2: Pay month-by-month
A mistake that is often made is that the landlord will often try and get you to pay the full amount at once (let’s say six or seven months’ worth) which may mean you end up shuffling about with thousands of dollars crammed into your socks, pants, and underwear. A top tip is to have that very awkward conversation with the landlord or estate agent when you visit the apartment about when you want to pay. I seriously suggest doing it in monthly installments, as you never know what could go wrong. Luckily, I did this with my last housing nightmare extravaganza, which meant I didn’t lose any money if you want to leave the contract.
Tip #3: Paypal is bae
You should try and find the easiest method to pay for your housing. Often owners will ask for US dollars in cash; if you’re from the US or have an easy way of accessing dollars, then go for it. If you are (like me) from Europe or do not have a steady flow of greenbacks, then try and negotiate to pay using pesos, and keep it at a steady rate regardless of what the economy may be doing.
If you’re from the UK I recommend using a company like Azimo to get your cash out at any of the Argenper offices which are dotted around the city. Equally, if your landlord has an American account you can pay on Paypal which worked best for me, as there is no commission or transfer rate and it is incredibly easy to do. Also, Airbnb is basically the bomb as you pay a fixed peso rate and you pay via your debit card monthly, so no stressful trips to Azimo or World Remit for you.
Tip #4: We’re not in Europe anymore, Toto
There are some “strange” things that may happen when you move into your house in Argentina, that may not happen in Europe or *insert non-Latin American country.* This is completely okay because believe it or not, we are not in Europe (despite the architecture in Recoleta stating otherwise) so you just have to adjust some of the norms you take for granted. For example, you can kiss goodbye to a washing machine or dishwasher: these are not staples in the city, so make yourself familiar with the neighboring lavandería and buy some scourers in bulk.
Also, if you’re moving into a student house it is more often than not that you may have CCTV in your house. Now, my instant reaction to this was to write a strongly-worded email starting with: “This is a complete and utter invasion of privacy,” but you have to resist it. It is relatively normal here and is just so they can see who comes in and out. It is also normally just a bit of a threat and they don’t actually use it, so lower your pen and push past it.
Tip #5: Don’t panic (easier said than done)
My overall advice is that yes, sometimes finding housing in Buenos Aires is harder than getting into an Ivy League School, but do not panic. Things usually have a way of working themselves out and no house is perfect. I have not met a single person who has moved into a house in the city and had an absolutely perfect living situation; there is usually something minor like housemate politics or bedbugs or overcharging landlords, but just breathe and move through it.
Besides, you can always compare it to my situation of moving every five minutes and feel smug as heck.