Cost of living in Buenos Aires

Cost of living in Buenos Aires

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So, we’ve been looking into planning a 3-day trip to Bariloche for next weekend, but after determining that it would cost ~$400 USD each for round trip plane tickets we decided it was time to sit down and figure out exactly how much we’ve been spending since we got here.  Before I continue, it should be noted that the locals here all swear by the long distance bus system–apparently you can get executive class which has seats that lay flat and in addition to personal entertainment systems/movies, they feed you and give you free champagne.  Now, that all sounds great, and it’s definitely a lot cheaper (more like $50/each), but I don’t care how “comfortable” it is, it’s still a 22 hour bus ride.  Each way.

First Class Bus Seats Argentina

Now that I see it, I totally want to spend 22 consecutive hours in a seat like that...

So, after much discussion, we’ve decided that we are not going to spend 44 hours on a bus for a 3 day trip.

Aeron Chair Image

We used to spent 15+ hours a day in these kind of seats and no one brought us free champagne :(

So, we dug into our spending over the last month or so and our budget can basically be broken down into 4 broad categories (this may be a breach of the terms of our rehab–we made pivot tables):

  • Rent:  $1200/month

  • Spanish School:  ~$1220/month for the 2 of us

  • Food/random cash expenses:  ~$1200/month or $40/day for the 2 of us

  • Tours/other excursions outside of day to day living expenses:  Variable

  • 1)  Rent:  $1200/month (USD)

    We are now paying $1200/month on our 3-month contract.  This is large 1 bedroom apartment with 1.5 bathrooms in a nice part of Recoleta and is at a well discounted daily rate vs. shorter term rentals (e.g., this apt. is listed at $100/day or $600/week) and includes all utilities + internet + weekly maid service.   Depending on what neighborhoods you are willing to consider and how nice of a place you want you can get cheaper than this (or much more expensive).  There seem to be “budget” apartments that range from ~$900-$1200/month for a 1 bedroom and are pretty hit or miss in terms of quality and “Luxury” apartments which are more like $1800+/month at a monthly rate and are significantly nicer.  We are somewhere in between.
    If you’re trying to figure out how to rent an apartment down here, be sure to check out our post on How to Rent an Apartment in Buenos Aires

    Currency issues: Apartments are pretty much always priced in USD and most want cash, so don’t expect to benefit from exchange rate changes as the prices are pegged to the USD.

    Bottom line: We’re paying $1200/month, if we wanted to go cheap, we could have probably found an acceptable place for $1000/month, but it would likely be significantly worse than what we have.  So I’d say that we are on the low end of what we could be paying.  If you are here for a shorter time period, I’d budget $300-600/week–much better than hotels, but definitely not free.

    Relative to San Francisco prices: ~33% of what we were paying in San Francisco, though hard to be apples to apples as that was a 12+ month lease and unfurnished.

    2)  Spanish School:  ~$1220/month for the 2 of us or $610 each   (USD)

    We are attending Vamos Spanish for 20 hour/week intensive classes (and loving it–review to come).  They charge US$150/week per person and it’s usually 1-4 people in your class which is pretty awesome.  We looked at several other schools as well and the range seems to be $150-$200/week for 20 hours at the smaller schools, or you can go to the university where it is significantly cheaper, but much larger classes.

    Currency issues: Spanish schools generally price in USD, but most allow credit cards or PayPal payments.  Just don’t expect to benefit from exchange rate changes as the prices are pegged to the USD.

    Bottom line: If you’re going to do intensive spanish classes, you should plan on spending at least $150/week.  Can definitely get more expensive if you throw in private lessons which are more like $20/hour on average.  That said, it’s definitely our favorite part of being here and well worth the expense to learn such a valuable life skill.

    3)  Food/random cash expenses: ~$1200/month or ~$40/day for the 2 of us. (USD)

    This is by far the most volatile expense category for every day expenses and for us is easily 95+% food.  We generally eat in a restaurant for 1 meal a day, sometimes 2 and the rest of the time either cook at home or eat left-overs.  After our  first couple of weeks of eating out all the time, more lately we’ve  been averaging about $40/day (~AR$ 150).  Here’s how it breaks down by meal:

    Breakfast: Argentines aren’t that into breakfast.  A typical Argentine breakfast, if they bother eating in the morning, is a coffee and a couple of Medialunas (basically a combination of a croissant and a donut).  This will cost you ~AR$10-20 (~US$2.50-5.00) depending on where you get it.  If you really want to splurge, you might get a Tarta (individual quiche) for ~AR$22 pesos, but that’s about the sum of your breakfast options.  We generally eat cereal at home.

    Lunch: Restaurant lunch prices can vary significantly and will typically run you anywhere from AR$30-50 (US$8-15) per person.  There are 3 primary options:

    • Basic: If you want to go cheap, you can often find a basic sandwich for ~AR$20-25 + a drink for ~AR$5-10 bringing you to a total of AR$25-35 (US$6-10).
    • Menu del Dia: If you aren’t in the mood for a sandwich, most restaurants offer a ‘menu del dia” in which they’ll offer 2-3 options which usually include an appetizer + an entree + a dessert + a drink + a coffee for AR$30-40 (US$8-12).  Very good deal assuming you like what they are offering.  Quick tip:  The “Menu del Dia” is always written on a sign outside the front door of the restaurant and rarely reprinted on the menu itself.  So be sure to memorize the options before you go in!
    • A’la Carte: Basically the standard dinner prices which vary by restaurant, but are often in the range of AR$30-60 per entree and AR$20-30/starter or salad.  Basic drinks (soda, water, etc.) are usually ~AR$8, a beer will typically run ~AR$15 and a glass of wine is more like AR$18 for a solid pour.  Quick tip: Always order wine by the bottle–very often, 2 glasses of wine cost more than the same bottle and they are always very happy to package up a bottle that you didn’t finish for you to take with you.

    Dinner: Basically dinner is the same as the A’la Carte option from lunch.  Assuming we don’t go somewhere super fancy, we’ll usually order a bottle of wine + one starter + 2 entrees and that will run us ~AR$120-140 for 2 or AR$60-70 each (US$16-18 per person)  If we go to a nice place we’ll spend considerably more, that said, even at the nicest places we’ve probably maxed out at ~AR$300 (US$80) for the 2 of us–this is very expensive here, but keep in mind the same dinner would likely cost closer to double or triple that in San Francisco.

    Alternative lunch/dinner: We have become huge fans of empanadas and usually have empanada night at least twice a week.  You can usually get great empanadas for ~AR$4 each and it would be difficult to eat more than 3-4 of them each, so this is a very cheap dinner.  We usually buy a dozen and then have them for 2 meals and there are empanada joints everywhere.  Also, you can do the same with pizza, though it’s slightly more expensive and doesn’t offer quite the same quantity of food per peso as empanadas do.

    Grocery stores: We aren’t in love with the grocery stores here.  You can definitely eat cheaper if you cook at home assuming you have a decent enough kitchen and cooking utensils.  That said, as a short-term renter, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to stock up on all of the spices and other cooking supplies that you’d want in order to make something you’d actually enjoy eating (spices are very expensive and hard to find here).  Most packaged/processed food at the grocery store is relatively expensive and fresher food seems cheaper (e.g., ~US$5/lb for rib-eye steak, grass fed of course).

    Wine: We drink a lot of wine.  Wine is WAY cheaper here than it is in the US.  Most stores have wine ranging from ~AR$8 up to ~AR$100 per bottle with the bulk of the offerings in the $AR20-30 range.  We are now hooked on a AR$13.50 bottle (~US$4)  which is quite good (and we are picky).  Also, it’s great to try good wine in restaurants as there is only about a 10-20% mark-up vs. the 3x US mark-up.  We save A LOT of money on wine here (though ironically drink less now that we are not consultants…)

    Bottom Line: US$20/person is probably a decent estimate for what you’ll spend on average for food/drink.  That said, for our first week or 2 we were probably double that, so if you’re here for a short trip you’ll likely spend more.  You could definitely spend less if you put some effort into it, but we are certainly not splurging at US$20.  Way cheaper than San Francisco, but it does add up.

    4)  Tours/other excursions outside of day to day living expenses:  Entirely up to you

    Most things that cater to tourists are expensive and priced in dollars, so proceed at your own risk.

    In summary

    It more expensive here than we had heard.  Many friends who had visited even just a few years back enjoyed much lower prices–apparently prices have been increasing from 20-30%/year for the last several years.  That said, it’s still a very cheap place to visit/live on a relative basis.

    Here’s our average daily expense summary (keep in mind this is for the 2 of us):
    Daily USD   (peso)
    Rent               40      (154)
    School            41      (157)
    Food/wine   39      (149)
    Misc                 ?        (?)
    Total               120   (460)

    Hope this is helpful.  Happy to answer any questions!

    Please leave a comment, it will make us feel special!

    • Bryan Farris April 19, 2010 at 3:48 pm

      So it would be helpful if you put your average daily expense summary in a 100% stack bar chart…I just can’t really grasp it as is. Also-do you mind adding another bar to show how your spend has shifted from the first few weeks to now? Thanks. Color code as appropriate.

    • Tully April 20, 2010 at 5:56 am

      Totally agree with Farris…need the 100% bar chart ;)
      I don’t see any costs attributed to Fernet? If you haven’t had it yet, order one next time you’re at a bar, it’s the national drink

      • ryan April 22, 2010 at 2:39 am

        Fernet is by far the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. It is highly unlikely to happen again. :)

        • Tully April 24, 2010 at 5:19 pm

          hmmm ok, we are going to have to remedy that soon. First of all, you drink it with coke, not straight like they serve it in the US. After your first one, you don’t even care what it tastes like anyways! This explains it well:

          • ryan April 26, 2010 at 1:05 am

            We had it with coke and literally couldn’t drink more than a sip or two…

            • Tully May 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm

              Then it was made wrong!

    • Dan H April 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm

      Guys don’t you think this blog is a bit word wall-y?

      Also, no one brought you champagne in consulting? Hah. Free champagne is the best part! That and the hours.

      • ryan April 22, 2010 at 2:40 am

        Ha! yes, we actually do think it’s a bit word-wally… but we are lazy. If you and Farris want to send us some graphics we’re happy to post….

    • Eve April 21, 2010 at 8:35 pm

      This is great info! This will help me plan my trip. finally I decided to travel to Buenos Aires next spring for one year. I was looking for a Buenos Aires real estate agency that would help me find a nice property in Palermo which is were I decided to stay after reading about the different neighborhoods.

    • Leelou April 23, 2010 at 1:53 am

      This needs to be summarized in powerpoint for anyone really to get it…. :-/

    • Pablo July 8, 2010 at 4:33 am

      This is really expensive, and a bit misleading. Of course renting a tourist apartment in Recoleta will cost 1200 USD, but also staying in a place in Park Avenue in NYC will cost a lot of money. I lived in Argentina with 800 USD a month EVERYTHING included, and you could do also for less. And not, I´m not going to tell you how because it is really simple: if you hear somebody speaking english, do not eat there. If you hear somebody speaking in english, do not rent there. And take public transportation, like everybody else.

      • ryan July 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

        Hi Pablo,

        Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Agreed that it can be done cheaper. We have friends here that are just renting a room in a shared apartment for US$200-400 per month so if you are willing to do that and don’t do Spanish school like we did, you’d get down to more like the number you are talking about (keep in mind, the US$3600 we are talking about is for 2 people, so without school it goes down to $US2400, and if you did a shared apartment you’d be closer to $US1500 for 2 people) – a good option if you’re looking to do it as cheaply as possible, but you’d obviously be giving up a bit of comfort and risking having bad roommates. Also, studio apartments are obviously cheaper than 1-bedrooms.

        Other than that, keep in mind that despite what the government claims, most independent estimates put inflation at 20-30% a year for the last few years with no slow-down in sight, so if you were here even just 1-2 years ago, expect that things are much more expensive now.


        p.s. We’re with you on avoiding restaurants where you hear anyone speaking English (unless we can’t handle another night of pizza/pasta/steak/empanada and need something international for a change). In terms of apartment rentals–there are lots and lots of horror stories of people losing their apartment deposits (among other problems), so it’s very important to choose your agency and landlord carefully–most of the agencies that are considered more reputable are foreign owned and charge a premium for the peace of mind that they provide both from knowing you’ll get your deposit back and knowing that they’ll fix any problems that come up while you’re here. Doesn’t mean that you can’t get a great deal with a local agency or landlord directly, just means that you are taking on more risk–could be great, or you could end up not having hot water for 6 weeks with no discount on rent (happened to some friends here). For sure, bad things could also happen with a foreign company, but at least with a few well known agencies, your odds seem better based on the accounts we’ve seen.

    • Rishi January 22, 2011 at 1:12 am

      Ryan and Jen
      Your blog is awesome. I was in BsAs last year and I loved it.
      I’m taking my GF there this year for 6 weeks to learn Spanish and learn to Tango – it’s also a great jump off point to other places.

      Your cost analysis is very helpful … although a Pivot Table with drill down analysis and 5 slide summary deck would be useful collateral.

      As for Pablo’s assessment … Once in a while, I will get a similar comment on my travelling and blog. My retort is always … you travel in the manner you’re accustomed and your account .. is YOUR account. I always tell people YMMV … use my estimates a starting point and research more … no traveller is the same.


      • ryan January 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm

        Hey Rishi, Thanks for commenting. We’ll get to work on the slides and pivot table :)

        Totally agree with you on the YMMV. Enjoy your upcoming return to BsAs!

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