Country Facts – Argentina
This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. For more information we recommend that you speak with your national government Foreign Office (or equivalent).
Argentina Country Guide
Welcome to Argentina, the spiritual home of tango and cowboys. Argentina spans over a million square miles and, thanks in part to its shape, offers a huge diversity of climates and environments. Take into account the successive colonization that has occurred over the years, as one European nation after another have made landfall, and Argentina represents diversity more than anything else.
From languages to weather patterns, cuisine to wildlife, you can be certain that a visit to Argentina offers a never-ending smorgasbord of options and opportunities. In many ways Argentina can feel less like a single country and more like a small world packed into one small area of South America.
Argentina spans a huge range of latitudes, and with them, differing climates. Equatorial Argentina in the north offers a tropical climate with hot, humid summers and tracts of dense forest. Moving further south we find the dry, rocky steppes of Patagonia, home to the Argentinian cowboys with their vast herds of cattle.
The vast alluvial Pampas represents a wilderness area rich in assorted wildlife. Finally the southern tip of the country is considered subpolar. Here, in Tierra del Fuego huge glaciers and ice-capped mountains dwarf visitors.
As is clear, Argentina represents a huge range of different climates. Biologists count 15 totally different habitats within this one single country. Combined with the size of Argentina and the low population levels outside major cities, it is little wonder that Argentina is considered a natural history hotspot.
Each climate offers different habitats, each one catering to a different organism. At present scientists are aware of over 10,000 species of plant and over a thousand individual species of birds and animals.
In the most part the major cities like Buenos Aries are situated in the centre of the country, where weather systems are less extreme. Generally speaking expats should expect a broadly temperate climate in the more populous areas, with warm pleasant summers and cool wet winters. Visitors from the UK or USA normally find this climate very pleasant and workable.
Arguably the largest influence on Argentine culture has been the Spanish colonization of 1580. As a result many of the finer buildings in Buenos Aires and elsewhere demonstrate a faded colonial style.
If there was one all-encompassing feature of the Argentine people it would be “passion”. For one, there’s the dancing. Tango is almost a national pastime and no trip to Argentina would be complete without at least one lesson. Sultry and energetic, even the word “tango” originates from the Latin word tangere meaning “touch”.
Then there’s the football. Argentina is known as a worldwide force in the soccer world, being one of only two teams in the world to have won the World Cup, Confederations Cup and the Olympic Gold Medal.
Lastly there’s the media where Argentina also leads the rest of South America. Not only were they the first country in the world to introduce a regular radio broadcast (in 1920) but now their active television and movie studies make some of the most popular Latin Spanish-languages programmes of all.
As a result of all this, it is safe to say that Argentina has a rich and varied culture which can be both thrilling and intoxicating for visitors. If you’re willing to immerse yourself in the world of experiences available in Argentina then a visit to this country could just leave a lasting impression on you.
The official language in Argentina is Spanish, though the successive European colonization means that a broad range of other languages may be encountered. English, for one, should be considered the unofficial second language and is spoken by many people, especially in a business environment. Note that English is taught in all Argentine schools which has helped to aid it’s uptake in the country.
In addition there are areas in which you might hear Portuguese, Italian, French and German being spoken, in pockets that have received an influx of expats from a certain country over the years.
Perhaps most interestingly of all are the 5000+ Welsh speakers who live in the Chubut Province, ancestors of the original Welsh settlers who arrived here in 1865.
Argentina should be considered the most developed of the Latin American countries, and as such the transportation networks here are more advanced than neighbouring countries.
While sadly in decline, Argentina’s rail network is possibly the best way to get around this vast country. Boasting the largest railway station in Latin America, hundreds of miles of track criss-cross the country, connecting all the major towns and cities.
It is interesting to note that rather than using a single gauge of track as in most other countries, successive tracks in Argentina have been built using a range of different gauges. In this way you will generally find that it is necessary to change trains far more often than elsewhere, as one train reaches the end of the track it can travel on, and a connecting train is necessary to continue on with the next leg of your journey.
Driving in Argentina is possible with an International Driving License though the roads sometimes leave a lot to be desired. Note that the Foreign Office reports regular crimes carried out against stationary drivers in cities. As a result, should you opt to drive – especially after dark – you are encouraged to keep your doors locked and windows closed. This means that you should be far safer when stopping at traffic lights, where hold-ups and muggings are commonplace.
Also be aware that adherence to speed limits and general rules of the road may be somewhat patchy, leading to a rather less regimented (and safe!) driving experience. Wherever possible try to keep your distance from other drivers so that erratic steering or braking will become less of a danger to you.
Internal flights are possible if you are planning to travel extensively within the country, where trains or cars would likely be an unrealistic proposition.
Argentina offers good levels of healthcare in comparison to other countries in South America though the long waiting times can be a source of frustration. While free healthcare is available to expats working in the country in reality most Westerners opt to utilize private healthcare facilities. Here the levels of care are generally better while the waiting times are significantly lowered.
Treatment at private healthcare facilities will of course incur costs and for this reason expat visitors and travellers alike are strongly encouraged to take out comprehensive health insurance before travel.
The official currency in Argentina is the Peso. That said, US dollars are increasingly popular. In recent years an increasing number of expats have found that when renting a property in Argentina they are expected to pay their rent in cash, in US dollars.
Within the major towns and cities most businesses (restaurants, hotels, shops etc.) are happy to accept credit cards and debit cards though outside these areas cash is still king. For this reason visitors and expats alike are advised to carry some cash – both Pesos and dollars – with them at all times.
There has been a worrying trend as of late whereby people using ATMs have been robbed at knife-point for their cash. “Speed kidnappings” are also not unusual whereby the unlucky recipient is held captive until they agree to withdraw a specified sum of money from at ATM. They are accompanied to the machine, and once the money has been handed over they are allowed to go free.
For these reason extreme caution should be taken when withdrawing money. If possible use ATMs within banks for added protection or ask your hotel or employer whether they are able to cash traveller’s checks in order to avoid becoming a potential target.
While Argentina has one of the highest literacy rates on all of Latin America, and offers even expat children up to 13 years of free education, it is important to note that almost every lesson will be taught in Spanish. For very young children, who absorb languages swiftly, this may not be overly bad, but older children may struggle with learning the language and keeping up with their school work.
In many cases expats therefore decide to make use of one of the many English-speaking international schools present in major cities. Buenos Aires is the centre of the international school scene in Argentina for obvious reasons though it is by no means the only source of English-language schooling in the country.
A few of these schools are deliberately bi-lingual, in an attempt to not only improve your child’s education but to also help them to assimilate the local language. For expats planning a permanent or semi-permanent move to Argentina these bi-lingual schools may prove of particular interest. In many cases they will facilitate a better integration with the native Argentinians as your child’s language skills grow.
Food & Drink
The vast cultural melting pot that is Argentina means that cuisine from all around the world may be found here. No matter what your personal tastes may be, the largely international restaurants and food stalls may service you with anything from English to Italian food, not to mention the more classical “Argentinian” specialities.
More than anything else Argentina is known for its steaks. The flat, dry pampas area is perfect for raising cattle, and the end result of this is a seemingly endless supply of top-quality beef. The rules of supply and demand dictate that these freshly-cooked steaks aren’t just delicious but are also some of the cheapest you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Argentina also has a growing wine industry, with the warmer northerly areas producing some notable vintages. The visitor may do well to familiarise themselves with what is currently the fifth largest producer of wine in the world.
Lastly no visit to Argentina would be complete without a cup of the national beverage; Mate. Made from the dried and chopped leaves of the Yerba Mate plant this caffeine-rich drink is prepared like tea and drunk through a straw. If ever you’re looking for a guaranteed pick-me-up (or hangover cure!) there are expats who swear by a cup of Mate as the ultimate solution.
As a developing nation there are a few issues you may come up against in Argentina. Petty thefts and bag snatches are not uncommon so pay particular attention when in public areas. Try to keep valuables out of sight and on your person at all times to minimize the risk of loss. Public transport and restaurants are two good examples of places where expats put down their guard. Another growing area of crime in some Argentine cities seems to be bags getting snatched in hotels when you go to check in.
Yellow fever may be found in some parts of Argentina throughout the year. This mosquito-carried disease typically causes fever, chills, loss of appetite and severe muscle pain. In extreme cases it is fatal. Fortunately there are highly effective preventative treatments available so speak to your medical practitioner before leaving home to see whether a yellow fever jab may prove worthwhile for you.
Lastly be aware that while Argentina is a largely law-abiding country tensions do occasionally flare up over the contested Falkland Islands. With both the UK and Argentina claiming sovereignty here the occasional flash of Argentinian national pride has seen riots, with British expats sometimes being on the receiving end of this aggression.
While these are now few and far between, British visitors should keep an eye on the Foreign Office website for any news that may negatively impact their stay.
Places to Visit
With over a million square miles to choose from it should come as no surprise that Argentina has plenty to offer the visitor. From trekking through prime jungle to walking through Scandinavian-style fjords in the south of the country one could spend a lifetime here and not get bored.
However in an attempt to highlight some of the most popular places for tourists and expats to visit, let us look at a few of the more popular options.
Most countries around the world have a few notable cities where specific roads or buildings are worth seeing. However Argentina is one of the few countries in the world where the whole of Buenos Aires should be considered worthy of a visit.
Generally considered safe in daylight hours, spend some time exploring the many streets and parks here, observing the Argentinians in their native habitat. Here you’ll find stunning architecture, high quality dining and even a shopping district to rival London or Paris.
The more adventurous visitor would do well to make their way to Bariloche. This is the largest ski centre not just in Argentina but in the whole of Latin America. No matter what your level of experience you will find suitable runs and tuition, not to mention clean, crisp air and breath-taking mountain-views at every turn.
Iguazu National Park
This is the largest national park in Argentina, perfect for hiking or mountain biking through the pristine wilderness. It’s also prime bird-watching territory where nature-fanatics can get their fix. However most importantly of all this national park houses some of the largest and most memorable waterfalls anywhere in the world.
The Iguazu Falls are over 2.7 kilometres wide, and water cascades over 80 metres from the top. Watching the angry white water tumble over the edge into this magical sunken valley, alive with plant life, it would not be too much of a stretch to imagine prehistoric dinosaurs being discovered alive and well here.
For more information on moving abroad visit www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo.
Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to Argentina please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.