18 July 2012

What's an Expat Anyway?

The first time I heard the term "expat", it was in a gossip mag and in reference to Johnny Depp and his 80s, French, existential crisis. I assumed he hated America and all the wealth and fame it had given him so much so that he simply couldn't bear to live there anymore. He retreated to a more exotic locale where he became an Ex-Patriate. Very romantic!

Image courtesy of Starr Secrets.

Today, the term expat is more common and refers to anyone living somewhere other than the country in which they have citizenship. Expat infers that there is some kind of longevity or commitment to the living arrangement without a legal citizenship change. So maybe you're not an expat if you are studying abroad for a semester; and you are a proper citizen if you have gone through another country's naturalization process. However, like all socially constructed labels, it is a fluid term that, as far as I'm concerned, people use as they will.

I bring up the term expat because it is difficult to miss when learning about Buenos Aires on the internet. In researching just how to live in Argentina for an indeterminate amount of time, I have found expat forums, expat services, expat bars, and everything else you can imagine. There is quite a community presence of American, European, and South American citizens living and working together while mingling cultures with the locals. Well, at least there is on the internet. As a soon-to-be member of this population, I am interested to see how the online representation of this group corresponds to the people on the ground, living there and working it out.

Bilingual pub quiz?! This looks awesome! So is it?

So my questions are:

Is there an active community of expats in Buenos Aires? And I mean community in the fullest sense of the word; people with similar goals and interests living and working to create a cohesive group.
If the expat community is active, how is it viewed by the locals? Are self-proclaimed expats accepted as contributors to the culture and city, or is the group seen as parasitic?
What have been the positive and negative cultural, economic, and environmental impacts of the influx of expats in Buenos Aires in the last couple of decades?
Do expats live in particular areas of Buenos Aires, or are they integrated into many areas of the city?
What are some tips for a person trying this whole thing out for the first time?

For those of you considering the move, I'll be sure to update with my perceptions after I've been there long enough to have a clue! For now, those of you who have done it, what do you think??


  1. If you want to move to Mar del Plata, I can answer some questions for you. :) I've had the pleasure of meeting some expats in BA, but not in on the whole "scene".
    FYI-electronics and clothes are more expensive here. Be sure to bring what you need.

    1. I don't know anything about Mar del Plata, but you've piqued my interest! Thanks for the heads up regarding electronics and clothes...I'm stocking up on the necessities now!

  2. oh, by the way, my husband and I were married in Philadelphia and lived just north of the city for six years. :)

    1. What beautiful photographs! Thanks so much for sharing. I will be adding your site to my Links page so I can keep up!

  3. Hi Amber!

    While I never got my Prague ...let alone my bohemian Paris, there is definitely a community in the "fullest" sense of the word.

    Fairly similar goals and interests ...and at least working toward creating a cohesive group, yes. But you have to realize how huge this city is and how many expats it has drawn ...and how geographically we have spread.

    Right now, I´ve noticed that farther-flung expats are beginning to bristle at "commuting" to the traditional center or centers of gravity for the community experience. I look at that as a good thing. It seems to denote a growing/spreading community.

    For example, while Palermo Soho and San Telmo have been "ground zero" for expats for years ...the barrios of Almagro and Boedo and their environs have taken on more significance as those initial neighborhoods have become crowded and pricey.

    The best example of this shift was in Barrio Almagro ...The BA Underground Market sponsored by The Argentina Independent this June. In an all but abandoned factory space, up three flights of stairs, more than two dozen artisanal food producers drew more than 700 people.

    For me, it was the first great demonstration that the center of gravity of the expat community had shifted ...or was willing to shift for something special.

    Those "special" things will just keep coming ...as it becomes more expensive to live/rent/own/access the traditional expat areas.

    Your life in Buenos Aires will not be the same experience of those of us who arrived in the early 2000s ...but there is every reason to believe that you will help create and contribute to a second wave of vibrant life with less of the displacement and gentrification of those of us who have come before.

    Don´t worry about your wave or the previous wave ever changing the character of Our Lady of the Good Winds ...in this 500 year old pirate town, the imported has always been prized, immigrants have always been welcomed, and none of that has ever had more impact than this city could absorb without a shrug.

    Come and enjoy this Paris of the Palmtrees. I´m sure that you won´t be able to keep from interacting with all of the large expat community ...and I´ll bet that you´ll end up contributing to our bunch and the life of this city that you fell in love with.

    besos y abrazos,

    1. Mike,
      Thanks so much for your sincere response. It is so encouraging to hear such positive, honest feedback from someone with experience in this whole thing. I hope not to over-think or over-plan it, but any honest information or opinion is helpful for me in making this move. I enjoy your blogs and look forward to running in some of the same circles some day soon!

  4. Hi, Amber! I just found your blog through the post on Yanqui Mike's blog. I'm a Philly girl also, and I moved to Argentina three years ago to be with my Argentine boyfriend (now husband). I live in a coastal city called Necochea, which is located five hours south of the capital. I'm not too far from Mar del Plata, so I also happen to be friends with Eli, who commented above. I've met some really cool expats in the capital, but I don't make it there too often since I live so far away. I've been blogging about Argentina for four years, so maybe you'll find some helpful information on my blog. http://www.seashellsandsunflowers.com I look forward to reading more from you. Un beso, Katie

  5. Katie,
    Thanks so much for reaching out to me! How cool to meet someone who is living the expat life outside of the capital! I'm am running over to your blog now to check it out. Let's keep in touch!