“Let’s quit our jobs and set up a commune in South America!” exclaims one of my friends at a Sunday lunch in Bethnal Green in London.
Over roast beef and red wine, someone raised the idea of a whole group of us leaving our settled lives and jobs in London to live together in a paradise elsewhere. An enthusiastic discussion ensued, with proclamations about how we would travel all over the world, get a run-down house, grow our own vegetables and spend all our time in the sun. We debated, with voices raised and arms flailing, whether we’d be moving to a party house on the beach, or an old, romantic townhouse where we’d run yoga workshops. We even set up a Whatsapp group to share photos of possible dream destinations.
Photo by Hugo Matilla on Unsplash
Sadly, on Monday morning and throughout the following week, the momentum dwindled as everyone went back to their daily routine. But the idea continued to play on my mind. I had been in the same job for a while and was coming up to the end of a PhD. My boyfriend was planning to change career. It seemed liked the perfect time. So on a whim we agreed to move abroad anyway, even if we couldn’t convince our friends to join us.
So somewhere in South America. Somewhere Spanish speaking. Those were the only two requirements for our adventure. Six months later we arrived in Buenos Aires with a couple of suitcases each. I’d never even set foot in South America before.
I’ve now been here for just over six months and it’s been an incredible adventure so far. I’ve met some great friends, earmarked the best cafes and bars in our barrio (neighbourhood), found the restaurant serving the most delicious fillet steak, joined a local football team, taken life-drawing classes, protested in marches protesting violence against women and started volunteering at a community radio station. I’ve also had the chance to travel all round the country, from the awe-inspiring mountains of Patagonia and the thunderous Iguazu falls, to the beautiful landscapes of Cordoba and the peaceful waters of Tigre.
The prospect of life in a new city or country is both exciting and daunting in equal measure. For me, moving to Buenos Aires wasn’t easy at first, but slowly, I’m starting to feel more settled and I want to share my practical tips for anyone who’s just arrived somewhere new. Hopefully my advice will help you feel more at home!
Social media is your friend
When I arrived in Buenos Aires I knew a couple of people living here, but it was hard to meet friends initially. I found a Facebook group for expat girls in the city and posted that I was new and was interested in art, travel, sports and photography. I received a warm welcome and connected with some amazing women with similar interests who’ve become good friends. So scout out what groups exist on social media and put yourself out there.
Learn the language if you don’t speak it
This might seem obvious but you would be surprised by how many expats (particularly English-speaking ones I’m sad to say) don’t bother to learn the local language. It’s not easy, but being able to communicate even just a bit will open up a much richer experience, especially if you’re planning to stay somewhere a reasonable length of time. Language lessons are also a great way to meet new people.
Sort yourself out financially
Hopefully you have worked out how you are going to fund yourself before you left! For me, I’d saved a bit over the last year and knew that I would have some reasonably regular freelance work coming in. If you’re planning to find work when you arrive, just make sure you have enough of a buffer to get you through the first month or two. In terms of withdrawing cash, ATMs are rarely the best option. Quite often you’ll have to pay a fee both in the country you’re in and your home country. There are a number of money transferring services (I use Azimo) that’ll save you a lot over time.
Work out what you want to get out of your time
You’re in a new place and it’s a great opportunity to do the things you’ve always wanted to do, but have never had the time/confidence/motivation. For me, being in Buenos Aires allows me to travel around South America and to explore creative opportunities. I’ve wanted to develop my photography and filmmaking skills for a long time and I now have the space and inspiration to do so.
Move in with someone local
If you’re planning on getting a room in a shared house, moving in with someone local rather than other travelers is a great way of immersing yourself in the local culture. My friends who have done that are always the ones who know first what’s going on in the city and have met a great network of friends through their roommates.
Work out how to get medical care (before you need it)
I fell over while running in my first week here and had a huge, deep cut on my knee. I had to spend a manic hour working out which hospital I could go to and where they were because I needed stitches. Work out these details before you’re in an emergency and speak to your insurance company, as some have stipulations about where you can get care.
Last but obviously not least…. So now you’re all set up, you can really make the most of living in a new city. Having a whole host of different neighbouring places and possibly countries on your doorstep is one of the best things about relocating. Make the most of it and plan trips whenever you can! Although Argentina is so vast that even domestic flights are long (4 hours from Buenos Aires to the south of the country), I doubt I’ll ever get the opportunity again to travel around so I’m trying to see as much of it as possible. I’m also planning a trip to Chile, Peru and Bolivia, and I hope to also go to Brazil and Colombia next year….
Have you moved to a new city or country? What are your top tips?
All photos by Rose Palmer unless otherwise stated.