Monday, June 20, 2016

Expat Report: Year 4

It's been four years since we moved to Argentina and it still amazes us how we've managed to survive. When we first got here, we were thrown for a loop and it's been an emotional roller coaster ride ever since.

We've been around for two Argentine presidents and the only constants we've seen is the country's financial crisis getting worse.

Utility bills have skyrocketed, particularly since the current president took away the subsidiaries, which gave people here a bit of a breather from some otherwise costly utility bills.

Things have gotten pricier between 2013 and 2016 (sorry, I don't have the prices for 2012).

Should I even talk about how badly the value of the Argentine peso has fallen? Particularly in the last seven months?

On December 31st, 2012, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 4.90
On December 31st, 2013, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 6.51
On July 29th, 2014, the cost of one US dollar in Argentine pesos was: 8.19
On December 24th, 2015, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 12.97
On June 19th, 2016, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 13.89

Essentially, in today's current Argentine economy, the Argentine pesos is worth .07 cents in the U.S. 

On the plus side, people are able to send and receive money through Western Union now, which was practically unheard of when we first arrived here in 2012.

The new president seems to be invested in allowing importing and exporting again, which means we could be seeing food and other products from the States trickle down to Argentina. We can only hope.

These are some of the products that are already available. Bacon and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish snacks aren't easy to find. Snickers and Skittles are easier to get. The most notable addition we've seen in 2016 is coleslaw.
Yay! Bagels!
One thing I found odd was that they changed the name of bacon, which they called 'breakfast bacon' on the package to a lengthy Spanish name which is 'panceta salada cocida y ahumada'. I can only assume that this was done to get people here to buy the product. Ironically, I've only seen it sold in Walmart and they sell like hotcakes.

Employment opportunities have decreased all across the board. Take a look at the number of jobs that were available on on October 2015. In less than a year, the number of opportunities have decreased.
October 2015

June 2016
Companies I've reached out to through LinkedIn or local temp agencies don't contact me, despite the fact that I'm more than qualified for the job. I've been looking for a legit 9 to 5 job for the last four years without any success. Freelancing is okay I supposed, but it's sure as hell not a career and the pay sucks. 

Obama's Visit
Obama was invited to visit Argentina this year and unfortunately, a lot of Argentines weren't pleased. Much to my sorrow, I saw anti-American posters like this one all over the city. They try to blame the U.S. for being involved during The Dirty War of the 70s which saw the disappearance of over 30,000 people in South America, but that's bullshit!
Translation: Leave Obama! We're against the impunities of yesterday and today. No to the adjustment of Macri.
Seeing posters like this one up on walls in the downtown area hurts like hell, especially when you know that the hatred being spat out isn't warranted. 

Issues At Home
Being gay makes us feel even more isolated than it would if we were in the States. Back home there was practically an LGBT center in every city we lived in. Here there aren't any, at least not in Cordoba. Try joining an LGBT group online and it's usually for hookups and not actual community support. Case in point, the recent Orlando shootings at a gay club. Even being thousands of miles away, it still hurts to hear such terrible news, but there's really no one here to talk to that really gets it.

Case in point: A Doctor Who forum recently announced that an LGBT character would be introduced to an upcoming spin-off series and the response from the locals was not necessarily a positive one. In fact, one person went as far as to say that being gay is such a popular thing these days that he's not surprised and that it's all part of the LGBT militia. Oh and by the way, any time that Argentinians don't like something, they associate it with a militia. The level of ignorance is outstanding.
Translation: The LGBT thing is so popular that everyone is using it.

Comment 1:It seems like sexuality in a program like this one is irrelevant and would not help the storyline. It seems more like a desperate attempt to appear inclusive due to pressure from LGBT militia extremists.

Comment 2: How fragile is the wholeness and determination of an individual if they need to see a representation of themselves in order to know that other people like themselves exist?

Zach and I have begun feeling isolated. So much so that we barely leave our house anymore, except when we hang out with two Argentine friends who are dear to us.

We've strongly considered moving back. In fact, we were certain and had the financial means to go back home to the States by September of this year, but there were some complications that we hadn't foreseen. As devastating as the decision to remain stranded here was, we also knew we had to figure out how to make the next 30 or so years work without wanting to jump off a bridge. 

Right now we're playing it by ear and trying to survive emotionally a day at a time. Fortunately, we're somewhat okay financially. I mean, it's not like we have to worry about rent, which is a huge expenditure here.

Keeping Busy
I'm working on going back to school in August for a one-year career program. I've also been working on republishing my novels. The original versions were okay, but since I've grown as a writer, I felt I needed to do some major polishing on the novels. The first novel will likely be reintroduce sometime in August or September and available at Barnes & Nobles and Amazon. But I'll keep everyone posted on my progress in the near future. The goal is to have at least 6 novels and one non-fiction book based on my experience as an expat published by the end of 2017 or early 2018.

Over the last four years people have asked me for advice on moving to Argentina. Different provinces provide different pros and cons. You also have to ask yourself what you're hoping to gain. Are you planning on retiring, looking for work (good luck!), etc? Our goal was semi-retirement, but things didn't go too well. You might have a better shot in Buenos Aires in the CABA area. It's livelier, there are more job opportunities and it's a lot more multi-cultural. All I can recommend is that you dip your toes in the water before jumping in the pool.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Perks Of Free Healthcare In Argentina

Free healthcare is one of the perks of moving to Argentina. Despite a handful of locals who feel that healthcare should be limited to Argentine citizens or foreigners who are Argentine residents, free healthcare is available to anyone regardless of what country you're from and I doubt that this is going to change anytime soon.
Should we charge medical expenses to foreigners who are non-residents? 1) Yes, because they are not residents. 2) Free medical care should be limited to emergencies only 3) No, because it would violate human rights.

However, there's been a few changes in the process since I last wrote about the free healthcare process a few years ago so here they are. Keep in mind that I am currently in the province of Cordoba and my particular experience is in the public hospital called "Hospital Nacional De Clinicas".

For starters, you can't make an appointment at the "centro de turnos" anytime you want to anymore unless you have healthcare benefits (obra social). So foreigners and locals living in Cordoba without insurance have to go at the crack of dawn to the hospital and wait two or three hours to get a number to schedule an appointment. They only give out 70 per day hence the reason why you have to go so early ... like 5 am.
A few years ago you had to pay an outpatient fee called a "bono" which was super affordable anyway. Now you no longer have to pay a dime. In fact, there are signs posted throughout the hospital reminding patients that no area in the hospital is allowed to charge patients under any circumstances, which might explain why the dental services have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Once you have your own doctor, they'll order some blood work which you have to get done in the lab section of the hospital. You'll need to schedule an appointment for this as well at the "centro de turnos". The blood work takes about a week and a half depending on what you're being treated for. When the results come back they are sent to your doctor. You'll just need to schedule an appointment to see them and get the results.

Free Vaccinations
If you want to get flu shots or any other form of vaccination you can report to the "vacunatorio". Their hours of operation are from around 8 am to noon. They may or may not have the shots your doctor prescribed. So you may end up having to visit other public hospitals. Don't worry! The vaccines are free! 

If you have an emergency and you can't wait, there is an emergency room (Sala de Urgencia) available and you can go anytime 24 hours a day.

A Spanish Speaking Hospital
It's a safe bet that they don't have English-speaking staff in the hospital, though you may find a handful of people who can speak English. Your safest best is to bring a native Argentine with you (friend, spouse, neighbor) if you don't speak any kind of Spanish.

Prescription Medicine
Prescription medications are not free however. Whatever you have to get at the local pharmacy may cost you heavily. For example, my husband started buying Soriatane to treat his skin condition, which three years ago cost about $250 Argentine pesos ($17.81 USD). As of March 2016, that medicine now costs $740 Argentine pesos ($52.72 USD). Yeah! It was a major price hike, especially if you're living solely on the Argentine economy, which has been facing some serious declines, particularly in the last couple of months. I've spoken to a lot of locals who have struggled to buy their medication even with healthcare benefits (obra social). Imported medications are usually the most expensive and they don't always have a generic brand that is more affordable.

In cases where patients suffer from more serious health issues like diabetes, cancer or AIDS, the government will pay for the medicine required if you cannot afford it. However, there's a lengthy amount of paper work and wait time. So keep that in mind if your sole intention is to come here to treat something serious. You can always bring USD and lots of it ... just in case.

Dental Care
Some people have asked me to write about the dental healthcare coverage. So as I've said before ... or wrote ... whatever ... you know what I mean, the Hospital Nacional De Clinicas in Cordoba does not offer free dental service. However, you can look around for a good dentist and the cost is still pretty manageable and I say this having recently undergone a full cleaning which cost $400 Argentine pesos ($28.50 USD),  an oh-so painful wisdom tooth extraction for $800 Argentine pesos ($57.00 USD) and 10 cavity fillings for $2,800 Argentine pesos ($199.49 USD). Yes! I had 10 cavities! Sue me for eating a lot of sweet stuff! Of course these prices vary from one healthcare professional (and province) to another.

Like any other country, Argentina has its pros and its cons but free healthcare is something that not may countries offer to locals and foreigners. It's a blessing that I urge everyone to consider taking advantage of because there's nothing more important than our health. Plus, if those few xenophobic malcontents become a massive chorus in the future and influence the government to charge foreigners, the concept of free healthcare could go up in smoke!

Take a look at the original post I wrote back in 2013 to compare how things have changed in the free healthcare system in Argentina.

Free Healthcare in Argentina – The Pros And Cons Of Using A Public Hospital

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Annual International Food Festival In Altagracia

Every year around the end of January through the first week of February, the people of Cordoba and its neighboring cities can look forward to the Annual Food Festival (Encuentro Anual De Colectividades).
It's held in Altagracia, a city on the outskirts of Cordoba. There are kiosks selling food from a variety of countries from around the world like Iraq, Mexico, Poland, Germany, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Uruguay, Italy, Armenia and South Africa.
The food is delicious but you'll need a lot of Argentine pesos to enjoy it. The cost of each item or meal varies from 40 Argentine pesos ($2.79 USD) to 166 Argentine pesos ($11.56 USD).
Of course not every food item was a clear winner. I bought a cheesecake which was frozen solid. I could have broken a car window with it. In fairness, the lady did warn me that she had to freeze the cheesecake to keep it from going bad. I ended up breaking 4 plastic spoons trying to dig into it. In the end, the frustration soured the taste.
One of my friends ordered a paella from the 'Spain' booth and wasn't too happy with the taste of it or the fact that the rice had more chicken in it than actual seafood, which a paella apparently needs.
The desserts however were real good, particularly those from Poland and Germany. They offered some of the softest cakes ever. It was far better than the dry, bland cakes that most local supermarkets offer.
Musical guests were also in attendance throughout the festival but they weren't anyone I would recognize. My knowledge of Latino performers are limited to Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias (neither of which were present). Beyond that, I know nothing.
All in all, I would totally recommend the festival if you're interested in sampling some delicious international food, listen to good music, do a little shopping, spend quality time with your friends and family and drink the night away.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Argentina Now Charges For Plastic Bags To Save The Environment

On October 2015, supermarkets across Argentina started charging 40 cents per plastic bag to encourage the Argentine people to start using those eco-friendly reusable bags. Some mom and pop shops have even stopped providing plastic bags altogether and it has some people hopping mad!

While the concept certainly seems like a noble effort to save the environment, this change has had a few setbacks.

For starters, the law states that supermarkets can't charge for plastic bags and people have been voicing their outrage on social media. Unfortunately, this hasn't stopped supermarkets like Libertad, Disco, VEA, Super Mami or Walmart from continuing to charge their customers for bags. Also, as upset as customers are they are continuing to buy plastic bags, which seems to defeat the policy's intended purpose. 
Some claim that this is a cheap tactic from supermarket chains to milk even more money from customers. Now honestly, I crap more expensive things than a 40 cent bag so I don't mind paying a little extra to get 5 or 6 bags to put my groceries in. However, since the cost of a lot of supermarket items continue to rise like crazy despite the change in government, it's clear that it will continue to become an issue with some of the locals.

So why don't I jump on the eco-friendly train and buy reusable grocery bags? It's simple. I use plastic bags to throw my trash out on a daily basis. Now you're probably asking yourself, "Why don't I just buy a large black bag and throw it out on garbage day (which is everyday here except for Saturdays)?"
In a lot of neighborhoods, black bags are an issue because some assume that black bags contain something valuable. So they'll rip it apart with a knife or bare hands and then leave the homeowner to do all the clean up. This has happened to me and several of my neighbors on many occasions.

Buying a garbage can is also out of the question. There are shady people lurking and sometimes they can be that next door neighbor that waves at you every time they see you. You can certainly buy yourself a trash can but it will likely vanish the moment you turn your back on it.
So now when I go to the supermarket I get the option to buy a green or black plastic grocery bag. The green is for dry trash like bread crumbs, paper, plastic bottles and anything else that's not mushy or wet. The black is for the soggy stuff like leftover spaghetti or stew that we simply don't feel like keeping in the fridge. Both bags are made with biodegradable material and trust me it shows and feels like they are because the material is SO CHEAP!

I honestly never expected this policy of charging for plastic bags to last beyond Christmas let alone the end of January 2016. At this time it remains unclear whether the government will step up to the plate and stop these supermarket chains from charging for shopping bags.