Archive | Living

Currency Exchanges and Rates

Now that I’m here, I’ve been taking a look at what the best way to pay for things is – cash or credit?  I’ve found that:

  • using my Citibank Visa, I’m getting AR $2.9517 to the U.S. dollar after fees are calculated.
  • using my Schwab ATM card I’m getting AR $3.0436 to the U.S. dollar with no ATM fees.
  • when changing U.S. cash to pesos, I got AR $3.00 to the U.S. dollar near the Palermo Alto mall.
  • the Carrefour grocery store near me pays AR $2.95 to the U.S. dollar and some stores pay AR $3.00 to the U.S. dollar.

The official rate today was AR $3.0540 to the U.S. dollar. So, it definitely makes the most sense to take out cash from my Schwab account when I can as those extra cents can really add up over time.

If you’re looking to exchange cash for pesos, DolarHoy.com is a great site which lists the daily exchange rate for buying and selling at various cambios and banks. The best deal for today was Cambio America at $3.045. The Argentina Private message board has a good post with more details on this and their favorite places to exchange currency, including some tips on negotiating a few cents more than the bulk rate at DolarHoy.com. Like many places in BsAs, they’re closed weekends and a few hours in the afternoon, so be sure to call for their hours first.

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Joining a Gym (Gimnasio)

I spent the afternoon today checking out a few different gyms in Palermo. I’ve been missing the gym since I left NYC, so today I finally had a chance to try and use my minimal Spanish and sign up for a six month membership at a gym. I had seen a few in the area, and also read a couple of message board posts on BA Expats and Argentina Private discussing options. I decided to check out Narziso, Always Club and Megatlon Palermo.

Megatlon, located in the trendy Alto Palermo mall was by far the nicest of the three, but it was also the most expensive and most pretentious. They also have 14 other locations in Buenos Aires.  The equipment there was new and better than that in many NYC gyms. They also have a unique system that involves using a USB keychain to tailor a personal workout to you as well as keep track of all your workouts which was pretty cool. In addition to the price, I was also turned off when the guy showing us around said their least busy time was from 6am – 8am and in the afternoon, pretty much implying that they were usually packed.  The prices were really high too: six months for AR $1428 plus AR $120 for the key chain. A personal trainer was AR $70 per session.

Narziso was the smallest and their equipment appeared to be aging. But, their class schedule was pretty good as were their rates.  They also have two locations, one of which has a pool. Their rates were: 1 month: AR $120/month (AR $20 membership card); 3 months: AR $100/month (AR $20 membership card); 6 months: AR $95/month (no card fee); 12 months: AR $90/month (no card fee); Personal Trainer: AR $300 for 1 month – 8 sessions (AR $37.50/session).

I ended up choosing Always Club based on location, cost and amenities. It is a good sized gym, with a good class schedule and decent equipment.  They offered me a cash price of AR $500 for 6 months which works out to U.S. $28/month. Monthly plans are AR $100/month and personal trainers are AR $320 for one month of 8 sessions (U.S. $12.50/session). Not bad…

So, after a week of pizza, eating out, pastries and ice cream, it’s time to settle into the routine and get back into the gym.

UPDATE (08.16.08): Two things I forgot to mention about gyms in Buenos Aires:

I just had my medical exam for the gym last night. Yes, gyms here require that you get examined by a doctor as part of your membership. I had a 10 minute appointment where the doctor asked me about my medical history, family health, took my blood pressure, and listened to my heart rate and breathing. I had scheduled the appointment when I joined the gym and could still use the gym before I had the appointment, but it was a requirement for joining.

Another thing about the gyms here is that they may actually be closed on Sunday or have drastically reduced hours. This would be unheard of in the States. My gym’s hours are: Mondays to Fridays from 7am – 12am, Saturdays from 9am – 9pm, Sundays from 6pm to 9pm,  and holidays from 10am – 1pm and 6pm to 9pm.

UPDATE (03.16.09): I went in to renew for another 6 months at Always and they no longer offer that option. I could pay by month for AR $120 per month or pay for a year at AR $880/year (payable in 4 monthly payments of AR $220 each). I took the year option. Personal training had already gone up too: 4 sessions for AR $220, 8 sessions for AR $340, 12 sessions for AR $470, and 16 sessions for AR $540. These sessions must be used within 30 days of purchase.

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Learning Spanish

I had my first Spanish lesson on Tuesday, and thanks to reading another blog, I found a great teacher, Marco Luccón who runs Hablar en Buenos Aires. He’s 24 and really loves languages and teaching. He has split his apartment in Palermo into a living area and a classroom (complete with whiteboard) and has prepared many of his own materials.  I had originally decided to take two classes per week, but now that I’m realizing how much I actually need to learn, I’m going to see about bumping that up to three classes per week. He charges AR $30/hour for individual lessons and AR $44/hour for group lessons. His web site slogan is “Now learning Spanish is fun and easy” and while I’m not so sure about that, so far, the class has been great.

I’d strongly recommend Marco if you’re in the area. I also interviewed a couple of great private tutors who will come to your house, but I decided I needed something to get me out of the apartment. I also considered enrolling in a group class, but I liked Marco’s approach more. If you’re looking for advice on what may be best for you, the BA Expats Forum is a great place to ask for recommendations for schools or tutors.

I also have a copy of Rosetta Stone, which is a great program.  I started to use it before I moved, but did not keep up with it. I’m planning to go back to that as well to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible.

There are also a number of new Web 2.0 sites that promise to help you learn Spanish:

I didn’t use these too much, but they may be another good resource for you. I’ll let you know how my lessons progress.

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Random Observations: Week 1

I’ve been here for about one week now, and I thought I would start a series about some of my random observations as a new expat. Some of these will be expanded on in further posts, some are just random one liners. So, without further adieu:

Random Observations: Week 1

  • Learning Spanish is going to be more challenging than I thought.
  • Everything they sell seems to be much smaller than the U.S. equivalent.
  • They love to package food in bags and boxes (yogurt, mayonaisse, etc in plastic bags – milk, oj, etc in boxes). There are not as many plastic and glass jars. The question is, what do you do once you open these up? You must have to store them in another container.
  • The paper products are smaller and are not of the same quality as in the U.S.
  • Finding plush towels is almost impossible, as is finding high thread-count sheets.
  • No one picks up after their dog and I mean no one. I picked up after Delilah and felt weird doing it. They also have orange garbage bins everywhere, so it is very easy to dispose of. I have a new policy of taking my shoes off at the door and am wondering  when I’ll first step in a big, fresh pile.
  • Not everything is as cheap as I was expecting. Electronics are much more expensive due to state tax as well as import tax. I found this out when having to replace my LCD.  Beer however is incredibly cheap – a liter of Brahma or Quilmes is about U.S. $1.50. Dinner at a nice restaurant is pretty cheap too, especially when compared to NYC. You can have appetizers, entrees, a bottle of wine and dessert for two for around U.S. $50.
  • There is no garbage room in my apartment. Everyone just puts their trash out on the street before 8pm. You do not sort cardboard or recyclables – cartoneros (waste pickers) come through the city each evening and open all trash bags to remove cardboard, paper, and metals. After that, city trash collectors haul away the rest.
  • Pedestrians do not have the right of way. Taxi drivers drive much worse than they do in NYC. I’m really surprised there are not more accidents.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more of these each week as I explore and learn more about the country and culture.

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