Making the long or short move down south
Mercosur/sul migration process and tips
Welcome avatar! Today we will be diving into a practical overview for anons who are on the fence of moving to the Mercosur (Mercosul in Portuguese) for a longer or shorter period of time. Since my main expertise long term is Argentina, I will give most practical tips for Buenos Aires / Argentina.
Short intro to the Mercosur
Mercosur is a trade bloc consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Venezuela was a member but is currently suspended after some human rights issues there.
The bloc was established in 1991 by the Treaty of Asunción and came into full effect in 1995. Its purpose is to promote free trade and the fluid movement of goods, people, and currency between its members.
Effectively, passport holders of full member Mercosur countries can freely relocate to any of the other full member countries, similar to how residency in the EU works.
Does the Mercosur matter for foreigners?
Technically, no. The reason I mention it though, is that if you plan on obtaining permanent residency in any of these 4 countries, you will be able to travel to the other countries just with your local ID. Usually it also makes it easier to contract services etc, since you only have to present a local ID, not a passport.
In most Mercosur countries, you will get permanent residency after 2 years of temporary residency (even with temporary residency you can start travelling to member countries on your local ID).
This also makes Mercosur passports particularly valuable just because of the immense countries that they let you settle in, plus the associated countries (basically all South America). Except for Paraguay which doesn’t allow dual citizenship, any of the other 3 passports have that additional residency benefit within the Mercosur trade bloc.
The Argentine passport is probably the easiest to obtain and takes anywhere from 2-4 years, you will have to obtain permanent residency and can apply afterwards. The appointment is made with a judge and you will have to prove your ties to the country through family, income, property or otherwise.
After that process, a decision is made and you will receive Argentine citizenship. Be aware though that Argentina WILL inform your original country of your newly obtained Argentine citizenship, so in case your original country does not allow dual citizenship, you could be in for trouble. Caribbean nations that offer Citizenship by Investment for example, do not inform the original country of the fact that you obtained their citizenship.
Different visa types
If you don’t plan on staying longer that 3-6 months, most people don’t have to worry about specific visas or applying for residency. Most passports can enter on a tourist visa (just check here in case you’re not sure).
Brazil and Argentina allow you to enter twice per year for a maximum of 90 + 90 days on a tourist visa. Argentina used to be a bit more lax in terms of allowing tourists to indefinitely leave and re-enter the country every 3 months, but that is no longer the case.
People used to live in Buenos Aires for years on end and take the boat to Uruguay every 3 months, and come back the same day with a fresh entry stamp. Unfortunately, those days are over. You can legally extend your 90 days tourist visa from within Argentina for an additional 90 days, but after that, you will have to find another type of visa if you want to stay for a longer period.
Brazil has never allowed tourists to overstay their visa and border control will make an issue out of people who overstay or who try to get into the country while being close to those 180 days per year.
There are ways around this (border crossings between Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) and Foz do Iguaçú (Brazil) or multiple between Paraguay/Brazil could technically be done by public transport buses without stopping at customs, but I do not recommend this if you eventually have to leave by plane out of either Brazil or Argentina.
I know from experience because I lost my Brazilian entry card once while leaving Brazil, and leaving was no issue, but the next visit to caipirinha country I was detained for a few hours and eventually fined before they allowed me in.
My personal journey was to move to São Paulo, Brasil in 2005/6, and moving to Buenos Aires afterwards. Before moving from Europe, I had already learned Brazilian Portuguese in a language school and I finished my master's in Spanish, so I did have a solid base for communicating and really integrating from day 1.
If you don’t speak either Portuguese or Spanish, I can recommend to learn at least some basics before going. It will really make a difference since most people will not speak English (in Argentina the amount of English speakers, especially in BA, is slightly higher than in Brasil).
Nowadays any free YouTube course will probably do just fine to get the hang of the basics, and you can practice more by using language apps, watching movies and listening to local music. This will make it more fun too, and luckily Argentina and Brazil have a vast library of very good movies and great music.
Autist note: Paraguay is the only fully bilingual country in the world, where everyone speaks Guaraní and Spanish. Guaraní is used more in settings with family & friends, whereas Spanish is more used in official instances and government bureaucracy.
Practical tips for Buenos Aires and travelling in Argentina
Depending on the length of your stay, Airbnb is going to be your quickest go to option for accommodation in Buenos Aires. Rents range from 500-2000 US token, depending on what you’re looking for and the neighborhood. Some very good studio apartments are around the 800-1000 range, with great building amenities like pools and gyms.
Keep in mind that for long term rents in pesos (unfurnished), most landlords require you to have residency and a guarantee (against a property in Buenos Aires), so almost everyone ends up starting in the furnished USTT rental space.
Besides Airbnb, other big sites just for housing are zonaprop.com but there are tons of sites just catering to foreigners who are looking for a temporary housing solution. A quick Google search for “alquiler temporario Buenos Aires” will give you a wide array of local sites.
On some of these sites, notice how the price for some of these properties will be quoted in $ARS; usually when that is the case, it means it’s a local long term rental (2 years), which is not available unless you’re a resident. So you should focus on prices listed in USD.
However, if you want to stay for a longer period of time, sometimes an owner can work something out if you’re really interested and are willing to pay something up front.
For example my first long term rent, I paid for 1 year up front because I really wanted to stay there but I didn’t have a guarantee.
Palermo is really the central hub for meeting other digital nomads - the best neighborhood for restaurants, bars, shared office spaces and nice apartments with amenities.
Other very nice neighborhoods are Belgrano (close to Palermo), San Telmo (which is more alternative and more classic in a way, closer to the city center) and Recoleta (very stylish and old buildings). Puerto Madero is also nice, but can feel a bit out of the way if you want to get around in the city.
WiFi / Internet / 4G
Internet here is very cheap compared to US/EU, and very fast compared to other Latam regions. I personally have 2 providers (just in case 1 ever cuts out but that almost never happens anymore) and both lines have 300mb/sec.
I personally have Personal (which used to be called Fibertel) and Telecentro. Planning on getting a Movistar line as well, since they seem to have the fastest fiber now (1gb/sec), depending on your neighborhood.
When I was still a tourist / temporary resident I was able to contract internet with my passport at the place I was renting, so that could be an option if you’re renting long term but don’t have internet yet. But generally most Airbnbs will have internet (50-100mb+) already installed.
For 4G the best thing is to go directly to one of the official Claro or Movistar stores, and get a prepaid card. Usually social media usage is free and top up packs are super cheap. As a foreigner without a temporary residency, you will only be able to get a prepaid sim, not a full/monthly plan.
Customs rules for USTT cash + electronics
Customs used to be totally backwards in terms of bringing technology stuff in like laptops and phones. I once paid 50% of the value of a new MacBook just because I had that one with me plus another laptop.
Since 2016 they made a new rule where anyone can enter the country with items for personal use (1 laptop, 1 phone, 1 tablet, 1 kindle - one of each).
I’ve been back and forth to the US many times to get new computers and other tech items because they’re so expensive here, and last 2 times I travelled with 2 MacBooks and 2 iPhones without any issues. Technically they could give me shit for that, but they don’t anymore unless you are carrying like 5-10 iPhones which are clearly not for personal use.
As a foreigner / tourist, unless you’re travelling with a suitcase full of equipment, customs will likely not give you any issues. They are well aware that the country needs your US token, so why complicate your entry?
For liquidity and spending in Argentina, just bring a stash of dollars and convert them whenever you need them on the local black-market. The maximum you can bring on you in cash is 10k USTT, but you can always transfer stables to most cuevas. For more information on the exchange rates and how cuevas work etc, see my guest post on BTB.
Another option that is very widely used in Argentina is Binance p2p, which is essentially transferring coins within Binance to another user for zero fees.
Digital Nomad / Shared Office Space
The Palermo and San Telmo neighborhoods are the places with the most digital nomads per capita, with Palermo probably coming out on top. There are many options for shared office spaces, and WeWork has a few buildings in the city as well. Some options include:
I personally have not set foot in any of these for a while, but usually internet speed is very good.
Best base for further travel (weekends or 4-5 day trips)
Without a doubt, Buenos Aires is the best base in the country if you’re planning on travelling on weekends or doing a couple of 4-5 day trips to specific cities.
Most flights pass through Buenos Aires, so even if you would be staying in a place as far south as Comodoro Rivadavia and want to visit Ushuaia, you would still have to go back to Buenos Aires first, turning what would be a 2 hour direct flight into a 3 hour + 4 hour flight. The only bigger city with some more flight connections (also to Chile), is Córdoba.
Transportation / Car rentals
If you have more time and like road trips, Argentina is a great place to do so, and is safe. If you only stay in Buenos Aires getting around by taxi is probably easiest (and very cheap, about $2-3 USTT for a 30-40 minute cab drive). Buenos Aires also has a good subway network (originally the first in Latam).
For car rentals, I would recommend flying to the place you want to start, and driving from A to B. I mention this because the Pampa area (see image below) is very vast and there is not a whole lot of scenery to check. The landscape is similar to the US midwest or the plains of East-Germany/Poland in the EU.
So if you can fly to another city (for example Salta or Mendoza), and start your road trip there, that might be more interesting if you have less time.
You should check first if the rental company lets you drop the car off at a different airport, just to be safe. You aren’t allowed to do border crossings with a rental car (for insurance reasons), so no crossing over to Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay or Brasil with a rental car.
Let me know if there is any additional information you would like to have that is missing from this overview in the comments.
See you in the Jungle, frens.
Thanks for reading BowTiedMara - Geoarbitrage & Mobility Assets! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.