Work Visa? What’s That?
In case you haven’t noticed—maybe you have been too busy counting all your General Motors stock or investing in oil futures—the world is in something of an economic crisis. Faced with the worst financial times in decades, many people are now taking drastic measures. One of those measures is moving to foreign countries. The thinking is simple: If I’m going to be slugging through a crappy, low-paying job at home, why not test my luck at finding a crappy, low-paying job abroad? However, the more important question (for us at least) is this: is Buenos Aires, Argentina, a good place to hide out until the recession goes away? If I show up with nothing more than a passport and a prayer, will I be able to find work?
The short answer is: yes. The long answer is a bit more complicated. With relative ease, anyone can get under-the-table work in Buenos Aires. The trick is knowing where to find it. First of all, it helps to be able to stay in the country for some time. The Argentine government and their lax tourist visa policies make this very easy. It is common practice amongst expats to extend the free, 90-day tourist visas multiple times, either by going to the immigrations office or by leaving the country and coming back (thanks, Uruguay). This policy allows most anyone to stay in Buenos Aires for many months, or even years, and leaves plenty of time to search for work.
There are two types of work in Argentina, “in the white,” and “in the black.” “White” work is legitimate, on the books, and often requires proper documentation. Foreigners with extended tourist visas, however, will be looking for jobs and work of the “black” variety. These types of jobs function without contracts or records. While this does leave the window open for employers to take advantage of their undocumented employees by refusing to pay for services—what are you going to do, go to the cops?—this danger is countered by the interconnectedness of the expatriate community of Buenos Aires. Employers know that one negative blog or forum post could greatly hurt their chances of finding cheap, paper-trail-free work in the future. This may seem like an odd use of the honor system, but generally, it works.
Update*: As a worker in black you do have legal rights. A company paying in black greatly fears AFIP, the Argentinean organization that fights against companies paying in “black” or avoiding taxes. Hiring a lawyer and threatening legal action in this manner will almost always result in a settlement.
What kinds of jobs are available to foreigners without work visas? The most popular choice is teaching your native language (usually, and most effectively, English, though Portuguese and French are also decent options) in either private lessons or through language institutes. Though the demand for teachers isn’t as high as it was a few years ago, there’s still plenty of work to go around. While teaching certificates are nice to have on your résumé, many times, the only real qualification you need is the ability to speak the language fluently. Like most freelance work, it can often be difficult at first to pick up enough hours to live off of. The key to teaching English in Buenos Aires is continuity: the longer you are in Buenos Aires, the more people you know; the more people you know, the more referrals you get; the more experience you have, the more likely language schools and other institutions are to give you classes. For this reason, teaching is often a good idea for people planning to stay in the city for an extended period of time.
Language institutes may become your best friends or worst enemies. A positive aspect is that they can get you classes at businesses that wouldn’t have otherwise let you past security. A negative one is that you must live with the fact that the companies will pay you significantly less than what you would get for a private lesson. Furthermore, it is often necessary to work for many institutes at the same time, which can make putting together a schedule and getting to each class difficult, though far from impossible. To find a listing of institutes in the city, go to Eslbase.com. Private lessons are clearly more profitable for the teacher, though these gigs are also a lot more difficult to find, especially when starting out. Either way, teaching is a very good way to meet new people and is among the easier jobs to find in Buenos Aires.
Another industry that commonly looks for English speakers is tourism. Lots of gringos come to visit the Buenos Aires each year, so tourism companies need other English speakers to speak gringo to them, making the travelers feel more comfortable. This work can be as simple as proofreading brochures and websites, but can also include customer service and sales. This is an interesting and challenging field of work, and these connections can come in handy the next time a friend or relative flies down to see you.
One job opportunity that is quickly gaining steam among expats is telemarketing. It’s cheaper for American and European companies to export these jobs overseas, and they need fluent English speakers to speak with their clients. Of course, the companies don’t tell their clients that they are taking advantage of cheaper overseas labor. So you could end up in an awkward situation, like being from Arkansas, sitting in Buenos Aires and telling people that you are calling from Las Vegas. One drawback of telemarketing work is that while your bosses make dollars or euros, you still earn pesos. But nobody said that life, abroad jobs, or working in “black” in Argentina, was fair
Often, the best pay comes with online correspondence jobs with companies in the US or Europe. These jobs allow for flexible hours, and since they pay in dollars, these correspondence jobs come with the added benefit of the international exchange rate. Those seeking these jobs only need an internet connection and a dream. This is often the path of journalists, graphic designers, proofreaders and other professional writers. However, like teaching, it will take tenacity and determination to scrape up enough work to stay afloat.
The foreign job-seeker in Buenos Aires needs creativity in order to find work in the “black” in Buenos Aires. Be prepared to take on a mix of many different jobs, or changas. Good places to look are JobsAbroad.com and ZonaJobs.com.ar, though it is also very important to constantly be checking travel and expat forums for new opportunities. Remember to keep your ears open for any type of visa-free work, and don’t be afraid to try out industries you never thought of before.
Working off the books is possible in Buenos Aires, Argentina, if you are willing to do your part. There aren’t any bailouts when it comes to illegal job-hunting, but if you stay focused and keep on your toes, you probably won’t need one.