Packing for a trip is always an undertaking. Packing for a trip abroad, even more so, and packing for an extended trip—or even a move—just compounds the crazy.
Whenever people put me in touch with people they knew who had lived in Buenos Aires, I always asked them the same question: “What should I bring?” You have the basic necessities, of course, but what you really need to know is what you might not realize you need until you’re there. Here is the list I compiled based on advice from other expats, as well as learning by missing. Anything I forgot? Leave it in the comments to help others with their packing lists!
You can drink tap water in Buenos Aires, it’s just not particularly good tasting (chlorine) or feeling (stomach aches). So what a lot of people do, and what my roommates and I were doing, is buy jugs of water. This sucks for a number of reasons, the most salient being that it’s a huge waste, both from monetary and environmental standpoints. I’m telling you, a Brita pitcher (and extra filters) should be the first thing you pack after your passport.
Work Visa Paperwork
Living abroad is all about opportunity. To be ready for any professional opportunities that might come along, get all of your paperwork in line and bring any forms required for a work visa, all signed, sealed and apostilled, with you when you move. A number of friends found jobs once moving down to Buenos Aires that are sponsoring them with a work visa, and they had to wait months for everything to pass through the necessary bureaucracy and get down here. Every country has specific requirements, so look for an expat forum in the country or city you’re moving to for more information or just search online. You’ll most likely need FBI apostilled fingerprints and a new version of your birth certificate (to align with laws stipulated at the Hague Conference) apostilled by the U.S. state where you were born. It might sound complicated, but it is doable. Just start the process some months before you move, because it does take a while.
There’s a million ways to get and keep in touch with people these days, no matter where you are in the world. Despite all that, moving abroad can make you realize how necessary basic voice-to-voice, phone communication is. Being able to pick up the phone and call right then if something is urgent, is still super important. Look into getting a Magic Jack, for which you pretty much just pay $40 USD to purchase it, and then calling is free. You have a number assigned to your Jack, which is a USB port that plugs into your computer and the other end into a phone. You dial and call on the phone as you would regularly use it, and the Internet powers it all. Magic.
ATM Card with No (or Minimal) Fees, Plus an Extra Emergency Card
The U.S. is a country of credit cards; we swipe and charge for everything, even cabs. Many other countries aren’t so reliant on plastic, so expect to use cash a lot more. Even places that take credit cards, like clothing and shoe stores and many hotels, prefer cash and offer around 10 percent discounts. Look into getting an ATM card with the most minimal fees. Ask about conversion fees, ATM fees, ask if there are any random fees you might accrue for using your card abroad. If possible, open an account at a bank that will reimburse you for ATM fees, because they can get pretty steep in other countries. In Buenos Aires, most ATMs have a maximum withdrawal of $200-$250 USD and charge a $4 USD fee per transaction. If you need anything more than $250 you’ll have to withdraw more than once, and you’re looking at $8 USD lost right there.
On a related note, a wise idea is set up and take an additional checking card, just in case. Pickpocketing is common in Buenos Aires, and the ATM machines also hold your card throughout the entire withdrawal process and spew it back out only once you have received your money, receipt and pressed that you do not want to make another transaction. Almost every foreigner I know spending time down here in Buenos Aires has lost at least one card because of accidentally walking away from the machine still holding their card, myself included. Getting another card down can be difficult and time-consuming, and you can avoid it all by packing an extra.
Tip: If you’re on the East Coast, go for TD Bank! ATM fees reimbursed (if you keep a minimum) and everything.
Unlocked Cell Phone(s)
I wrote about this in my post about saving money in Buenos Aires, and I’ll repeat it here:
Of all those old cell phones you have stuffed in drawers at home in the U.S., I bet at least half of them can be unblocked and used in another country. One of the biggest money wasters that comes with setting up life in a new place is buying an overpriced cell phone in the country you are in that features technology rivaling only the Nokia you used to play Worm on. Bring an unblocked cell from home and you will save money and have a nicer phone. Just make sure it operates using a SIM card, and you can buy a new card in your country for super cheap and get it going.
Tip: This also goes for smartphones! Also, bring extras in case your phone gets stolen. It happened to me, it happened to friends.
Plugs and Cords
Why are ethernet cords that come with apartments always so short? Many friends of mine have been stuck sitting on floors or against walls to access the internet in their apartments. It’s easy to pack, but also easy to forget, so jot down to throw a long ethernet cord into your suitcase. Also in the plug genre, it’s easiest to come with a converter and plug adapters to avoid hassle and potentially blowing up hair styling tools.
Brands like Nivea, Pantene and Johnson & Johnson are sold in Buenos Aires, though the exact products offered vary slightly. Really, if you’re particular about anything, bring it. If you’re particular about anything like face wash, toothpaste, whatever it is, bring it! For example, I bought my favorite gum in bulk and packed it in my suitcases. Same goes for medicines. My mom does remind me, though, that part of living abroad is adapting to cultural differences, products included, and “I better find replacements here because she’s not bringing all this stuff all the time.” (Thanks, mom, for the recent haul!) Still, I’ll never be able to give up Trident Tropical Twist.
Nowhere else in the world are people as obsessed with peanut butter as we are in the United States. If it’s one of your dietary staples, bring along at least a jar or two to hold you over until you find the one of four places they sell it in your new city, that is if they do at all. Keep in mind what you’ll find abroad will most likely be the natural Trader Joe’s-style versions. Maybe you’ll take peanut butter scarcity as an opportunity to wean yourself from it like I did. Although I did essentially just trade one gooey regional substance for another, as dulce de leche is now a part of my life.
I tried to keep these recommendations general, but some are more pertinent to Buenos Aires than other places, just as other locales will have their particulars, too. For example, (and not to get graphic, but) tampons are surprisingly hard to come by in the city of Good Airs. Thanks to friends who studied abroad in Buenos Aires for the save on that one.
If you’re pining for something from your home country and the next trip a friend or family member has planned is too far away, check out The Mule Pool.