You could say that the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the soul of this city and the heart of Argentina.
The city of Buenos Aires enjoys the deserved reputation of being the “Paris of South America” and is a world apart from anything else you’ll find on this continent. Rich in culture, the arts, and history, Buenos Aires is a gem, offering endless fine dining, excellent wines, theater, and, of course, tango.
Buenos Aires is easily the most European city in South America, but it also has its own strong identity, with more than 450 years of history and culture behind it. It enjoys four distinct seasons but has no extreme weather and no ice or snow.
Health care is excellent in Buenos Aires, on par with U.S. health care in every way except cost. Medical costs in this city are less than one-quarter what you’d expect to pay for comparable U.S. services.
Health insurance is likewise affordable. A good plan costs between US$300 and US$500 per month for a couple.
The population in Buenos Aires is generally well educated, and English is widely spoken.
Best of all, the cost of living nowadays is very low. A nice dinner out for two with wine will cost you around US$55. A bottle of great Malbec—Argentina’s signature red wine—runs about seven bucks in the supermarket. If you like a good steak, a pound of world-famous Argentine filet is only US$5.50.
With all this going for it, why isn’t Argentina more widely recognized as a top option for living or retiring overseas?
Because this country has recently suffered through an extended downturn that made living here challenging and expensive.
Argentina’s last two presidents destroyed the country’s economy. President Cristina Fernández and her predecessor Néstor Kirchner relied on artificial exchange rates, doctored economic data (especially inflation rates), currency controls, price controls, and high export taxes in efforts to avoid a complete economic collapse.
But things changed in 2015 when Mauricio Macri—a center-right former mayor of Buenos Aires—won the presidential election. President Macri is turning the ship.
He has eliminated the export tariffs on wheat, corn, and beef, while reducing the tariff on soy beans. He has devalued the Argentine peso by 30% to an honest, true-value exchange rate and eliminated the Fernández-era currency controls.
Most important, President Macri has settled Argentina’s outstanding debt from the country’s 2001 default, opening Argentina back up to capital markets.
Prior to 2015 it was hard to recommend Argentina as a place to spend time or money… but things are different today.
As Argentina is enjoying a strong upswing, it’s worth looking closely at the country for lifestyle and retirement options. When you do, the Buenos Aires district of San Telmo stands out.
San Telmo is a classic Buenos Aires neighborhood that you don’t hear much about. Most expats and retirees who consider this city are attracted to the premium neighborhoods of Recoleta, Palermo, and Puerto Madero. San Telmo offers a more eclectic, fun, and lively lifestyle option.
The oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, San Telmo, is not the “nicest” part of the city… in the same way that Greenwich Village is not the “nicest” part of New York. But people love to be in San Telmo for many of the same reasons that they come to the Village. Its original settlers were immigrant dockworkers. Today San Telmo has a bohemian feel and is home to many artists, poets, students, and artisan craftsmen.
At the center of San Telmo is Plaza Dorrego, one of the oldest public squares in Buenos Aires, dating back to the 1700s. The square was initially a parking area for the horse-drawn wagons that brought produce into the city. In the 1800s, Plaza Dorrego became a public square. By the 1930s, the area was populated with the bars, restaurants, and coffee shops that have given San Telmo its reputation as a good place to go for wine, song, and dance… a reputation that remains intact today.
On any given day along San Telmo’s narrow streets, you find musicians playing and young couples dancing the tango. You also see mimes, singers, and street performers of all types. Artisans are out in force on Sunday, when all those restaurants, cafés, and shops are busy with locals and tourists alike.
Plaza Dorrego hosts a weekly outdoor market that draws visitors from all over the city and the region. This famous antique market (officially called the Feria de San Pedro Telmo) began in 1970 and today includes more than 250 stalls offering antiques, jewelry, old books, handicraft items, and all sorts of knickknacks… including a great collection of restored gramophones and Victrolas. The market—along with more than 200 other area antique shops—has given the zone the reputation for being the most prominent antiques center in all Latin America.
One of the best things about San Telmo is the cost of owning a place of your own, for personal use and/or rental, in this appealing neighborhood. San Telmo property prices are a great value when you consider the quality of life you’re buying into.
Here’s a sampler of properties currently on the market, all in move-in condition:
- In an excellent location near Plaza Dorrego is a stylish older building from the 1950’s with an apartment on offer. The attractive building is small, with six floors and two apartments per floor, and the listed 76-square-meter (818-square-foot) unit includes two bedrooms, a single bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen—all original and in good condition. The asking price is only US$115,000.
- On Paseo Colón is an 85-square-meter (915-square-foot) apartment on the 19th floor with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, amazing San Telmo views from the balcony, a living room, and a master bedroom. The floors are parquet and the maid’s quarters could be used as a third bedroom or study. It comes with central heating and hot water, as well as 24-hour security. The asking price is US$165,000, with a garage space available for purchase for US$25,000.
- A somewhat larger apartment is on the market on Avenida Salta. This one is 130 square meters (1,399 square feet) of living area including an entrance hall, three bedrooms, service quarters with separate entrance, and a laundry room. The living room has a fireplace, and the floors are wood parquet, all for the asking price of US$269,000.