Working from Buenos Aires

OK, this is a slight diversion from the usual technical rubbish I spit out. I’m actually in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the moment. I usually reside in Auckland, New Zealand so I’m a long way from home. The reason I’m here is part work, part experiment and part adventure. I’ve been working for some time doing remote Unix support over the internet for a company in Australia, and I’ve often thought “I could do this job from just about anywhere”.

Of course, it’s taken me a few years to actually get my act together and do something about it. I arrived in Buenos Aires a few weeks ago and it’s going well. I’d been to Argentina before so I knew a bit about what to expect. It’s definately very different to New Zealand. If you come here expecting all the comforts and efficiencies of the western world, you’re going to be disappointed. The latin world runs to its own beat, and if you’re open minded enough you’ll enjoy it.

Of course it can be very frustrating too.

So why did I come here, and not somewhere else? There are a few reasons; 1) I’d been here before and liked it, 2) it’s cheap and 3) i wanted to learn Spanish … properly. The 2nd point is really a biggie. I wanted to settle somewhere for more time than your average holiday … and yet make it affordable. Argentina is very affordable at the moment. Sadly their economy pretty much collapsed back in 2001, and their currency ended up being about a 3rd of what it was worth previously. Last time I was here the Argentinian Peso was 1:1 with the American dollar. Now it is about 3 pesos to the US dollar. Thats a huge and painful drop for Argentinians.

So that means accomodation is reasonably inexpensive. Just google for ‘apartments buenos aires’ and you’ll find heaps of places offering short-term rentals in good areas for very affordable prices. Food is also cheap here. We’ve been mostly self catering, but dinner at a nice restaurant in a nice suburb here has only been costing us around US$10 each. And most apartments here come with broadband access.

Prior to coming, I was quite concerned about the quality of broadband here. For the work I do, I need a reasonably low latency connection for all the interactive work I do, plus I wanted to use a SIP phone … which also needs a low latency connection. Trying to ask a real estate agency in a foreign country about low latency broadband is virtually impossible. In the end I took a risk and found an apartment rental company that advertised that they could offer the apartment with an IP phone (I assumed this meant SIP phone).

The apartment here has a Fibertel cable modem connection. It works OK most of the time. I am guessing it is their 3 Megas plan, but the speed varies enormously. It does have 256kbps upstream though which is probably more important for me. The internet connection has seemingly stopped completely for periods of 30 seconds or so, but fortunately it doesn’t happen too often. The SPA 3102 I brought with me works pretty well most of the time. And most of the calls I’ve made back to Australia have barely noticeable latency (though a few have been pretty bad).

I’m taking spanish lessons during the day at The Spanish Way. I’d done some lessons before coming to BsAs but basically I was starting from scratch again. The teachers at the school are great, and even though I find it quite hard at times, I quite enjoy ‘going to school’. BsAs is very walkable. I am yet to see a hill here, and the whole city is built on a classical grid system, so it’s easy to get around. The school is in Palermo and I’m in Recoleta. I thought I’d have to take public transport to get there, but its an easy 30 minute walk.

So, so far the idea of idea of working from a different country for a while is working out well. The only real problem here is the time zone (its almost 12hrs difference to Australia). The 5 weeks I’m here for is not enough to get a good grounding in Spanish (I’m not entirely sure what my expectations were), so there is a big temptation to come back here.