Feeling Peevish

2006.Jan.19 Thursday · 2 comments

in Life

Buenos Aires – I’m feeling peevish as I’ve just come up against one of those “it’s just the way it is” situations and have yet to figure out a solution. Many things in this country are easy, some far easier than they would have been back home in the U.S. Other things are just not. Some of them are just silly. Most of the times, the silly ones, or the hard ones, are things that can be worked around, usually because nobody really knows for sure, they’re just parroting what they’ve been told. So, here’s a rundown on the world of purchases and utilities and such:

Identification numbers – There are basically four numbers that are used for identification here. The easy one is the CDI – you only need your passport, a copy of it, and a copy of your purchase or rental contract. It’s used, as best I can determine, for buying property, cars, and opening bank accounts. As best I can tell, it serves no other purpose. It takes about 15 minutes to get at the local tax office. The DNI is a national identity number, something common in most countries on the planet – it takes a fair amount of paperwork and waiting in lines. It is nothing more than just what it says, an identity number. For virtually everything you might want to buy here, a passport number or an identity number from another country, is perfectly acceptable. There’s one exception, but hey, wait until the last paragraph for that. It also functions, sort of, as either a work permit or a study permit, but not exactly, that’s more of a visa process. Then there are the CUIL and CUIT numbers, which function much like our social security numbers in the U.S. You get the one that fits your personal working status, I’m not clear on the differences or the process to get either, though my local lawyer assures me it’s quite simple, and that’s the number used to process your taxes.

Buying property – Extraordinarily easy. They want investment capital here. All I needed was my passport, CDI (see above), and money. Transferring the money is purported to be the hard thing, but my real estate agent had a financial transfer company that she works with, set things up, and it was all handled in mere minutes. The closing? Even easier. Buyer and seller show up, along with real estate agent and an escribano (notary). Notary reads all the paperwork and makes sure everyone agrees with everything. Papers are signed. Finance company lackey shows up with stacks of cash. Hands seller their share, and buyer the rest. Count and sign for. Both buyer and seller hand off appropriate fees to real estate agent and escribano, pocket the remainder, buyer takes the keys, everyone goes home. A few weeks later the final certified copy of your deed is available at the escribano’s office, pick it up.

Utilities – When setting out to change the titulación on utilities, it’s best to have with you copies of (and the originals) your passport (or DNI if you have one), the first couple of pages of your new property title (covering the parts that spell out the who and where), and the last paid bill in the former owner’s name for each utility. It becomes a game to see which service wants what, and I’m basing this on memory: Edesur, the electric company, wanted to see the past bill and my original passport, and took a copy of my title; Metrogas, the gas company, wanted to see the last paid bill, to see the original of both my passport and title, and took a copy of my passport; Telecom, the phone company, gave me a reference number, but wouldn’t take any paperwork directly, instead I had to fax them a copy of my passport and a copy of the title, along with a statement of my request including the reference number; Fibertel, one of the cable companies, did everything by phone, and only wanted my passport number for their records; Aguas Argentinas, the national water company, wanted a copy of my title, notarized by my escribano, and my passport number – although, three months down the road, they have yet to change the bill; same with the Government of Buenos Aires, who bills me directly for my real estate taxes – they wanted the same, but have yet to change the bill.

Banks – First, you don’t really need an account, unless you’re considering applying for residency, which I am. ATM cards from all over the world will function just fine here, and I know many folk who’ve lived here for years and just feel more comfortable keeping their money in a U.S. or European bank. If you do want an account, it depends on the bank, but HSBC was very easy to open a savings account that included a debit card with it. A copy of my CDI and my passport, plus seeing the originals, money to deposit, and it was all ready in 20 minutes or so. The debit/ATM card took a couple of weeks to process and then I was able to pick it up. It had to be activated by phone, which I did, with the help of a very nice young woman. It didn’t work. I went back to the issuing office, who spent an hour checking my records and verifying my passport, and then said that they’d reprogrammed the card and it would be usable in about four days. I waited five. It works. Checking accounts are only possible, apparently, with permanent residency, a several year process. Credit cards are possible, but since my U.S. based ones function just fine here, I haven’t bothered. The bank also arranged my home insurance, which basically took nothing more than showing the next person in line my passport and filling out some paperwork. An inspector showed up the next morning (after phoning for an appointment), asked a few questions, took a few pictures, and left. A few days later I got my first bill for home insurance along with a copy of the policy.

Mobile Phones – And, we reach my moment of peevishness. On the easy side, anyone can buy a pre-paid style phone, where you recharge its usefulness by buying coded cards at virtually any kiosk or convenience store in the city. It takes mere minutes to arrange. It’s the costliest alternative in some ways – text messaging costs 2-3 times per message what a regular mobile account would cost. Phone calls the same on a per minute basis. On the other hand, there are deals to be had, for example, right now CTI, one of the three major companies (the others being Telecom Personal and Movistar), gives you an extra 5 peso credit on a 15 peso pre-paid card. Also, if you don’t use a mobile phone too much, you’re not paying 30-some pesos per month just to have an account (that includes some number of minutes and messages). You do have to charge it up regularly with pesos – if you let it go for too long after it runs out of credit, they’ll cancel your number and you’ll have to reactivate it. Non pre-paid phones are the problem. No one seems to know the reason, but this is the one utility or service in this country that absolutely requires an Argentine DNI. Nothing else is acceptable. No exceptions. Or at least that’s the claim at the client service centers for all three companies. The sales people at the showrooms will tell you a different story, and even sell you a phone (I decided to wait to buy until checking, thankfully), but when you go to activate the account, without a valid DNI they won’t do it. And they do check – Henry tried using his old student DNI, which the service center accepted, but then two days later when his phone still wasn’t on, he went back and they told him that when they’d tried to verify his DNI it came back as expired. The most interesting, and exasperating, conversation was at the Telecom center – Telecom is the national phone company. My home phone, in my own name, that I arranged via fax, is a Telecom account. But they won’t open a mobile account. Not allowed. It’s just the way it is here…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

BJR January 19, 2006 at 19:57

I can sympathize. I got my DNI today and tried to buy a phone. I was told from one store that I couldn’t get it with the temporary DNI issued to foreigners, but it sounded like that stipulation was only for one company (I forget which one). Later I went to Fravega and I looked at phones there. I told the sales clerk that I had a temporary DNI, he talked to the manager, they were sure it was okay. I actually had BOUGHT the phone when the deal fell through with third person I saw (after dealing with the salesmen, then dealing with the cashier, I was sent upstairs to show my DNI yet again and fill out more paperwork and receive the phone). When she called the company (Movistar) to activate the phone, she was told that I couldn’t get it with a temporary DNI. And that all the companies had the same policy. So I got to go stand in line again to get my money back.

At another web site someone extolling the virtues of having a DNI talks about what a great deal he is getting with his phone account. Probably unbeknownst to him, his situation is different because it sounds like he has a phone through his business. Who knows. Pre-paid cards are an option, but the selection of phones is not great. It is always an option to bring an unlocked international phone from the US and get a SIM card here, but maybe you would be paying much more in the long run for the cost of the phone itself. But at least you would get a wider choice (http://www.220-electronics.com/).

By the way, the bill that you refer to as the real estate taxes (in your Utilities section) is probably not the tax bill. I assume you are referring to ABL, which I think is more like the sewage/street cleaning bill. Property taxes are only levied on properties over a certain value, and I have been told that you aren’t actually sent the bill, but nevertheless if you fail to pay it, there can be problems. If you bought your place in 2005, you will probably have to pay the tax this year.

HSBC sounds like a very friendly bank. Most other banks (eg, Banco Itau) require you to have a DNI to open an account. The worst I have heard of is Bank of Boston. They told me that I needed a DNI to open the account — okay, that’s not unusual — but then that I would have to wait 6 months after I had opened the account before I would be allowed to transfer money from the US into the account (I was making these inquiries before I bought my place — my first introduction to how weird some of the banking laws are here!). Their explanation was something rather vague about worrying about money laundering. They suggested I try other banks, like CitiBank, where the rules are more relaxed. Whatever.

And not to quibble, but just to put in another 2 cents worth — the final certified deed arrives within a few weeks ONLY if you were lucky enough not to buy anything while the government employees who issue the deeds are on strike …. Yeah, that’s life. The escribano was always quite cheerful when he would tell me last June/July that they were still on strike, but not to worry. And he was right —eventually I got it.

dan January 19, 2006 at 20:11

Well, like anything, strikes do delay things, so true. Actually, I think my deed took about 5 weeks before I got it.

I took a look at the tax bill, and it is indeed a tax bill. Right down to having the property valuation and, umm, saying it’s for property taxes… now, taxes may included street cleaning and sewage costs in them. Perhaps with lower valued properties where there’s not a direct tax bill, those are billed separately.

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