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…