How to make sure you fit in
Want to make like the Argentine locals? Here's a guide to the top things you may find different from home.
Laws in Argentina
- Argentina takes its drug laws seriously, even possessing a small amount of drugs can lead to a lengthy jail sentence. (Coca leaves in their natural state, for chewing or in tea, are permitted.)
- Offences committed against national symbols carry a penalty of imprisonment between six months and four years, this includes desecrating the national flag (as Justin Bieber discovered a few years ago!), and breaking the rules can mean jail for between six months and four years – more if you've committed another offence at the same time (such as stealing said flag).
- Children who are born in Argentina become citizens of the country (even if their parents are Australian) and have to leave on an Argentine passport, which can be time-consuming and difficult to obtain.
- The legal drinking age in Argentina is 18.
- The maximum blood alcohol level for driving in Argentina is 0.02% for motorcycles and scooters, and 0.05% for other private vehicles.
- Prostitution is legal in Argentina, but promoting or facilitating it, such as in brothels, is not.
Driving in Argentina
- Vehicles drive on the right side of the road and overtake on the left.
- You will need an international driving permit in order to drive in Argentina, which can be obtained online. You can also get one in person at your local motoring organisation such as the NRMA.
- Driving in Argentina can be hazardous, especially in Buenos Aires, with many cars ignoring traffic rules. Stay vigilant and don't expect cars to stop at a stop sign or to obey traffic lights.
- Seat belts are compulsory for all passengers in a vehicle. Children under 10 must sit in the rear seats.
- Driving while wearing headphones is illegal.
- Mobile phones can only be used hands-free.
- Vehicles already on a roundabout have right of way.
- On main roads, low-beam headlights must remain on during the day, regardless of the conditions. High beams should be used in rural areas and highways in low light or low visibility conditions.
- Keep your windows rolled up and your doors locked as there's a risk of carjackings at traffic lights and stop signs.
- Petrol stations can be far apart and not obvious from the highway, so take precautions to ensure you don't run dry.
- Bike riders must wear helmets at all times.
Culture in Argentina
- The standard greeting for men and women in Argentina is a single kiss on the right cheek.
- Religion is very important to Argentines; most people are Catholic and the current Pope, Pope Francis, hails from Buenos Aires.
- Locals may call you gringo (male) or gringa (female).
- Don't mention Las Islas Malvinas, and definitely don't call them the Falkland Islands! Argentines are sensitive about the Falkland war, so avoid clothing or accessories with British or English flags.
- Meal times in Argentina are around 1pm to 1:30 pm for lunch, with a snack at 5pm–6pm and dinner typically after 9pm and as late as 11pm on weekends. Bars get busy close to midnight and nightclubs after 1am.
- A tip of around 10% is optional but appreciated at restaurants.
- Argentines tend to arrive fashionably late to social gatherings – 20 minutes at the minimum, but up to 40 minutes is normal.
- Carry small change – no one will appreciate 100 peso bills.
The mate ritual
If you're offered mate
(pronounced mah-tay), a tea-like hot beverage made of the yerba herb, follow the rules below to do it right (and to avoid offending your server!).
- Mate is served in a communal cup with a bombilla, or metal straw.
- The person who serves the mate is called a cebador.
- Those partaking in the ritual sit in a circle. The cebador brews the mate and then takes the first drink.
- The mate is then passed around the circle to the right, with each participant drinking all the liquid in the cup before passing it back to the cebador to be re-brewed. (You'll know there's no more water in the cup when you hear a sucking sound).
- If you don't want any more, say gracias to indicate you're finished. Don't say it unless you don't want any more mate.
The official language in Argentina is Spanish. But even if you speak Spanish, you may struggle to understand Argentinians – the language sounds different to elsewhere in the region both due to the local accent and because there's a lot of slang, or lunfardo.
Here are some of the common scams to watch out for in Argentina. To call the police or emergency services in Argentina, dial 101 or 911.
- Taxi drivers may give you change using fake peso bills, or swap your real pesos for fake ones and claim you've given them a forged bill.
- A taxi "handler" at the airport may ask you to pay a prepaid fee for your ride, but the taxi driver claims to know nothing about this and asks you to pay again.
- Someone might spill some mustard or sauce on you, and then pretend to help you clean up. While you're distracted, an accomplice steals your belongings.
Beware of volcanoes
The border of Argentina and Chile is home to a number of active volcanoes and eruptions, and seismic activity occurs regularly. In April 2015, many travellers were affected after the Calbuco volcano in southern Chile erupted, leading to the temporary closure of some roads and border crossings and affecting flights in and out of Buenos Aires.
Keep an eye on local media to ensure you're aware of any seismic activity, and refer to the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre of Buenos Aires for more information.
Tips for LGBQI travellers in Argentina
- Buenos Aires is one of the world's top destinations for gay and lesbian travellers, particularly since it became the first major Latin American city to give homosexual couples civil union rights in 2003.
- Buenos Aires hosts an annual LGBT Pride parade in November.
- While Argentina legalised same-sex marriage in 2010, the first Latin American country to do so, outside the capital, locals tend to be more conservative and attitudes towards displays of affection are less liberal.