Before arriving in Argentina, one of our real concerns was how we were going to stay for almost a year in the country. We had been offered a job, but were worried that we wouldn’t have an official work visa. We looked all over the Internet, asked for advice in forums and contacted people who had worked in Argentina in the past. We found no one who had sorted out a working visa, or even a resident visa. Everyone kept saying it was near on impossible, it would be expensive and take forever to process. Other foreign teachers had all said the same- that every three months they had to cross the border to get another tourist visa stamp on their passport.
We expressed our visa worries to our boss at the institute who had offered us the job. We even said that we weren’t sure we could take the job if we could not go about securing a work visa. She advised us that we could pay to extend our tourist visas twice at the immigration office in Salta, but the other times, we would have to border hop to get our passports extended. That’s what previous foreign teachers had done, and she said that was just the way things work here in Argentina. In order to get an official working visa, we would need a sponsor, i.e. our boss, and it would take months. Firstly, our boss was not going to do this for reasons I will explain in the next paragraph. Secondly, we were only planning on staying for up to a year, which would probably not be enough time to process a visa.
So why was it virtually impossible to be sponsored for a work visa? Well, in Argentina, it appears that it’s pretty common and considered normal to be working informally. That’s to say, many people do not have contracts and are paid cash. This happens in all sectors, public or private, whether you work for a small or large multi-national business, you’re a cleaner, a teacher, a lawyer or even a politician. It happens everywhere. In fact, in the province of Salta where we were teaching, it’s reported that 60% of people are working ‘en el negro’ or ‘in the black’. So, with this in mind, it is obvious to realise why our boss at our English institute was not going to sponsor us for a work visa. They would have to officially register us as working there, pay us a legal wage, as well as pay taxes and go through all the necessary paperwork. Too much hassle, money and time.
After realising all this, in the end, we accepted the job and gave in to the fact that we would have to cross the border every 90 days. We would be in Salta, a city not too far from the Chilean or Bolivian border, so we figured it would be ok. And, as our boss said, we could get our passport extended at the immigration office in Salta.
Extending our tourist visa at the Immigration Office
As we neared the end of our first three months, we contacted the immigration office in Salta. We were told that it would cost us AR$600. We’d need this amount in cash, along with a passport photo and a photocopy of our passport.
We arrived nice and early at the immigration office. It’s only open from 7am-12pm. At 7am, there was already a queue to get a number. Once you had your number, you had to wait until your number was called and you could be seen to. It was a long wait in a small depressing looking building. At about 11.30am, we were seen to. We handed over our documents and sat down whilst the guy slowly and painfully inputted our information into the system.
We were then given a bill and told that we had to go to the National Bank to pay the AR$600. There was a strike in the bank that day so we had to wait until the next morning. The bank opened at 8am and again, there was already a huge queue. We took our number and waited for it to be called. It was about a 2 hour wait in total. At the desk though, it was a very quick transaction – we handed over the money and received a receipt.
Back at the immigration office, we didn’t have to take a number this time. We were told to wait at the desk until someone came to give us back our passports and showed us the document giving us permission to stay in Argentina for another 90 days. We showed our bank receipt and signed our documents. Finally, all sorted!
One thing we did find out, however, was that we could only go to the office once. In contrast to what our boss had told us, the immigration office said that we were only allowed to get one 3 months visa from them. I reckon that if they don’t recognise you, you could go again. However, we didn’t want to chance it and have to go through hours of waiting, so we decided to border hop the next couple of times.
Our second 3-month stint was up, so we had to think about how we could get our next 3 months. It was the winter holidays and we had two weeks off in July. We decided to go to Paraguay. It was a simple process of crossing the border, getting our exit stamp from Argentina and then getting our entry stamp from Paraguay. The border guard even advised us that we return to Argentina we would get another 3 months. We could see other people doing the same – just popping over to Paraguay for a day in order to stay longer in Argentina. At the end of our trip to Paraguay, we crossed back into Argentina and we received another standard tourist visa stamp giving us another 90 days.
The second time our visa was about to run out, we decided to travel over a long 5 day weekend in October. We flew to Buenos Aires and then got the ferry across to Uruguay. There are several companies that run ferry services to Uruguay, including Buquebus, Sea Cat and Colonial. You can either get to Montevideo in 4 hours or go to a beautiful small town called Colonia in an hour. We decided to do a day trip to Colonia, which meant getting our passports stamped out of Argentina and into Uruguay for the day. On the ferry journey home, we received another 90 day tourist visa to use in Argentina. This would last until the end of our stay.
So, it turned out that we didn’t have any problems border hopping to get our tourist visa extended each time. It seemed to be a pretty standard procedure here. People asked us about it quite openly and we met other who did the same. There are thousands of people living in Argentina doing the same, particularly Bolivians or Paraguayans living on the borders in Argentina. It was nothing we had to hide or keep a secret. It seemed completely acceptable and common practice for people here in Argentina, if not everywhere in South America.
It’s worth noting that Argentina is holding its presidential elections at the moment, which could mean some changes being brought in in 2016 by the new government. Although I can’t imagine much, if any, difference in immigration policy, it’s a good idea to keep yourself informed. I’ll try to keep the page updated if/when anything changes.