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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keeping Up With Moving

If you ever want life to fast forward in front of your eyes, have a baby and then move. If you really want to make it interesting, make it an international move. There is much to be said about moving, leaving Buenos Aires and starting a life in Houston, but there is a certain little guy that has been underrepresented on the blog and it's only because I haven't had a moment to breathe, much less record all of the delightful things that he is doing.

It is impossible to believe that we were still living in our apartment in Buenos Aires a month ago and only slightly more believable that we have a seven month old baby boy. Who is a precious dream. Who is a perfect baby. Until the night comes and he inevitably wakes up at least once if not twice. And it's making us mental. Luckily, he has this amazing smile that keeps us going the rest of the day.
Find the wise guy. What a sweet little champ!
Our baby is seven months old. He's rolling everywhere, showing signs of crawling and is eating like a starving person. He loves his sister more than anything, stares at her anytime she's in the room and giggles at the slightest attention from her. It is heartwarming, precious and amazing all at once.

He is happy all of the time. Until he's hungry. Then you feed him and he's happy again. While we're still nursing, food also consists of yogurt, chicken, bananas, prunes, pears, teething biscuits, and pretty much anything else in sight. Pre-made squeezy pouches have been my best friend through this chaotic time in our lives. Did you know they make little spoons that attach to the end of those pouches now? Ah, the amazing world of the USA, I'm honestly still in a bit of shock. More on that in a different post.

Alex got his first haircut days before we left BsAs, his adorable mop of black toupee hair was transformed into a little blond buzz cut in a matter of seconds. It took a few days until the child in my arms didn't surprise me when I looked down.


Different, right?? If you are in Buenos Aires, I have to recommend Cortemania in Recoleta (Av.Pueyrredon 1979), they were quick, cheap and good. Now our two chicos resemble each other much more, with their baby blues and wide-eyed expressions. Precious little ones, that have been such troupers during all of the recent change. 

It hasn't been all work (at least not for the kids...). There have been snoozing times:

Luxurious times:
Alex enjoying his business class international seat

Gretchen enjoying the seat and he array of stickers to play with
 Fun-loving times:
Clean little one
 Delicious times:
Enjoying S'more night at the Comfort Suites. Most amazing hotel ever.
 Relaxing shopping times:
Testing mattresses on Day 1 in Houston
  Bouncy times:
Thank you to our friends for borrowed baby items
 Sunny times:
Getting ready to enjoy our new pool!
And family times. We have already reaped the benefit of living closer to family. Gretchen loved being with her cousins for the weekend. "When are we going back to my cousin's house?"

It has been a crazy few weeks. Our little man has grown before our eyes and we have had some wild times. I don't recommend doing it often, but it has gone well for us so far. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Planning For Toys

We are in the final days of our life in Argentina and amongst the going away happy hours, despedidas, and last-conversations with people, the questions always arise, what will you miss and what are you glad to leave behind? The list of things we will miss is long and I'll attempt to tackle it in a future blog post, for now, I'll let you in on something that we are glad to leave behind: The price of toys.

Before we had children, I listened to people talk about the expense of having children here and thought, how bad can it really be? I listened to expats talk about how they had to bring all of their children's supplies from the US and thought that they were exaggerating. Then we had children, and I realized how ridiculous the prices actually are. Enjoy these examples:

Or take this 4-pack of molding dough (aka Play-Doh). The low, low price of AR$479 (US$60). You can buy this pack of 24 larger containers off of Amazon for $16.

Have a new baby, your infant can enjoy this baby play mat for AR$2,790. That's only US$350. For an INFANT.

Pink car, made of all plastic, no electric parts or batteries necessary. The doll is not even close to the size of a real child, even a small one. So, it's a medium sized plastic Fiat for - drumroll - $5,999 pesos. At the national exchange rate, that is US$750. Even at the slightly-illegal-blue-market-rate it's still US$600. I can't image these are flying off the shelves.

So yes, toy prices and child items in general are not one of the things that we will miss about Argentina. And I have joined the ranks of those that say you need to purchase most things you want for your children in the US and smuggle them back in your suitcases - though the airlines are making this more and more difficult with the baggage restrictions. One huge relief with our move is that we know that there is the possibility to purchase items that we need for the kids without taking out a second mortgage on our house - and they'll deliver them to our home for free thanks to Amazon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Selling Your Car in Argentina

We lived in Buenos Aires for two years before we felt the need to purchase a car. The bus system in the city is fantastic, and if you live near the subway you have even more public transportation options. One of the greatest factors in deciding to buy a car was our daughter; it is tough to get a baby - plus the necessary accessories – onto public transportation easily. Knowing that we were planning for a second child, the car made life much easier when we eventually needed to travel with our two, and it gave us freedom to explore outside of the city on our own schedule. This being said, I still believe you can comfortably live in Buenos Aires with no car, though I am thankful that we decided to bite the bullet and buy one when we did.

Now that it is time to leave, we need to sell the car. And as we have come to find out, this is a prime example of inefficient Argentinean process. Of course you cannot just sign over the title and call it a day – that makes far too much sense. You need to go through a variety of steps, none of which are easily identified, and all of which take time. I started with a blog post from The Last Tango in 2011 which let me to a guia de tramites on the Presidencia de la Nacion website, which was helpful in identifying the documents needed to sell the car. It was not as helpful in figuring out how to complete the documents or where to take them. So, here are a few more details - here is what we did:

Before you have a buyer: 
  1. Find your closest Police station that performs validation checks for a Verificacion Policia (referred to as a Formula "12"): http://www.pfa.gov.ar/default.asp?p=verificacion. No appointment needed, just bring your cedula verde (the green card that has your name and details about the car), DNI and the vehicle to the police station. Park outside, wait in line, pay AR$95, wait in another line, pay another AR$10.50, bring the car inside the station and have the police verify that the engine and chassis are original. Once verified, you go to yet another window, get stamped and you have clearance to sell you car. This check expires after 90 days.
  2. Verify that you have no outstanding traffic violations/tickets associated with the car Libre Infracciones. You can perform this check online, though to make it official, you must print the verification letter, take it to a Rapipago location and pay AR$58. This expires after 90 days.
  3. Visit the DMV that your car is registered with, it should coincide with your address in Capital. The DMV location number will also be listed on the top of your title, Registro Seccional. They will give you a Formula 08 which needs to be signed by each person who's name is on the title (and their spouse if the spouse is not a title holder), in front of a DMV employee who will stamp and certify the signature(s). This also has a cost associated, it's somewhere around AR$100 per time they need to certify the form. Bring the DNI of each title holder along with a copy. Note that ALL DMV locations are open from 8:30am - 12:30pm every day. That's right, you have a FOUR HOUR window to get this done - or nos vemos mañana.
  4. As a buyer, they will want to see your Libre Deuda patentes, which is just proof that you have paid your yearly taxes/fees on the vehicle. 
Once you have a buyer:
  1. Visit the AFIP website and fill out a CETA. In order to complete this form online, you must have a CUIL and a Clave Fiscal with at least a Nivel 2. I had a tough time with this one, even with all of the log in information, and the step by step instructions - finally I went to an AFIP to ask for assistance, they have public computers available so that you can complete the form right there. I still had to ask for help. Twice. To complete the form, you need the full name, CUIL, DNI of all persons that will be on the new title, and the selling price of the car.
  2. Figure out how they are going to pay you, in what currency and how to get the money in your hand or bank account. Sometimes this includes wearing a big jacket with lots of pockets and looking like a Columbian drug lord. I think this is what happens most times.
After all of the paperwork is done, buyer and seller are ready to go, you give the buyer the following completed forms:
  • Verificacion Policia aka: Formula "12"
  • Libre Infracciones complete with paid receipt
  • Completed Formula 08
  • Printed CETA
  • The car's official title
  • The cedula verde, which is the little green card that functions as a mini-title. 
The buyer then goes to the DMV associated with your car with this folder full of papers, completes their portion of the Formula 08 (completing it in front of a DMV employee to get the official stamp), and the Certificado de la transferencia to have the title reprinted with the buyer's name(s). The new title takes a few days to complete, they buyer returns to the DMV to pick it up, then they drive away with your car. 
**NOTE TO BUYERS: You now need to go with your new title to the DMV that corresponds to your home address and register the car - but that is where my knowledge of this step ends. We never did this. Oops.

Simple, right? Ha! All in all, it takes time, patience and perseverance to sell your car. Don't let it wait until you're a week away from leaving Argentina, between power outages, computer system fails, rain, closed offices, strikes, etc, etc, this can be a VERY lengthy process. It took us two weeks and after asking around, we were extremely lucky.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Carmelo, Uruguay

Uruguay is the easiest country to travel to from Buenos Aires. Sure, you could fly, but why would you when there are ferries that leave every few hours and take between 1 - 3 hours to arrive at either Colonia or Montevideo. I took this trip back in 2010 with my mom and one of her friends, and way back four years ago when I was a wee young blogger, I wrote virtually nothing helpful in the post. I will say this - not much has changed in the trip except for the price, which was somewhere around US$82 in 2010 and is now closer to US$200 if you have a DNI and higher priced plus a 35% surcharge if you don't. Ouch! These prices vary depending on the day, time and destination of your departure, and there are other options than the company that we used, Buquebus, but they are all far more expensive than a few years ago.

The trip does have it's advantages, there is very little waiting in the terminal, easy on and off the ship, and the best part for us is that we were able to take our car - which also means no unpacking the items from the car - because you drive the car right onto the boat. Major bonus. Also, the Buquebus terminal is easy to get to, located at the top of Puerto Madero, near Retiro Station.

We got to the terminal an hour before our ship was to sail, and this was perfect timing. We passed seamlessly through immigration (although it is a quick trip, you need full international travel documents to get to the other side. If you have DNIs, these are sufficient to travel to Uruguay) and while the kids and I walked onto the boat, Jon headed back down to the parking area to drive the car into the cargo hold. We brought our stroller onto the boat, which was nice because we didn't have a seat for Alex, but pretty bulky and awkward. The seats will remind you of being in an airplane, though the on/off ease will make you glad you didn't fly.

After landing in Colonia, we drove west an hour and a few minutes to the little port town of Carmelo. I'm not totally sure that it has a real port, but there is water access and we saw a couple little speed boats over the course of the weekend.

We splurged this weekend and stayed at the Four Seasons resort in Carmelo. The property itself was gorgeous, with more the feeling of a forest lodge than a hotel, but the real shining star was the pool. This pool is massive, heated with two large shallow ends for children. Everything about the pool is great, the chairs, the flavored ice water they bring you while you sunbathe, the noodles and pool toys they offer. There is a restaurant located on the pool deck, so you can eat and drink while you swim, though the food is overpriced (not surprising with the Four Seasons name and the fact that there is no competition anywhere nearby) and not anything to write home about. But you don't have to leave the pool. Which you will never want to do.

Per our usual, it rained a couple of the days we were in Uruguay, fear not, they have a kid's club that our daughter adored (if they kids are 4+ years you can leave them along at the kid's club, we stayed with Gretchen and had fun together), a gym with all of the equipment you could ever need, a spa and a game room to pass the time.

The other highlight of the property we discovered on our last day. The beach. There is a tiny beach on the pretty gross, brown Rio Negro, though I would not actually enter the water, this turned out to be Gretchen's favorite spot. You can throw rocks into the water All. Day. Long.

Daddy was a master rock finder/thrower.

Mommy did alright too. Gretchen showed me how fun it was to throw many rocks in at one time.

Even our little man had fun. This one is just happy to be along for the ride, such an easy, smily precious little guy.

And he is enamored with his Daddy. Look at this face of pure joy!

The hotel property is filled with walking trails through the woods, which are filled with these cool birch trees. They shed their bark and are stark white - creating a really neat look to the forest.

There are number of restaurants both at the main hotel building and speckled throughout the greater overall property (which is very large and includes a small neighborhood and a whole map of roads - none of which seem to be named). The main hotel restaurant is good, though any of the Four Seasons owned restaurants that we drove to were pretty mediocre. The highlight of our eating experience was at a restaurant and bodega called Campo Tinto. This restaurant has a beautiful view, good tasting wines in a quaint, friendly atmosphere. The food was fine, again nothing spectacular, but the setting, wine and ambiance made it worth a visit.

It was a quick trip, and as it turns out, it will be our last while living in Argentina. Shortly after this getaway weekend, we found out that we are quickly moving back to the US, making me so glad that we took this and all of the multiple travel opportunities that we did. All good things must come to an end, and though it has been an amazing experience in Argentina, it is time to come home. More on how to leave Argentina in the weeks to come.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Baby Paperwork: CUIL numbers

In order to have a bank account, get a credit card, own a car, or receive any Social Security benefits in Argentina, you must have something called a CUIL (Código Único de Identificación Laboral). This is a number that includes your DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) with two additional digits in front and one digit added at the end.

Jon and I got our CUILs through Jon's company almost immediately after we arrived in Argentina. Until we had a CUIL, Jon couldn't get paid, and we had to (pretty much) store all of our cash under a mattress in our rental apartment, so this was priority #1. After that, we haven't given much thought to this number, we rarely use them, and now that everything has been set up, hardly anyone ever needs the number.

That is, until we recently tired to book a trip to Uruguay on the Buquebus ferry. The ticketing agent at Buquebus informed me that our children were not able to travel internationally until they each had their own CUIL numbers. This was a mere five days after returning from Brazil - a trip where no one needed, or even mentioned a CUIL - though when I brought this up to the agent, he shrugged and told me that we must have broken the law. I was told that we either got the kids a CUIL number, or find another way to Uruguay. Granted, I wasn't so dead-set on getting across the river, but I figured that if this was a potential problem for future travel, we may as well get the kids their CUIL numbers.

In my research into how to get the CUIL numbers issued, I found that AFIP (the larger government organization that issues CUIL numbers) has recently issued a notification that states CUILs are no longer required for children. Clearly, Buquebus has not gotten this memo - and didn't care that I brought it to their attention. Also, laws change so quickly in this country that no one can keep the current status straight, so I wasn't going to press the issue.

First, if you may already have a CUIL, you can check your number via the ANSES website. If you don't have a CUIL, read on:

Obtaining a CUIL is pretty easy, assuming you have the correct paperwork. You need to apply in person at an ANSES office. The office closest to me is located on Cordoba 1118 (esq. Cerrito) and be aware that these offices take liberal leave for holidays, days surrounding holidays and when they are open, they are open from 8:00am - 2:00pm. You don't need an appointment, but arriving early is an advantage as there always seem to be lots of people in need of the office (similar to the DMV or Social Security Offices in the US). I arrived at 8am and walked right in. You start at a reception desk where they ask why you have come and verify that you have all of the right documents. For a CUIL you need:
  • Parent's DNI (and a copy)
  • Child's DNI (and a copy)
  • Child's Partida de Nacimiento (and a copy)
Once you have proved that you're prepared, you get a number and wait until you're called. For me, this was 25 minutes. Once called, I sat and waited for each document to be painstakingly analyzed, and at the end of the process, I had a CUIL for each of my children. All included, the process took about an hour. Luckily, the kids didn't need to be with me to have the CUIL issued, so it was easy in and out.

Not the most exciting day of my life, but at least we can rest assured that our Argentinean children can successfully apply for Social Security benefits if they happen to be living in Argentina when they retire. Maybe. If the funds are still around (snicker, snicker...).