I want to share my opinion on something about which everyone seems to continuously wonder, particularly those with no experience of South America aiming to take a TEFL course in Buenos Aires or teach English in Argentina safely.
What’s the situation with crime? Is Buenos Aires a dangerous city? Do people get mugged all the time? Can you go out alone at night?
The “statistics” suggest that yes, there is a considerable amount of crime in this city. With some 13 million inhabitants, about 3 million of whom reside within the capital, the city is a never-ending, sprawling mass of urban chaos. As with any large metropolitan area, huge population figures will invariably lead to a higher number of crime-related incidents. The same can be said of many other cities, such as London, Sao Paulo, New York or Bangkok.
I must make it clear that I can only speak from my own experience (and a little of what others have told me). Having spent nearly a year here now, I have had no trouble whatsoever, and have rarely felt in any way endangered. You can give yourself a great chance of steering clear of unwanted trouble by taking some basic precautions. Admittedly, I regularly find myself roaming the streets alone at night, though in areas such as Recoleta and Palermo, which account for the vast majority of tourists and expats, I feel relatively safe. If you stick to the larger avenues you will find the streets filled with ample lighting, and a constant stream of life that never seems to die down. The old “safety in numbers” cliche is applicable here.
What I find intriguing is that it is in fact the locals who seem more readily perturbed by potential danger. I’m left wondering why this could be – are they simply more aware than we are? Do tourists look at this place through rose-tinted glasses, selectively choosing not to accept the facts?
I personally don’t feel that this is the case. Perhaps the locals have seen a change over time, to which we cannot relate having spent comparatively very little time here. It could also be that Argentines are generally more exposed to the media, and subsequently to the stream of disturbing stories that regularly occupy the news. Additionally, as a foreigner here who has spent most of the time in the more expensive, tourist areas, I cannot speak about the suburbs. Certainly, the level of criminal activity outside of the more built up areas is considerably higher, but this is not something that will generally affect those visiting the city from abroad. I have heard the occasional story, from friends of friends, of someone being mugged at knife-point, but such incidents appear to be fairly uncommon and often avoidable. Of course, anything can happen to anyone at any time, in any place. This will always be the case. But for this to happen to you there would be a good deal of bad luck involved, a phenomenon that is difficult to protect yourself against.
Having said all this, there have been one or two occasions on which I had a brush with the less-savoury side of this otherwise wonderful city. I was walking down one of the busiest roads, Santa Fe, just half a block from my apartment at the time, when a man began talking to me. This is something that occurs regularly, and I applied the usual “Sorry, I don’t have time” and kept walking. I realised that he was walking with me as we crossed the street, and my expanding knowledge of Spanish allowed me to understand for the first time what he was saying. To my dismay, I realised his words translated as “I have a weapon, and I’m going to kill you. I want money.” The opportunistic nature of his efforts, combined with the bustling streets and the fact that I was so close to home, meant I was able to shrug him off with a “Perdon, no entiendo” and walk quickly on. I knew that, short of the courage to mug me on a busy street, he was hoping to scare me into paying him something. Scare me he certainly did, pay him something I certainly did not. Nevertheless, the experience made me realise that it is always possible that something can happen, and one should be aware to guard against complacency.
To sum up, yes, there is crime here. Crime exists everywhere in which people exist. But is it dangerous for tourists? Not if you keep your wits about you. Just don’t do anything ridiculous, avoid the rougher areas, don’t walk down the street at night talking loudly in English, stay with friends and, if you really feel endangered, spend a few pesos and jump in a cab. If you maintain these simple precautions, you should be able to enjoy a happy, crime-free stay in Buenos Aires.