Living in a Third World Latin American Country


What follows is a response to an email I received after my article, “Why?” was posted at “Expat Daily News”. I felt that the questions that were raised represented a mix of valid inquiries and misconceptions of what living abroad was all about. It is not a practice of mine to answer emails in a public forum, but the points made were valid ones and it seemed right to share them along with my responses.

Is it really cheaper to live in a third world country when the veggies and fruits you buy are far from organic and there are no organic veggies and fruits to buy anyway?  When the areas you are looking at are already bought and sold by expats so that the real estate prices are higher than what you would pay in the US….in other words, you’re too late?

The fruits and veggies here are grown the old fashion way, with cow or goat manure and in fields that are free from decades of chemical fertilizers. (I should also mention that the soil here is very fertile and there is no need for enhancement)

There are almost NO GMO “frankenfoods” to be found. I buy from local markets where the produce is grown locally and last week I bought 6 large tomatoes, 6 lemons, a HUGE head of spinach and 4 ears of corn for $6.50 pesos (about $1.75 US).

The real estate prices here in West Argentina are comparable to the US. It is a buyer’s market right now as the world economy is based on the insolvent US dollar.  As a buyer you are of course in an excellent negotiating position and will come across many sellers who are willing to either reduce their asking price dramatically and/or include furniture and appliances as part of the deal.

How about traveling thousands of miles away only to find the very people and life-style you were trying to get away from, have already arrived there and are now living in ugly McMansions behind gated communities, where everyone speaks English, and the real estate is very expensive?

I have seen no “McMansions” here as you call them and there are indeed expats in the area, but certainly not at the level that you inferred. Yes, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico have a larger ratio of expats, but here in Argentina we have yet to “Americanize” the culture. In fact where I live there are no franchise restaurants anywhere to be found for at least 260 kilometers. You NEED to speak Spanish here as few locals speak English. There is no option to push #2 on your telephone dial pad for English. 

How about burning the trash and plastics because there is no other way to get rid of it all? How about all that trash along the highways and roads, rivers, streams, beaches, lakes and ponds, because that’s the way it’s done there? How about living with people who are not environmentally aware, who are behind the times by many years, and who couldn’t afford to be otherwise even if they wanted to be?

As far as trash along the highways and burning plastics and such, Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world, only a little smaller than the US. The population is about 41 million and about half of them live in Buenos Aires province (about ¾ the size California). The remaining population is spread throughout the country. The level of litter and pollution here can in no way compare with the US. When is the last time you traveled across the US? I admit, there are areas here where litter can be seen along the roads, but to draw attention to it is akin to the antique and abused pot calling the fairly new kettle black.

In town the streets are clean and litter free. They actually sweep the sidewalks in front of their storefronts. There is little if any graffiti. Yes, the poorer neighborhoods are seedy, but I would challenge anyone to tour the outskirts of ANY US city and then point a finger. Water is not a problem.

How about the shortages of water and the lack of awareness due to the economic costs of conserving water…Simply ignorance due to lack of education and awareness?

Water here is a valued commodity and treated as such. The irrigation system has been in place since before the Spanish landed in the western hemisphere. Ignorance? Lack of awareness? Have you checked the deplorable level of the US education system? 1 out of 5 can’t even find the US on a world map!

How about being a foreigner who is perceived as being rich even when you aren’t so that every business transaction is doomed to potential rip-offs?

Last time I checked potential rip-offs are abundant in the US and it has nothing to do with perceived affluence but more to do with corporate and individual greed! Granted, you have to keep your head screwed on when doing business so you aren’t taken advantage of, (Beware the “Gringo tax!”), but I doubt you would be any less wary doing business in your city of state!

How about driving and owning cars and finding parts and mechanics and the price of gas?

Yes, transportation can present a challenge at times, but lack of convenient auto part franchises have forced this society into one that actually makes the most out of every piece of machinery and as a result has become very resourceful and conservation minded! They don’t even waste a piece of wire! This concept is foreign to the US “throw away” mentality. Conservation is SOP when it comes to manufactured items.

It is true that it can be difficult to obtain car parts for some makes and models of vehicles but by no means all. By choosing your car wisely and checking availability of parts this is a problem that is very easily addressed and overcome.  In fact, you will see more bicycles, mo-peds and small motorcycles than in ANY US city because people are very aware of the financial and environmental costs. The price of fuel is about the same as in the US, maybe a little higher.

How about cars and trucks and buses without emission controls because there aren’t any? How about seeing workers without any protections, eg hardhats,ear-plugs, safety glasses?

Emission CONTROLS? EPA CONTROLS? OSHA CONTROLS? More controls? Laws? Are you suggesting that the rest of the world succumb to the same corporate controlled cancer of bureaucracy that has driven us to become expats in the first place?

How about all the homeless stray cats and dogs who have no shots or are not spayed because no one does it, so dogs and cats roam around without any laws to protect them or you or your pets if you have them?

Indeed, there are many stray dogs (more so than cats), but it is not epidemic. Natural selection seemed to work fine long before bureaucrats convinced us all that God or Mother Nature was somehow incompetent and couldn’t be trusted to work out an overpopulation problem. I know it sounds cold but as they say, “You can’t save them all”. And if you have pets, you adjust your lifestyle to protect them from any perceived threats.

How about living in a tourist trap so that everything you buy costs as much if not more than the same would cost in the US?

If you end up moving to an area that is considered a tourist trap, you do so at your own hand and you have no right to complain about it. It goes with the territory. The town in which I live has two short tourist seasons, the summer for the lakes and mountains and the winter for the skiing.  This is the best of both worlds in my opinion as we get to enjoy the change in pace and vibe of the town for part of the year and then get to “have it back to ourselves” for the remainder.  There are plenty of places you can live overseas that are not tourist traps.

How about being far from your family and having to deal with customs, TSA, border patrols, etc every time you travel?

I don’t even know how to respond to this issue!!! If you move away, then you are…away! To return, you have to travel back. (BTW, the intrusive body scanning, shoe-removing, body-cavity-searching TSA is exclusive to the US… a “free” country.)

How about Uncle Sam screwing you tax-wise no matter where you live.?

If you are paying income tax, you are doing so voluntarily. (I suggest you watch Aaron Russo’s film, “America, from Freedom to Fascism” and do a little homework about your personal legal status and perceived liability). BTW, most countries won’t extradite you just because you THINK you owe Uncle Sam some money…

How about the uncertainty of US relations with the country you are living in?

The simple fact that the US is becoming more reviled in the eyes of the rest of the world is one of the main reasons of becoming an expat! When a country is more concerned with maintaining its profit margin by creating wars to continue the cash flow of the military industrial complex, it is no wonder that the rest of the world condemns Americans for allowing their government to become a “kill for profit” business! Some countries call the US the “Great Satan” and for this reason I would be inclined to agree with them.

Americans for the most part have become so apathetic and complacent that the only way to get them off their collective butts would be to cancel a football game and a beer delivery! Recently here in the Mendoza province, the electricity company was planning a 50% increase in the billing rate. The people took to the streets by the thousands and the proposal was immediately dismissed! When is the last time THAT happened in the US? It is way past the time to break out the pitchforks and torches to storm the castle! Oh, I forgot. If you speak up you are somehow un-American in the land of “free speech” and participating in marches, demonstrations and rallies went out of “fashion” in the sixties…

How about waiting for things to get done, because it’s just the culture…often the ‘manana mentality’ turns in to never?

I’ll take the slower pace and minor inconveniences thank you very much. Never say “never”, (It smacks of unbecoming pessimism.) This issue is not exclusive to Latin America though.  I have lost count of the times I waited in for the plumber, a UPS delivery and cable guy to arrive only to be disappointed by a no show. I know that NEVER happens in the US, right?

How about the way the lighter skinned folks treat the darker skinned folks, and you thought it was just in America?

Racism is far less of a problem here than it is in the US. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., are far more a curiosity here than topics of heated debate and conflict as they are in the US.

How about the sides of beef hanging in the market place without refrigeration, or stacks of chickens sitting on the counter the same way?

The meat markets are stocked with FRESH, LOCAL, range fed beef, pigs, sheep and chickens that are sold long before they have a chance to go bad. In fact, it is not uncommon to find the butcher is out of an item because they sell it so quickly!

Last night I stopped at the local butcher as several sides of beef were being delivered. I purchased an entire rack of t-bone steaks, cut 1 inch thick (16 of them!), for $109 pesos ($28.68 US) How’s that for fresh and affordable?

By the way, I have found the veggies and meat to be better tasting and healthier that the steroid-pumped, Tyson chicken-factory style produced foods available in your super stores. (Oh, and check your country of origin on most of your produce. Surprise!)

How about no building inspections, no zoning laws, no rules or regulations as to what you build, how you build, or where you build?

Again, are you suggesting more laws, rules, regulations and controls that led to many of us making decisions to leave our country of origin in the first place? I thought you wanted to leave the US, not bring it with you!

How about toilets that don’t flush, toilet paper in the trash cans (if they have any), and no place to wash your hands, or if there is a sink, no soap, and no paper towels?

Where did you get the idea that the sanitary conditions here are so… unsanitary? Sure, some people use toilet paper sparingly and put it in the little can next to the bidet, (a bidet is a concept that is foreign to most in the US). People in this “third world” country can’t conceive how people in a civilized nation like the US can live without washing their butts regularly.

How about not being allowed to work, even part-time, so that you are completely dependent on income from outside sources?

It’s called “protecting your economy from illegal immigrant workers”. A concept that is again foreign to the minds of Americans. If you get a work visa and can pay taxes to help pay for the free health care, roads, infrastructure, etc, you should have no problem being accepted as a contributor to society.

How about being part of a 2-10% minority so that your options for making new friends are limited, unless that is, you are fluent in another language and want friends who are from a completely different culture than you are?

How many times have we heard the argument, “If you want to live in America, learn to speak English!” Why should it be any different when you move overseas? As I have struggled to learn a new language, I have found the locals to be patient, helpful and friendly. In fact, my experience is that they welcome they opportunity to interact with someone from another country, (ESPECIALLY the US) so that they can learn OUR language! Again, you don’t get to push #2 for English.

How about losing out an a possible opportunity to make positive changes in the US today…it might not be possible, but certainly it would be a lot more difficult if your new home was in a foreign country?

The only way a positive change can be made in the US is for Americans to become aware of what has been done to our psyche. So many have been conditioned and brainwashed into accepting and participating it the bureaucracies that have flourished because we have assumed the concept that government is supposed to take care of us.

When a teenager becomes an adult, he or she relishes the idea of being free to make their own decisions and assume responsibility for their own lives. Americans for the most part have rejected that concept and have become accustomed to living at home and letting mommy and daddy (government) set the rules. But now government has made it nearly impossible for the citizens to enjoy their freedom because they have become so dependent. How convenient for mommy and daddy! To have all the children working to pay for everything and to be kept in line with all the rules, restrictions, laws, acts, regulations so that they can’t strike out on their own! With only a few speaking out, they are seen as troublemakers. When they ALL speak out and DEMAND their freedom, only then will there be change. But that means people will have to take responsibility for their own lives. Yet another foreign concept for many.

I would suggest you rethink why you want to become an ex-pat in the first place, and if you DO decide to leave the US, please don’t drag it with you. That would be like having toilet paper stuck to your shoe. Oh, I forgot. We don’t have toilet paper down here.

About the author: Dave vonKleist is an activist/musician and a broadcaster for 30 years. A talk show host for 15 years, he has been involved with many controversial issues such as the 9/11 attack and an advocate for veterans rights.

He now resides in San Rafael, Argentina.

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  1. Margit June 26, 2010 at 4:20 am

    What a refreshing way to tackle common misconceptions about “third world countries”. It’s always easy to focus on the negative and amass all the reasons why you can’t live in a country.

    How much more rewarding and productive it is to spend your time to truly research a place and perhaps even “try it on”!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. enrique June 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I believe Mr. Von Kleist errs badly when he categorizes Argentina as a Third World country?

  3. Arnie June 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I often question the term “Third World”.

    In the Amazon of Peru I can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for my cell phone for about $3 USD, call anywhere in the country for practically nothing, or anywhere in the World for higher rates. When I went to visit my brother in the US, the only place I could find that even sold SIM cards (most clerks didn’t even know what they were) offered only limited coverage within the State and cost $55 USD.

    Free wireless coverage is common in most of the “Third World” countries I live and work in, not just at your local Starbucks. I won’t even get into health/dental care.

    If you have to ask “why”—you probably won’t believe what you’re told so please, as Dave states here and in his Expat Daily News article, if you want the conveniences of the industrialized nation that you live in, do us all a favor and just stay there.

  4. Tony June 26, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Sounds like the letter writer is an aged whinny hippy to me.
    Stay in the US.
    We don’t need expats like what you will be if you leave California.
    Stay in the US and let the gooberment take care of you. You wouldn’t last a week without the nanny state.

  5. Tina June 26, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Re; How about Uncle Sam screwing you tax-wise no matter where you live.?

    If you are paying income tax, you are doing so voluntarily. (I suggest you
    watch Aaron Russo’s film, “America, from Freedom to Fascism” and do
    a little homework about your personal legal status and perceived liability).
    BTW, most countries won’t extradite you just because you THINK you owe
    Uncle Sam some money…

    Dear Dave,

    I worked with Aaron Russo in LA ….. I would like to talk to you if possible.

    Thank you!

    • Susan Beverley June 28, 2010 at 11:01 am


      If you would like to send me your email address I can put you in touch with Dave vonKleist.

      Susan Beverley – Editor

  6. eric karr June 27, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Hip HIp HOORAY
    Good article
    People really don´t get it , thanks for setting some of them straight.
    About the toilet paper, its easy enough to empty the can a couple times a day, LOL

    New York Strip About $5 a Kilo
    fresh killed Chicken $2 a kilo
    Fresh fish so inexpensive its a joke

    That is just food
    Housing costs a 1/4 of what it cost in Miami

    But the Best part of being an EX-Pat is my neigbors talk to each other


  7. Bobby Casey June 28, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Great article. While I don’t live in SA, I do live abroad in a low cost eastern European country and love it. I went to the grocery store today and bought most of the things I need for at least a week. The cost was about $30usd.

  8. Craig July 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Nice article. It seems that just about all of the questions that you’ve addressed here came from people that have never lived outside the U.S.
    I especially find the questions interesting that assume that you’re going to move to another country and live near and only know other expats. I personally have always taken the opposite approach. If I wanted to be with people from my birth country, I’d just live there.

  9. TA July 6, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    I’m late to this party, but thanks, Dave. Great post. Thanks for going point-for-point in a very simple, sensible fashion. May see you in San Rafael some day soon.

  10. Vernon Lowe July 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Great rebuttal to the blockheads who want to tell you whats wrong with how you are living. It just proves all the more that being outside(the US) looking in is far better than being on the inside looking out.

  11. Lynn Calvert July 22, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Enjoyed your article! Well said! I envey all you x-pats. I would love to join you in Central America but I am one of many Americans who lost everything & will never retire. Although, I do forsee being a refugee in the future. Thanks for keeping it real!

  12. Robbie July 23, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Dave, excellent writing and very true indeed. Living in San Rafael is not living in complete nanny state, but assuming responsabilities for your own self plus ALL the rest : people, food, climate, security amongst other.

  13. Walter August 9, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Wow, the more I read your article the more I want to vomit. Why do some Americans hate their country so much? So much to move to a third world country. Yes, a third world country, like all of Latin America is. I guess you are lucky since Argentina is a lot better off economically than the countries that border it, like Brazil, but it´s still a thirld world country, and you dismiss all these questions you´re answering as if they weren´t real problems. Things in Latin America are shitty. I lived in Brazil for 3 years, and for the last one I was miserable. Let´s name some problems…

    50 -below Fahr. weather in the winter, and none of the homes have heating. I lived in Curitiba, Parana, in Southern Brazil. None of the homes, schools, shops, NOWHERE is there heating. Same goes for air conditioning in the summer. Would Americans stand for this? NO.

    Roads lacking pavement in the middle of a city of 3 million people.

    30 homicides every weekend, plus almost everyone has been mugged at least once on the street.

    Terrible public schools. If you want an education comparable to some inner city american schools, you pay an expensive tuition to send your kid to a private school.

    I could spend days telling everyone why America is better than the shithole called Latin America, or Africa or Asia, but do you get the point? I´m not making these things up. Part of the problem is that the population is so dumb that they vote for dumbass president called Lula, who can´t change the corruption and extreme income inequality in Brazil. 10% of Brazil´s population owns about 80% of the countries capital. That means 90% of the population live like animals. Expats, I´m just telling you…..

  14. Walter August 9, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    How about no building inspections, no zoning laws, no rules or regulations as to what you build, how you build, or where you build?

    Again, are you suggesting more laws, rules, regulations and controls that led to many of us making decisions to leave our country of origin in the first place? I thought you wanted to leave the US, not bring it with you!

    Dave, are you serious???? Here in Brazil, no rules as to how you build homes means that gutters, insulation, those windows and doors with nets to prevent mosquitoes, all that is considered a luxury. In the US it´s the least you could expect a home to have.

    Let´s see, covered garages are also a luxury, and so is not having to worry about your home being robbed because you don´t have protective walls around your property. ALL homes here have protective walls around them, with a sliding gate for your car. Tired of suburbia, sterile cul-de-sacs, miles and miles of identical homes, having to drive everywhere? Tired of your malls, your large supermarkets, your big cars

    Zoning laws – do you really want to live next to a nightclub?

    Rules and regulations as to where you build – You don´t build restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, etc. smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The same goes for not having a house in the middle of the downtown area, where there are skyscrapers surrounding your tiny home. I´ve seen this all in Brazil.

    Expats don´t really realize how bad these conditions are since they all live in expensive gated communities, exact replicas of the States, like an oases of first world conditions in deserts of third world life.

  15. RA September 26, 2010 at 8:15 am


    Thank you for your article. I have lived in San Rafael for a few years and agree with everything you have said.

    What I would like to see you address is the challenge foreigners face when buying property and seeking residency.

    My first challenge was an employee who stole from me and cheated me, threatened my life, and finally used extortion to get more money from me. The original denuncia filed with the police disappeared from the court records.

    My second challenge resulted from me believing that escribanios cannot lie or they will lose their license. In a place like San Rafael, the people who break laws related to taxation are many times wealthy, influential, and have the ability to pay back handers to prevent prosecution from AFIP and other authorities.

    I purchased a property which I was told was totally renovated and ready for me to start the business I proposed. When I arrived here, my architect had taken money and not completed the work. The electrical and plumbing work that he carried out in a two room conversion was life threatening! I have had to go to a tribunal to seek retribution for his fraudulent facturas and faulty work. My lawyer also defaulted in his responsibilities and I need to file a denuncio for his actions.

    AFIP was chasing me for huge taxes and fines and accusing me of laundering money when the escribanios and immobilario refused to provide any receipts. AFIP drew my attention to the fact that the escribanio that was handling the sale of the property and the payment of fees, commissions, etc, wrote the escritura, and watched me sign the escritura, was not the escribanio who stamped the escritura. Yet more challenges as the adviser suggested that I file denuncios for the lack or receipts and also the problem with the escritura.

    Also, the bank allowed the immobilario who had power of attorney to remove money from my account before I arrived to pay for the purchase of the building, commission, fees, and building works. A huge amount of money was withdrawn after the purchase was complete. The bank will not allow me to see who signed for the money. Both the escribanio and immobilario had access to my account, and they both have no problem with not telling the truth.

    Recently, someone has put fresh blood on my front door step during the siesta, painted on my wall and window, and this week, worked hard to get a tourniquet shaped into a noose under my front door in the day time. Also, the escribanio has contacted my accountant. He told him that he will stop any possibility of me selling my property to a potential buyer, will have my taxes raised exhorbitantly, and has had my residency file “lost” in Mendoza.

    The locals and expats that are aware of my situation tell me that I am not the first person to whom these situations have occurred, though not all of them to one person.

    The answer, they tell me, is to never trust anyone. I have never read this in any article, but would encourage everyone to be wary. Anything that you read, see, or hear is DATA, not reliable information.

    Yes, there are some really good and caring people here. But it takes a long time to find them. Persistence and patience are two vital traits which make living in Argentina more amicable.

  16. Audel April 27, 2011 at 1:53 am

    That’s way more clever than I was epexcintg. Thanks!

  17. Missi September 3, 2011 at 9:48 am

    You seem very biased against the States. Why don’t you renounce your citizenship?

    I have lived in Latin America for going on six years. While it has its advantages, it definitely has its lows. The fact that so many from Latin America are flocking to the States speaks for itself.

    Plus, your answer to this question is inaccurate.

    How about the way the lighter skinned folks treat the darker skinned folks, and you thought it was just in America?

    Racism is far less of a problem here than it is in the US. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., are far more a curiosity here than topics of heated debate and conflict as they are in the US.

    I am a black women, not light-skinned. Very dark, kinky hair. DISCRIMINATION and racism totally exist. I never experienced such overt racism until I moved to Latin America. The worst part is that it’s so institutionalized. Find me a community in Latin America where blacks have some power and prestige besides entertainment. (sigh) Curiosity, yes but also racism.

    I LOVE MY COUNTRY, and I love living in Latin America; it’s my second home. But I have learned to love and appreciate my home country more since living in Latin America. I totally understand now why people escape to the States.

    As foreigners, we will never be able to fully understand what it’s like to live with the local culture. Your U.S passport gives you options that locals don’t get. So, be a little humble. You sound arrogant. If you don’t like the States, renounce your citizenship and stay where you are permanently.

    • Jamie May 17, 2013 at 3:20 am

      Are you freaking kidding me? They always tell you “If you don’t like it here (The USA) then why don’t you leave?” When someone goes through with it, they are somehow still not allowed to talk about the flaws in U.S. policy and practice without giving up citizenship!?!? Here is a better idea, If you like the U.S. policies and practices, why don’t YOU MOVE BACK!!!

  18. Andres September 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    As a foreigner living in the US I wish I could wear this article on me all the time for all the silly people that critizice my third world country…

    There is no such thing as a perfect place, but South America sure gets close.

    Ps: the questions asked reak of ignorance and propagandist influence. So much for the “land of the free” these days.

    • Hernan March 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Vivo en letrinamérica y no cabe la más mínima duda: es una porquería.

  19. Ivan April 18, 2013 at 12:37 am

    I live in Chile where everything is equally or more expensive than in the US groceries, clothing, etc. The only reason that housing may be cheaper is beacause houses are poorly made with no heat,AC or whatnot the ‘poblacion’ or ghetto are filthy with stray dogs everywhere and there’s no street cleaning ergo dog crap everywhere and ppl are used to it.
    Gas is three times more expensive. Minimum wage is ~US$400/month.
    Basic cable + Internet US$150/month
    Cell phone US$30/month for 75minutes 100 text messages
    Chilenos have this thing called onces which is tea time right around 6pm where the family gather around the table to stuff their faces with white Chilean bread and butter and tea with a lot of sugar basically bread and water they cannot afford better nutrition.
    Racism is rampant, the regular Chilean has no notion of race, how to distinguish one from the other and how it affects them. 3/4 or more of the population have Native American in them and they worship Caucasians.
    I could go on and on n on so to wrap things up to live down here like in a place and neighborhood like in the US u need to spend about $1500 a month minimum.
    The ‘gringos’ that love it here is beacause they are just totally ignorant of the reality of what’s going on and they enjoy their white backpack of privileges bestowed by the natives
    I trade my Chilean passport on a heart beat and would happily walk back to the states haahahaa
    Oh and I have noticed that the gringos down here don’t really mix the the chilenos, I don’t blame them we r f-ing boring with a childish sense of humor.

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