Health care in Argentina

Keeping you safe

SummaryPolitical BackgroundCrime & KidnappingHealth CareCultural Considarations

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Argentina is a large country with diverse conditions for travelers and expats. You will face some security concerns here, mainly from high rates of urban crime, and you should adopt specific measures to mitigate this risk due to its seriousness and the frequency of crime. Political unrest can turn violent on occasion. The public health care system is available to foreigners also, but quality varies locally and the system is drained of resources. The private health care sector is better, especially in urban areas, and you should take out sufficient health insurance and travel insurance.

Political background

Argentina is a federal democratic republic, similar in composition to the US. Executive power is vested in the president, who also heads the government. Legislative power resides with the bicameral National Congress the government both, while the judiciary is independent.

Democracy is rather young and politics can become fractious and sometimes populist. Demonstrations, strikes and protests are rather common. The country has been hard hit by several, severe economic crises since the introduction of democracy, and this impacts the political landscape.

Crime & Kidnapping

Crime is a real concern in Argentina. The risk will vary locally, but it must be stressed that the risk is significant and warrants countermeasures. Note that crime is usually invisible until it happens, and that anecdotal evidence from friends and colleagues is never representative.

The urban areas are the worst affected. In some parts of Buenos Aires’ touristy and business areas the police and naval military police maintain a highly visible presence, which reduces the risk (albeit does not remove it). Remote and desolate rural areas may also pose a risk.

Ordinary crime

Street crime such as pickpocketing, scams of all sorts, bag-snatching and similar is very common. Foreigners are often targeted for their perceived wealth, especially if displayed. While ordinary street crime is usually not dangerous, do note that criminals are often armed.

Armed robbery

Robbery is less common but does happen all too frequently. If you are faced with robbers, they are almost invariably armed and resistance is very risky and should be avoided. To reduce the risk, you should avoid traveling alone (especially true for female travelers). Limit circulation on foot and avoid it after dark in most areas. Radio-street taxis may be used in the street but this is not the best option; a hotel car or radio-dispatched taxis are better. Armed gangs sometimes target restaurants, bars, malls and similar, committing mass robberies. These incidents can turn violent as well.

Express kidnappings and more serious crime

Short-term abductions occur, known as express kidnappings. The victim is forcibly taken and subjected to extortion, usually by cleaning out bank accounts via ATMs, or the family or company is subjected to ransom demands of a few thousand dollars. In most cases victims are released in 12-36 hours, but the experience is certainly dangerous and harrowing. In some cases, victims are subjected to excessive violence, sexual assault or even killed. Classic kidnappings are much rarer, but given the high levels of crime, executives and other high-net-worth individuals may need further security arrangements, including residential security and close protection.

Healthcare in Argentina

In Argentina the Ministry of Health is responsible for public health services, government hospitals and medical services. The running of actual services, however, often takes place at a municipal level, which means there are different levels of quality within the country. Public health care is funded by the Argentinian government and more that 50% of the population is covered be the state.  The private system covers nearly 2 million Argentines. It is operated through private insurers who generally provide good health care coverage. Private hospitals are often better equipped, and the level of care is often superior

Healthcare in Argentina

Public medical institutions are free of charge for both nationals and foreigners. A patient’s identification documents are required. The only charges for both nationals and foreigners are prescription charges for outpatients. Pharmacies require a prescription for most medicines. No special registration is required to benefit from government-funded health services. However, long waiting lists for medical care means that many people choose to take out private health insurance

There is a wide range of private insurers to choose from, both national and international. Some private hospitals in large cities provide health plans which expatriates and residents can enroll in. Private health insurance premiums vary depending on age and family needs, as well as the risk that the insured person may represent. In general these companies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Medical care in Buenos Aires is generally good, but it varies in quality outside the capital. Hospitals have trained personnel, many of whom have studied abroad. In some other parts of Argentina, the hospitals may not have the most up-to-date equipment, but what is available is adequate for an emergency situation.

Expatriates and visitors should be aware of the health risks associated with living in or visiting Argentina. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Due to this fact it is highly recommended that expatriates and visitors take out international health insurance or travel insurance before entering the country.

Cultural considerations

Briefly on culture

To people at home within a given culture, there will be a set of norms and values which governs everyday life, often in an almost subconscious manner. Think of how people tend to interact back home: How are relations between age-groups, genders, colleagues, religious groups, employers and employees, citizens and state etc. usually defined? Then consider that these relationships and the norms and even rules which govern then are very familiar to you – indeed you will probably consider them almost natural. This is the effect of culture upon people living within a group.

But the world is a diverse place, and cultures are very different around the globe. To complicate matters further cultures are anything but static; indeed, by their very nature they are always in flux. A country will often be home to different cultures as well, although it may sometimes be possible to identify a preponderant culture within a country.

Cultural differences and travel security

When you travel to a country or an area with a significantly different culture from your own this may affect your safety. This effect may take several different shapes.

The most basic effect is that of simply being different, of sticking out, familiar to any tourist in the world: The local population has little trouble identifying you as a traveler, tourist or expat. This raises your profile and increases your vulnerability, especially to street crime and scams, which may be serious in high-risk countries. While probably difficult to avoid, this basic fact should always be borne in mind. You will be more exposed and have less instinctive understanding of your surroundings that would the case back home.

Examples of specifics: Locals laws and customs

There may be more specific effects as well. Local laws will reflect the local culture, and this can have a very direct effect, e.g. bans on specific products, behavior or rules affecting interaction between people. Classic examples include a ban on consumption of alcohol or drugs, limits on driving, bans on homosexuality or laws governing interaction between unmarried couples. Clearly local laws must be obeyed as they apply to all.

Health care and health insurance may also be affected. This is most often the case when it comes to how much practical support relatives are expected to supply at a hospital or clinic (e.g. food and basic care), or how much access family members can have to a hospitalized dependent.

But specific effects may also be subtle. As a foreigner, it is easy to break local customs unwarily, which may cause offense or resentment. This can be embarrassing of course; however, to transgress deeply held convictions e.g. of a political or religious nature may trigger hostility. Travelers and expats should always refrain from any political debates with locals, and should at least make themselves familiar with local customs and religious beliefs.

When it comes to religion specifically sensitivity may be high. If confronted with locals, it is best to express agreement with their stated convictions in a discussion. Most often it is not a problem to belong to a different major faith or denomination, but it may be. It is almost always a bad idea to confess to atheism if confronted by zealots.

Always remember that, even though you may disagree vehemently with elements of the local culture, you are the visitor. Do not try to convince locals of “the errors of their ways” and never, ever proselyte.