What it is like to be an Expat in Chile

What it is like to be an Expat in Chile

Whereas other countries such as the US are making it harder to immigrate, Chile in the recent years has opened its borders to the world. But what does it really feel like to live in Chile?

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At 18 years old, for the first time in my life, I left Europe and travelled to Latin America. Since then, I have felt a magnetic attraction to the region. Already then, I knew that at least once in my life I would want to spend some time living on the continent. I continued travelling back to Latin America various times but only ten years later, this dream came eventually true, when I took a plane from my hometown of Innsbruck to Santiago de Chile. Since I have now been living for almost half a year in Chile, I feel that it is time for me to summarize what it is like to actually live in Chile in 2017.

Life in Santiago

Just as most expats do, I spend most of my time in Chile living in Santiago. Santiago de Chile is by far the biggest city in the rather centralized country. If you visit other cities in the country, such as Concepcion, the second biggest city, you immediately realize that they belong to a different Chile.

Santiago has some of its own particularities. The city is surrounded by mountains that are covered in snow during the winter months. Santiago is formed out of 37 comunas. In terms of population, most of them are equivalent to the size of a medium European city. Expat life is concentrated in the comunas of Las Condes, Vitacura, and Providencia. In these three comunas most expats live, work, and hang out. All three of them are considered as safe by Latin American standards, despite occasional robberies. It is always recommended to watch your smart phone or fancy cameras, especially at night.

Nightlife in Santiago is mostly concentrated around the barrio Bellavista, located in the comuna of Providencia towards the north of the Mapocho river. There are also several bars and restaurants in the more central area around Lastarria street. Apart from this, you will find several fancier places in the barrios of Las Condes and Vitacura.

The city suffers from heavy pollution. The reason is that there is not a lot of air circulation since the city is surrounded by mountains. The smog is particularly strong during the winter months. The few days when it rains provide release and clean the air. A lot of the pollution is caused by traffic. The pollution, in fact, is the main factor why I can?t imagine myself living here in the long run. If the city would move on to embrace electric vehicles, the majority of its smog problems could be solved.

Tourism & Climate

You will find plenty of things to do in Santiago on the weekends, such as exploring the city center, the zoo or going for hikes to places such as Cerro Manquehue or the park Aguas de Ramon. Besides there are also several markets worth visiting, such as the La Vega market, where you can buy inexpensive fruits and vegetables. There are also a couple of museums in the city. Some of them are free, as for example the Museo Historico Nacional, which is located at Plaza de Armas. In general, museology is not yet that developed as in Central Europe. My favorite museum in the city is the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. However, the way items are assembled is often not structured and therefore as a viewer you need to be very attentive to understand which item belongs to which culture and which historical context.

One of the best things about Santiago is its surrounding. The city offers excellent opportunities for weekend activities. During a day trip, it is possible for you to go hiking somewhere in the nearby Andes or to hit the beach and surf in the picturesque village of Pichilemu. In the winter, you can easily spend a Sunday skiing in one of the nearby skiing resorts such as ?El Colorado.? Also, destinations such as Cajon del Maipu or Valparaiso can be reached within a day?s trip.

In general, Chile offers some of the world?s most amazing travel destinations such as the Atacama Desert, Patagonia, and Easter Island. Apart from these internationally known places there are several other interesting destinations to visit such as the island Chiloe, the Lake District around Puerto Mont, and the Parque Nacional Lauca. If you are interested in astronomy, Chile is a great place and around La Serena you will find some of the world?s best spots to observe the sky.

Chile is known for its wines, but not famous for its cuisine. And in fact, the average restaurant in Chile cannot compete with an average restaurant in Argentina or Brazil. Of course, it is also possible to eat well, but then the bill can very quickly get pricy. Nevertheless, if you want to buy high quality wine for decent prices, you will find your options in Chilean botteleras. Besides the wine, Chile is also very famous for its Pisco, a liquor that is made out of grapes.

With regard to the climate, it never gets really cold in the central region of Chile, whereas the winters in the very south of Chile, such as Patagonia are hard. The climate in central Chile causes the dilemma that most houses do not have proper heating. Therefore, during winter months most of Santiago?s flats remain relatively cold. While houses in Chile are built to survive earthquakes they mostly have really poor insulation, which makes the lack of proper heating even worse. Therefore, if you can pick when to visit Santiago, avoid the coldest months of the year.


In recent years, Chile?s economic indicators have been more stable and prosperous compared to most other Latin American countries. In addition, the Chilean government has pursued a strategy to catch up technologically and is managing the country?s transition towards a knowledge economy. Still, the average qualification of the labor force and the ability of companies to innovate is considerably lower compared to the U.S. or western European countries. As an expat, you will notice this when you randomly join Meet Ups related to technology or business topics. On average, the quality of presentations and the knowledge of participants is lower than in Europe.

However, the country has lately pursued an open visa regime and made it relatively easy for foreigners to obtain Chilean residency. This has made Chile an interesting destination for foreigners. Currently many people from Venezuela, which suffers from political and economic struggles, are immigrating to Chile.

If you are looking to start a business in Chile, then you?ll learn that the government has facilitated that process significantly in recent years. The most common business form, called a SPA, Sociedad por Acciones, is relatively easy to create. As long as you want to keep your business basic and simple, you can create it yourself without the necessity of a lawyer. The process is pretty fast, you just need to request a clave unica and find a commercial address for your business and then you can do it online in one day. If you need help with this, feel free to reach out to me. It is necessary to sign the contract at a notary after you have started the business. The notary is the only cost you will incur and it will cost you about 10 USD. In the event that you get a certificado digital, it is possible to do all the accounting online. However, you should hire an accountant for your business who will charge you a monthly fee of around 45 USD.

In 2017, it feels that the Chilean currency is overvalued compared to major currencies such as the Euro or the US Dollar. The strong Peso makes Chile compared to the rest of Latin America a rather expensive destination. This said, rent prices in Santiago de Chile are comparable to major European cities, and eating out in good restaurants is really expensive. If you go to a standard bar in Las Condes, a beer can easily cost you 7 USD. If you want to buy technology products, you will find them in Chile on average 1.5 times more expensive than in Europe. In terms of home furnishings, you really feel that a company such as IKEA is missing in Chile, since many prices are just disproportional. Also, the fact that Amazon does not exist in Chile makes it harder to buy things online.

One of the particularities of Chile is that almost any contract needs to pass through a notary. For that fact, the notarias are hated among the population. And as long as legislation in Chile does not change people will continue to have to deal with notarias. However, the notarias differ a lot in quality and wait times. Keeping that in mind, when you need a notary, it is advisable to pick one of the good ones. The best experience I?ve had when dealing with notarias in Santiago so far, was at Notaria Santos in calle Agustinas 1161. They are very friendly and have a fast lane for small things like legalizing contracts. The worst experience so far, I had was at Notaria Myriam Amigo in calle Miraflores 169. Instead of helping you out with taking a copy of something you need and you didn?t know you would need it before, they send you home to get the missing documents and then make you stand in the line again. In these moments, you really start to hate the notarias. Especially when you know that the Chilean upper class has special arrangements with the notarias so that they do not need to stand in the line or can sign contracts from home and send them through a courier to the notaria to get the contract legalized.


Besides the notarias, another trivia about Chile is the very high weed consumption. If you are walking through the parks of Santiago on a mild summer day, you can smell weed literally everywhere. Marijuana is not legal in Chile, but it is very much accepted by society.

Earthquakes are something Chile is famous for. And indeed, if you spend a longer period of time living in Chile, it is very likely that you will experience an earthquake. This is true for almost any region of Chile since most of the country suffers from earthquakes.

Nomad Life & Internet Connectivity

Since it is 2017 and all of us have smart phones, communication and internet connectivity have turned into real issues. If you look at the landscape in Chile, you will find many companies that really suck but one that seems to have gotten it right. I am talking about Virgin Mobile, which seems to offer by far the most attractive plan for expats as of 2017. They call it ?antiplan? because it is just a subscription without the actual need to subscribe. This small detail makes things super easy for you and you get rid of all the bureaucracy associated with getting an internet plan. Since Virgin requires no contract, you just go into one of the many shops where they sell Virgin SIMs such as ABCDIN or you order the SIM online. Once you follow the set-up steps, you can start surfing with 4G on a pre-paid model. So basically, if you spend more than a week in Chile, it is already worth buying a Virgin Sim for around 15 USD that usually comes along with 5 GB valid for one month. At the end of the month, you can reactivate your plan for another month through their easy-to-use online payment solution. As long as you keep paying 15,000 Pesos monthly, you can continue surfing for 5 GB per month and enjoy free national minutes and text messages on top.

So that?s the story on phones. Getting mobile internet through a router is still a much more challenging task in Chile. Unfortunately, there is no company such as Virgin that offers you comparable deals. The first problem you will encounter is that it is very hard to buy suitable IT hardware in Chile for affordable prices. So, it is advisable to bring your unblocked router from the U.S. or Europe with you, where you can buy it for a fraction of the cost from Chile. Once you have a router, signing a contract as an expat is very tricky. Even if you opted for paying the router in advance and are not renting it, as of 2017 all telecommunication companies use a credit score rating for internet contracts. This means with a temporary residence, you will usually not be able to buy any option at most suppliers. And in the ones that let you buy, such as Movistar, you can only purchase very basic plans, with limited monthly GB. The best I could get for myself was a 25 GB deal from Movistar. I really would have been ready to pay more to get more data but my credit score rating based on my temporary visa didn?t allow for it. Therefore, it is advisable to consider this when looking for an apartment. It is much easier to use the internet of your apartment than buying internet on your own. Virgin unfortunately has so far not yet created an antiplan for mobile internet based on 4G routers.

Chile is one of the countries in Latin America that is well-suited for renting a car. The roads are better developed than in most other Latin American countries. Rental prices depend on the location where you want to rent the car. Prices start at 30 USD per day for the smallest available cars in Santiago. Whenever you rent, they will ask you for a hefty warranty. It is important that you inspect the car very well before they hand you over the vehicle and take pictures from all sides, since they will often try to start disputes once you return the car. They may claim you have damaged the car or things were removed without you having done anything, just to keep your warranty.

To sum up, Chile is a country that is open to foreigners. It is very well suited for digital nomads to spend some time, especially since it has access to so many amazing places to explore. If you choose to go there, you can probably do that easily for three months since Chile does not require visas for citizens of most countries. Just bear in mind that the services might not work as efficiently as you are used to when coming from Europe or the U.S. Also, as of 2017, with the current exchange rate the prices are a bit high, which makes it less attractive as a destination.


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