Santiago, Chile Report of what it's like to live there - 10/10/14

Personal Experiences from Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile 10/10/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I have lived in Germany (in various cities), Dubai, India, and Suriname.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Home base is Arlington, VA.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have lived in Santiago for 15 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I work at the U.S.Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

All types of wonderful housing except for the building in Vitacura where the Embassy purchased 6 units. The building has chronic leaks and other plumbing problems, poor security, and black mold.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Very available in chainmstores such as Jumbo and Lider. Way, way cheaper at markets like La Vega, that features an awe-inspiring range of fruits, veggies, meat, fish, household items.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Specialized spices--the Chilean fear of strong flavors ensures that only mild spices are available.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and local chains that serve the famous Chilean hot dog, called completo.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Via the DPO at the Embassy. Chilean post is relatively reliable but slow.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available, hard-working, and affordable, but there are strict labor laws about the contracts, sick leave, maternity leave. Research before you hire, or ask for help from the English Speaking Moms in Santiago facebook group.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, they're available, and some are incredibly luxurious such as Balthus, but like so much in Santiago, they're very expensive.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Easy to do, and safe.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is an English speaking church.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A lot. English and other languages are not widely spoken.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes they might, although there are lots of accommodations, such as ramps to building entrances.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, in general. Some pickpocketing on the metro, which can be prohibitively crowded during rush hour.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Chile is super strict about car imports and it's near impossible to get a driver's license, but it does happen, and it's relatively safe driving, even if aggressive. There are stories about people having their tires shot out and then being robbed by a supposedly good samaritan who stips to "help," and there are stories of purses being grabbed from front seats at stop lights. Leave nothing in your car when you park it.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, about US$100 per month for a package that includes cable, internet, and landline phone.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Expensive! Do pay-as-you-go plans.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No quarantine and vets are ample and high quality. If you ship your pet into Chile separate from your own arrival, you will be subjected to a seven-hour pick-up procedure that features bouncing among the cargo company (usually LAN), customs, and SAG, which is their agricultural ministry.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

The idea of volunteerism is new in Chile but there are opportunities.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Chileans favor black, conservative attire.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

More and more, people are getting robbed, both in their homes in the swankier neighborhoods such as Lo Bornichea and La Dehesa, and in cafes and restaurants, especially places where muggers know they can prey on tourists: Starbucks, McDonald's, Denny's. Now it's almost guaranteed that if you put your backpack or purse down, or leave it hanging on a chair, it will get snatched in a nano second.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Chile probably has some of the best medical care in South America, even in some of the public hospitals that appear dilapidated. But the clinics that really cater to foreigners are Las Condes and Clinica Alemana. They're very expensive, but definitely state of the art.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality in Santiago is extremely bad in the winter. On especially soupy days, you feel as if you are choking on your own throat, and your eyes burn. The rain clears it out so post-rain days are beautiful with magnificent views of snowy mountain peaks.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The winters are grey and dreary, and the summers are relentlessly sunny, with absolutely no rain for 6 months.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No experience but schools such as Nido abd the Grange seem to have a good reputation.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large and varied, lively and,active, in fairly good spirits in spite of closed nature of Chilean community.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Hanging out in Bellavista, salsa clubs, movies, restaurants.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for all types!

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There are noises about how young people in Chile are supportive of gay marriage, but there is not much public evidence of a vibrant gay community, and it's a super conservative country.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

It's a very conservative country with very traditional gender roles.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling around the country of Chile is a fantastic experience.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Skip the museums (Belles Artes is uninspired but has a great cafe, and the Museo de Memoria, while interesting, is tired, witth an oddly disjointed display) and travel outside of Santiago to the mountains for condor spotting, to wineries, to the beach, to quaint fishing villages. One fun and up-and-coming neighborhood is near the Santa Isabel metro station, with jazz clubs and funky bars and restaurants.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not much--there's a dearth of artesenal artifacts and those that are available are not particularly aesthetically appealing. Omaire has nice, solid, simple ceramics.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's a real city in many ways, with high quality cultural offerinhs (ballet, opera), restaurants, parks, good shopping.

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10. Can you save money?

Absolutely not.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Probably.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations of getting close to Chileans.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bicycle, caping gear, hiking boots, bathing suit

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Any travel guides, A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet (Norton Paperback), and, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (National Security Archive Book)
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