Santiago, Chile Report of what it's like to live there - 06/04/19
Personal Experiences from Santiago, Chile
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Fourth expat experience. Previous experience living in Colombia, Paris, and Panama. Plus more than 45 countries for business purposes.
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?
New York, NY. Direct flight on LATAM is over 10 hours. Connecting through Panama or Bogota splits the travel time (nicely) roughly down the middle.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work with a UN specialized agency.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I live in a (small) apartment in Providencia, on an avenue running parallel to the river. Overall, I find housing to be on the smaller end of the scale compared to other countries in Latin America. New Yorkers would feel no shock (or sense of relief, if you want to put s different spin on it) moving here and adjusting to housing affordable options. There are, of course, very nice and large houses which correlate nicely with very high prices. Distance traveled to/from work is a major consideration and will impact your choice of where to live.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available, so long as you are willing to pay for the mark-up. Coffee is $25 USD/lb. Mexican (and spicy) food is generally lacking in Chile. I am not too much of a brand loyalist, so I don't ponder on the Skippy peanut butter I cannot buy or the ginger dressing that I miss from Whole Foods.
In general, supermarkets are large and well-stocked. Mind you, Chile had been buying out grocery store chains throughout Latin America in the last two decades.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, since that takes away all the fun. Go local.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Uber Eats is alive and kicking (pedaling, actually) and most food options, ranging from fast to yummy Peruvian roti chicken and good steak can all be delivered to your door. Pizza is available but forget about the prices you pay for back home.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None that I can recall. Santiago is, in general, a warm city, which I found surprising. Anything that is triggered by warmer weather may pop up, but this is not a tropical landscape, so worry not.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use email and travel back home often so I do not need the local postal service, Correos de Chile.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
None that I can share since I do my own cleaning/laundry. I have heard of help being available but the service is lackluster.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many options. Sportlife is a good choice, although they do not offer towel service. Pacific Fitness is a low-cost gym around town, but rumor has it that their showers run only cold water. Personal trainers are available, but they are not cheap.
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?
Credit cards are widely available and yes, ATMs are safe to use. For me, the best option is to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You'll need to (1) know Spanish and (2) be able to translate Chilean Spanish into more mainstream Spanish. Betting on others to know English is not advisable.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I would think so.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses (service seems lousy and dirty). Subways are Tokyo-like jam packed (and don't always cover where you need to go). Uber is illegal but, corporately, they have decided that it is still lucrative to pay legal fees and fines than to pull out of the market. Traffic is a nightmare for me.
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?
An SUV would be nice. A patient SUV driver is of the essence.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Sure, it's available, but nothing happens in Chile until you are issued a RUT. This can take a while.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use prepaid service since I travel constantly for work. Service is good and inexpensive.
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?
Those that have done some research and networked outside of Chile, prior to arriving, are better able to anchor themselves to a good opportunity once they arrive. I would suspect that starting this process from scratch in Chile would be difficult since Chileans are not the most social/accepting crowd, so breaking down those additional barriers can be a problem. Pay close attention to the recent migration of Colombians, Venezuelans and Haitians. The recent immigration has created a bit of a 'Chileans first' narrative and made the hiring of expats a bit difficult. That said, human capital that adds value will probably find a spot here or anywhere. If I had to do it all over again, I would stress the networking outside Chile approach at all cost.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress casual to formal, keeping in mind the temperature. A winter day can start out at two degrees Celsius and climb up to 21 degrees by noon. Dressing here is a challenge. A/C is not as ubiquitous as in the US.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Street smarts should never fade, no matter where you live. The Carabineros (Chilean police) are widely considered to be the last bastion of non-corrupt cops in Latin America. I have had no direct experience with this. The City center is known for pick-picketers. The random acts of violence that I have heard of have been that-random.
The Hospital care here (Clincia Alemana and Las Condes) are A+, hands down, the best medical care available, comparable to NYU Langone in Mahnattan, only better.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The weather pattern is odd: mostly warm and very polluted during the winter. Tap water is highly mineralized (as in you'll need to scrape your glass with a knife after it dries). All faucets end up dissolving.
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?
Overall it's poor.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
That you'll suffer.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
This isn't the most exciting place nor is it the most social. So, if you're not outgoing and confident, you can pretty much bank on becoming very isolated from the crowd. Becoming part of the Chilean crowd is very tough.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm. Sure, there will be cold days, but I just feel that Santiago will become a coffee-growing region in 10 years.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No experience yet, although I did inquire. Nido de Aguilas is the American School (and pretty much the only option is you want your kids to follow the US-based school calendar). Capital Assessment Fee is about US$14,000; annual tuition is around US$10,000. The social component of schooling your kids there runs about US$30,000 a year, I'd say. This is Beverly Hills High.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
No definitive answer, but the school referenced above is a solid school.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Trekking, soccer, skiing, running, and bikes everywhere.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
Get out there. If you expect others to knock on your door you are guaranteed to have a very boring life in Santiago. Join Meet-up groups aligned to your hobbies. Here is a reference for you: I have yet to be invited to the home of a Chilean after being here for two years.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for singles if you have strong social skills and know Spanish. Socially awkward (and I mean this in a constructive way) need not apply. This place can be VERY isolating.
Families have a good time here. Couples yes, but see above.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It is not easy. Chileans have been isolated (geographically) and this seems to have rubbed onto their view of foreigners. Migration to Chile is relatively new, so outsiders do, unfortunately, stand out like a sore thumb. This is no melting pot, no matter how big a city. Chileans socialize among themselves and with families.
It is important to understand the social dynamics brought about by the military coup in 1973. Long-life friends and neighbors snitched on each other, so distrust of others seems to be woven into the social fabric. At least a little. The we versus us factor is there.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Haitians, which have arrived by the thousands, are viewed as hard working. One was diagnosed with leprosy and it has taken time to shake off that stigma for all Haitians living in Chile.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trekking trips for the most part around the greater Santiago area. My job keeps me traveling quite a bit, so I haven't had much down time in Chile.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Meh, not really. Some crafts are nice.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive Santiago can be.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I would probably just to visit for a couple of months. You cannot get a good understanding of Santiago/Chile on a short trip because the distances are long. Santiago being permanent place to call home is a bit too much.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter jacket, unless you hike in the mountain ranges.
110 volt appliances (all of them).
Idea that Chile graduated to become part of the first world simply because of life under authoritarian rule.
Idea that the wounds of the the thorny political past have healed entirely.
Idea that market-based-everything-you-can-think-of has worked wonders here (there is lots of poverty and a weak safety net).
Thoughts that distance is irrelevant: not only will you be very far away (if US or Europe based), but going back home will feel like an eternity; in-country travel will take forever.
Notion that customer service will be in high gear.
Fear of mayonnaise: Chileans have a no-shame approach to life with mayo. I think I saw a mayo float at a restaurant the other day.
Fear of avocados. Here it is considered a fruit, not a veggie, so it goes on toast or marraqueta (french bread basked differently), and everything else.
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor, beginner Spanish, acceptance of Chilean wine, hiking poles, and sunscreen.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I'd read up on history books of the time Allende came to power. The Museo de la Memoria is a most once you get here. Discussing the rule of Pinochet, or Pinocho as he is called, will invariably come up at some point with the locals. You should know the basics.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Chile in general and Santiago in particular is a nice place that has its challenges for those who are less adept to going outside of their comfort zone to find themselves at home. This is true for all places that have a low cosmopolitan index.