Santiago, Chile Report of what it's like to live there - 12/22/20
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?
No, we have also been posted to Hyderabad, India (USG) and I have lived ion Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Tashkent, Uzbekistan (non-USG).
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?
Seattle. Flights are through Atlanta generally. They leave late at night going in either direction, so generally you fly overnight and arrive the next day.
3. What years did you live here?
2019 to 2021.
4. How long have you lived here?
One year and three months so far. It will be two years when we leave.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic mission (spouse). I work remotely.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are apartments downtown walking distance or a short bus/car/bike ride from the embassy. We live in Lo Barnechea which is more of a suburb. My spouse commutes 25-45 minutes each way depending on traffic, which can vary a lot depending on the time of day. Our house here is huge, far bigger than any place we lived in the U.S. We have a nice yard with a built in grill. Some have pools but we do not. The community is gated and very safe. The house itself is in great condition.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Excellent availability, but costs can be high. As in most places local stuff is cheaper. Chile produces excellent fruit, veggies, olive oil, wine, and beef. Poultry and seafood quality are lower. Imported goods are pricey. One store in town resells imported Costco stuff which is nice in a pinch or for luxury items (La Croix!) but the mark-up is significant. It is rare that I can't a staple, but we do order a few things through DPO (brown sugar, chocolate chips, kids snacks).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not much. We are really quite happy with what is here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are tons of good restraurants downtown. In Lo Barnechea the options are a bit more limited. There are some excellent Peruvian places around. A Neapolitan pizza place. A few good burger joints. There is also plenty of Western fast food. We use Uber Eats regularly and the selection is OK where we live, better downtown. Don't expect good Thai or Chinese here. There are however a couple of decent Indian places including one that delivers where we are. Traditional Chilean food is OK but not really a highlight. If you like spice ask for pebre and/or merken. Both are generally available. Peruvian food by contrast is truly excellent.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have had ants in the house. They are tiny and do not bite. The embassy assisted in spraying to get rid of them. We have seen large tarantulas nearby but not at home. There are also apparently scorpions but we haven't seen any.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. It generally takes 2-3 weeks. Local mail works great as well. We have ordered plenty of things online (from Chile) and had them delivered to our house without issue.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a cleaning service help with cleaning the huge house once every few weeks. It costs around $50 USD a pop. Otherwise we don't employ anyone. Many do. The rules are complex and it isn't super cheap.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
We aren't the best people to ask, but I would guess based on advertisements and what I see driving around that there are lots of options.
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 and ATMs are easy here. ATMs charge very high withdrawal fees though (like $8 to $10 USD). It was easy to use cards online too until recently but the main Chilean online processor has recently stopped taking most international cards. In person, no problem. Outside of Santiago cash becomes more important.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I took Spanish as an EFM at FSI and I am glad I did. English levels are generally pretty low. I use Spanish daily.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I am not sure. The situation here is way better than in India or Tajikistan, but, that said, I don't think U.S. standards can be relied on, especially outside of fancier/newer buildings and neighborhoods.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We used Uber a lot pre-pandemic. No issues. I have never used a taxi, train, or bus here, but they exist and look safe enough. I imagine one would use them more downtown. In Lo Barnechea cars are king and we drive most places.
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?
We bought locally. We went with an SUV with high clearance as we knew we wanted access to the mountains, and we are very glad we did. It can be a challenge to park in some parking lots though, as spots are often much more tightly packed in than in the U.S. Downtown a smaller car would probably be better. We bought a Toyota and parts are easily found. There are dealerships for Subaru, Honda, and many other makes as well.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We sponsors were able to get internet set up such that installation happened the week we arrived. I am not sure how they managed it, but it was a huge help. In general I think the process is fairly easy. The embassy has details. We use GTD. Speeds are good and rates are reasonable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use Google Fi. No issues. My spouse has an embassy-issued local number which is occasionally useful, but really Google Fi and WhatsApp work for 95% of things.
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?
We have no pets. I see vet advertisements all the time, along with pet stores. Many Chileans seem to like to pets and plenty have cats and dogs.
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?
There are jobs at the embassy. I work remotely for a company in the US. As long as I do not work with Chilean clients I am fine.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Local dress codes, especially downtown, are pretty formal. In Lo Barnechea you can where most anything but nicer clothes will look more normal than anything scruffy, which is rare here.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The riots and social unrest of late 2019 and early 2020 were a big deal. We had a curfew for weeks and crime increased substantially. Luckily we were not directly affected, but others were, especially downtown. That has largely (but not totally) subsided with the passing of a referendum to redraft the constitution. However, the potential for more unrest as that process plays out is very real. Also, earthquakes happen, a lot. Most are small, but you never know. We keep our house well stocked just in case. Otherwise use basic common sense and situational awareness downtown and you'll be fine.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good. We haven't used much, but when I had strep last year the time from entering the urgent care facility to leaving with a prescription was short and mostly straightforward. Pharmacies also work well. Both involve a bit of bureaucracy.
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?
In Lo Barnechea air quality is pretty good, especially in the windy springs, summers, and falls. In the winter the air stagnates more and pools around the downtown core and it can be a bit yucky then. The mountains and pristine air are always a short drive away!
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen can be rough in the spring. Car exhaust in the winter. That's all that comes to mind.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None that I am aware of. Even winters here are relatively sunny.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is warm, dry, and sunny from September to November and from March to May. It is hot, very dry, and sunny from December though February/March. On warmer days it gets windy in the afternoon. The winter is June to August. On most days in the winter it is partly sunny to cloudy, and cool, with the occasional warm sunny day, and the occasional cool rainy day. We had snow twice last winter. Once it stuck briefly and promptly melted, and the other time it melted on impact. In general it is very dry here. Expect no rain whatsoever from early October to late March.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have used a Montessori preschool (Mahay) and the big international school (Nido). The pandemic has been hard but in general we have been very happy with both schools.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes. Prices are moderate. At least at the Montessori we use (Mahay) the quality is high. Nido has plenty of after-school activities, at least in non-pandemic times.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, swimming, and probably others.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large. A surprising number of people have issues here, I think because of the bureaucracy, and maybe the difficulty in getting involved in the local culture. Generally the people who explore the country more seem happier.
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?
Getting involved with locals socially can be tough. People are lot as immediately warm and open here as they are in some other Latin American countries, so if you come expecting that you will be disappointed. Family events are also big here. The embassy (pre-pandemic) organized plenty of outings and events.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
We are a family and we have had blast. While getting involved culturally is tough, Chile has natural beauty in spades near and far from Santiago. If your family enjoys being outside, you will love it here. Downtown is rich in bars and restaurants so I can see it also being a good fit for singles.
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 difficult to make friends with locals here.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Unsure. I can imagine there are challenges given the fairly conservative government and culture.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
We have encountered some very negative racial attitudes here, not directed at us, but related to us. Darker skin is generally viewed negatively and the Haitian immigrant community in particular is viewed with scorn by some locals.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Torres del Paine National Park, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Pucon and the surrounding hot springs and national parks, and San Pedro de Atacama are all outstanding, world-class travel destinations. Lauca National Park is also amazing, but much less visited and a bit harder to organize. Chile has tons to offer though. That list could be expanded tenfold with awesome places to go in Chile.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We have young kids, and we like hiking, so we have largely avoided wineries. There are TONS of nice wineries nearby though.
Our local outings are generally more nature-centered. These are all excellent day or weekend trips from Santiago:
- Bioparque Puquen
- Lomas del Viento Trail
- Parque Yerba Loca
- Parque Andino Juncal
- The Maipo Valley (and Refugio Plantat hike)
There are also cool trails within Santiago, including some that can be accessed on foot from embassy houses in Lo Barnechea. Look at AllTrails for ideas.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
We have bought cool furniture made from recycled, local wood in Santiago. A few Aymara textiles from the north of the country. And wood carvings from Easter Island and the Pucon area. Pueblito Los Dominicos is a good place to scout handicrafts in Santiago. A lot of the cheaper stuff up north is actually Peruvian, or Chinese via Peru.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Sun, nature, hiking, ease of driving/getting around, good schools, ease of shopping and finding quality groceries.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
This is not a particularly cheap place to live. Don't expect to save anything on groceries in comparison with U.S. costs. If you want to explore the length of the country, budget in advance and don't expect to save much while here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. The domestic travel and local hikes/nature make this a stellar post.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Not much... it doesn't rain a lot, but it does rain in the winter. You won't need snow gear in Santiago but if you ski that is an option. We brought pretty much everything we own and we have used most of it.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience. As I mentioned above the local bureaucracy can be frustrating at times. It is easier to navigate here than in India or Tajikistan, but there are tons of odd procedures and rules for many basic tasks, and the rules are adhered to rigidly. Except when they aren't...