Santiago, Chile Report of what it's like to live there - 09/20/08
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?
I have lived in Santiago before.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
About 3 hours direct flight from JFK via Jet Blue, Delta or American airlines; Newark via Continental. About 2 hours direct from Miami via American.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
1-story ranch styles, 2-story homes and apartments. Many apartments have a guachiman (watchman) for added security. Most of the homes and apartments expats live in are in close proximity to the businesses, schools, churches, shopping areas, etc. (within 20 minutes) The neighborhoods on the east end of Santiago tend to be the nice family neighborhoods and are convenient to all the amenities.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It depends if you want to buy mainly american goods, then you're going to pay a lot more. Although prices of some things from the states like peanut butter and cereal have gone down since the DR-CAFTA trade agreement. Also drinks such as DR Pepper and Mountain Dew which weren't available before DR-CAFTA, are now stocked in the American-style stores. For us, we tend to buy more Dominican brands-they're cheaper and some things like the Mayo, Mustard and Parmesean cheese are tastier. Supermarkets:1. Supermercados Nacional- frequented by expats and the upper middle and upper class Dominicans. American brands are pricier, but they have a great selection of yogurts, drinks and meats.2. Pricesmart- kind of like a BJs or Sam's Club where you buy things in bulk. You need to purchase a membership to shop there, but they do sell hard to find things like Silk Soy Milk, Chocolate chips, Bratwurst and decent cheese.3. La Sirena- kind of like the Dominican version of Super Walmart. They have a great selection and the best prices in town on just about everything from groceries to appliances to school supplies. 4. Supermercado La LLave- a smaller supermarket-just opened a couple of years ago. But its selection is getting better and its closest to our house. Most of houses and apartments are located within walking distance to colmados (corner convenience stores) where you can purchase a loaf of bread, milk, ice and water. You cannot drink the tap water here b/c of parasites, but you canpurchase 5 gallon purified water containers for 250 pesos (about $8 US dollars) and take it back for a refill thereafter for only 25 pesos (about .67 cents)-the cheapest place I know to buy water.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Unless you're really adamant about having certain things, you can find most of what you need to survive here-even refrigerated Soy Milk. Maybe extra printer cartridges would be good to bring. We shouldn't have shipped so many medical supplies down b/c getting what you need at the pharmacies here is easier and cheaper than we thought.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast Food- your standard American fare is here-McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Taco Bell and KFC. A TGI Friday's just opened here as well-its a little more expensive than the TGI Friday's in the states, but the service there is excellent. Local Fast Food- the Dominican fried chicken place Pollos Victorina is great-actually we think its better and more tasty than KFC (and its cheaper too). There are also a few decent Chinese Food places in town. And we tend to enjoy the local Pizza favorite Pizzarelli more than the Dominos and Pizza Hut. There is a great sandwhich place called La Campagna on Avenida Duarte that serves great Cubano sandwhiches. High Priced places: There are a handful of decent Italian places that we hear are good, but we haven't tried them yet. Camp David Restaurant serves decent, but pricey steaks.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use a Missionary Flights Service that comes here every 2 weeks, but we know people in the business community who receive packages from the states via the airport much more frequently than we do.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
About US$90 a month for our help-she comes 2 days a week.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Most of the major places like the supermercados I mentioned accept debit/credit cards. The DR is becoming less of a cash society, but it is still more of a Cash society than the US. ATMs are located throughout the city. The ones in the shopping malls and major supermarkets are safe to use-I've had no problems so far. Outside of Santiago, I can't guarantee.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
We know of 2 English-language churches:1. Santiago Christian Fellowship which meets on the campus of Santiago Christian School. It is non-denominational.2. The Hub: kind of more like a fellowship than church. Very informal and relaxed-mostly singles attend there. Non-denominational. However, our family recommends to regular churchgoers who want to stay here for the long term to try attending a Dominican Spanish language service to establish relationships w/ the people and learn the language.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
TV: there are several Cable companies here in Santiago that offer anywhere from 10 to 20 channels in English-depending on the company. We have Aster which offers NBC and ABC out of New York, CNN, Fox News, FX, WGN Chicago, TBS, TNT, USA, ESPN networks, HBO, Cinemax, WPIX CW 11 from New York, Golf Channel and few others. If you are a baseball fan, on a any given night during baseball season you will find most Major League games on via Wild feed. Cost per month is only around $15. Newspapers: every once in a while you find the Miami Herald or New York Times at one of the convenience stores for sale.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Well, we know of a samll handful of people here who somehow get around w/o using much Spanish, but to really enjoy getting to know the people and their culture, learning Spanish is a necessity. You will be able to get around, interact and better communicate your needs when you can communicate in Spanish. Most of the Dominicans here show a lot of grace when you at least attempt to communicate w/ them in Spanish. Have a teachable spirit and a good sense of humor about your language mistakes and many people here will be more than willing to help teach you.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Unfortunately, most facilities in Santiago are not designed for people with physical disabilities
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Right side just like the states. But driving here tends to be much more chaotic than in the states. The government is trying to crack down on people running lights and have installled timers on the lights and more traffic cops patrolling the busiest intersections. Once you get used to the driving, you'll learn to go with the flow.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis: are readily avaliable and cost anywhere from 100-150 pesos per one way trip ($3-$5).They are safe. Just agree on a fare at the beginning of the trip. Motoconchos: public cars. very cheap, but can get very crammed w/ passengers. Just watch your wallet/pocket book. You can rent a whole car by forking over some extra pesos. Guagas: (mini buses) can be crammed w/ up to 20 people-maybe more. Very cheap-but the same rule applies, watch your wallet or pocket book. There are plans in the works to build a high speed rail service fromt he airport to the central business district. The long range plan will be to connect that rail to the rail/subwayservice being built currently in Santo Domingo. However, it would be some time until it gets completed.
3. 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?
You can get by w/ a regular sedan, but if you want to travel with more ease over the many potholes or do some driving on the back country roads, it might be a good idea to fork over the extra bucks to purchase a 4 wheel drive SUV. Be sure to have a car alarm and/or steering wheel lock. Parts are readily avaliable here for most Japanese cars, Peugots, and Fords. Tires are affordable.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. We have DSL connection w/ a wireless modem in our house through the company Codetel. We pay about $30 a month for internet. Many restaurants and the Plaza Internacional Mall now have wireless internet access.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are several cell phone companies here. Claro/Codetel and Orange are the 2 biggest companies. What we did and many other people we know do is bring the cell phone from the states and have it re-configured for use on the network here. Verizon phones tend to reconfigure well for use on Codetel/Claro's network and Sprint and Virgin Mobil phones tend to configure well for Orange use. We just purchase phone cards that give you a certain amount of minutes. It takes a couple months for us to use those minutes up, but we don't use our cell phones a whole lot. If you are a heavy cell phone user or like to text msg a lot, signing up for a plan would probably be your best bet.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
We have a U.S. phone # through Vonage which goes through our DSL connection. We pay about US$17 a month for the service. Many people we know here also use Skype.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Great-there is a large and very reputable veterinary clinic just around the corner from our house that we know many expats have used. We also had no problem bringing our cat into the country with us-just be sure to get a rabies shot and a vet's clean bill of health (w/ documentation) within 10 days of arrival to the DR.
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?
Not sure, most are pre-hired before they arrive.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dominicans have a higher level of dress expectations than generally found in the United States and Canada. Sensitivity on the part of expats is essential so as not to offend Dominicans. Where I work I am expected to dress in a manner appropriate to the Dominican culture both on and off of school grounds. As a man, I do not go out dressed in shorts in public-men who wear shorts in public are viewed as
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate. Some pollution, but the Capital (Santo Domingo) is much worse. Trade wind breezes that blow into the Cibao (the valley in which Santiago is located) tend to keep the exhaust fumes from sitting in the valley too long. During the winter months, the air tends to be cooler, clearer and even cleaner.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
To be honest-some. But like any large city in the United States-you must be smart-don't walk alone at night (especially if you're a woman), and keep your doors and gates locked at all times. Also, don't leave valuables sitting in your car where people can see and steal them. We have a German Shepherd who also helps deter any thieves. Most importantly, don't flaunt your wealth and make yourself any easy target to get robbed. But from what Dominicans and expats tell me, Santiago is a much safer place to live than in the capital.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health Care: Quality is Improving. A new hospital just opened up here called HOMS. Many of the best doctors and specialists in the Carribean practice medicine there. I have also been highly impressed with the dental care as well-they were using the latest technology from the USA. That said, if you needed some type of major major surgery or treatment for some type of rare disease, returning to the states or a medivac to Miami would be your best bet. Health Concerns: The biggest concern here right now is Dengue Fever from mosquitos. Some of our friends and their family members have contracted Dengue. All of them were able to get excellent treatment here at HOMS medical center and have since recovered. Suggestion-to limit the chance of getting Dengue you should install screens on your windows even if you live on the 4th story of an apartment. It is not 100% foolproof, but will help keep most of the mosquitos out of your home. The Water: as mentioned earlier- do not drink the tap water due to prevalence of parasites. I would also avoid purchasing food from street venders from whom you could get food poisoning from outdated or poorly handled food
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are generally 2 seasons in Santiago:May to about mid November: Hot, Humid w/ a chance of a daily Thunderstorm after 4pm. Highs generally in the Upper 80s to Low 90s. Nights in the 70s. August, Sept and October are especially humid as you are in the height of the tropical storm season. Still the trade wind breezes and Santiago's close proximity to the mountains moderate the heat somewhat. Santiago usually feels the rain and occasional flooding effects of a hurricane and tropical storms; the mountains surrounding the city tend to shield us from the worst of the winds from a hurricane. December to April: Absolutely beautiful. Highs rarely hit 90 during this time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Santiago Christian School-a K-12 school. English-speaking, American style classes taught by certified teachers mainly from the United States and Canada. The school also offers AP classes for high schoolers. Most of the nationals and expat children who attend SCS go on to colleges and universities in the United States, Korea and the Dominican Republic. SCS offers also a dual diploma program for Dominican nationals wishing to obtain both a US accredited HS diploma and a Dominican one. The school has a mix of expat kids (American, Korean, Chinese and European), MKs and Dominican nationals from the most prestigious families in the Santiago area.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Santiago Christian School does accept a certain amount of students with learning disabilities.
3. 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?
Santiago Christian School has recently added a Pre-K 2 program. However there are numerous daycares all over the city, but SCS's is the only one I know in English.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a nice sized American and Korean missonary community. Also many expats from Korea, the US and Europe who work in the Industrial Free Zone are here with their families.
2. Morale among expats:
Most expats we know enjoy it here. Life is not not without its inconviences here, but those expats who have developed a support circle consisting of a good balance between expats and Dominicans thrive here.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for all three!! For families, once your kids get to know other kids of families (both Dominican and expat) they will find kids to play with. As for family activities, there is a great water park for all ages in town called Kaskada Park. A modern bowling alley just opened here about 1 year ago and is a family favorite. The north coast beaches of Sosua and Cabarete are within an hour to 1 and half hours drive from Santiago for day trips to the beach. There is also a series of waterfalls that kids like to go about 45 minutes to an hour away near the mountain town of Jarabacoa.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Racial Prejudice-Dominicans are a fun loving and great group of people, but they hold deepfeelings of racism towards the darker-skinned Haitians. Religious-nothing noticeableGender-nothing extreme, women are treated well, but still not as equal as in the USA or Europe.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Going to the Beach (Sosua and Cabarete-kitesurfing), hiking at nearby Armando Bermudez National Park, walking, people watching at the Parque Central, shopping, and there is a jazz club in the center of town that I hear is great.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
Yes, especially when you buy Dominican brands of food.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes and we still are here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter Coats and thick sweaters (unless you plan a trip high up in the Mountains)-even up there a hoodie or sweatshirt will do just fine.
3. But don't forget your:
Good shoes for walking, most other things you can purchase here or order via mail.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
We love living and working in Santiago. But more than the city, we enjoy living with and learning from the people here.