Santiago, Chile Report of what it's like to live there - 04/12/09

Personal Experiences from Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile 04/12/09

Background:

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

Not my first expat experience. I have lived in Manila, Philippines, Tokyo, Japan, Caracas, Venezuela, Lima, Peru, Panama City, Panama, San Jose, Costa Rica, and now Santiago, Chile.

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2. How long have you lived here?

I have been here for 9 months now.

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

Government - U.S. Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

About 9 hours to Miami.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

For those without kids - most will live closer to the city, in Las Condes, which is walking distance to the U.S. and many other embassies.

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

I have a hunch that there is a a special work program for the descendants of Nazis who fled to Chile after WWII - they all now work in Chile's agricultural service (SAG). Their mission is to preclude the entry into Chile of any food or natural product. You will encounter them at the airport upon arrival (better to step off your flight with a kilo of cocaine in your rectum than a forgotten apple in your bag!). Despite relying heavily on exports, Chile is surprisingly closed to food imports - which contributes to a disappointing selection at supermarkets. You'll simply have to learn to go without, since it's unlikely that you could even smuggle things in your luggage past the fascists at the airport.

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

Nothing food-related, since it would only be confiscated upon arrival.

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

Chilean food is nothing to write home about. In fact, the only spice they use with frequency is salt. Unlike their Peruvian neighbors, Chileans do not appear to enjoy nor appreciate good food. That said, there are plenty of good restaurants in Santiago, but a good meal is not cheap.

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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?

We use the Embassy's post office.

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

Peruvian domestics (nanas, as they say in Chile) are the best.

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

Yes, but they are very expensive compared to U.S. prices.

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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?

Available. Safe. Expensive fees.

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

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Cable or Direct TV is available.

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

I speak fluent Spanish, and yet I struggled upon arrival to learn Chileno. In addition to using made-up words (poniente for oeste; mantencion instead of mantenimiento; or entretencion instead of entretenimiento), the Chileans have an odd way of speaking. Some sound like they are speaking in falsetto, others speak as if they're talking to a child, and many men speak as if someone is grabbing on too tightly to their family jewels. However, Spanish is necessary - most Chileans study english in school, but cannot speak or understand it.

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

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Transportation:

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

Safe and affordable.

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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?

Small cars are probably best. Gas is expensive (due to taxes) and the roads are excellent.

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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.

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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?

Good luck figuring out the dialing system in Chile!

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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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes.

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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, it is fairly easy for an expat to get a legal work visa.

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

Conservative - all black, grey, or navy blue, especially in the winter. Classic styles.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Quite unhealthy - I have given up running outside, especially during the winter months. For the first time in my life, my lungs feel weighted down and I will occasionally wheeze (I do not, and have never, smoked either) after running outside in Santiago.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Don't know.

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

Santiago is probably one of the safest capital cities in Latin America. There is some pickpocketing and purse snatching in the downtown areas, and tourists and obvious foreigners are usually preyed upon there.

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

Good medical care.

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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?

It's almost always sunny in Santiago. Rain is a rarity during the summer months. And even in the winter, there are quite a few sunny days.

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Schools & Children:

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

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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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.

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2. Morale among expats:

OK, I guess. There is no sense of community, so it depends more on your group of friends. I think most people arrive in Chile with higher expectations, which settles into disappointment. Most are more than happy when their tours are completed.

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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?

The usual in a large, cosmopolitan city.

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

Sure - Santiago has a lot to offer everyone. However, regarding singles - compared to other Latin American countries, Chileans are less keen on dating foreigners. They are rather closed and stick to themselves. Most of your friends will likely be other expats.

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

I would guess that it would be confusing for gay men - given the way that even straight Chilean men carry themselves. In general, society is extremely traditional in Chile - while there are gay clubs, you will unlikely see outward signs of homosexuality even in cosmopolitan Santiago.(Except for the El Golf neighborhood of Las Condes, where there seem to be an abundance of transvestite prostitutes lurking on the street corners at night.)

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

Anyone with African blood is treated like a rockstar in Santiago. In clubs, black men will literally be groped and goosed - especially by aggressive Chilean cougars. A Chilean man would die to bed a mulatta. Yet it would be very unlikely for these same Chileans to ever openly date a black person. I chalk up this behavior to severe sexual repression.

Re: gender bias - Chile is probably one of the most machista countries in Latin America. Despite having a female President, Chile has no female CEOs and very few professional women. I am a female and I often take male contacts out to lunch/dinner - the waiters will often laugh outright when I choose the wine or pay the bill. Another pet peeve is when waiters completely ignore me - the only woman at a table of men - and walk away without taking my order (I assume they think that since a man didn't order for me, I wasn't going to eat). Chilean women pride themselves on being mother-martyrs and uber-housewives, and education and career are not priorities. It was recently reported in the local newspapers how Chile scored poorly in world labor rankings due to the lack of women in the workforce. This is also likely due to ridiculously generous maternity packages which have the effect of disincentivizing the hiring of women.

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

Too many to list - grab a guidebook for ideas.

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

Excellent wines.

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9. Can you save money?

Probaby not.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Depends on what my other options were. What's not to like in Chile? It's a beautiful country. Very safe, orderly, with courteous, respectful people. However, the country as a whole lacks charm and passion, and is in fact, quite dull.

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

Teetotaling ways. The wine is great.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunblock. The sun is strong here, and the newspapers publish a daily sun index as a warning. Despite the dangers of the hole in the ozone layer, I am always amazed at the supertan Chilean women. They tan better than Argentinian leather.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Chile is an island, more so than any other natural island. Surrounded by the world's driest, highest altitude desert to the north (the Atacama), the Andes to the east, Antarctica to the south, and the vast Pacific to the west, Chile has been closed off to the world for most of its history, and you will be quick to notice the mentality when you arrive here. They are wary of foreigners - their social circles include their relatives and some longtime childhood friends. Unlike other Latin American countries, Chileans will not be eager to befriend you, perhaps because they are protective of their mutated, in-bred society.

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