Expats in Chile
Chile is possibly one of the least talked about expatriate destinations, yet one of the best for expats of all ages and from all backgrounds. The nation has so much in its favor – from a good climate to an affordable cost of living, and from a low crime society to a strong and sustainable economy – that it is really worth examining if you’re looking for a place to call ‘home’ abroad.
Whether you want to retire abroad, you want to live in a nation where the people are welcoming and the way of life is suitably laid back, or you want to travel, teach, study or explore, Chile is worthy of your closer inspection.
To bring the nation alive for anyone researching Chile we’ve interviewed a handful of Escape Artist readers who have made a new home abroad in this truly stunning and fascinating country – and as you will see, our readers tell it like it is, warts and all!
Firstly though, to provide a general overview of the nation and to introduce you to why it’s really worth a close look, here are just 10 reasons why Chile is an excellent expat destination…
- Chile has weathered the global economic storm exceptionally well. Prior to 2008 the nation enjoyed eight to ten years of consecutive and record growth thanks to a combination of tight fiscal and monetary policy, coupled with a commitment to market-oriented reform and international openness. Going forward, despite the natural slowdown caused by the world’s economic issues, Chile is continuing to enjoy a relatively fast pace of growth in terms of its economic activity.
- In many of Chile’s larger towns and cities, and particularly in Santiago, healthcare facilities are exceptional. Most senior medical practitioners have an international education, and the actual cost of accessing private treatment is affordable compared with prices in America, Great Britain and Europe for example. It is expected that in time, Chile will become known as a hub for medical tourism because of the standard of care available and the affordable nature of treatment.
- Medical insurance is affordably within reach for Western expats; with Americans particularly impressed with how ‘cheap’ in relative terms health insurance is in Chile.
- Chile levies no personal income tax on foreign retirement benefits, pensions, and social security payments – what’s more it has double taxation agreements in place with many nations including the US. This means that it is legitimately possible to retire tax-free to Chile.
- Foreign sourced income other than that discussed above in point 4 is income tax free in Chile for the first three years of an expat’s residency – with special extensions of this waiver sometimes being granted by the tax authority.
- In theory gaining temporary and then permanent residency in Chile is relatively straightforward – what’s more, if you speak Spanish, you own real estate in Chile and/or you’re in receipt of a regular income from investments, pensions or work, these things will all work in your favor and expedite your application!
- Chile is generally internationally regarded as being safe with a stable political system; what’s more it ranks well in terms of transparency and lack of corruption. The people are generally moderate and liberal in their way of thinking.
- The cost of living well in Chile is affordable compared to living well in most modern and first world North American and European nations. Expat retirees find they can live comfortably on their foreign sourced pension, and if you earn an income outside of the local economy (e.g., if you have an internet based or international business for example) you may find yourself regarded as a ‘Chileanaire!’
- Depending on where you chose to live in Chile you can access a desert like climate in the north, a temperate and wonderful Mediterranean climate in the middle and a cool, even damp climate if you head far south. I.e., Chile has something for everyone in terms of its weather and its stunning scenery too!
- The infrastructure in Chile’s main towns and cities is excellent – and yet it is beautifully contrasted by the unspoiled and untouched natural beauty of more rural Chile where you really can escape, and get off the beaten track.
If our brief examination of just 10 of the best things about Chile have whetted your appetite to learn more about living in Chile, read on to hear how a handful of Escape Artist subscribers have already made their new home in this fascinating South American nation.
Mr J: Former US citizen now retired to Santiago
When my wife and I first started looking at places to retire overseas we looked at Mexico (too crowded), Panama (too expensive), Italy (too complicated) and Argentina (too foreign). We invested so much time and energy discounting nations that when my wife tentatively mentioned an article she’d read about Chile, we were almost too beat to research the nation further! Thankfully we did, and despite hunting really hard in advance for any negatives we’d really face if we took the decision to relocate, we found nothing that put us off.
We visited Chile for three weeks prior to making the commitment to move, and when in Santiago we hooked up with another American couple we’d connected with on a forum online. They showed us ‘their’ Santiago and I have to say we were hooked. The benefit of having this insider’s guide to the city helped us make our minds up that we really could call Chile home…otherwise we’d have gone home none the wiser as vacationers who’d just had a great holiday in a fascinating country.
To make life easier we decided to move to Santiago too – it’s the capital of Chile and a really bustling city with so much life and so many facilities, amenities and activities. We needed to learn Spanish, we needed to make friends, and we felt we therefore needed to be in the heart of the country – in its capital city.
We love the general liberalism of the people here, we love the cost of living (so much cheaper than back home, despite the fact that we live well and we live in a city and we have domestic help). We love the dynamism of this country, we feel safe and free compared to when we were living back home, and we also love the travel options. We’ve explored Chile top to bottom, we’ve visited Patagonia and seen the best of Argentina.
The only things we miss are our friends back home, and the only things we dislike about our new life are the seasonal smog in this city which you can actually taste on a bad day, and the disparity between rich and poor – but then that exists even in America. We’ve discussed the option of moving out of the city at some point because there are times when it’s too hectic for us, but we’ve yet to make our minds up – all I know is that we’re not moving out of the country, wherever we choose it will still be in Chile, and it will probably still be within reach of Santiago!
Miss E: US citizen working in Valparaíso
I first came to Chile on a four-month exchange when I was at university studying Spanish – I was based in Valdivia but spent as much of my free time travelling the length and (not very wide!) breadth of the entire nation. (Mini factoid for you – apparently the length of Chile is the equivalent of the distance from Norway to Nigeria!) When I arrived in Valparaíso I felt ‘at home’ – it’s very difficult to explain why exactly, but I just loved the city.
I grew up in San Francisco, and historically Valparaíso has been called ‘little San Francisco’ so perhaps that’s why it just felt so much like home to me! When I’d graduated I couldn’t seem to settle back home and so I decided to take a radical move and come back to Chile and look for work.
Initially I had a temporary visa, but because I quickly found work teaching I decided that I wanted to stay and found the process of obtaining permanent residency fairly straightforward, if a little long-winded.
Valparaíso is culturally diverse, it’s definitely a tourism hub too! So life in the city is exciting and fun on a daily basis, and the nightlife is, I think, the best in Chile! I’ve made lifelong friends here and I intend to remain living in Valparaíso – although I do miss my family very much. They usually visit every year over Christmas and New Year, staying for the best fireworks in the world – the aftermath from which is never particularly pretty I have to say. Street cleaning here leaves a lot to be desired!
The cost of living has risen for me in the last couple of years, and Chile has definitely been hit by the world’s economic problems at least in part (even if some people want to deny it), other than that the only obvious negative I’d flag up is the earthquake risk – but I can’t think of any other specific negatives about the nation that I’d flag up for a visitor or a would-be foreign resident.
Mr H: British citizen living and working in La Serena
Like many people, when I first moved to Chile I lived in Santiago and believed I was getting to know the country the best way possible – that is by living in its capital city and main hub…however, every time I travelled outside the city I realized that the people in Santiago are not at all representative of Chileans – they are generally more obnoxious and rude and if you want to get the best of the nation you’re better off only visiting Santiago occasionally!
I now live in a city in Northern Chile where I like to say it never rains! We have an unusual climate here in that we ‘enjoy’ heavy dews and drizzle rather than great big downpours – so everything is kept fresh, but I manage to avoid the constant rain that I really hated when I lived in Northern England.
La Serena is a holiday centre in Chile, which means in season it can be crowded and I do like to get away from the city at the weekend – imagine bumper to bumper traffic and hyped up vacationers taking over. But it’s worth it because out of season we get the city to ourselves.
It’s historically fascinating, architecturally and geographically beautiful, and it also has a really good range of amenities and decent infrastructure that I think some people still think you’re only like to get in the capital. The beach is great too – but remember the water is cold!
If you want to get out of town then the Elqui Valley is right on our doorstep, and it’s a fascinating and beautiful part of Chile – unrivalled in my opinion in terms of its attraction and appeal. There’s an incredible vibe in the valley, and the climate it enjoys rivals any in the Mediterranean region for example.
I have adjusted to life in Chile completely, I don’t think I’d feel at home anywhere else now – but I know other expats who say it’s still too foreign or even third world to them, and in my line of work (education) I’ve seen many come, fail to integrate and go. Personally I don’t get this – sure, it’s not as sophisticated in many ways as the US or even the UK, but in many other ways the Chileans have got it so much better than those who live in nations in Northern Europe or North America.
In terms of any advice I’d give to anyone thinking about relocating to Chile it would have to be research your location and make sure you will be able to find employment to pay your way or that you have investments to cover your cost of living. Also, do your homework in terms of visas and the bureaucracy that you’ll face depending on the country you come from originally, and know that although the cost of living here is cheap in relative terms for many, so the local economy doesn’t pay wages that necessarily seem all that attractive to Westerners.
Chile has an awful lot stacked in its favor, and we had plenty of expat readers to choose from to interview for this article – all of whom have established a permanent new home in Chile. The country has many interesting cities and large towns where it’s theoretically possible to find employment and/or establish a comfortable life, however with so much choice comes responsibility to get the choice right!
Chile is definitely a country one needs to try before committing to for relocation – but because it is economically and politically strong, it doesn’t suffer from high crime, excessive poverty or extreme corruption and it welcomes foreigners, there will probably be so much in its favor that any negatives you do encounter will be far outweighed by the positive elements of this stunning South American nation.
About the author: Susan Beverley is a writer and editor for Escape From America Magazine and also writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – the expat news blog for EscapeArtist.com. She traveled extensively before becoming an expat herself having found a place to call home in South America where she has lived since 2005. She understands the concerns, needs and difficulties that expats face from first-hand experience and is dedicated to supporting and encouraging anyone who is looking for a new nation to call home. [ send her an email ]
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