Living In Chile As An Expat – The Essential Guide

Everything you need to know about living in Chile as an expat and how to make it possible.

If you want to live in South America but don’t want that much “spice” in your life, living in Chile as an expat is your best bet.

Chile is a Latin American country. It’s one of the safest, most organized, and economically stable in the region. However, it’s most certainly very different from your home country, so get ready for a certain amount of culture shock.

Is Chile a good place to live?

If you keep your mind open, Chile will be a great place to live. As the culture and lifestyle in Chile are so unique, it is easy to complain about many things. Instead, be flexible and focus on the possibilities Chile is offering.

Living in Chile
Traditional stilt houses known as palafitos in the city of Castro at Chiloe Island in Southern Chile.

Chile is a land of opportunities, and it can be very easy to take advantage of them.

It is an excellent place for entrepreneurs. There are very few barriers to starting a business, and bureaucracy is surprisingly low. You will find many exciting coworking spaces with people from all around the world. The Chilean government has several programs to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

If you are a summer person, the climate will suit you. It is warm or hot for a substantial part of the year. Plus, there is great skiing in the Andes in the winter.

If you like cooler weather, head to the south and find stunning places to live while enjoying a breeze.

Chile is well known for its beautiful nature. It has been named the best destination for adventure and natural holidays for several years. Whatever you are into, you will find it in Chile: from desert to beach, lakes, rivers, mountains, glaciers, and Eastern Island is part of Chile too!

Chile is well connected by inexpensive national flights from south to north. You could also opt for a road trip as the N°5 highway connects Chile from the northernmost point to Puerto Montt. To go further, you can continue on a ferry or through Argentine to the southernmost part of Chile.

Health care and education in Chile are controversial subjects. If you can afford it (most Chileans can’t), you can access private clinics with the most modern medical equipment and great doctors. If you can’t afford it, get used to long waiting lists. The same goes for schools.

What should I know before moving to Chile?

You must first understand that Santiago de Chile, the capital, is very different from the rest of the country. It might even seem that Santiago is its own country.

Living in Chile
Santiago, Chile

Santiago is a modern, vibrant, multicultural city with all modern amenities. It’s very multicultural which is brilliant if you love dining out – there are restaurants here offering cuisine from every part of the world.

But it is also full of people, cranky drivers, it’s polluted, and compared to Europe or the US, it can be dangerous.

The city is divided into “comunas” (communes).” Some comunas are safe and wealthy, others are impoverished and unsafe.

The “other” Chile might seem poor, disconnected, and a bit out-of-date. There is much less employment. Still, people are amicable and helpful, and nature is breathtaking. The atmosphere is very relaxed compared to the Santiago rush and stress.

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Imagine living with no mobile connection or internet, – this is what you can get in rural parts of Chile.

While living in a smaller city, I had to renew my expired driving license. The whole experience was like time travel: I had to fill out the forms by hand, they took my picture with an old-fashioned camera, printed it, and glued it to the permit.

Can foreigners live in Chile?

Chile has several kinds of visas: tourist visas, working visas, student visas, and temporary visas. Unfortunately, the visa application process is quite long. A decade ago, getting a working visa took around three months (from the date sent to stamping the passport). Now, it can take a year.

Living in Chile
Puerto Varas, in the heart of the Chilean Lake District, is located on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, providing its residents with breathtaking views across the lake to the snow-capped volcanic cone of Osorno.

On February 12, 2022, a new immigration law came into place that changed a few things. The visas remain the same for now, but the application has changed. Any information in this section might change in the near future, the immigration office is still in the process of adapting all the online information and processes.

Up to now, you could enter Chile on a tourist visa and start the application process for a temporary or working visa while in the country. The new law allows doing this only for certain visas (mostly family ties).

According to the new rules, you will have to apply from your home country for your temporary visa through the National Immigration Service.

On the other hand, the process is becoming digital rather than sending the application via traditional mail. You will get the status of “in-process-of-visa” immediately rather than after almost six months. You should get your RUN (Chilean identification number) faster, while still in the application process. These last two changes will make the life of foreigners easier and will ensure their legal status.

Visa types

Tourist visa: 

Depending on your country of origin, you might not need to apply for a tourist visa before coming to Chile. A tourist visa is valid for 90 days. It is possible to renew the tourist visa by paying a one-time fee for another 90 days. A tourist visa doesn’t allow you to work in Chile.

Working visa:

To get a working visa you need to have an employer in Chile. You can only work for the company you have a contract with, you cannot do freelance work. This visa can be issued for up to 2 years. You can renew it for up to another two years or apply for residency.

Temporary visa: 

This visa is granted based on family ties with a Chilean or another permanent resident, for religious reasons, to ex-residents, retirees or renters, investors, traders, or for other reasons. This visa is granted for one year, and you can work, study, invest or do any other legal activity. After one year, you can reapply or apply for a residency.

Student visa: 

This visa allows you to study, but you cannot work. There are some exceptions when you can apply for a working permit to do your internship or pay for your studies. The visa is granted for a year, extendable yearly for the duration of your studies. After two years, you can apply for residency.

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The pros and cons of living in Chile

The pros of living in Chile

1. It’s safe

Chile and Uruguay are the safest countries in the Latin-American region. Still, they might seem dangerous coming from other parts of the world. You do need to know where you can go and which areas you should avoid.

You will definitely hear about robberies in the news or from friends. However, I have lived here for 11 years and haven’t experienced even pickpocketing.

2. Nature and the great outdoors

Urban tourism might not be Chilean strength, but the nature in Chile is simply amazing.

Living in Chile
Torres del Paine national park. Patagonia, Chile

Chile is a large country with a relatively small population which leads to the vast countryside. Whatever you are into, you can find it here: desert, forest, glaciers, lakes, ocean, rivers, vineyards, hiking, skiing, surfing, swimming, rafting, biking, etc.

3. Easy-going and friendly people

Chileans are very friendly and hospitable (even more if you are in the countryside). They are lively and like to celebrate everything and anything.

Remember one thing: no social commitment is ever 100% fixed. If a better plan comes up, Chileans will simply change their mind and not show up to a party they said yes to before. Sometimes they will not even let you know. Nobody gets offended, so you shouldn’t either. If 20 people said yes to your party, expect 10-15 people to show up.

4. Women in power

Compared to other Latin American countries, Chile is much less sexist. Chile already had a female president twice (Michele Bachelet both times), and many women occupy high posts in the government and public institutions. Women have a lot of say in Chilean families, public institutions, and private companies. 

5. Technologically advanced

Urban Chile is all about the internet. We have 5G, many public institutions work entirely online (no paper forms), and eCommerce in Chile works very well. Tech innovation is highly valued and endorsed by various government programs.

6. Good wine

If you are into wine, Chile has a lot to offer. There are a lot of wineries here mainly in the central valley. But even in the south of Chile, you can enjoy a wine-tasting session or go out on a vineyard tour.

It’s possible to buy good wine in almost any supermarket for an excellent price. 

The cons of living in Chile

1. Slow visa process

In the last decade, immigration to Chile rose substantially, but the Inmigration office did not adapt much. Unfortunately, you might be waiting for your visa for months or even more than a year. It is tough, if not impossible, to get anyone on the phone and get information on your visa status.

2. Nothing is on time

If you are an “on time” person, you have a lot of getting-used-to ahead. Almost nothing is ever on time.

Living in Chile
Vineyards in Central Chile.

When invited to your first Chilean party, you might show up first. The host might not even be at home yet, or they may be taking a shower (talking from experience).

Parties start much later than they invite you (like 2 hours late).  

Even work meetings, conferences, concerts, plays, and performances may start late. It was a pleasant surprise when I realized that the trains usually run on time. 

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3. Poor quality service

You might find that Chilean companies don’t offer good service unless it’s an expensive, luxury product or service. Sometimes, you might get a feeling that they don’t really want to sell the product or service because if they wanted to, they would at least make an effort.

4. Mostly bland food

Chilean food is not world-renowned, and it is for a good reason: most Chilean food is not very interesting.

The most used spice is oregano, other herbs rarely get used. Despite Chile’s name reminding of chile peppers, the food is rarely spicy. They only use a few spicy sauces like “ají” and “pebre“.

The big exception is seafood. The seafood dishes are delicious. Beware when you Chilean seafood the first time: it may contain a type of bacteria you haven’t been exposed to before, that can give you so-called “chilenitis,” a stomach bug that manifests as acute diarrhea.

If you are a meat lover, you’ll love here. Chileans are huge fans of BBQ, called “asado,” and celebrate anything and everything with one.

Senior living in Chile

You can retire to Chile, provided you qualify for a retirement visa. As the cost of living here is not that high, you can enjoy a good quality of life. 

Living in Chile
Puerto Natales, Chile – Gulf Almirante Montt in Patagonia, Magallanes Region.

If you come to enjoy retirement, you might want to look to other places than Santiago.

There are several recommendable places to live. La Serena, Viña del Mar or Valparaíso by the sea, Valdivia or Pucón in the south, Santa Cruz, the capital of vineyards, or any other rural place you might fall in love with.

It is probably best to live close to a city to stock up, access medical care, or do other errands.  

Retirement homes are not very attractive in Chile, so prepare to care for yourself.

Chile retirement visa

A retirement visa is a subclass of temporary residence visas that allows you to live one year in Chile. Although it is called a retirement visa, you can still apply for a work permit if you want to work in Chile.

It might sound strange, but you do not need to be retired to apply for a retirement visa. As long as you can prove you have a source of recurring income and sufficient assets to support yourself and your family in Chile, you can qualify.

As proof, you can use your pension income, rental income, investment income, etc.

There’s no minimum income figure required by the immigration authorities, the rule is you should have enough income to support yourself and your family in your chosen area of Chile.

However, showing at least US$1,000 per person should be enough to qualify.

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Is it expensive to live in Chile?

Living in Chile is not super expensive, but it is not cheap either. It also highly depends on where you live. Santiago (and some other mining cities) are more costly than living elsewhere. There are huge differences within Santiago too. 

Living in Chile
Valparaiso, Chile.

To simplify it, the further east-north in Santiago you live, the more expensive it gets. Assuming you will choose a comfortable but not the most expensive place to live, you would need around 1250 -1500 USD to cover the basic costs: rent, food, internet, transportation, and other living costs per person.

Rent can get expensive. A 3-bedroom apartment in the Santiago center (very busy, not as safe, but very central) will average around 750 USD, in Providencia (nicer, safer, very centric), 1000 USD. In the fanciest parts, the rent of the same kind of apartment may cost 1800 USD or more.

The essential utilities like electricity, heating, cooling, water, garbage can cost 135 USD. The internet is 30 USD, a cellphone plan is 20 USD.

Buying fresh produce is cheap if you go to a local market. With 30 – 40 USD, you can fill an average shopping bag on wheels and have produce for the whole week or even two. An average cost for monthly grocery shopping per person would be around 200 – 250 USD.

A mid-range restaurant bill for two people can be around 50 USD, but you can have a full meal for 5 USD in a local eatery. 

A metro and bus ticket is around 1 USD, taxis and Uber or similar are cheap.

Traveling around the country is very reasonable if you go by bus. Trains are less common and only go to a few places. It costs double, and that is still a reasonable price.

Plane tickets are affordable, and there are many fascinating national destinations.

Where to live in Chile

In Santiago, most expats are concentrated in a few communes: Santiago center or Ñuñoa for the lower-priced neighborhoods, and Providencia, Vitacura, Las Condes for a higher standard of living.

Living in Chile
Viña del Mar, Valparaiso Region, Chile.

When renting an apartment as a foreigner, you must prove your financial status. It is hard to come by rent for less than 1 year. If you want to stay for a short stay, furnished apartments or shared apartments will be easier to accommodate this request. 

Out of Santiago, there are a few favorite places among the foreigners: Viña del Mar or Valparaiso, 90 minutes drive from Santiago, on the beach, with all the advantages of a big city, and fewer downsides of one. In summer it gets crowded, though.

A 6-hour drive north of Santiago, La Serena is becoming an international hub. Located on the beach with mild weather and in the vicinity of the beautiful Valle del Elqui (Elqui Valley).

Consider Valdivia and Pucón, or neighboring towns in the south, if you want a cooler climate and very close to nature.

You will find more information on where to live in Chile in our Best Places To Live In Chile guide.

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The final thoughts on living in Chile

If you are nature-loving and relatively relaxed or adaptable, you will find living in Chile as an expat attractive.

Many foreigners embrace entrepreneurship and business opportunities, others enjoy tranquil living in the slow-paced countryside. There are many great places to live and even more to travel. Come without big expectations, and Chile will surprise you!

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Lenka Babarikova

Lenka is a freelance writer from Slovakia and an experienced expat. She travelled the world extensively and lived in Spain and Taiwan before choosing Chile as her final destination.

Together with her husband, she built rental cabins in the beautiful countryside where her guests relax while enjoying nature and exploring stunning surroundings.
Her passions are spending time with her baby and seeing how fast he learns about the world, living an eco-friendly lifestyle, eating and cooking vegan food.

Lenkas's background is in linguistics and communication, and she uses it in her writing and translation work.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Bonita,

    Arica is one of the cities I would have recommended if it wasn’t for the current immigration crisis in the north part of Chile. Should the crisis end, it could be a great place to retire.
    It is a tranquil town, known as the “town of the eternal spring”, with warm weather, nice waves for surfers, amazing nature around, and slow-paced life.

  2. Hi Lenka,

    Do you know any community who are open to have volunteers for sustainable living, gardening, or for restoration projects? I’m looking for opportunities in Chile. I have a permaculture designer certificate, if that matters.

    Thanks so much,
    Adel

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