Expat Living In Santiago, Chile: 8 Facts You Must Know

Planning a move to Chile? Discover Santiago's most popular neighborhoods and what expat life is really like in the Chilean capital.

Santiago, the capital of Chile, is very similar to other big cities worldwide. It’s bright and busy, with frequent traffic jams, exciting nightlife, parks, museums, and other leisure activities. 

There are modern neighborhoods with a skyscraper skyline, quiet residential areas with playgrounds, and impoverished areas with tiny houses that look like they are made of cardboard. Santiago is a city of contrasts. 

So what is it like living in Santiago as an expat? Read on to find out.

1. What is Santiago like?

Santiago is the most populated city in Chile.

The region surrounding the city called Región Metropolitana has 8 million inhabitants (more than 40% of Chileans live here). Almost 6 million live in the city’s urban perimeter.

The city is located in the central valley. It is a 90-minute ride from the ocean and based on the foothills of the spectacular Andes. 

Within the city, there is all that you might need: accommodation, supermarkets, and shops ranging from brandless to top brands, local eateries, high-end restaurants, medical centers, schools, museums, theatres, cinemas, art shows, parks and playgrounds, sporting clubs, you name it. 

There is no reason to get bored here, as there is always something to discover and do.

2. Are the neighborhoods (comunas) safe in Santiago?

Before you venture on a discovery trip, it is essential to learn some details.

The Región Metropolitana is divided into 52 comunas, 17 rural. The communes are municipality-level subdivisions, and each has a local government.

Some comunas are wealthy, others poor and can be dangerous. Being born into a better commune means better education, health care, safety on the street, more parks, and even access to free leisure activities provided by the local government.

It is recommended to know which comunas are safe and which to avoid. Unfortunately, even in safer neighborhoods, pickpocketing or petty theft is common.

Generally speaking, the safest comunas are the ones located from the city center towards the east: Las Condes, Vitacura, Providencia, Lo Barnechea, La Reina, Ñuñoa.

Santiago Centro might have high levels of pickpocketing, but I still consider it safe.

As nothing is just black or white, the other communes are not doomed, but you must find out which parts are safe or not within them. Some areas are totally OK to go to during the day but not as safe at night.

According to several sources, you should stay away or be careful if visiting these comunas: La Granja, Lo Espejo, Pudahuel, La Cisterna, Renca, San Ramon, La Pintana, El Bosque, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Cerro Navia, Lo Prado.

The communes I am not mentioning here are somewhere in between. If you are not sure, ask a local before going somewhere new. 

3. What are the best neighborhoods to live in Santiago?

1. Santiago Centro

Santiago Centro is a large comuna featuring the historical part of the city. It houses almost all the public offices. Its streets are bustling and densely populated. Be extra careful with your belongings here. It can be the heaven of the pickpockets.

There are commercial and residential areas, and there is everything you might need. The rent is more affordable, but usually, the apartments are located in high buildings close to each other. It is not uncommon to see into your neighbors’ windows. 

2. Ñuñoa

Ñuñoa is located to the east of Santiago Centro and to the south of Providencia. It is one of the oldest eastern communes, and it is predominantly residential with excellent connectivity via metro and buses.

Alongside Avenida Irrarazaval, there are restaurants, bars, shops, office buildings, clinics, and other services.

Ñuñoa is mostly quiet and safe and has a high quality of life. The rent is in the mid-range. It has been one of the most developing and rising comunas in the last decade.

3. Providencia

Providencia is an upper-middle to upper-class comuna. It is very centrally located and has both commercial and residential areas. In the commercial space, there are some of the most popular malls. 

Many companies have offices in commercial buildings and even in the old elegant traditional houses scattered throughout the commune. The rent for these mansions is so elevated that only companies are willing to pay for them.

One of the largest urban parks in the world, Parque Metropolitano de Santiago, is located across several communes, including the northern side of Providencia. Most refer to it as Cerro San Cristobal, but San Cristobal Hill is only part of the more extensive park. 

The park is a popular destination for weekend leisure activities. There are bike and pedestrian lanes, a cable car to the top, and even two public swimming pools.

4. La Reina

Primarily residential comuna is known for low population density with abundant vegetation. It has very few high buildings as the municipality regulations don’t allow them.

It’s mostly populated by families of mid to upper-mid income with some high-income areas. There are mainly houses available for rent, which shows in the price.

5. Chicureo

Chicureo is only a small part of the commune called Colina. Colina is a very diverse commune with high-end and low-end areas. Chicureo is considered a high-end rural neighborhood.

You can choose to live in a stand-alone plot or live in a property that is part of a house community. As a member of a house community, you pay monthly maintenance fees and enjoy more security. 

If you want to live outside the busy city and be close to it, this is a good option. You must own a car, though. There is no convenient public transport to this area, and even buying bread might require a car drive.

6. Las Condes

Las Condes is a posh neighborhood. It has a super modern commercial and business center on the northwest side. It is usually called Santhattan (a mix of Santiago and Manhattan). There also are residential parts with big beautiful houses. 

Apoquindo Avenue and modern buildings of the Las Condes neighborhood
Apoquindo Avenue and modern buildings of the Las Condes neighborhood

Las Condes is very well connected by metro and buses, which could be its advantage over the other high-class comunas. You can enjoy parks, mid to high-end malls, and even a golf court.

7. Vitacura

Vitacura is another high-income, primarily residential commune. There are many elite private schools, health centers, sporting clubs, and shopping areas with the most exclusive brands.

The downside is it’s not that well connected. There is no metro, only buses, so a car is a must.

8. Lo Barnechea

Another mainly high-income commune is Lo Barnechea, located in the city’s northeastern sector.

This can be a very family-friendly place to live. However, it has poor connectivity to the rest of the city by public transportation, and it is pretty far from the rest of the town. 

This commune also has very low-income areas such as Cerro Dieciocho or Población La Ermita.

More affordable communes

If you are looking for more budget-friendly options, several communes would be great. Research the commune and its safety before deciding on the location. Each will have pretty safe areas and areas that should be avoided.

The communes worth researching are Macul, Peñalolen, La Florida, and Puente Alto in the southern part of the city or Maipú in the west.

4. Renting a place in Santiago

To be honest, it can be tricky to rent a place in Santiago. Most properties will require at least a 12-month contract, and a landlord will evaluate you as a prospective renter. 

The rent in Santiago is usually composed of two parts: the rent itself and the building utility bill. The building utility bill will include building electricity (not your private one) and water bill, wages of the concierge, cleaning staff, janitors, and building maintenance. 

Depending on the building amenities, it can be a considerable amount.

Sometimes it will include your own water bill, but usually, you have to pay for all your private consumption separately. 

Always ask about the building bill. Ask if there is a difference in the summer and winter months. Some buildings will have heating, and the winter months bill can be much higher than in the summer. 

Based on your budget, choose a neighborhood where to look for accommodation. The difference in prices between comunas is considerable.

The listings on most websites will mention whether it is handled by the owner or by a realtor. If you rent a place managed by a realtor, you have to pay them a fee, ranging between 50-100% of one monthly rent. 

To apply for most places, you have to submit the following documentation:

  • your latest payslips
  • payments to social security institutions
  • work contract
  • DICOM certificate: Dicom states your financial score and whether you have debts

Sometimes, they will ask for a co-signer and want to see the same documentation for the co-signer. 

Depending on the property, you will be required to pay a deposit/warranty between 1 to 2 rents if you get chosen. 

If you don’t meet these requirements, you can negotiate and pay several months ahead to convince the landlord. Usually, renting can get more expensive if you don’t have the required documentation.

Most places will be rented without furniture, but some agencies specialize in renting furnished apartments for midterm stays. 

Sometimes it is convenient to rent through Airbnb for a few months to gather the documents and rent later.

5. Transportation in Santiago

If you plan to buy a car and learn the term “taco, ” you will use it a lot. Don’t get excited! It’s not as tasty as its sounds. Taco in Chilean Spanish means a traffic jam. 

A cable car to the top of San Cristobal Hill in Santiago
Take a cable car to the top of San Cristobal Hill to enjoy the views of the city.

If possible, use the car for weekend outings to get to know the city and find alternative options for commuting to work. It might be a good option if your schedule is flexible and you can avoid the peak hours. 

Santiago has a very interconnected network of subway trains and buses. It is reasonably easy to get by public transport to any part of the city. Still, taking a bus might take a while, as you will be stuck in the same traffic jam we discussed earlier. If possible, always prefer the metro (subway).

Use transantiago.cl or the app RED to explore bus routes. Tickets cost between 640 and 800 pesos (about USD 0.80 – 1.00) and can be used for both buses and the subway. The only way to pay is with the prepaid card Bip!. You can top it up at the metro station or at various selling points around the city.

In the last decade, the city has invested in bike lanes. Biking or using an electric scooter are great options. You can rent them from a variety of providers around. Recently Google Maps even started suggesting bike routes. 

6. How to fit in and find friends

Chileans are very outgoing, friendly, and hospitable. They love to celebrate with an asado (BBQ), and you will get invited to many of them. 

However, Chilean culture is a “group culture.” They love to spend time in their primary groups. These are family, neighborhood friends, school friends, and other groups they form during their life. Even though Chileans will be open to getting to know you, some are very attached to their closed groups. 

If you are in a relationship with a Chilean, you will get into your partner’s groups. However, if you have no ties to a Chilean, it might be harder to get in. 

However, living in Santiago makes it easier. There is a buzzing expat community here. It is easy to join meetups, find peers to go clubbing, or find other families with children similar in age to organize playdates. 

The Chilean expat community uses a very active Facebook group called Discover Chile. You can ask questions, sell and buy stuff, start meaningful conversations about Chile-related topics, and meet people.  

7. How much money do you need to live comfortably in Santiago?

As I mentioned earlier, Santiago is one of the most expensive places to live in Chile, but there is a wide range of prices for accommodation depending on the commune you live in. 

The rent is the most variable cost. A 3-bedroom apartment can cost between $500, $2000, or even more, depending on the location.

For a comfortable but not luxurious lifestyle, you will need at least $1250-1500 per person per month. 

8. The pros and cons of living in Santiago

The pros

  • The expat community is bustling. It is easy to make new friends from all around the world.
  • Santiago is great for foodies. Local and international restaurants at a wide price range are available to dine in or order from and have it delivered.
  • Exciting nightlife. Many small areas with restaurants, bars, and dancing are scattered around the city.
  • Culture and leisure activities: museums, galleries, art shows, etc. 
  • Practice any sport you like in gyms, courts, arenas, or clubs.
  • Santiago has an extensive offer of international concerts and music festivals. The most well-known artists come to perform often. 
  • Most jobs and better-paying jobs are available in Santiago.
  • Most administrative errands (trámites) might be easier to take care of in Santiago.

The cons

  • Traffic jams. Everyone is affected, and even foreigners use the term “taco.”
  • The city has poor air quality. In the winter, there is visible smog. The only way to escape it momentarily is to go hiking in the surrounding hills.
  • It is one of the most expensive cities to live in Chile.
  • There is more crime here than in rural parts of the country.

Final thoughts on living in Santiago

Santiago’s diversity makes it an exciting place to discover. If you are after an urban lifestyle, then Santiago is definitely one of the best places to live in Chile for you.

The first skill to learn is to sail through the neighborhoods without getting stuck in a traffic jam. Then, accept the fast pace of the city but the slow pace of things getting done, and everything will seem easier. And don’t worry; you won’t ever be bored, even on a budget. Enjoy!

You might find useful:

  • The cost of living in Santiago – Numbeo.
  • Santiago Metropolitan Public Transport Directory

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