Chile’s current population is not only descended from its indigenous people and Spanish colonizers, but also from European, Asian, and South American immigrants. Centuries of immigrants and settlers have shaped the population of this country. Currently, there are close to 18 million people living in Chile, roughly 90% of which live in cities and bigger towns. Chile’s capital Santiago is indeed the center of the country and home to almost one-third of the country’s population.
About 10–11% of the population belongs to indigenous groups, like the Mapuche, the largest of these groups. The Mapuche live in Chile’s Araucanía region in the south. The Aymara and Atacameño peoples can mostly be found in the northern deserts and mountains, while the Alcalufe and Yaghan live on the Tierra del Fuego. On Easter Island, unique Polynesian traditions prevail with the Rapa Nui.
Spanish is, of course, the official language of Chile. However, among indigenous people linguistic traditions still prevail. For instance, among the Mapuches, Mapudungun is spoken widely. Aymara, Quechua, and Alcalufe are also still popular indigenous languages in Chile, as is Rapa Nui, which is spoken on Easter Island.
Much like other Latin American countries, Chile is predominantly Catholic. In fact, 70% of the population identifies as Catholic and a good 15% are Protestant. Yet, expats living in Chile who are not Catholic need not worry. Religious diversity is not only respected but protected in Chile.
Expats living in Chile need not fear precarious medical situations. After all, the country has the reputation of boasting the most advanced medical care in Latin America. Throughout your life in Chile, you will benefit from modern healthcare facilities, well-trained medical staff and top-notch equipment. Although private healthcare is available as well, the country has a good public healthcare system and emergency care is always readily available.
Chile’s public health system is the National Health Fund (FONASA). Expats living in Chile who are covered by FONASA have free access to public clinics and hospitals, as well as private doctors. Because of this well-developed private sector, patients enjoy broad coverage and medical care in the field of preventative medicine. Companies which provide private healthcare are called ISAPREs. They allow greater access to private healthcare services and hospitals.
Tropical diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, and cholera, are not prevalent in Chile and expats living in Chile don’t need to worry about protection from these illnesses. The only contagious disease which tends to cause problems in the more rural areas is the Hanta virus. The air-borne virus, which is carried by mice and rats, is mostly a concern at campsites. Fortunately, the disease is not fatal and hospitals are well-equipped to treat the symptoms.
Although drinking water is quite safe in Chile, you should buy bottled water during your first weeks in Chile. If you have a sensitive stomach, you should moreover avoid eating raw seafood or unwashed fruits. Another threat is dangerous insects and spiders, such as vinchucas (kissing bugs) and arañas de rincón (Chilean recluse spiders). They live in remote areas and old houses and, judging by the small number of people bitten each year, are only a minor threat. If you have been bitten, you should go to the emergency room immediately. Make sure to bring the spider or bug with you if possible, so that the doctors can determine which antidote you need.
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