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A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Chile

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  • Mathias Döringer

    Before moving to Santiago de Chile I joined the InterNations community and got useful hints regarding housing and business.

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Life in Chile

At a Glance:

  • Chile has a high standard of healthcare; both public and private healthcare facilities are widely available.
  • In comparison with many other Latin American nations, Chile is a country with a low cost of living, yet it is also known for its good quality of life.
  • Accommodation in Chile is generally very reasonably priced — in many cases single-family houses are just as affordable as apartments.
  • Both primary and secondary education is compulsory in Chile. To make education affordable, the majority of public schools are subsidized.

Chile’s Population: A Melting Pot

Centuries of immigrants and settlers have shaped the population of Chile. With a current population of just over 18 million, the majority of Chileans descend from European immigrants, mainly from Spaniards during the Spanish colonization of the country. However, the nation is also home to a diverse mix of indigenous people of Asian and South American origin. In fact, about 10–11% of the population belongs to indigenous groups like the Mapuche, the largest indigenous group. 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.

Roughly 90% of Chile’s population live in cities and bigger towns. Chile’s capital, Santiago, is the undisputed center of the country, with almost one-third of the population settled there. There are also many other towns and cities that are worth considering: from Valparaíso, Chile’s second largest city, to La Serena, a popular seaside town in the north, the country has plenty of choice when it comes to picking your ideal expat location.

Different Languages and Traditions

Spanish is Chile’s official language; however, the indigenous languages still exist as minority dialects. For instance, Aymara, Quechua, and Alcalufe are still common languages in Chile, as is Rapa Nui, which is spoken by locals on Easter Island.

Much like other Latin American countries, Chile is predominantly Catholic. In fact, a survey in 2017 found that 58%of the population identifies as Catholic and 14% as Evangelical. Yet, expats in Chile who are not Catholic, or of any faith at all, need not worry: religious diversity is not only respected but protected in Chile. Although the Church and state are separate, there are a number of Catholic holidays that are observed as national holidays.

Health and Medical Care in Chile

Chile has some of the most advanced medical care in Latin America. Expats 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 will generally only have access to FONASA’s free healthcare if they are residents or pay taxes in the country. There are a number of private health insurance companies called ISAPREs which provide greater access to private healthcare services and hospitals, and are often preferred by expats.

Health Risks in Chile

Common tropical diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, and cholera, are not prevalent in Chile. The only contagious disease which tends to cause problems in the more rural areas is the Hantavirus. The air-borne virus, which is carried by wild rodents, is mostly a concern at campsites where there is the possibility of coming into direct contact with infected animals. Fortunately, the disease is not fatal and hospitals are well-equipped to treat it.

Although drinking water is safe in Chile, you should buy bottled water during your first few weeks. If you have a sensitive stomach, you should also avoid eating raw seafood or unwashed fruits. It is recommended that you have the Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines before travelling to Chile, as these can sometimes be contracted through contaminated water or food.

Another threat is dangerous insects and spiders, such as vinchucas (kissing bugs) and arañas de rincón (Chilean recluse spiders). They tend to 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. It is recommended that you try to bring the dead spider or insect with you if possible to help the doctors determine which antidote you need.

Accommodation and Education in Chile

Quality of Life at an Affordable Price 

Life in Chile comes with the benefit of a comparatively low cost of living. In the 2017 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Santiago ranks 67th, demonstrating a much lower cost of living compared with other South American capitals such as Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. The low cost of living does not have a detrimental effect on quality of life — in fact, it makes Santiago, Chile’s capital, one of Latin America’s best places to settle.

House-hunting in Chile

Before you begin your apartment search in Chile, it is always a good idea to do some research on where you will get the most value for your money, where you’ll have the easiest commute to work, and which areas you should avoid. Set aside time to work out your priorities and decide how much money you can realistically spend on rent. You should also talk to other expats in Chile to see if they have advice from their own experience of searching for apartments.

Although most expats look for an apartment, it is often easier and just as affordable to rent a house. Most Chileans think of a house as a big hassle and would rather rent an apartment, but this is not necessarily the case. Have a look at newspaper ads and online classifieds or contact real estate agencies who can give you extra help, but for a fee. You could also just drive through a neighborhood you like and keep your eyes open for signs which say “se vende” (for sale) or “se arrienda” (for rent).

It is often the case that word of mouth will get you the best housing deals in Chile. However, this is a time-consuming method and can be particularly difficult if you do not speak much Spanish. If that is the case, you can always have a look at English-language websites for house hunters and see if you find the home of your dreams there:

  • ContactChile has unfurnished rooms and apartment listings, as well as additional expat information.
  • HomeUrbano focuses on Santiago.
  • CompartoDepto is the place to look for furnished rooms and roommates.

If you already speak some Spanish, have a look at the classifieds section El Mercurio, one of the largest daily newspapers in Chile.

Education in Chile

Primary and secondary education, between the ages of 6 and 17, is mandatory in Chile. For most schools, whether government subsidized or privately funded, there are small enrollment and admission fees. In the public government subsidized schools, there are voluntary monthly fees, which the parent has the right to refuse to pay. Private schools on the other hand usually have a compulsory tuition fee. Public schools usually belong to the municipality in which they are located.

Secondary schools offer regular education for the first two years, then the final two years are more focused; students can choose whether to follow a scientific-humanist, technical-professional (vocational) education, or artistic education path.

Chile’s education system, particularly higher education, has been criticized recently. Reforms have been ongoing for several years and are still the subject of much controversy. The issue is that Chile has one of the world’s lowest levels of public funding for higher education, forcing the costs upon the students and their families, creating vast inequalities and preventing many from accessing higher education.

International Schools in Chile

That being said, there are still many great schools and dedicated teachers in Chile that might be just right for your children. However, many expats — particularly those on short-term assignments in countries where a different language is spoken — prefer to send their kids to international schools. The majority of international schools in Chile are in the capital, but there are also a few in other cities around the country.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

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  • Mathias Döringer

    Before moving to Santiago de Chile I joined the InterNations community and got useful hints regarding housing and business.

  • Emma Willems

    When I first came to Santiago de Chile I didn´t know one anyone. On InterNations I found many expat friends in the same situation.

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