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Living in Uruguay

A practical guide to the way of life in Uruguay

Are you prepared to start living in Uruguay? This guide offers useful information on what you can expect in terms of language, demographics, quality of life, healthcare, safety and security, and schools — to help get you ready to start your new life in Uruguay.

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats, we understand what you need, and offer the the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us today to jump start your move, and begin the preparations with our free relocation checklist.

Life in Uruguay

  • Uruguay is not only a liberal and progressive country having legalized same-sex marriage and the personal consumption of marijuana, it is also one of the safest in South America.
  • Due to its popularity with immigrants in the past, a major part of the country’s population is of European heritage.
  • Private healthcare in Uruguay is quite affordable and the concept is easy: you pay a monthly fee and benefit from the services of the hospitals or network of doctors of your choice.
  • Uruguay has one of the highest literacy rates in South America because of its school system: compulsory but free education for everyone.

Uruguay has built a reputation for being one of the most liberal and progressive countries in the world mainly for two reasons: the legalization of same-sex marriage in August 2013, and the legalization of marijuana for personal consumption in December of the same year. This, combined with Uruguay’s excellent track record in terms of inclusion, tolerance, and social development, prompted The Economist to name Uruguay “country of the year 2013” — an award the nation is rightfully proud of.

On Top of the Continent

No matter your personal stance on the two above topics, there are many more qualities Uruguay has to offer prospective expatriates, such as an impressive economic performance (our guide on working in Uruguay has a more detailed look into the topic). Furthermore, the country, particularly its capital and biggest city Montevideo, has outperformed all other South American expat magnets in the Mercer quality of life rankings for years. This is far from the only favorable poll result — others include high rankings for prosperity, safety, and press freedom.

Fans of numbers and statistics will definitely appreciate this handy pdf overview of Uruguay’s claims to fame, prepared by the Embassy of the US in Montevideo. All this serves to show that living in Uruguay is one of the best options for expats interested in experiencing life in South America.

European Heritage: Demographics of Uruguay

Uruguay is a fairly small country, both in terms of surface area and population: in 2015 it was home to a total of only 3.4 million people. Accordingly, Uruguay’s population density is in the bottom five globally. —

Since its independence in 1828, and of course also in its colonial past, the country has always been popular with European immigrants, particularly from Spain and Italy. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of people living in Uruguay are of European heritage, with only some 5% being of African descent, and another very small percentage being native Amerindian and Asian. Throughout the country, there are so-called colonias made up almost exclusively of people from certain countries or regions. Two of the more well-known examples are Swiss and Russian colonies.

While some 80% of the population has some sort of religious affiliation, primarily Christian, Uruguay is a strictly secular country. This is probably most easily visible in the names of some public holidays (of which there are 13 in total, with mandatory paid leave on five of them). Christmas Day on 25 December is known as Dia de la Familia — Family Day — and the Christian Holy Week before Easter is called Semana de Turismo, or Tourism Week. 

How Good Is Your Spanish?

Uruguay is very homogenous from a linguistic standpoint. The official language, Spanish, is the first language of 99% of the population and it is used throughout Uruguay. The dialect Portuñol, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, is used as a lingua franca along the border to Brazil. In contrast to a number of other South American nations, Amerindian languages are practically nonexistent.

While English is fairly widely spoken and understood in business circles, you might not have the easiest of times trying to go through life in Uruguay without a number of basic phrases. If possible, try to acquire some knowledge of Spanish before your relocation.

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Health and Safety in Uruguay

Uruguay: A Safe Place to Stay

As stated on the previous page, Montevideo is a safe place by South American standards and a far cry from the levels of crime and particularly violence that plague other major cities in the Southern Cone. In their 2015 crime and safety report on Uruguay, the US Overseas Security Advisory Council does, however, warn of petty street crimes, including pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft from parked cars. The usual safety precautions apply: avoid wearing flashy jewelry, do not leave your valuables out in the open where potential thieves might be able to see them, and use common sense.

Home invasions and burglaries continue to be problems, particularly in more affluent neighborhoods. But it will be good to know for every expat-to-be that there are no off-limit neighborhoods in Montevideo. Of course, as tastes are different, you might like some neighborhood more than another but there’s no need to worry of moving into any dangerous zones.

Affordable Healthcare of Your Choice

As a resident in Uruguay, you are eligible to make use of the Uruguayan healthcare system with its network of free clinics. As is often the case in public healthcare, however, you might have to face extremely long waiting times before you get medical assistance.

Private healthcare, if it is not already included in your expat benefits package, is fairly inexpensive and hassle-free. Instead of signing up with insurance companies, you can chose between numerous providers operating anything from a single hospital to a network of hospitals and doctors. Think of it as being similar to a gym membership: your monthly fees allow you to make use of their healthcare facilities in case of emergency, and consult specialists associated with their network.

You are free to sign up with whichever provider you would like to, but it makes sense to pick the one closest to your home or workplace. There will not be any noticeable difference in the quality of care you receive between providers. You might, however, want to take a closer look at what the Hospital Britanico offers if you prefer English-speaking staff.

High Literacy Rates and Free Education

As we have touched upon in our article on working in Uruguay, the country boasts one of the most well-educated workforces on the continent — even though many young educated professionals opt to move out of the country. Education is free and compulsory starting from the age of four. This tradition of prioritizing education has resulted in one of the highest literacy rates in the Americas.

Not every expatriate might want to enroll their children in a Uruguayan public school, however, and international schools might be a sensible alternative for expat parents. While there are only a handful of international schools in Uruguay, there is a lot of variety in terms of cultural background, languages, and fees. Find below a brief list of international schools:

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: September 29, 2016
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