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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Santiago de 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 Santiago de Chile

At a Glance:

  • Speaking Spanish is an essential skill for living in Chile. Unlike other countries, you cannot rely on people speaking English to get by.
  • Earthquakes are a fairly common occurrence in Santiago, but are generally small, and the city is well prepared to minimize damage.
  • Santiago is not a dangerous city, but it is recommended that you use your common sense and keep a close eye on your personal belongings when out and about.
  • Santiago has an extensive and modern public transportation system of buses and the metro, operated by Transantiago.

Santiago de Chile is the most modern city in Latin America. More than six-and-a-half million inhabitants living in the Metropolitan Region of Chile’s capital city enjoy a relatively high quality of life. As an expat, though, it might take you some time to accustom yourself to the slower pace of life in Santiago.

Communication Is Key

Many of the local people living in Santiago have never left their home country. This means that they like tradition and are not very used to foreigners imposing a new and different way of life on them. This can be most clearly seen in the importance that they attach to their national language, Spanish.

After Chile gained independence from Spain in 1817, the Spanish language and culture was well ingrained into everyday life. As a result, knowledge of the Spanish language is a necessity for life in the city, particularly if you want to be accepted by the local population.

Speaking Spanish is not only a means of being accepted: a lot of Chileans do not speak English. Given that you are living in Santiago, the country’s largest city, it is relatively likely that you will be able to communicate in English in certain pockets of the city, but do not by any means count on it being understood everywhere.

Through the Smog of Santiago de Chile

Santiago is beautifully situated in Chile’s central valley, and is encircled by mountains. The most prominent of these are the Andes, situated to the north and the east of the city. While these provide amazing landscapes and backdrops to the city, they can often be difficult to see.

Unfortunately, Santiago’s valley location means the city has to deal with substantial amounts of air pollution, which often gets trapped and forms smog which hangs over the city. Don’t let this ruin your first impressions of Santiago though, especially if you are arriving in winter when the humidity increases the smog.

You should also be aware that living in Santiago will mean experiencing earthquakes, or tremors, on a fairly frequent basis. The country is used to this threat, and Chileans don’t tend to worry about weaker tremors which might shock someone who has not experienced them before.

Santiago and the Surrounding Area

Founded in 1541, the city has developed a lot in recent decades. Some colonial Spanish buildings can be seen scattered around Santiago, but they are interspersed with more modern architecture, reminding visitors that the city is determined to make a name for itself as a viable center for business.

While you are living in Santiago be sure to take the time to journey away from the colonial plazas, and spend some time exploring the great outdoors. Santiago’s unique location should not be taken for granted — it is possible to enjoy trekking, skiing, climbing, and wine tours throughout the surrounding countryside.

The Local Currency

The currency in Chile is the Chilean Peso (CLP). Beware: Despite its name, the currency uses the same symbol as USD ($). Although Chile can be relatively expensive compared to other Latin American countries, it is still rather cheap when compared to many Western countries.

Safety in Santiago

Living in Santiago should not be dangerous. In fact, Chile prides itself on being one of the safest countries in South America. However, it is always a good idea to be aware and possibly be more careful with personal belongings than you would back home. For example, when sitting in restaurants and cafés, don’t leave bags on the backs of chairs and always beware of pickpockets.

Public Transport in Santiago

Santiago de Chile has one of the most extensive public transportation services in the entire continent of South America, so make sure you take full advantage of it! Read on to receive a comprehensive overview of the key transportation options if driving in Santiago is not for you.

Taxis and Bikes

Taxis are easily identified. They are usually black cars with yellow roofs, but all of them have orange number plates. It is only by this feature that you can be sure you are entering a legitimate taxi. Try and travel by taxi with a local Chilean. If this is not possible, make sure to speak Spanish, otherwise, you will almost definitely have to pay an excessively high rate.

Santiago has been named as the top Latin American city when it comes to promoting bikes as a mode of transportation. However, while Santiago is improving its bike lanes, most cyclists simply prefer to ride their bikes among the normal street traffic. Although locals usually forego the use of helmets, this is probably not a great idea for someone new to Santiago traffic.

A Bus to Every Corner of Chile

Buses in Santiago are operated by Transantiago. This company is actually responsible for Santiago’s entire public transportation system. This means that local bus lines have been integrated both with main bus lines and with the metro network. The fares are also integrated, so transfers between bus and metro are easy to make on a single ticket.

Although the Transantiago site is only available in Spanish, a map of all of their routes (bus and metro) can be found on their official website.

There are several bus terminals in Santiago. The main one is Terminal Santiago, which provides buses to all destinations in Chile as well as all South American countries, excluding Bolivia. For more local transportation within the neighboring areas of Santiago, use Terminal San Borja, Terminal La Cisterna, and Terminal La Paz.

The Santiago Metro

The Santiago metro has just undergone renovations which have added and extended lines to serve previously unconnected parts of the city. At the moment, the extensive metro has five lines, carrying over two million passengers on a daily basis. The metro is run by a company called Metro de Santiago. Unfortunately, their website is in Spanish only. However, UrbanRail provides some useful information in English.

Trains In and Out of Santiago

The Central Station — Estación Central — can be easily accessed by bus or subway. TerraSur trains, which are operated by Chile’s national railway company, Empresa de los Ferrocarriles del Estado (EFE), connect Santiago’s Central Station to Chillán, in the south-central part of the country.

The Metrotrén is a Chilean commuter rail system. Their website is in Spanish only, but the route planner is straightforward to operate in spite of this. Trains connect Santiago de Chile with 17 communes, all the way to Linares. Trains are connected with the Metro de Santiago at the Alameda station.

The Airport

Santiago is located 15 minutes from Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. This is Chile’s main airport and is known to be one of the busiest in the world. Buses connect the airport to the city center’s Terminal Pajaritos on a regular basis.

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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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