Uruguay at a Glance
Living in Uruguay
Uruguay has been making international headlines a lot in the past months and years, and built quite the reputation for being one of the most liberal and progressive countries in the world. Two recent pieces of legislation are mainly responsible for this development: 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
However, no matter your personal stance on the two above, admittedly fairly controversial, topics, there are many more qualities Uruguay has to offer prospective expatriates. 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 Uruguay can boast – 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, of course, serves to paint the picture of living in Uruguay as being one of the best options for expats interested in experiencing life abroad in South America. Keeping the country’s impressive economic performance in mind (see our guide on working in Uruguay for a more detailed look into the topic), many readers might agree emphatically.
Uruguay is a fairly small country, both in terms of surface area and population. The total of 3.3 million people living in Uruguay (July 2014 estimate) would probably snugly fit into a single borough of some of the megacities in South Asia. Accordingly, Uruguay’s population density is in the bottom fifth on the global list.
Due to the popularity the country has had with immigrants from Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, since its independence in 1828 (and of course before, in its colonial past), the overwhelming majority of people living in Uruguay are of European heritage, with some 5% being of African descent, and another very small percentage being native Amerindian. 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 December 25 is known as Dia de la Familia – Family Day – and the Christian Holy Week before Easter is called Semana de Turismo, or Tourism Week.
The official language used throughout Uruguay is Spanish, with Portunol, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, 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 even a number of basic phrases. If possible, try to acquire some knowledge of Spanish before your relocation.