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.
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.
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.
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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