Moving to Chile

Chile is 4,000 km long and only about 175 km wide for most of its length. So one can actually say that “all roads pass through Santiago” since there is only one major highway running from north to south and it passes through the capital.

Of Chile’s almost 18 million people, 7 million live in Santiago. Most of the economic, political, and cultural life centers there. But the northern cities are prosperous and thriving as well, as that is where most of the copper mines are located. Copper has most of the world’s copper. Farmers say they cannot find labor, because all the people are working in mining and construction.

Chile is divided into four geographic regions: the northern bone-dry Atacama Desert; the arid Santiago region, where most of the countries farm land is located; the rainy, chilly, forested south, and the Patagonia region of fjords and glaciers. There is not much chance that a foreigner would find themselves moving to the south of the country, as there is not much economic activity there relative to the north and central regions.

Most of this report will be geared toward Santiago, as that is most likely where the foreigner will move although the mining engineer could find himself working in the north.

Job market

In Chile, salaries are quoted on a monthly and on a net basis, i.e. after taxes. An engineer or computer programmer could expect to earn 2 million ($3,400) to 4 million ($6,800) pesos per month. Don’t be a cliché and come to Chile to teach English, as there are many other opportunities for work. You can get a work permit in one day. Travel there on a tourist visa.

The economy in Chile has slowed in 2014 to under 3% from the robust growth of 4 and 5% of the past 5 years. There have been layoffs in the retail sector. But Santiago is home to countless numbers of international businesses who continue to fill the seemingly endless string up new buildings popping up in the Las Condes and Providencia neighborhoods.

One does not need to speak Spanish, as there are employees working for international mining companies like Fluor and Bechtel who after living in Chile for 10 or 15 years yet still cannot speak a word in Spanish. Even in you have studied Spanish for 4 years in the university, you will not understand the Chilean dialect at all when you first arrive.

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Property information

Since Chile is cold, unless you are in sun, make sure you rent or buy an apartment facing north, as that is where the sun is in winter.

Santiago is segmented by skin color, class, and economic status. Middle and upper class families and young singles will want to live in the northeastern parts of the city in Las Condes or Providencia.

Many Chileans own their houses or apartment, although they have 90% mortgages whose principal balance is tied to inflation. In Providencia, not many can afford a house, as they cost over a million dollars. It is safer to live in an apartment anyway, as you are less likely to be robbed.

Houses and apartments across most of Santiago have increased in value by 95% over the past four years in Chilean pesos, which is a 60% increase in terms of dollars. A three bedroom, 91 square meter, 3 bedroom apartment in Providencia costs $250,000 but prices can go way up from there.

To rent the same 91 square meters would cost about $900 per month. Prices for a one bedroom apartment in Providencia or Las Condes are from $500 to $700. It costs more to live close to the subway. One can buy a house in Las Condes for slightly less money than in Providencia, but you will have to drive everywhere.

Rents are particularly high in the northern mining cities like Calama, where the GDP is on par with England, at $35,000 per capita, because the miners are cash-rich.

Schools and education

The country is currently overhauling the entire education system. After years of sometimes violent student protests, the protestors have gone quite as their agenda is making its way through the congress and their leaders have been elected into office.

The political parties in power (a coalition of socialist, communist, left-wing, and moderate political parties) want to wring all the profits out of the for-profit school system and make university tuition free. They want to stop parents from having to pay to send their children to grade school.

The World Bank rated Chilean schools this year and placed them near the top in Latin America. But this is not necessarily good news as the World Bank placed all of Latin America at the bottom in the world, followed only by Africa. In Chile, 82% of the teachers are female, many of them are the first in their family to have gone to college. They only make about $1,000 per month.

Test results have shown that the private schools are not much better. Rather the private school system exists to perpetuate the Chilean class system where the upper classes and lower classes live apart.

Chile with its sizable German population, has 27 German language schools who receive some funding from Germany.

Students transferring to Chilean universities would have some difficulty transferring class credits, because the Chilean system is so much different than the rest of the world. The majors here are targeted towards specific careers, so, for example, one majors in communication and not, say, English. Also the time needed to earn a degree is much longer than other countries: 6.3 years on average.

Grammar schools students are free to pick whatever school they want, unlike the American system where the school you attend depends on where you live. But the school is free to reject any student, another practice the government wishes to end.

The country has an extensive system of vocational schools. Employees are usually required to have a university or vocational degree.

The school year in Chile starts in February and ends in December with a two week summer vacation.

Cost of moving

FromEstimated Cost
New York£1,376 to £1,471
London£2,795 to £2,988
Sidney£4,786 to £5,116

A day in the life

The Latin culture shifts everything ahead by 2 to 3 hours of countries like the USA. Lunch is at 1:30 and dinner is at 9 perhaps preceded by or perhaps preempted by tea at 7. The TV news does not start until 9:00. The late edition comes on at 1:00 AM. If you go to a party, expect to be there until 3 AM or later.

For those living in Santiago, the main burden of the day is the commute. Parents can usually walk their children to day care as those are located throughout the neighborhoods. Plus they stay open late for the working mothers. Chilean bosses want everyone to show up promptly 9:30 AM and leave at 6:30 PM even on a Friday night. So there is gridlock in the city twice a day. Expect to stand on the bus. As for the metro, you might have to let several trains pass before you find one with any room for passengers or just learn to muscle your way in. Those driving in from Las Condes can expect an hour commute to go a short distance.

Most of the year Santiago is sunny and warm. But from May to September it gets cold, around 4.5C low (40F) to 18C (65F) high, with many cloudy days. It rains about 4 times per year with maybe 10 more days of drizzle. The modern office builds are climate controlled.

In Chile there are 6 to 10 earthquakes somewhere in the country every day. People usually shrug these off unless it is 5.5 on the Richter scale or more, which will occur maybe every 2-3 months in Santiago. Your office and house might noticeably shift back and forth maybe once per year, but do not fear as anything that would fall down has already done so. Crime is a problem. 45.6% of people living in Santiago reported that at least one person in their family had been robbed in the past 6 months. In the rest of the country the number was 40%. 30% of these include violence.