I recently advised a young family (we shall call them the Campbells) who moved from the USA to Chile and were successfully settled here within two weeks.
Families with young children can face greater challenges than single people or couples. Margins are tighter and there is much less flexibility for error. On top of this healthcare and school locations become a top priority.
With this in mind, I was very happy to see one of my recent clients, a family of four, comfortably settled and starting their life in Santiago within two weeks of arriving.
I decided to document their experiences in this case-study to help advise other families that may be considering a similar move.
The Campbells are a young couple with two children aged 5 and 10. They were originally living on the west coast of the USA and decided to relocate for two reasons:
- Their residency in the USA was dependent on a work visa, which is not reliable and can be revoked by an employer at any time. With dependent young children, this can be an uncomfortable situation.
- They wanted to give their children a broader world experience, including fluency in another language.
Mr Campbell can work remotely, and chose Chile due to its good schools, economic stability, safety and natural beauty.
We considered a lot of countries, and chose Chile for the following reasons:
|Chile||Comparison to other countries|
|Relatively safe, non-corrupt economically developed and stable. It also has an effective and affordable healthcare system.||Many Latin American countries have poor infrastructure and healthcare. Healthcare in Western nations is usually good but can be expensive.|
|Good climate, low humidity, short winter but still has ‘revolving seasons’. There is plenty of sun! Santiago does have a smog problem, but it’s avoidable (see Lo Barnechea).||Many Latin American countries are too hot and very humid. North and Central Europe, Canada and most of the U.S. states are too cold and miserable in the winter.|
|Great natural beauty, plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, almost every type of terrain imaginable (plains, mountains, hills, deserts, oceans etc). Close to other prominent outdoor destinations (Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina…).||Most of Latin America offers an incredible variety of natural beauty.|
|Many business fields are still undeveloped, there are plenty of opportunities to start a new business and the economic stability makes Chile a good base for this.||Some South American countries lack the economic stability to make starting a new business viable.|
|Easy to immigrate, especially if you are financially independent.||Chile is one of the easiest economically stable countries to obtain residency.|
|Chile is less expensive than most ‘Western’ countries, with lower taxes.||Chile offers new arrivals 3 years tax-free, and corporate tax rates are about 20% (compare to 40% in the U.S.).|
|Chile is a Spanish-speaking nation. We always wanted to learn Spanish.||Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, with about 400 million speakers. English comes in third with 335 million speakers, and the other major Latin American option (Portuguese) comes in sixth with 200 million.|
Concerns/reservations before moving
Mr Campbell contacted me seeking clarification on what kind of periodic income proof would be acceptable in Chile for the temporary residency visa.
During our email exchange we also discussed where to look for apartments, recommendations for bilingual schools, car rental, how to obtain a RUT, which health insurance would be best for them and good hiking locations in and around Santiago.
Their biggest concern before arriving was:
…to find a good school for our two kids and a place to live. Moving with kids always means a serious responsibility.
Arriving – cell phones, hotels and car rental…
The couple had already pre-booked a hotel for three weeks, and arranged a car rental while still in the USA. I met them at the airport and everything went smoothly on the first day – we even managed to get up and running with Chilean cellphones.
Car rental was from Lys.cl who cater to gringos. They aren’t the cheapest, but are reliable, offer good insurance and speak English.
Protip: For gringos who need a data plan, your absolute best bet for a cellphone service is the Virgin Antiplan. You cannot get a standard contract without a permanent residency, and the Antiplan offers the best data packages for a pre-paid plan. If you don’t care about data and use your phone rarely, Entel or Movistar pre-paid plans are just fine.
Our biggest challenge after arrival was to keep calm and remain positive even though everything was different – home, friends and language. Renting a place to live can be a huge problem without speaking the language well. Landlord often require evidence of a Chilean job, an “aval” etc. Also, we arrived in June – it was winter time!
On finding a good school…
We have bilingual kids and we want to keep their English. There are several good private schools in Santiago, so we contacted (and even visited) them to understand their missions and policies. Some cater mainly to foreign kids and are in some ways “isolated” from Chileans. So we tried to find a good balance between English, Spanish, Chilean culture and people.
I presented the Campbells with a range of Chilean health insurance options at different prices and levels of coverage, and they chose the level that best suited them.
Health insurance in Chile is scaled by price according to percentage of fees paid at certain clinics – some clinics are more expensive (and better) than others, and thus demand higher premiums. The best private clinics offer a very high quality of healthcare, easily rivalling the U.S. but at a far lower cost.
We were able to find an affordable option that provided 90% coverage at an excellent clinic close to their location. The cost worked out to approximately CLP$300.000 per month for the whole family, with no minimum period.
A RUT was not necessary for health insurance, and it also covers overseas costs (up to a fixed limit) via reimbursement.
Safety, location and apartment rental
They chose a house in Lo Barnechea to rent, and settled there about two weeks after arriving (they stayed in a hotel in Las Condes meanwhile).
We chose Lo Barnechea for two reasons:
- School. Our kids go to their school here in Lo Barnechea. Considering sometimes heavy traffic, it’s a good idea to live as close to the school as possible.
- Ecology. Santiago has a serious smog problem, especially in winter time. Lo Barnechea commune is situated much higher than other parts of Santiago and has relatively clean air.
But Lo Barnechea isn’t for everyone.
Lo Barnechea is an expensive suburb for families with kids (and cars) with pretty much nothing to do. If you don’t have kids, there is no reason to live here.
I was curious as to why they chose to live in an apartment rather than a house. Houses are (relatively) cheap to rent.
We had a very good house in California and could afford to rent a 3 bedroom house or apartment here in Santiago. In the end we chose an apartment – mostly due to a great view and for better security, but we are still dreaming about our own house.
The couple were required to jump through some hoops to rent it though. Despite the recent explosion in gringo population in Santiago, most Chilean landlords have not caught up and often demand onerous paperwork that most gringos are simply not in a position to provide – even if they can easily afford it.
Renting can be extremely changeable here. Chilean landlords are very conservative. Usually you have to prove that you are a responsible person by showing a good job here in Chile, an “aval” (guarantee from another Chilean), local credit history, local bank accounts etc. Since we had none of these, we gave the owner our U.S. tax reports, and a letter from my U.S. employer. But the part that clinched the deal was offering to pay 6 months rent in advance.
Chilean landlords are not entirely to blame for this overhead – many have been burned in the past by squatters who refuse to pay rent and will not leave. Once they settle in, it can be almost impossible to evict non-paying tenants. The law in Chile is very biased towards the tenant and the police will not help to evict a non-paying squatter. For this reason, apartment renters tend to err on the conservative side and want to see proof you are a responsible, upstanding citizen who will pay your rent on time.
Many people’s major concern about moving to Chile is the language barrier and how hard it will be to learn Spanish. I asked the family how much of a problem it was for them:
Our Spanish level is about a 1/10 :). We are trying to improve it. The main difficulty is not the Spanish language itself, but Chilean Spanish in particular. Even if you have some Spanish skills it can be extremely difficult to understand most Chileans. They speak very fast, skip over parts of the words and use a lot of Chilean slang (‘modismos’).
I can attest to this. I have met many good Spanish speakers, even Argentinians who struggle to understand Chileans at times. Taxi drivers and doormen tend to be the worst, speaking very fast and ‘swallowing’ letters.
With that said, most business people (lawyers, school teachers etc) will tend to speak relatively clearly and often speak a little English.
Skiing, adventure and hiking
Mr Campbell is an avid hiker and climber, having visited many rugged spots such as Yosemite, Sierra and Red Rocks in the US and was keen to discover some exciting new locations in Chile.
I have included below some photos he sent me of his latest expedition (an ascent of Cerro Provincia, near to Santiago). I think I’ll have to make the trip myself very soon!
The family also went skiing at la Parva in the first week after arriving. In his words:
Santiago has a few decent ski resorts (La Parva, Colorado, Valle Nevado) about 60-90 minutes from Santiago. These are definitely smaller and not as well developed as most U.S. or European resorts. There is a lot of opportunity for someone to upgrade them and build new ones, but it would require huge investment in local infrastructure.
At this point the Campbell family have been living in Chile for almost two months. I asked them how they were settling in…
We really like Chile, it is a very unique country. Now that most of our problems have been resolved, we have never been more excited about exploring this new world.
And some final words of advice to any gringos considering following in their footsteps and relocating their family to Chile:
Here is good advice:
- Living without a RUT can be very difficult – there are many things you simply cannot buy, you can’t make contracts etc. But you can obtain a temporary RUT number from the SII office using form 4415 [obtainable here: www.sii.cl/formularios/imagen/4415.PDF]. The SII officials are often not willing to issue a RUT (since it is free) so be persistent!
- People around are generally really friendly. And this isn’t just a case of trying to sell you something – no, most people genuinely want to help you.
- You can find someone who speaks English almost everywhere. For example, when Mrs Campbell was discussing the installation of our new washing machine (EXTREMELY difficult by phone) they found a guy who spoke a little English, and the problem was resolved.
- Public transportation is amazingly effective, far better than in the U.S. It’s difficult to believe but now we often prefer to use public transportation instead of our car. A good website for this is http://planifica.transantiago.
I’d like to thank this family for being so open about their experience, and I hope it helps many of our readers out there who are considering a move.
The Campbells also kindly offered to answer any further questions you might have, especially regarding Chilean schools.
If you’d like to ask the Campbells a question, please leave a comment below and I will forward it to them.