Why You Should NOT Move to Santiago, Chile

People in Santiago without air conditioning crowd the beaches of Viña del Mar in summer. Photo courtesy of Cynthya Silva Cabrera via Flickr.

The most popular post on this blog for 2 years describes why Chile is the best country to move to, mainly because the constant flow of terrible news about the economies of Europe and the fall of the United States drives some people to seek an alternative; but, relocating to Chile is a poor choice for many people. This post is now the most popular because I discuss the prospects for foreigners who aspire to work in Chile, the topic people care most about.

The biggest problem with Chile is that it is difficult for a foreigner to find work, and the available jobs outside the mining industry pay substantially less than in the USA and Europe. Humans are a tribal species and every country subscribes to the false idea that foreigners take jobs from locals without spending money to create demand for local goods and services. Chile does not allow foreigners or Chileans to easily open businesses and the government forces companies in Chile with more than 25 employees to hire at least 85% Chileans, leaving little room for foreigners (Article 19 of the Labor Code).

A prudent migrant saves enough to stay in Santiago for a year, as that is the amount of time that may be required to secure employment. The good news for foreign women is that companies prefer foreign to Chilean women. The government requires companies to take care of Chilean women who become pregnant so most companies avoid or are reluctant to hire young women. Foreign women are expected to be independent so companies are more willing to hire them.

Many foreigners teach English, as Chileans highly value native speakers, but the pay is low. Emily gives tips on finding a job in Chile that you might find useful. If you have any other tips, add them to the comments in her post or this one. Most people avoid commenting so anything remotely useful is appreciated by readers all over the world. Jim Karger makes great suggestions for foreigners to earn a living in Mexico that are mostly applicable to Chile, too.

Chile also makes it absurdly difficult to start a business. According to Nathan Lustig, who has lived in Chile for 3 years, it takes 9 weeks and costs $4260 to start a business in Chile. He is underestimating the cost; he doesn’t count the value of his labor in coping with the functionaries. And, if you’re a Unitedstatesian dismayed that your nosy government has been snooping on every phone call made in the country during the last 7 years, Nathan reports that Chile requires fingerprints to open a bank account and “these barriers to business creation shield the elites and entrenched interests in power and prevent competition and entrepreneurship.” The same process takes $185 and 30 minutes in the USA and requires no fingerprints.

Chileans in government and the private sector are addicted to paperwork:

In Chile one grows accustomed to waiting in line. Want to get a refund from the health insurance company? Wait in line. Want to deposit a check? Wait in line. Want to get a copy of your marriage certificate? Wait in line although some of that has moved onto the web. But the time people spend at the notary borders on the ridiculous….

In the USA you rarely needed any document notarized. But here in Chile under the 70 year old system the law stipulates that many documents be notarized. So if you buy or sell a car: go to the notary. Start a new job: go to the notary. Quit the same job: go to the notary again. Rent an apartment: go to the notary.

La Tercera newspaper says the notary business generates gross revenues of between $150 million USD and $180 million USD according to their own guild. 20,000 transactions are processed per year whose costs are from $1 USD to $12 USD and $60 USD and more for more extensive transactions….

The government of Chile recognizes that this system is a drain on the economy so various reform proposals have been put forth. Change was tried under the previous president Bachelet, but those bills went nowhere in the congress. Now the government proposes increasing the number of notaries–currently there are a precious few 400–getting them to use technology, fostering competition between them, and offering some oversight by the consumer protection agency (SERNAC). The Economics Ministry suggests they “…establish that the notaries and clerks of court use technology in order that the registered users can upload or send their documents electronically and consult documents online.”

The government recently removed some obstacles, according to Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ):

The country’s rank in the World Bank’s Doing Business survey deteriorated from 2006 to 2010 but the decline has been reversed in the past two years, with Chile moving up to 39th from 53rd. Other Piñera objectives include reducing waiting time for environmental impact studies, eliminating regulatory redundancies, cutting import tariffs and opening sea and air ports to foreign competition. The number of days it takes to start a business is down to seven from 27 and will soon be reduced to one.

Michelle Bachelet is the President and she is likely to reverse much of the progress because Chile is skeptical of capitalism. O’Grady of the WSJ continues:

A “temporary” corporate tax increase to 18.5% from 17% in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake is now being raised to 20% and made permanent. Tax cuts for individuals meant to offset those increases may not pass in Congress because Mr. Piñera’s coalition does not have a majority.

The tax increase, a strong economy, and more borrowing have sharply grown government. It is unclear whether it will grow fast enough to strangle the economy.

Investors are losing confidence in Chile, causing a decline in the IPSA index of stocks in 2012-13 after soaring for 20 years. Many countries prosper for two decades but only Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore maintained growth for 50 years. Chile might grow at a slow rate or stagnate in the future, especially if they continue to be complacent, allowing the government to expand and strangle the economy.

Chile has enacted restrictive labor laws that hinder businesses; at least one foreign investor is waging a capital strike against Chile. Chile has passed other idiotic laws such as prohibiting McDonald’s and other fast food chains from putting toys in Happy Meals.

e things that Americans (and Canadian, Australians, Europeans, among others) will hate about Chile.

John Cobin has lived in Santiago for 15 years and wrote, Things that Americans (and Canadian, Australians, Europeans, among others) will Hate about Chile. He claims, “some Chilean men will consider is good sport to try to sleep with your wife.” This is true, and if you’re a single man at a party and talk to a married woman, her husband will scowl at you because he thinks that you want to sleep with her. On the bright side, if you’re trapped underground in a mine for a few months, your wife and girlfriend will be overjoyed to see you again when you emerge at the surface. Adultery is common not only in Chile but in all Latin America.

Cobin identifies major problems with managing a business in Chile that applies to all Latin America:

90% or more of Chileans do not tell the truth (or avoid telling the truth), since they never like to say “no” or admit that they do not know something. Few lie with the intent to deceive or mislead you intentionally, but many will tell you something that is not true in order that you not be offended (e.g., “I will call you tomorrow”). Chileans use a culturally-accepted lie which “everyone knows” is not true and therefore does not count as a “real” lie made with the intent to deceive. Americans will have a very hard time understanding this difference in practice. Many of them are also willing to cheat, especially on tests or assignments in school, and plenty of people from the lower middle and poor classes will steal from you if they have a chance. Worse yet, they will treat you as if you are a liar….

Chilean people, workers in particular, do not perform or follow through. Nor do they communicate to let you know they have a problem, thus wasting your time as well if you are waiting for them to perform or depending on them.

The Spanish language makes it convenient to “avoid telling the truth” through the use of the subjunctive mood. English includes the subjunctive but it is not as heavily used as the Spanish.

Pollution in Santiago, Chile in May, 2008. Photo courtesy of Viernest via Flickr.

The most common complaint about Santiago is that it is polluted in winter. According to UrbanPeek, pollution in Santiago is higher than every city in the world except Beijing and New Delhi. The Bellas Artes neighborhood near the Santa Lucia hill is so polluted that real estate costs less than other parts of the city, even though it is attractive and sports narrow streets that are easy for pedestrians to navigate. However, Nathan Lustig believes that the adjacent Lastarria neighborhood suffers the same air but streets are quieter and real estate values higher, suggesting that air pollution does not cause decreased housing demand.

Santiago pollution is caused by several factors: the surrounding mountains, heavy vehicle use in a densely populous city of 6 million, industries such as the power plant south in Rancagua, powering copper mine refining using coal rather than nuclear at El Teniente, one of the largest mines in the world.

Mary and I reckon that the pollution during the southern hemisphere summer is similar to cities in the western USA such as Los Angeles, Denver, and Phoenix. If air pollution repels you, the coastal city of Viña del Mar warrants consideration. A bigger problem for non-smokers like us is air at restaurants in Santiago, polluted with so much cigarette smoke that it is nearly impossible to find an outdoor table on Friday and Saturday nights; one must eat in non-smoking indoor areas. Chileans are the heaviest smokers in the Americas; 39% of men smoke daily compared to 20% in the USA and 10% in Costa Rica. I Love Chile describes Santiago pollution:

During environmental alerts, when the air contamination is higher than 300 micrograms by cubic meter, some emergency measures that are applied include the restriction on vehicles that do not have a catalytic converter and restrictions on some industrial activity. The city also has a Decontamination Plan, which includes requiring filters on all public transport, regulation of wood heaters and standardization of the other heaters as well as reduction of nitrogen oxides emissions by the industries…

Last week, after four consecutive days of environmental alerts, the issue of the parameters for these emergency signals caused controversy. The Senator Guido Girardi, a member of the health committee, criticized the way the calculation is done and the alerts are set, which should also include thin particulate materials that are harmful to human health. In several interviews with the Chilean national media he affirmed that the data given by the government should be more transparent and that the levels to decree environmental alert should be stricter. During an interview with CNN Chile he said, “It is evident that if more environmental alerts are decreed in Santiago, it will paralyze industrial activity. And there is an industrial lobby who makes sure this does not happen.”

The cost of electric power in Chile is double that of the USA, so most people in Santiago live in homes without air conditioning, even though the city is as hot as Denver in summer. People cope by swimming in pools, taking cold showers, and vacationing on the coast.

Chile is as expensive as Denver, Phoenix, and Austin, although it is cheaper than Europe, New York, and California. Mexico and Panama are better destinations for people seeking economical value in a pleasant climate.

Chile insults foreigners by throwing us out of the country every 90 days and refusing to allow us to open bank accounts, forcing the use of ATM machines, where the banks chisel us with fees. Bankers are crooks that run politics in every country, and it’s revolting to subsidize their incompetence. Chile suffered a banking crisis in 1981-83, resulting in a heavily regulated banking system that stifles competition from foreign banks. Only one of the 10 largest banks in Chile is a foreign bank. In contrast, Mexico suffered a banking crisis in 1995; today only two of the 10 largest banks are Mexican, 80% are foreign.

Chile wants to increase population not by encouraging immigration but by bribing Chilean women to bear more children ($200 for their third child, $300 for their fourth and $400 for their fifth). Apparently, legislators believe that it’s preferable to risk having a native on the dole than for a skilled foreigner to carry his own weight.

It’s difficult to be a tenant or landlord in Chile. The meddling government forces landlords to suffer deadbeat tenants in rental units for 4 months prior to eviction, so most landlords require tenants to find a cosigner who is responsible for the rent if the tenant doesn’t pay. As a result, I was rejected 3 times for apartments and it took a month to find one, although one of the landlords would have accepted me as long as I paid 12 months rent in advance. Not only does this make it difficult to be a renter, but real estate is also a primary option for foreigner investors who want to avoid the risk of buying a small business.

Julia Thiel of the Chicago Reader reports that Chileans were the worst roommates she ever had. After reading her stories, any rational foreigner would avoid living with Chileans. It might be prudent to avoid marrying one, too.

Chile has enjoyed a thriving economy protected by a capitalist Constitution for 20 years but capitalism may be losing the battle of ideas. Michael Bachelet and other socialists are threatening to eviscerate the Constitution and drastically expand the government. Forbes magazine fears for the end of the Chilean economic miracle. The Communist Party increased their representation in the main house of the bicameral legislature from 3 to 6 seats of 120 in the 2013 election. The election was the biggest political disaster in Chile of the last 20 years because Chileans are not convinced that capitalism has allowed them to prosper.

Universities in Chile operate as Communist institutions; profits are illegal. Although there is widespread support for this oppression in the USA and Europe, too, I believe that universities ought to earn a profit like any other entertainment business such as a bookstore, movie theater, club, or studio that teaches people to cook or play musical instruments. Non-profits always use government scams to advance their interests and hide their profits. People should be proud to earn a profit; the lionization of socialism should be shameful.

Chile admires the rich countries of Europe and the USA; many Chileans want a nanny state, too, and have enacted many laws for the purpose. For example, packaged foods and soft drinks high in saturated fat, sugar, or salt soon will carry prominent markers on the front of the package, warning that the food is unhealthy. A majority of Chileans wear helmets when bicycling.

Airline service to Chile is poor. Mary and I flew at reasonable cost from Panama the last two winters, but the price doubled to $1600. We decided to live winters in the USA and Mexico. We miss Santiago and perhaps we’ll return someday.

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55 Responses to Why You Should NOT Move to Santiago, Chile

  1. pj says:

    Have you already left Chile, Mark?

  2. mysticaltyger says:

    That comment about the bankers being crooks running the show in every country sure is true! I hope the people of the world soon get wise to it and revolt against them!

    Thanks for sharing facts about Santiago. I have visited and would like to live there but I don’t think I have enough saved to lived there indefinitely without a job. I’ll have to keep working on my portfolio.

  3. Linda says:

    =While I absolutely despise living in Santiago, I think you need to clarify that you didn’t actually ever live here–you came on an extended vacation. I am here on a work visa (U.S. citizen), so I don’t get kicked out every 90 days, and I was allowed to open a bank account. It was absolutely no trouble finding a job here–in fact, it was much easier than it ever has been for me in the U.S.! I’ve had so many great offers that I’ve taken multiple jobs and even had to turn down some good opportunities. I did have some trouble finding a place to live at first (because I don’t have permanent residency yet), but what I’ve found most about Chile is that it pays to have connections, so try to get to know some of the locals. I do not enjoy living in Santiago, but I think that is mostly because I am just not a big-city person. Next year, I’ll move to a smaller city (but still in Chile)

    • Mark says:

      I only stayed in two cities in Chile so it wasn’t an extended vacation. I spent nearly all my time in Santiago.

      Most people don’t come on a work visa because it’s difficult to persuade someone to hire you from thousands of miles away and it’s impossible to get a work visa if you employ yourself. I’m glad you found it easier to find work in Chile than the USA; I suspect that others have the same experience. It pays to have connections in Chile and that’s a problem; rich countries more closely resemble a meritocracy. I hope the Chilean economy continues to grow faster than other countries; we all live better lives when countries compete for citizens, capital, tourists, and workers.

    • Chrystia says:

      May I ask what you do, and what passport(s) you hold?

    • shubhendu says:

      Hi Linda,

      Saw your sharing of experience in Santiago. I was trying to make a move abroad. And Chile was one destination I would love to spend few years of my Life.
      Need a feedback about your life in there, as you are the only one who saw a good Job offers and I got interested in your Job profile. Looking forward to hear from you.

  4. Alex says:

    “Chile insults foreigners by throwing us out of the country every 90 days”?! Seriously? A tourist visa in most countries in the world last for 90 days, some are even 30 days, and unlike Brazil (or the US) Chile does not require North American citizens to apply for a special tourist visa. If you take into account how hard and expensive it is for any Chilean citizen to obtain a tourist visa to the US, I think you’d think twice about feeling “insulted” by having our government let you stay for 3 months and paying reciprocity just once (unlike a US visa, which needs to be paid every single time).
    If you have a grudge against the visa system used worldwide, that’s fair enough. But feeling insulted because our government applies immigration laws (which are amazingly lax by US standards) makes you sound like a spoiled tourist who believes the world owes them everything just because they’re from a richer country.

    • Mark says:

      Mexico and Canada compete against Chile in tourism by allowing foreigners to stay in their countries for 180 days. Mexico and Canada are closer to Europe and the USA than Chile, so Chile has placed itself at a disadvantage. Tourism to Mexico is at least 20x higher than to Chile. If you want to entice people to your country then you must create a better offering than your competitors. The USA government can afford to treat tourists like garbage because it rules a vast and rich land and would prosper even more if it refrained from insulting foreigners.

      Chile ought to choose more carefully the country it emulates.

      • Curtis Lull says:

        We have plenty of tourists here. If you don’t like the rules of Chile, visit some other country and have a nice visit. I have lived here for over 15 years. I came in on a tourist visa, liked the place, found a job and got a visa. It’s not paradise, especially during rush hour, but it’s a nice place to live in or visit. We don’t need air conditioning here, we have windows.

  5. Mario says:

    I’m a native Chilean living in the states for the past 21 years. I can how how foreigners would find it tough to live there, but I think it wouldn’t be fair for the natives who live there to see foreigners move in and get preferred treatment either. I agree things over there should be equal opportunity for all, but things just don’t work like that over there even for the locals. Stereotyping goes on everywhere it’s just that here we don’t try to make it so apparent.
    I have also been looking into the possibility of moving back there. I have a bachelors degree in animation, which might help depending on how they look at degrees from the US. From what I understand, not even professional jobs over there pay that much though. I also have dual citizenship which might also add to my favor. Right now I’m looking into companies from here that are offering jobs to foreigners in other countries. As I expected, most of the ads I found offer compensation at half the rate or even less than the ones here in the US market. The only solution I can think of is to find a company who is starting to expand and become global who are looking for skilled trade workers willing to work in other countries. If anyone has any info or advise who’d be willing to share with me, I’d be much obliged.

    • Mark says:

      There is a lot of work in Chile that pays just as well as the rich countries such as software development consultants who service customers that they acquired when they lived in the rich countries; they continue the relationship in Chile. This happens even though Chilean software developers earn a third of the income of rich country engineers. Chileans will also choose foreigners from rich countries over natives.

      Animation is a difficult career because it depends on living in a city where filmed entertainment is developed. I met one animator last summer in San Francisco where there are fewer opportunities than Los Angeles. I asked her why she doesn’t move south and she replied that she’d rather be a waitress in S.F. than an animator in L.A.

      The USA is headed towards a steep recession no later than 2015 that will be similar to the Chilean recession of 1983 when 35% were unemployed; essentially, the economy is running as if were in a wartime emergency and most people and legislators are terrified of the convulsion that will result from introducing sound money and balanced government budgets. It will be hard to stay employed in animation or waiting tables because people won’t have money for luxuries like restaurants.

      • Mario says:

        So true. Trust me, I’ve been doing my research. I can’t agree enough on your comment. That’s why I wouldn’t mind doing a career change, and going for a cheap certification in anything as long as it leads to a US paying job. I already gave up on Chilean jobs even if I wouldn’t have a documentation issue as a dual citizen living in Chile. People in Chile either make too little or too much it seems, and not just anybody can get those good paying jobs. Those with preference are Chilean professionals who were born and raised there. IMO even Chileans who stay abroad for too long find it difficult to come back after a while. Such as in my case. Foreigners would need to have not only good credentials, but good connections as well. Namely from their US employers who already have established ties in Chile. Chile as a country is just starting to open up to the world. Up until now, it has been a fairly isolated country. All foreign affairs have been kept in low profile which is why you don’t hear too much about Chile on the news in other countries.

        • Mark says:

          I’m surprised that Chileans abroad sometimes find it difficult to find work when they return. In many countries, experience abroad makes you more valuable! Since Chile has negotiated many more free trade agreements than Argentina and Brazil, I hope that Chile will become more integrated with the world.

    • Patrick says:

      I just saw your post on an article titled “Why You Should Not Move to Chile”.
      Two things in your post grabbed my interest: 1) You are a native Chilean 2) You are an animator.
      I have a degree in Film & Television Production. Over the past few years I have been doing more motion graphics and adding it to my other skills. I have been working as a freelancer creating New Media, internet videos for small to medium sized companies in the U.S.
      I have read many articles about how South America and Central America will have great opportunities for video producers, animators, and motion graphic artists. The articles to which I am referring explain the coming demand small and medium sized businesses will have for an online video presence.
      I would love to get your thoughts, and hear your opinions about Chile, as well as if you have returned to Chile. Are you still working in animation?
      Thank you.

      • Mark says:

        I’m not a Chilean or an animator.

        If you can work independent of location, I reckon the only places in Latin America worth considering are Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Chile. Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela have embraced socialism and will suffer in the coming years. Columbia and Peru might prosper.

  6. angi says:

    why bother coming back when you are so negative.Try being a foreigner entering the USA..Rude people,ridiculous security checks and don’t even start me off on green cards….

    • Mark says:

      Yes, it’s difficult to be a foreigner in the USA, an exceptional country that used to welcome immigrants and now blames them for their problems. United Statesians believe that printing money is the secret to prosperity and aren’t bothered by ridiculous security checks that frustrate foreigners and natives that use airports. All governments are evil and the USA is rapidly deteriorating. On the plus side, they recently removed x-ray scanners so Mary and I are discontinuing our boycott of airports. I’m negative on Chile in this post because I outlined positive reasons to move to Chile in Why You Should Move to Santiago, Chile. I think it’s important to describe positives and negatives so that people have sufficient info to make good decisions. Emigrating to Chile is a foolish idea for some people and a brilliant one for others.

      I’m staying away from Chile for the second consecutive winter even though I like the country and hope to return someday; instead, I choose Mexico and Texas. Chile will prosper only if it works hard to entice foreigners and that’s difficult because it’s isolated and fears immigrants. Mexico has many enjoyable beach cities and allows me to stay for 180 days while Chile forces me to leave the country every 90 days. Mexico allows me to open a bank account while Chile forces me to use ATMs and chisels me with fees. The economy in Texas is better than most of the USA, allowing my wife to grow her business. The world is competitive and people have choices; the smartest and most humble countries will prosper most.

  7. I’m an American living in Santiago. I moved here April 1, 2012 so I could be with my then boyfriend, now husband, so he could finish his education. I have not worked at all, and he has put his education on hold so he can finish them in the US now.
    While I really like Chile because it’s so different than the US, it is SO different. Not at all in any negative way, but when I came here not knowing what to expect, it was a real culture shock. I don’t know any Spanish (I’m slowly learning, and that’s my fault) so I rely on my husband to translate for me.
    We’re in the middle of the spouse visa process for the US, so hopefully in a few months we’ll say c ya to Santiago, and while I’ll miss aspects of it, I’m happy and excited to get back home where I can work, communicate, drive, and have access to things that I just can’t find here.
    One thing that really broke my heart when I got here was all the stray dogs. They’re everywhere! As an animal lover, I always bought bag of dog food when we went to Hiper Lider and fed the dogs that I saw on the way home, but after a while, (because I can’t find work) I started running out of money.
    I do like that the people here seem much friendlier than the US, but I guess it all depends on where you’re from in the States.
    I do enjoy their tea time a lot.
    Anyway, I have enjoyed the time I’ve spent here and it made me really open my eyes to another world… I am more than ready to get back to the US and restart my life there with my husband.

    • Mark says:

      I’ve met people who left Santiago and moved to smaller cities in Chile because people are friendlier in small places. I think most people are friendly to foreigners and I’ve found all Latin Americas to be friendly.

      I miss the stray dogs in Santiago. In Mexico, the strays are unhealthy and bark loud. Chilean dogs are more polite. Mexicans use dogs to guard their houses and the dogs are constantly barking.

  8. And I agree… to use an ATM it costs me a $6-$8 fee, depending on the particular ATM.
    I couldn’t open a bank account until I got married to my Chilean husband and became a temporary resident, which was an easy process.
    But all the things that I knew as simple errands in the US seem to be these day-long tasks because we don’t have a car, so we walk, take a cab, then the metro, then walk some more, something I’m not used to because I’ve been driving for 9 years and such tasks would have taken me 20 minutes, not 3 or 4 hours.
    But… it’s part of the experience!

    • Mark says:

      Living in Santiago is like living in other big cities like New York and Buenos Aires in that one walks to accomplish many daily tasks. Most United Statesians are accustomed to driving for even the most simple things. It’s often faster to drive, more efficient, but encourages people to gain weight and degrades health. And, of course, everything takes longer in a new country. Big city living isn’t for everyone but I prefer it.

  9. Arielle says:

    “Chile insults foreigners by throwing us out of the country every 90 days and refusing to allow us to open bank accounts, forcing the use of ATM machines, where the banks chisel us with fees. Bankers are crooks that run politics in every country, and it’s revolting to subsidize their incompetence.”
    This is an extremely biased comment and most countries emulate the U.S.’s actions. If you want to write a respectable article please refrain from ignorant comments such as these.

    • Mark says:

      Yes, it’s true that most countries emulate the actions of the USA even when those actions are foolish. Why can’t people think for themselves? I suppose it’s because we’re a social animal that needs a leader, like dogs that follow an alpha male. There’s nothing ignorant about my comments; I tell the truth even when it’s unpleasant. People shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations when they visit Chile or other countries.

  10. Rebecca says:

    I find your comments quite rude – If you find the country, with its meddling government and insulting immigration policies so bad then please dont come back. I hear Mexico, home of one of the worlds highest murder rates, is lovely at this time of year.

    • Mark says:

      You might find it rude but thousands of others have seen this post and are pleased that it details the downsides of living in Santiago. If you’re seeking compliments, look at sites that sell real estate or other services. This site tells the unvarnished truth, good and bad.

  11. Mark has some pretty extreme views on certain subjects (taxes, visas, government in general), but he gets most of his article pretty much right. My few quibbles are that there’s not many places in the world that have the combination that Chile does, so the positives outweight the negatives.

    Also, the pollution is indeed bad in the winter, but I don’t think you have it right about why Bellas Artes is underpriced. It’s because Chileans with money don’t want to live there, partly because its a busier section of town and partly because of classism. Also, Lastarria, which is 2 blocks from Bellas Artes, but has quiet streets costs the same or more than parts of providencia or las condes. Those two areas have the same pollution, the only difference is how quiet the streets are.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for stopping by and blogging in detail about the horrors of starting a business in Chile. There are many positives and negatives about emigrating to Chile so I lay out the facts and let people decide for themselves. Chile is a unique and misunderstood country.

      I love the Bellas Artes neighborhood because it reminds me of Greenwich Village in New York but I’ve never been there in winter when it’s polluted.

      You probably believe it extreme that I opine, “all governments are evil” and “bankers are crooks that run politics in every country, and it’s revolting to subsidize their incompetence”; but I prefer to claim that I’m realistic.

  12. Mike says:

    Interesting, I started looking at Chile as a possible place to spend some time. I have had an interest for many years (like 18) after reading about the privatized retirement. My interest intensified after the election and the opinion that the long term economy in the US is on shaky ground long term. After I started thinking about this, had friend, from TX now living in AZ that visited there. Co-worker went there as part of SMU MBA and his group wrote about starting a business there. So seemed everywhere I began to turn I found some connection to Chile. My friend’s parents met there when his dad worked at the embassy. Even a lady I met on the plane last month spent her honeymoon there. Very strange.

    I want to go there sometime. I do like Canada but tax and housing north of Whistler where I visit are insane. Canadian beer is 1/2 the price in Dallas.

    I know there are programs to bring start ups to Chile. I have had few ideas for IT start ups. Another job I looked at would not really require me to live in a specific place. Any experience with IT related jobs there?

    • Mark says:

      The Start-Up Chile program has increased the demand for programmers in Santiago and consequently the wages for programmers are 50% higher than in Argentina. The program will end in about a year and wages will drop to normal unless a new government handout is created. The program has been a failure; few foreigners have created IT companies in Chile. Santiago is a good city for someone who can earn money without being required to be in a particular place and being in a similar time zone to the USA is a big advantage.

      Canada is a bad choice because it’s similar to the USA except that it’s colder and the banking system is less corrupt. Canada also is vulnerable to a decline in housing prices. Smart Canadians are selling their overpriced houses and moving to Mexico.

      • Mike says:

        Too bad the startup program has not yielded better results.

        I agree on Canada. Canada is a nice place to visit, but I believe the tax burden is not sustainable even though some taxes have come down a bit. They should be crushing it given the natural wealth per capita. Also you can not get a fixed rate loan so there is an awful lot of exposure. I know there are parts of Mexico that are safe, but given how little control the government has it would not be on my radar.

        How much does a decent programmer earn in Chile? My thought was that if I can get in that situation where the where of the earning does not matter, Chile might be an option. I can certainly develop software from anywhere just wondering if it is easy to find decent IT talent down there. I have heard mixed things about the infrastructure.

        • Mark says:

          Junior level programmers in Chile were earning $24,000 before Start-Up Chile. They earn 50% more now if they’re willing to switch jobs. There’s a shortage of senior talent that can only be filled by foreigners. Some foreigners earn just as much as in the USA and Europe because they brought their jobs with them.

  13. Ian Guzman says:

    Mark, you seem like an extremely negative person as you are taking your experience and generalizing it as if everyone else that goes to Chile will have the same experience.

    My problems with your comments:
    1) You went to Chile without an extended work visa. Come on dude, really… what do you expect. Got to Europe and try landing a permanent job there without an extended work Visa… you’d most like encounter worse problems
    2) Again, you went to Chile without an extended work visa. Course the banks are going to be reluctant in giving you a bank account.
    3) Pay, like practically every other country in the world, if you are trying to land a non-profession job, of course you are going to get paid like crap. Get a carrier in IT, medicine, or something else that is needed and you would be surprised as Chile does have a growing demand for PROFESSIONALS whom speak fluent SPANISH & ENGLISH.
    4) Cost of living, yes Santiago is not the cheapest place… but it is MUCH cheaper than living in most European countries and big cities in the U.S.. I live in the bay area of San Francisco, want to talk about ridiculous cost of living… I am living it, and I make a very decent living working in IT.

    I do agree with you on pollution; though it is getting better in Santiago. Santiago has got rid of the private buses (“micros”)… my family actually owned micros (busses) but not any more as they have been replaced by bus networks like we have here in the state (correction, they are nicer and cleaner). Santiago is also moving industries that pollute away from the center of the city. Santiago is also cleaning up the Mapuche river, that runs through the city… and they are making more green ways.

    My advise is for you to rewrite your article…
    * Mention CLEARLY that you went with a temporary visa (employers like here in the great US of A are generally reluctant to hire & sponsor a person for a work visa).
    * Mention CLEARLY that you are also generalizing certain industries… non-professional industries. If you are wanting to get paid decent teaching English, you better have a masters degree in it… else, its like native Spanish speakers here offering Spanish lessons (without a degree in it), you are not going to get paid squat.

    I could go on and on about your article and subsequent comments/replies to others as you are being bias and are generalizing way too much. Please excuse my rudeness, but I couldn’t help myself as your comments are extremely rude to my home country of Chile and those with common sense. Cheers, ~ Ian

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for your detailed reply. My post might seem rude, but the purpose is to emphasize the negatives of moving to Chile; the positives are emphasized in the “Why You Should Move to Santiago, Chile” post. The beauty of this blog is that you’ll learn the positives and negatives so that you can make an informed decision. Most sites, such as those by people trying to sell real estate, give only one side.

      You’ve chosen not to move to Santiago even though you’re Chilean. That alone is very informative! You may need to speak English and Spanish fluently to get a job in Santiago but you can start a business in the USA while speaking only Spanish, and you can work in Sweden speaking only English. Chile must compete with other countries and it doesn’t always compare well. If you were a Frenchman or German who speaks English, would you move to the USA, Sweden, or Chile?

      This post is constantly revised based on reader comments.

  14. OMG says:

    Mark you are so right, I am living in Santiago since 2007 with my family, and it has been very difficult to find a job here, the pay is low, and they usually ask a thousand questions during job interviews. If your plan is to find any job in Santiago it won´t happen inmediatelly unless you work in a bar or call center maybe??.
    But if you are looking for a job as geologist or mining engineer you will get a good job for sure.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve met several Chileans in the SF Bay area and a few others have commented to this post. If you don’t teach English and need a job and you’re not in the mining industry, Chile might not be a good choice. The USA and Canada are strong competitors. If you own a relocatable business or are willing create one from scratch, Santiago is worth considering. Chile is also a good place to start a farm.

  15. Shar Newman says:

    It seems this post needs updating, especially regarding the time it takes (and cost) of opening a business here. http://www.ciechile.gob.cl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=128
    As in most places, it does help to know people, but in my 4+ years here I’ve had no problem obtaining a lease in my name three times and the amount of work I have to turn down is ridiculous (good work for linguists here). Non-residents can open a Cuenta RUT at Banco Estado which is a savings account, but you can also get a debit card with it and pay bills online. Also, there are no charges at this bank’s ATMs for foreign cards. Getting a work visa may take a bit of waiting, but it’s not difficult. Of course, everything is simpler with a good command of the language.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for the info. I will update the post. I didn’t meet anyone in Santiago in 2010 who received a RUT in less than a year except people who received a job offer before they arrived and participants in Start-Up Chile. The Cuenta RUT sounds interesting. Does it allow the holder to use it to setup utilities, cable, phone and other businesses that require a RUT?

  16. cameron says:

    The requirement to leave Chile every 90 days looks like a nit to me; from what I understand you can reenter the very next day and you can repeat this cycle as many times as you want.

    My question is this: if I obtain a remote work job for a company here in the US and then relocate to Chile how does the Chilean government react to that situation? I will have means to support myself but it will not be via a local job. That would seem to be ideal since I wouldn’t be taking work from a local citizen.

    But, perhaps they wouldn’t like that for some other reason.

    I’m looking at this from the standpoint that I could potentially earn US wages while paying Chilean living costs. It sounds like a big win but there may be pitfalls.


    • Mark says:

      If every Unitedstatesian spending the winter in Mexico were forced to leave every 90 days, the Mexican tourism industry would suffer. Canada allows tourists to stay for 180 days for the same reason. Once you live in Chile, you’ll understand why it’s a big disruption; or, you could try leaving your country every 90 days for the next year to see if that bothers you.

      If you worked remotely in Chile, why would you care what the Chilean government thinks of you? Why would you want them to know that you’re working? It’s legal for foreigners to rent and buy apartments, houses, cars, and bicycles; you don’t have to request government permission. Why would you?

      I think it’s best to avoid governments and other bullies to the great extent possible. If you don’t bother them, they’re less likely to bother you.

      Venezuela has the best policy; they will never deport you unless and until you commit a crime. Chile and other countries should do the same. In every other way, Venezuela is a terrible place.

  17. MarCo J says:

    Hay Mark, thank you very much. Good to read different oppinions…not only ones that are promoting Chile/likely fake ones.

    • Om Sala says:

      Hi Mark:
      I agree with you in that is hard to open a bank account in Chile. I’ve tried twice, and I was told that I had to have pay stubs or $5,000 dollars in a savings account in order to get a check book. This forces you to use your bank’s credit or debit card every time you need more cash, and of course, the banks take advantage of this, and is true, they charge between $6 to $8 dollars for each withdrawal.
      I strongly disagree on your comments about Chilean people being skeptical od Capitalism. What people are tired of is the huge inequality in the distribution of the wealth generated in Chile. As a matter of fact, this problem has being pointed to the Government by developed countries as one of the main factors that must be corrected as a condition to gain more social stability. You must know that the cost of higher education in Chile is the most expensive in the world, in a country where a few make ridiculously high salaries or humongous profits, but where most citizens must pick which child will be sent to the University, if two of them were selected to attend. The median salary in Chile is proximately $ 700 dollars, and most Chileans living the “American Dream” are up to the neck in credit card debts. The cost of living in Chile is equivalent to many American cities. Same goes for Real Estate. The real danger to the Capitalist model is to keep the model without making it more humane. I hope the Socialists (which in reality are Social-Democrats) can make of Chile a more democratic country, with equal opportunities for all.

      • Mark says:

        The USA and European countries waste colossal sums subsidizing college students; they learn little or nothing useful and spend 5 years getting drunk and going to parties. The streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts are filled with taxi drivers who graduated from Harvard. A big chunk of the waiters and mailmen in the USA have graduated college. College in Chile is the most expensive in the world because the government subsidies are much smaller, producing a larger portion of serious students. There are still many students drinking their lives away in Bellavista but they’re wasting their own and their parents money rather than fleecing taxpayers.

        Chileans incur too much debt from credit cards and other lenders but people in Brazil and the USA borrow excessively, too. Most governments borrow too much money, reflecting the will and lack of discipline of the voters. The miracle of Chile is that the government debt is small; if the politicians followed the will of the people, subsidies would be handed out like Christmas presents, debt would soar, and the taxis of Santiago would be driven by graduates of the most exclusive colleges, as in Cambridge.

  18. Gonzalo says:

    Hi Mark! I enjoyed reading your article and can agree with most of your points. Nevertheless, I think you have to base it on case to case basis.
    My wife and I moved here in 2006, when my wife accepted a job for a multinational mining company. My wife had just gotten her MBA from Stanford at that time. For me on the other hand, was very hard finding a job considering that I have a MA (not from a top 5 school) and speak four languages. The job searching process is long and frustrating. Once a company wants to hire you they send you psychological test, which I think is biased, because they always give you the same test. After 5 times of taking it for different jobs, I already knew it by hard and could pass it. After 8 months I found a pretty good job, but my wife was transferred to Peru, so we moved there where we lived there for 3.5 years (Peru on the other hand is pretty awesome, if anyone wants to know just ask me).
    We came back in 2010 where she changed companies and now 3 years later she works for another company and she has a very high position in the company.
    I had to start my own company because looking for a job here is exhausting. My wife has a very good salary, even better than she would be making in the US. But there is a catch, for her tax bracket she pays 40% taxes plus we pay US taxes (there are some laws where you are exempt unto 80k), and she has to pay obligatory health benefits and a terrible pension pla (AFP).
    Now this is where I disagree with you, getting a resident permit is probably the easiest place to get one. Also, if you come here like a tourist and find a job, you can easily get a special work permit which you get in two-five days which lasts until you get your work permit. I just got an investor visa and it was quite easy as well. Opening a business is quite easy as well depending on what type of business you want to open. It can take as little a 5 days, and you can even do it online.
    For foreigners there is a Chilean program to start your own business called Startup Chile where the government gives you 40,000 USD to start your own business. They are mostly doing this so entrepreneurs can give local employment and at the same time give local skills practiced in other countries.
    To open a bank account is tough if you do not have a identity card(RUT). You cannot open a bank account, nor any other type of account. Once you get it life is much easier.
    Life is very expensive! Real estate is ridiculous, and all services are astronomical, specially heating. We used to pay almost 1000 USD a month, for heating in our old house. Food is not that great. When you go to the supermarket you will find that all the chicken is hormone injected, and it will be very anything without preservatives, and you can forget about organic food. If you do find it, it will be very expensive.
    The air sucks, as you mentioned about pollution. Getting your kids into school is another long and frustrating process. They actually interview 3 year old to get in a school. If your 3 year old can’t draw a person, or if she doesn’t want to speak that day, she will be rejected. In some schools you have to belong to a specific elite Chilean class.
    One good thing, is that Chile is very safe and family oriented, although Chileans in general have pretty closed circles.
    Finally, service in Chile has probably one of the worst customer service in the world. When you go to a fancy restaurant, just do what all Chileans do, don’t mind that you have been waiting for an hour and you just got your drinks served.

  19. Mike says:

    Here’s a quick list of comments based on my 4 years living and working with a residency visa in Chile. I was in one of the “Regions” and not in Santiago. It will give some perspective to Mark´s comments.

    - Banking is a pain… Chile experienced a banking crisis in 1981 (years after the Coupe in 1973) which resulted in a heavily regulated banking system. The regulations now give banks a huge advantage a stifle any real competition. Banco de Estado was started to try to open the banking system to regular Chileans. Chileans as well as foreigners suffer at the hand of the banking system…

    - Chile is very bureaucratic… Any kind of “official” document must be notarized and stamped with a “timbre.” Again, due to regulations, to be a Notary you have to be a well-connected lawyer with years of experience. Many notaries pass there business along to family members. Chile is not a signatory of the Hague treaty for public documents. This protects their notaries who make a killing…

    -Most of the foreigners I met taught English. You are what you study in Chile. Chilean degrees are highly specialized take 5 years, a thesis and a final exam to obtain. They don’t use a core curriculum like in the US, from day one a doctor is studying medicine or a teacher is studying teaching. I experienced students studying to be English teachers who had never written a paper in Spanish. It was a challenge to help students gain the skills necessary to become professionals. This will sound repetitive, but do to regulations there is little competition or oversight of universities. The University of Chile and the Catholic University are the two biggest and most prestigious schools. You will see open discrimination on job postings requesting a graduate from one of these schools. After the dictatorship ended in 1989 many private universities appeared, a lot of these turned out to be great ways of laundering money. The private university (which is “non-profit” will rent the facilities at a very high rate from a real estate company. You will see a lot of similar last names between the board of directors of the universities and the owners of the real estate company. Piñera’s government started cracking down on some schools but this was quickly stifled… No surprise student protests continue to be the order of the day.

    Chilean society is highly sensitive to class, appearance and politics…. I remember reading an article in a Chilean paper where they interview a number of people to ask them if the identify as being of Indigenous or of European descent. 80% responded as being of European descent as opposed to 20% as indigenous. The reality is reversed. 80% have some Indigenous heritage. You will hear a lot of “Quicos” (high class) versus “Picante” (low class) comments as well. The middle class leans one way or the other. Your outward appearance is very important as well, you will see all types of uniforms in Chile for every type of job.

    Politics…. Chile elected Socialist President Allende democratically in 1970. On Sept 11th 1973 one of the countries General’s Agosto Pinochet lead a coup a began a dictatorship that lasted until 1989. Chileans are very polarized politically, many on the left were tortured and killed while those on the right praise Pinochet for creating a stable economy and saving Chile from a socialist oblivion. Needless to say the wounds are deep and still very sensitive. The newly re-elected Bachelet is the daughter of a political exile. Younger Chileans are more skeptical in general of religion and politics. Voting used to be mandatory if you were a registered voter. The law was recently changed to a system of automatic registration but a voluntary vote. The turnout in Chile’s last election was abysmal…

    This was a long response, but living in Chile requires you are aware of its history and the patience required to navigate through the society. There are many more details to add so these are some of the big issues one faces.

  20. Deniz Turk says:

    Dear Mark,

    After reading your comments and evaluating the language you preferred to use, I seriously started thinking about relocating to Chile.

  21. Mario says:

    It is worth noting that many of the opinions in the post are now obsolete. For example, it is possible today to open a company in a single day:

    • Mark says:

      You can incorporate a company in a single day but cannot operate it legally without undergoing 7 other government procedures. Chile remains enamored with Latin American bureaucracy. See the United Nations “Doing Business”report on Chile for details.

  22. John Cobin says:

    Mark, Let me begin by thanking you for citing my blog so much in yours. I see you have also done some research in comments in other publications and have garnered a few special cases from people giving you a synopsis of their experiences. Congratulations! Nevertheless, your post has, unfortunately, a number of errors, half-truths and generalizations that are misleading or mostly untrue. The comments about difficulties of opening a business, tourist visas, bribing women to have kids (do you really think they are that stupid?), air conditioning needed but absent, and more. Comment’s like Mike’s are far more balanced. You know that I am at times very critical of Chile, even as a naturalized citizen, but on balance I am very positive. I suggest that you read my latest post “Is the grass really greener on the other side?” from April 2014 to gain a better perspective. I have been a resident of Chile for over 18 years, have visited every town in Chile over 500 inhabitants (except Juan Fernández), am the most widely-published academic in Chilean newspapers, have published research about Chilean regulation in scholarly international journals, have a Chilean wife, speak Spanish fluently, have helped many dozens of people immigrate here and done consulting for many of them, and have been active in Chilean society. I also am host of the Red Hot Chile radio show on http://www.overseasradio.com and have written two books (800 pages total) and over 430 blog entries on life in Chile. . Given that, I think I know what I am talking about, don’t you? I suggest you send folks over to my blog for a look and to be better informed. The comments criticizing you usually do so for good reason.

    • Mark says:

      I include many links to your posts because it is the best blog about Chile. This post isn’t intended to be balanced; it’s a compilation of negatives. I have another post, Why You Should Move to Santiago, Chile that compiles the positives. Only a lazy fool would read one without reading the other. It’s not my purpose to reach conclusions because whether Santiago is a good immigration destination depends on the individual. I merely state the facts and let others follow the links and reach their own conclusions.

      As an economist, I’m sure you know that incentives are important. That’s why the Chilean government bribes women to have children! Social engineering qualifies as a negative and so is included in this post.

      I’ll include a link to your “grass is greener” post in Why You Should Move to Santiago, Chile.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  23. John Cobin says:

    Are you implying that I am a lazy fool with the best blog on Chile? I will let that pass by. I suggest when you write a blog entry that is negative and have done a positive one before that you link to it so people know without having to search your blog for other comments. Women were not generally stupid enough to believe that $200 would somehow cover the costs of raising a child for 23 years. The gesture was a vote seeking measure and not a bribe. Air conditioners are not needed in Santiago due to the winds int he summer, except in west-facing apartments, which are often installed with shades and air conditioners. A tourist visa is automatically renewed i country for an additional 90 days and one can easy apply for temporary residency during that period to extend his stay by showing minimal assets or getting a jobs (e.g., teaching English). Thank you for posting the link to my site and for taking what I have to say seriously.

    • Mark says:

      You missed the link to the post on moving to Santiago; it’s in the first sentence! What’s the difference between a “vote-seeking measure” and a bribe? Politicians bribed women $200 for their vote, a downside of democracy in Chile and other democracies. All democracies die after voters perfect the process of voting themselves money rather than working.

      I didn’t meet a single person in Santiago with air conditioning even though it’s as hot as Denver. In contrast, everyone in Denver has air conditioning and even Vail has it for the 5 days of July that it’s needed. People in Santiago jump in pools and take cold showers because electricity is triple the cost of the USA. Most apartments in Santiago don’t even have individual heated units; people rely on space heaters and central building heating that is activated from 4-11 PM during spring and fall.

      Tourists visas aren’t automatically renewed every 90 days; the economy of Mendoza booms partly because foreigners in Santiago go to Mendoza for the weekend every 90 days. My guess is that the Mayor of Mendoza lobbied the Chilean legislature for the 90 day limit. It’s a major inconvenience that Mexico doesn’t force foreigners to endure. I have plenty of assets but the government denied my application for an extension.

      The New York Times today published an article today about Ecuadorians who brave great dangers to emigrate to the USA, including the story of a 12 year old girl who committed suicide in Jaurez after the Mexicans caught her. Isn’t this ridiculous? Why does Chile attract so few emigrants from poor South American countries? Why are there only 100,000 Peruvians in Santiago out of 5 million people? Chileans are much more insular than people in other countries; they don’t realize that recruiting rich and poor foreigners is essential for economic success.

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