Moving to Santiago de Chile? Meet Helen. She’s been living in Santiago since falling in love with a Chilean guy five years ago, and is now moving back to her home country, New Zealand.

Here she reflects on the pros and cons of life in Chile and offers up a few tips to Expaters considering the move.

Expat in Santiago

What will you miss most about Chile?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly. I love the feeling that I’m in South America. I love the rhythm of life here; that there’s order in the chaos.

When it’s cold I can buy sopaipillas (a fried pastry snack) for just 200 pesos, while in summer I can get a mote con huesillo (a sweet juice made with peaches and husked wheat). I can go to the market for anything I need, from discounted kitchen gear to baby items.

I love the kite-filled spring skies, the flurry of activity outside my window on a Friday night and the tranquility of public holidays. I have come to love the constant music, including my neighbour’s flamenco.

September is by far my favorite time in Santiago. It’s when the sky turns blue and the air fills with this sense of excitement as Diechiocho (independence party time) approaches.

What won’t you miss?

I won’t miss feeling like a foreigner. My skin is very white and I’m taller than a lot of the women around me, so I always stand out. I hate that.

I won’t miss how long it takes to do anything, or the drugs, or the fact that good people struggle on low wages.

The metro system is amazing, but I won’t miss spending almost two hours every day commuting to and from work. I hate rush hour traffic.

And the public health care system! Luckily this past year we’ve had a private healthcare plan, but we had some horrific experiences before this.

What’s the biggest misperception about Santiago?

That it’s not a modern city – it is. You can find anything you need here.

My challenge now as I’m leaving is to convince people back in New Zealand that I have viable work experience. There’s still the idea over there that Chile is more of a third world country.

Advantages of living in Santiago de Chile

What would you advise any newbie expats in Santiago?

Facebook! Groups such as Discover Chile and Discover Chile English Speaking Moms have been indispensable. They’ve been great for everything including buying second-hand furniture and books, setting up play dates and organising mums’ nights out. It’s also really helped when I’ve been in need of assistance; everyone is so supportive.

Also, follow basic common sense and stay aware of your surroundings. Don’t leave bags or valuables on display in your car, keep your doors locked when driving, be careful with your bag in public places etc. There isn’t much violent crime towards tourists, but everyone can be a victim of pickpockets.

What’s the quality of life like here?

If you come here with a job set up, if you’re earning good money (over 1 million pesos a month), and you’re able to put your kids in a decent school, then you can enjoy a great life.

If, like me, you don’t meet those requirements and have kids, then you’ll find it a bit of a struggle.

However, apart from the healthcare, we’ve had a great experience. Restaurants are cheaper than in New Zealand, the transport is relatively inexpensive, and there are so many places to visit and things to do. I’ve also had some amazing work opportunities that I would have struggled to find in New Zealand.

Expat children in Santiago de Chile

Tell me about your neighbourhood, Recoleta.

Recoleta, to the north of Santiago isn’t your typical ‘gringo’ area, though there are lots of foreigners here. It’s mostly middle/lower class.

There are some incredible restaurants. I like the Peruvian restaurant, Santa Rosa de Lima, for their weekday set menu (colacion). In an area called Patronato there are some amazing food spots. My favorites are Rico Saigon Cafe (Vietnamese) and Sukine (Korean).

There’s also the most amazing park, Parque de la Infancia – a must if you have kids.

Recoleta is also home to Chile’s largest food market, La Vega.

Any insider tips? Where to eat, shop and holiday?

My favorite place in all of Santiago is Barrio Italia, the place to go if you’re looking for handmade gifts, local designs, antiques, well-priced books and delicious food.

For souvenirs I adore La Pituka clothing and also Siete Colores for its wildlife themed gifts. My all time favourite restaurant, Silvestre Bistro, has an amazing vibe and focuses on foraged ingredients.

Further afield, my favorite holiday spot is Pucon. There’s so much to do and the food is amazing.

I’m really interested in geology so I liked visiting the Atacama Desert, Sewell (an abandoned mining town), and Torres del Paine.

Torres del Paine travel

How do feel about leaving Chile? 

I don’t want to leave, a part of me is deeply, deeply connected to this country. I love the adventure, the language and I still haven’t seen enough of South America.

I’ll miss the connection with other expats and groups such as Discover Chile: English Speaking Moms. Everyone has been so supportive, even when I may not know them by face. I’ll miss that camaraderie.

I think most of all I’ll miss my [Chilean] partner’s family who have welcomed me into their home in a way I have never experienced before.

But I’m ready to go now. In terms of what we can get with our wages I feel that we can offer my children more in my home country. Also the pollution, while it doesn’t appear to harm me, does affect my kids.

Now I’m ready to experience the nature of New Zealand, which is by no means more beautiful than here in Chile, but perhaps a bit more accessible for my family.

All photos courtesy of Helen at Querida Recoleta. Follow her journey at queridarecoleta.com

 

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