What is Chile like?

What is Chile like? Well… Chile is Chile. There’s no place like it.

It’s not a developing country – the roads are smooth, the police aren’t corrupt, online banking works. Yet the choice in supermarkets isn’t great, few people speak English (this isn’t a bad thing… just saying…) and I hear some industries really struggle to find skilled workers.

I love Chile. I love the lifestyle, the culture, the people. But there is a lot I don’t like.

Having lived here just over a year, here are my very honest impressions of this beautiful country. I live in Santiago so most of my thoughts are related to the capital, but hopefully my comments give you an idea.

Pinterest The Ultimate Guide to Life in Chile

The people

Some foreigners here tell me that they find Chileans rather cold and reserved, but I don’t think that’s fair. Sure if you’re from a sunny country like Mexico then you may find the locals more reserved than back home. However as a Brit I count many Chileans among my friendship circle. My Chilean friends have a good laugh about themselves, about Chile and life in general.

In fact the people whom I hear complaining most about Chileans are Chileans! My Chilean friends are mostly married to foreigners or have lived in other countries previously. Perhaps because of this they have a very global outlook and lament Chile’s classist structure.

It’s also a rather conservative country. Or at least a very traditional country. Most Chileans I know are Catholic, and while they’re not all practicing Catholics, religion does play some part in their lives. This is neither good or bad… again, just saying.

In terms of views of homosexuality, I feel Chile has a long, long way to go still. Sure, it’s not like parts of the Middle East. Homosexuality is legal, but I still feel it’s all rather hush hush. In some parts it’s reportedly dangerous to be openly gay (read this BBC report for starters).

A maid we once employed explained a Chilean slang word for ‘vulgar’ to me. ‘You know murderers, psychopaths, pedophiles and homosexuals… all that sort of stuff…’ Of course I challenged her, but she didn’t get why I got so worked up about her comment. It’s 2019, but sometimes it feels like living in the dark ages here.

But it’s not all bad. As I say, my Chilean friends really go out of their way to help me. They’re kind, open, funny and smart.

Chile culture

As mentioned, class is a big thing here in Chile. Or at least in Santiago. What school did you go to? What school does your kid go to? These are big worries here it seems. I helped out a friend at a HR firm and I found it weird to see 40 year old managers listing their primary school on their CV resumes. But apparently the school you went to is a big, big thing here.

But there’s more to the culture than class paranoia. It’s also a country which has done incredibly well following a bloody coup and severe political unrest. Nowadays I find people don’t want to talk about the past. Of course there are museums and galleries dedicated to Chilean history, but most people seem very focused on the future.

For the fiestas patrias national public holiday it’s mandatory for all buildings of a certain size to display a Chilean country flag. At first this felt like some horrid jingoistic propaganda, but as friends pointed out, after a country was torn apart by politics, it’s really important to come together. Fiestas patrias, and so much of Chilean culture, is about celebrating together as one nation.

Local media isn’t always great, but press is free and fair. I don’t feel under any pressure typing this honest review of Chile. In other countries, I’m not so sure.

There’s also a thriving arts scene, with lots of big and small theatres, as well as shows and festivals. Chilean horse shows shows, beautiful vineyards, stunning nature reserves, craft markets, fun neighbourhoods … it’s a lovely place to live.


The lifestyle

I come from the UK and in comparison Chile is slow! Even the pace of life in the capital is very, very slow. People stand still on escalators (I can’t help but rush everywhere and I huff and puff when people refuse to keep left). Locals block the pavements, idly chatting away for ages as I struggle to get past. It’s not uncommon to show up for work 15 minutes late and then claim you’re on time. Or maybe it’s me…? OK, maybe we Brits are just in too much of a rush?!

There’s a strong emphasis on family life. Weekends are for visiting family. Free time is for coming together with friends and family for a barbecue or a restaurant meal. Long leisurely lunches are very long and leisurely here!

The Chile lifestyle is pretty relaxed. Yes, Hermes and Louis Vuitton have stores here, but the fashion is not flashy. Crime probably has something to do with this too – wear a designer bag and get it snatched.

Having said this, while crime is an issue, Chile feels much safer than most other south american countries.

Perhaps the thing I like most about Chile is that people are very friendly and welcoming of children. Even businessmen on rushed lunch breaks have helped me with my stroller and unruly kids. It’s a great place for raising small kids.

All in all the lifestyle is sunny and relaxed.

Work and professional life

Chileans work late. In fact one thing that does annoy me about life here is the lack of productivity. A hierarchy in the office dictates that in some industries juniors might find themselves staying late in the office just to show face until the big boss leaves. It’s not uncommon to be working until well past 9pm. Embassy workers seem to fare much, much better however.

I’ve also heard of companies extolling their many company benefits, but in fact their not benefits, they’re the law. Fathers are entitled to five days paternity pay by law, but in reality many feel unable to take this.

Office politics is a big thing in many companies, with a lot of employees complaining that they can’t get ahead because of politics. So and so is friends with the big boss so he got a promotion, so and so went to school with the director so he can’t be fired… urgh.

I also hear a lot of complaints of a lack of professionalism, a lack of official pay bands and structure. Even the big companies seem to be winging it in terms of promotions and pay structure. Sadly your performance might not be as important as your postcode.

On another more positive note, there are a LOT of public holidays here.

In terms of work as a women, I’d say 70% of my friends here work. It can be tough as a parent to find a flexible position, but with the help of a maid, school buses, as well as friends and family, my friends make it work. Like any country, life as a working parent is a real juggle though.

Working here as a foreigner is possible. Getting a work visa is a lengthy process, but it’s relatively easy. Most of my working foreign friends do speak fluent Spanish. Those that don’t speak Spanish are working solely with foreigners, remotely for a foreign company or for a diplomatic mission.

The food 

Chile isn’t well known for its food worldwide. I’ll be honest, I was really disappointed with the food when we first arrived.

There are some fabulous restaurants, but it’s a treasure hunt to find the good ones (click here for my fave grocery stores). There’s a lot of rubbish fast food and junk in the way too.

There are some great raw ingredients on offer, but the quality of food at many restaurants isn’t always up to the same level. The local fruit and vegetables are really, really good (apart from those in the supermarkets).

As for local Chilean food, some of my favourites include sopaipillas (a light, corn based fried pastry typically served with a tomato salad salsa), empanadas (a pastry envelope typically filled with minced meat, but now all sorts of flavours are available) and chanco en piedra (a super refreshing and zingy tomato salad). My meat eating friends also enjoy a good barbecue (‘asado’).

As for fancy restaurants – Borago, 99, 040, El Patio, Europeo and Bocanariz always great reviews from locals and expats alike. Otherwise head downtown to Barrio Lastarria or Bellavista and you’ll find some great little bistros and local food spots.

And let’s not forget the wine. The best in the world? I’m perhaps a little biased but I reckon so. Certainly in terms of cost vs. quality, Chilean wine is hard to beat.

Chile food

Cost of living in Chile

The cost of living sucks. All in all the lifestyle here is great, but Chile is expensive. And Santiago is really expensive, in comparison to local salaries, at least.

If you’re coming on a good expat package with your medical insurance, schooling and housing covered you’ll do OK. You’ll still need to reckon with horrendous grocery bills, but chances are you’ll enjoy a great life. If you’re surviving on minimum wage without added benefits, you might find other countries easier to live in, at least in terms of costs.

Of course other countries and cities are more expensive. London accommodation is much higher than in Santiago. Groceries are marginally more expensive in Switzerland (unless you know how to shop… then Swiss goods work out cheaper). It’s a wonderful country, but I feel it’s overpriced.

We were originally looking to buy a house in Santiago, but compared to Barcelona and London (where I have family) it makes no sense. Maybe I’m pessimistic but I really feel housing costs are inflated here in Santiago. I do wonder if the housing bubble will burst. In any case I don’t trust the Santiago economy enough to invest in a home here. Sorry, told you I’d be honest!

Of course the rural parts of Chile bear no comparison to costs in the capital, but Chile life still does not come cheap.


Where to live 

Most expats in Santiago tend to hover around these main communes:

Las Condes – a big neighbourhood, stretching from the busier, but still quite residential parts of town, to much more suburban type areas.

Vitacura – a central, residential zone with a lot of boutique stores and restaurants.

El Golf – a more central, business, built up neighbourhood.

Lo Barnechea – a much quieter, more rural part of town where a lot of schools are based. A little outside of the city,  air quality tends to be better here. The commute to the city can be really rough in terms of traffic.

La Dehesa – the sister to Lo Barnechea. Here there are lots of mid to higher end housing developments and mall complexes. Again it’s tough getting to and from the city centre, so you’ll have to work hard to dodge rush hour traffic.

Of course there are many, many other places to live. I also have friends living in San Apoquindo, downtown and in Nunoa, but 90% of my expat friends live in the above places.

As for other areas of Chile, well it’s true that 99% of expats are living in Santiago. Of course I know migrants who love Vina del Mar, Valapaiso and the southern regions of Chile, but most foreigners I know are all in Santiago.

Santiago skyline

There is so much to Chile. It’s a complex, wonderful country and I’m learning more every day. I’m sure my post will need updating in a few years time as the country is changing so quickly. Roads are being built, there are a steady stream of startups and the pace of life is changing.

Of course I have my ups and downs, but on the whole I really enjoy life in Chile. My expat buddies do too.

Do you live here or are you moving here? Leave me a comment below! If you’re moving to Santiago, you might like to download my directory of all the places I love in town, too. 

Santiago expat directory




  1. August 5, 2019 / 9:27 am

    That’s a lovely post, often folks go on package holidays and have no idea what the real part of a country is like, culturally, people-wise etc. I often write posts like this with the title “In praise of ….” then add America, Chile ….. etc 👍👍

    • Nina
      August 5, 2019 / 9:38 am

      Thank you. I wanted my review to be honest, warts and all, but also show the beautiful side to this country and its people. Chile is so unique!

  2. August 18, 2019 / 6:50 am

    I have enjoyed your post so much. I am planning a visit to Santiago del Chile and I used to live in London 20 years ago. It was a very fast paced metropolis at that time, and now I have found it even faster. I can understand your point of view and at the same time have a smile because I know the culture and mentality of South America.
    I am en expat, just like you, but I am Italian an I live in Kosovo (for the moment). I have found so much of the bad habits of here in your post but I definitely would have prefer to stay in Chile! Despite of the inevitable cultural shock, it looks amazing!

    • Nina
      August 19, 2019 / 8:08 pm

      Thank you Flavia for your kind words! Yes, Chile is a weird place. Sometimes it feels so developed that I feel I’m in a high tech western European place, then something happens (like today I was forced to pay a bribe) and bam I realise it’s a country with many faces. I do love it though and I hope you do too. Safe travels! x

      • August 20, 2019 / 12:53 am

        Many thanks to you for sharing your experience there. I will follow you for sure

        • Nina
          August 20, 2019 / 9:44 am

          Thank you!

      • Terence Lee
        February 14, 2020 / 3:59 pm

        I have lived here since 1972 and never paid a bribe.

        • Nina
          February 14, 2020 / 7:21 pm

          That’s good to hear. I think it must have been a one off. I’ve never had any issues with the police, officials or administration. All in all I feel very comfortable and safe here.

  3. Selene & Tomas
    February 25, 2020 / 8:01 pm

    Hi Nina!

    I can’t believe I found your blog two days after your post announcing you are leaving Santiago!

    My husband and I are currently having an ongoing conversation about whether we want to establish our life in Santiago (his hometown) or remain in the US (I’m from Southern California). We currently live in Long Beach and our short term plan is to stay in this area while I complete my licensure as a clinical social worker and he gets some US work experience and an MBA.

    After he gets his MBA, we are SO torn on where we want to settle and start a family. If you have time to give me some feedback, I feel (from reading your blog) it would be super valuable to us!

    A bit more about our needs and priorities :
    1. We have family in both places, and family involvement in our lives is crucial for us.
    2. We love to travel. One “pro” for Chile is the amount of vacation days/culturally accepted time off culture.
    3. We both want our future children to be exposed to a diverse array of cultures, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, and values. I worry that Chile may not offer that as it is rather segregated by socioeconomic status and skin color (according to my husband)
    4. We like to have a comfortable standard of living. We aren’t excessive, but we definitely invest in having a comfortable home and enjoy “treating ourselves”

    In your opinion, what does Santiago have to offer that we can never get in California? What would we miss out on if we move?

    Again, please only reply if you have time and are interested! I appreciate your posts SO much!

    • Nina
      February 26, 2020 / 7:46 am

      Hello Selene

      Firstly, thank you so much for your kind words re my blog.

      So, I’ll cut to the chase… As you’ve guessed from my blog, I love Chile and I love living in Santiago. I’ve never lived in the States and I can’t compare to California, so I’m only going on my experiences here in Santiago and hearsay from friends from California.

      Firstly, the drawbacks about Chile: Yes, there are indeed LOADS of public holidays, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be enjoying a lot of time off. People work long hours here and often on holidays. Some friends complain that the work culture is very time wasteful (think late starts, facetime for the boss etc). If you’re working for a multinational, you might not actually get these days off in practice. (On paper you may get the days, but you may find yourself on a conf call with Europe, for example). If you can enjoy time off, Chile is a wonderful place to travel in. I wish I’d seen more of Chile! I hear the US sucks in terms of vacation time, so Chile might still have the edge here.

      Secondly, Chile is isolated in many respects. On the good side there are some incredible unspoilt landscapes, beaches etc and while airports and roads are good, there isn’t the diversity that I’ve been used to in other countries. It’s a modern and yet very traditional, conservative country. People aren’t overtly racist or homophobic, but some isolated, ignorant comments did make me smirk / cringe / call them out (‘Hello, it’s 2020, did you just say that?!’) Just to underline not all Chileans are racist / homophobe / dumb and you might experience this in any country! Rural England for a start! In fact the people who complain most about Chileans are Chileans I find… While there are immigrants from Haiti, Peru and Venezuela, it’s not the melting pot I was used to in London.

      Regarding your point about cost of living, this is where I’d advise the most caution. Chile is expensive and on the whole wages just don’t compensate. There is a strong culture here of people buying on credit and dependent on their relatives. This cost of living is the reason we’re leaving Chile. We can make ends meet, but we can’t save enough here and it just doesn’t make sense for us to live so far from family like this. Do check my post on the cost of living here. You really need to make sure you can afford decent health insurance at least.

      So here I guess you have to weigh up your options. If my husband were Chilean or we had roots here we might be thinking again.

      Currently Chile is facing social upheaval and I hope things are moving in the right direction in terms of equality. I’ve only lived here a couple of years so I’m not going to claim I understand the deeper social, historical, cultural issues at the heart of things. But change is afoot and it might be a little rocky over the next few months. There may be a recession, violence, or absolutely nothing. No one really knows.

      On the plus side, it’s incredibly easy to make friends. On the whole things work. Chile is not a developing country – online banking, online grocery shopping and a lot of bureaucracy is incredibly efficient. Dining out is overpriced, but raw ingredients are great quality in general. And ohh the wine!

      Most importantly, Chile is traditional in a good way. My husband compares it to Spain 20 years ago, again in a good way. It’s a simpler country in many respects. Kids can be kids, run wild and enjoy life more than in the UK I feel. The smog in the city is unbearable but just an hour’s drive and you’ll see the most incredible landscapes.

      I hope this goes some way to answering your concerns. Keep me posted with your decision!

      Good luck

      Nina x

    • Nina
      October 9, 2020 / 5:49 am


  4. Neale Young
    November 27, 2020 / 5:21 pm

    Hey Nina, thanks for the blog it makes for an interesting read. I have visited Chile twice already and quite a few of your points resonate with me from what I already know. I’m also on the cusp of moving over semi-permanently to be with my Polola 😊 on what is a bit of a life change and adventure! You talk a lot in your post about your expat friends, are there online communities you would recommend or would you have any tips regards reaching out to these types of communities??


    • Nina
      November 28, 2020 / 12:30 pm

      Hi Neale

      Congratulations! What an exciting adventure lies ahead of you. In terms of online communities I’d recommend the Discover Chile Facebook groups, also Women’s Circle Chile is a lovely supportive group for your girlfriend to think about (it’s a private group with a strict membership to avoid spamming).

      Also if you have any hobbies, I’d say do research any of these areas too, especially on Facebook.

      One group opens doors to more groups and from there you can filter out the groups you find most beneficial for you. I have friends who’ve made some wonderful friends and contacts via hiking, painting, book clubs etc.

      Check also for professional organisations in the area in which you work too.

      Also, I lived in an apartment block and in the summer months we’d often meet up in the communal gardens. Depending on when & where you move, hopefully you’ll make friends in your ‘hood too, even if it means keeping 2m apart for a while.

      Finally if you can’t find the group you’re looking for, create it. Ask around on Facebook groups if your idea already exists, and if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to go ahead and create it. Even if you need to stick to virtual meet ups for now, you can still start to build networks & a community.

      My last piece of advice would to be aware that some groups are large and there may be some people on there who you might not take to. Don’t read too much into anything political. Stay safe and don’t meet up in person in a private place or share your bank details etc etc. There are some very creative con artists out there too.

      Good luck and keep me posted on your travels!


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