Nina is a writer and lifestyle blogger based in Santiago de Chile. Born in the UK, she has lived in many countries including Angola, Switzerland and Syria. Her blog focuses on life in Chile, as well as wellness, beauty and expat life in general. Also follow her on Twitter to keep up with her life in Chile.
Read more about expat life in Chile in our Expat Arrivals Chile country guide.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Yorkshire, UK
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Santiago, Chile
Q: When did you move here?
A: January 2018
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No, I’ve lived in many countries before including Angola, Switzerland and Syria.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved here with my husband and our two kids. Then a few months later we welcomed our third child into the world.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband had a job opportunity and we decided to move over. I had a few friends based here, and I liked the sound of life here.
Living in Santiago
Q: What do you enjoy most about Santiago? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I love the people, the surrounding landscapes, the mountains and the sunshine. I have a great friend tribe of locals and expats and feel very at home here. I’ve found it incredibly easy to make great friends. Oh and the wine. The wine is incredibly good.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: The cost of living here is ridiculous. Salaries don’t make sense here. Compared to the average Chilean, our household income is great, but it’s still very hard for us. Almost everything is privatised, and very expensive. Chile is the only country in the world with privatised water.
Like much of Latin America, crime can be an issue, although it’s safe to walk in most neighbourhoods and you don’t have to worry when carrying a handbag. Having said this, as I'm writing this, we’re under military curfew due to protests which turned very violent in many parts of the country. I’m not sure how things will pan out here.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I’ve lived in many countries, so I didn’t find the transition to Chile hard. Our company support was limited and as I was heavily pregnant, I really struggled. The wealthier parts of Chile are very modernised, the water is safe to drink (even if it does taste a bit gross) and the roads are smooth. If you have the money, it’s an easy place to move to.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Chile?
A: It’s ridiculously expensive here. On the whole, salaries do not compensate for the cost of living. Many expats end up living for this reason. With the exception of avocados, everything is more expensive here than the UK! I spent less on groceries in Switzerland than I do here in Chile.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Santiago? What is your most memorable experience of using the city’s transport system?
A: The metro used to work very well until protests in which much of the network was reduced to ruin. Rideshares such as Uber and Beat work well and taxis are fine too. Most expats I know have one or two cars per family. You will find life a lot easier with access to a car here.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Santiago? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals?
A: If you have an Isapre, private insurance scheme, and your particular scheme covers for treatment in a good clinic, you will be very well taken care of.
My daughter was born here and the service and care was second to none. My second child had a life-threatening allergic reaction, and it’s thanks to the excellent care we received that he’s still with us today.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Santiago or Chile? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Crime is certainly an issue. The general rule is don’t walk at night. Right now, we’re experiencing massive protests, so the situation is very unusual. There has been violent looting and rioting, but none of the expats I know have been affected. I’ve never felt unsafe.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Santiago? What different options are available for expats?
A: For safety reasons, a lot of people prefer to live in a shared apartment block or gated condominium. Some prefer to stay in a house with a private garden. We chose an apartment as I love the community feel and I appreciate having access to a pool without having to take care of it myself. Rent doesn’t come cheap for any option, however.
The biggest bugbear among us gringos is the kitchens. Kitchens in any rented accommodation are horrible. The reason is that most Chileans employ a nana or housemaid to do the cooking.
Q: What is the economic climate in the city like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job?
A: Be sure to get a job before you move, or make sure your partner’s salary will cover your costs. Chile is not a cheap country. Alas, job hunting is all about networking here. Barbecues, dinners out… it’s all about who you know.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Santiago?
A: I’ve never experienced any discrimination here. The most obvious discrimination is based on class. Lots of expat friends lament being put into a box based on where they live, their child’s school and so forth.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I found it very easy, but I speak a little Spanish. I made friends through expat groups on Facebook, through my sons’ school and through chance encounters.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: I have local and foreign friends. A lot of my foreign friends are migrants, married to Chileans and here for the long term. If you’ve just moved here, check out groups on Facebook, join an exercise class or try a hobby. I’ve heard that Chileans are very reserved, but in my case this just isn’t true. I’ve been made to feel very welcome here.
Family and children
Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: Like anywhere, it can be hard for accompanying spouses unable to work. If you don’t speak Spanish, be prepared to learn. You will need Spanish to survive here.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for them during the move?
A: My kids settled in immediately. Within a couple of months they were speaking Spanish among themselves. My eldest child even considers himself Chilean (he’s not!)
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: We love going to parks, taking a trip to the vineyard and generally just hanging out with our friends in the sunshine.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Expensive, and difficult to get into. The school admission process is crazy – even four-year-olds must take an exam. Some school admission processes take place over three days!
The main international school, the Nido de Aguilas is the main choice among expats and is crazily expensive. I do not know anyone who is paying for the school fees here themselves – it is always funded as part of an expat allowance. I love our children’s school. It is perhaps the number one thing I love about Chile.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to your city or country?
1. Don’t take part in protests – it’s illegal for foreigners.
2. Wear sunscreen – the sun can be deceptive.
3. Life in Santiago is great for small children, but the rest of Chile much less so. A lot of Chile is very hostile territory in terms of the landscapes and not suitable for small children like mine. I thought I’d be travelling across Patagonia and the deserts, but in truth travel is expensive and just too much hassle for our three young kids.
4. Reach out before you move. Chile is all about contacts on the ground. Finding work, a school, sorting paperwork… it’s all so much easier if you know the right person.
5. Be sure you’re salary will cover your stay. Chile is surprisingly expensive and most foreigners I know leave because it’s just not worth being so far away from home on a financial level.
► Interviewed October 2019