Chile is currently enjoying its status as South America’s leading economy. It is quickly becoming home to many expats who enjoy the country’s beautiful and diverse nature, as well as the cosmopolitan life in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Vina del Mar. After the long and brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Chile had some political issues to deal with (and is still dealing with some of them). Today, Chile is a vibrant democracy, freely trading with the major world players. Indeed, Chile is becoming known as the Switzerland of South America because of its safe banking. It is also quickly becoming one of the more expensive countries on the South American continent. Expats will get what they pay for as Santiago is a modern city, with wonderful public transportation, good air quality, and an educated population that is very friendly and open to foreigners. Although real estate is still reasonably priced, everything else in Chile is expensive.
Chile is the most stable country in South America, especially when compared with its schizophrenic neighbors Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru. The streets of Santiago are clean, safe, and bustling with commerce and excitement. Other parts of the country boast world-class tourism facilities. Not many years ago, Chileans were fleeing their country to work in Argentina and escape the iron fist of Pinochet. Today, the roles have reversed and many Argentines are swallowing their pride and crossing the border to work in their neighboring country.
Chile is a geographic oddity, stretching over 38 degrees latitude, extending from the tropics to a few hundred miles north of Antarctica, and from sea level to over 20,000 feet. Chile boasts the driest place in the world – the Atacama desert, which is 100 times drier than Death Valley in California, and once went 400 years without rain! It should come as no surprise that NASA tests Mars landing equipment in this environment. Temperatures along the coast are moderate, but inland temperatures are extreme. Central Chile has cool, wet winters from April to September, and can see rain most of the year. The summer can see warm to hot weather. The southern region, including Patagonia, is cool and rainy throughout the year, and may experience heavy snow. Southern Chile averages 119 inches of rain per year, whereas Santiago and surrounding regions average about 15. The line of permanent snow gives an idea of the range of climates: in the north the line is at 18,000 feet, the middle (around Santiago) is at 14,000 feet, and the south (near Tierra del Fuego) is at 2,200 feet.
Chile is a constitutional democracy that is similar to the United States’. This is only a recent occurrence, as they amended the constitution after Augusto Pinochet’s oppressive rule ended. The constitution was changed to eliminate appointed senators and senators being able to serve lifelong terms. All four elections since the fall of Pinochet have been judged by international groups as fair and accurate. The president is now constitutionally barred from serving two consecutive terms. Strangely, the Congress is not located in Santiago, but in Valparaiso, an hour and a half away. Under Pinochet, the justice system was hardly independent. An overhaul of the justice system in 2005 allows for an independent justice system, which now closely resembles that of the United States, rather than the Spanish Inquisition.
Chile’s 40% income tax is very high, but the corporate rate is quite low, at 17%. There are also value added, checking transactions, and property taxes. More information about Chile’s tax and economic situation can be found in the Index of Economic Freedom: Chile. Economic indicators for Latin America suggest that Chile is ranked at or near the top of almost every category. Chile is generally seen as free from corruption and heavy government interference and possesses high per capita wealth, environmental awareness, sustainability practices, a high quality of life, and freedom of the press.
Though expensive, high quality health care is available for people who can afford to pay for their own insurance and or medical bills. Well-trained doctors, dentists, and modern equipment are available in Santiago and the other major cities. However, the quality of healthcare in smaller towns is significantly reduced. Visitors who have an international insurance policy will receive great health care in the best hospitals in Santiago. As with many countries, Chilean medical care varies with the amount of money a person can spend on it. Although the government does provide state-sponsored health care, there are still entire communities and villages without even so much as a working ambulance.
Although most things in Chile are quite expensive (comparable with mid-range American cities like Dallas), real estate remains relatively cheap. In Santiago, a very nice, fully furnished studio apartment in a good neighborhood can be found for as little as $400 a month. Nice three bedroom apartments start at $700 per month. Chilean properties are quite affordable. In Santiago and Vina del Mar, $70,000 can purchase a decent two bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood. As expected, property prices decrease dramatically in other parts of the country. If someone is looking to purchase land in Patagonia to develop, lakeside undeveloped hectare lots can be found for less than US$10,000. In some of the smaller beach communities, small, two bedroom (800 square foot) houses on the beach are available for less than $40,000.
Shopping in Chile is much like shopping in any developed country, although the prices for American or European goods are higher due to tariffs. People who go to Chile with the impression that bargain shopping is as prevalent there as in other Latin American countries may be in for a shock. Although real estate prices are comparable to those in Argentina and Peru, most other things are more expensive. While bargain hunters will likely be disappointed in Chile, there are many shops, modern malls, markets, and antique stores offering quality items. Las Condes features a wonderful Sunday market that is a cross between an antique show and flea market. Shoppers will find many unusual items and oddities there. Fish, food, and farmer’s markets are available in most neighborhoods. They are great for sightseeing, grabbing a nice fresh meal, or picking up some items to cook at home.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Santiago is comparable to a mid-range American city like Dallas. Prices are lower in other parts of the country. Vina del Mar is the most popular beach in Chile and is about an hour away from Santiago. Vina del Mar’s prices are higher than the capital’s in the summer months. This is mainly because many Chileans move or spend significant time there in the summer months, making Vina the de facto capital of Chile at that time of year. Renting or finding affordable housing in Chile is easy. Unfortunately, everything else is quite costly. Two people can live very well on $2000-$2500 a month. A 1MB internet connection costs about $70 a month, and an electricity bill will likely be over $100. Santiago features many American fast food chains (Taco Bell, Burger King, Starbucks, and McDonalds), but the prices are usually higher than in the US. Dinner in a good restaurant costs around $25 each.
Extradition from Chile
The Extradition treaty between Chile and the United States of America was signed on April 17, 1900 in Santiago
This treaty was entered into force on June 26, 2002