South America---Uraguay or Chile?
By [email protected] on Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 11:48am

Seeking comments on evaluation of Uruaguay and Chile for semi permanent retirement planning.

1 Comment

lpeewee's picture
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 12 2010
Posts: 3
Uruguay, and a few thoughts on Chile

Hi Aceremod - I have been living in Uruguay for over 4 years now.  Glad to see you doing your homework, so many people show up here to check it out with very little information, or only the propaganda provided by organizations that have a vested interest in selling you something.

Uruguay has its charms and pitfalls, like everywhere.  To be honest, I am trying to convince my family to leave and move to Chile.  My reasons and criteria for picking a place to live are probably different than yours, so you can take it as one opinion.  I have visited Chile 6 times in the last year to evaluate it, so I know a bit about it, but have not lived there.

The topic is a long one - too long to write about.  I encourage you to think about the differentitors you care about (as you have done) and also get more specific with them.   A few words on the differentiators you mention:

cost of living: 

Uruguay:  Energy is much more expensive than the U.S.  Anything technological (including cars) - a good rule of thumb is double the price vs. U.S.  Imported (especially processed) food is expensive.  Renting a place or purchasing can be much cheaper than the U.S., depending on where you are coming from and the location and quality you want here.  Punta del Este is considered to be expensive, while Montevideo is cheaper, and anywhere else in the country is even cheaper (though i don't know about Colonia & Carmelo).  Unprocessed food is cheaper here. Healthcare is much cheaper here (though if you are over 60, you need to research which plans you can even get in to) though the quality of care here is debatable.  Labor in general is cheaper here (e.g. maids, lessons of any kind).  Overall, we spend about half of what we spent per month in California, but we scaled back our lifestyle significantly (smaller house, only 1 car).  In addition, because of the FEIE for taxes, we don't pay a third of our income in taxes like we did in the States, but that would apply anywhere you go to EARNED income (so might be different for retirement).

Chile:  Santiago is a first world city and is as expensive as many cities in the U.S. If you would consider living anywhere else in Chile, I believe it would be much cheaper than many places in the U.S.  I do believe that energy is expensive in Chile, but the only prices  I know for sure are gasoline, which is similiar to Uruguay at about $ 6 per gallon.

Importance of Spanish:

I would encourage you to learn as much Spanish as you can no matter where you go, both to help you integrate into the community, and in cases of emergencies, medical or otherwise, when you will need to communicate in Spanish.  Overall I think the level of English is higher in Uruguay - more people speak it outside of tourist businesses, and their level is higher, though some may be rusty and shy about using it. Many speak great English in Uruguay.  In Chile it seems to be more of a class distinction, the higher-socioeconomic class is more likely to know some English, but middle class and lower it would be rarer (outside of toursit businesses).  I see a fair number of expats here who function with little to no Spanish. While this may make your transition easier, in the long run I think the higher level of English is a detriment to eventually learning Spanish, because you can "get by" without it.  The times when you really learn another language are when you have no choice but to try to use it on a regular basis, and then you get better and better.  Regarding accents, our family speaks Mexican Spanish (my husband is a native speaker, it is a second language for me) and we find the local accents in both Uruguay and Chile to be difficult to understand in different ways, so that is not much of a differentiator.


This is one area where there is a lot of information out there that is misleading, which does a disservice to expats.  While Uruguay is probably one of the safest places in all of Latin America, petty theft is rampant.  Break-ins to houses, for the most part when people are known not to be home, are very common and personally it's hard for me to think of anyone I know here who lives in a house who has NOT been robbed.  However, crime against your person is very rare, though occassionally happens.  In Punta anyway, I do think that foreigners/tourists/expats are somewhat of a target for petty theft, as they are often not as vigilent and perceived to be rich.  Living in an apartment building can greatly reduce the chances of a break-in.  The situation is evolving a bit, we hear there is more crime in Montevideo than there used to be, and in the 4 years we've been here, I have noticed that on top of the 5 to 6 foot fences everyone has around their houses, many have added another 3 feet of electrified fence.  You still don't see those electrified fences in Punta, but essentially all expats have burgler alarm systems.  The police have a very low presence (I personally like this), they are underpaid and undertrained and though they occasionally bring thieves into the judicial system, the judicial system spits them back out fairly quickly.

Chile:  Again, I don't live there, but here are my impressions.  Santiago is a big city, and probably has a proportional amout of crime. All the affluent neighborhoods there seem to all have the 5 to 6 foot regular fence and then the 3 feet of electrified fence on top.  Many affluent areas consist of gated communities with a 24 hour guard.  Guard dogs also seem common.  Chile's police force is a militarized force with a larger presence and I assume they are better trained.  Some people say they are well-respected and polite, though the student protesters there would disagree.  I don't know if this translates to less crime or not.  If you were considering living outside of Santiago, perhaps somewhere in the South like the Lakes Region, then I encourage you to find out about crime levels in the specific towns you are looking at.

The crime is unfortunately an issue in most of Latin American, though Uruguay and Chile I think are places where it is the lowest.  I don't think it is a deal-killer in either place, but it helps to avoid incidents by either living in an apartment, or by learning to be more vigilant (always set the alarm), and perhaps adjust your lifestyle to include guard dogs, fences, bars on windows, etc.

Other factors that should play into your decision: 

a) Will you apply for residency, or be a permanent tourist, and the different ease of doing that in each place

b) What do you like to do?  Do you want to be in/near a big city, or is small-town life more your style?

c) How much patience do you have for the inefficiency of everything in Latin America, and poor customer service (Uruguay is worse for this)

d) How important are familiar foods and products - like Home Depot? (Uruguay is worse)

e) Do you hope to have some income-generating activity? (Uruguay is worse)

f) Does polution matter to you? traffic? (Santiago is very polluted, and has lots of traffic)

g) How important is an expat community to you? (as very broad generalizations, Chile's expat community is larger, especially in Santiago, and more diverse with a smaller proportion of retired people.  the Uruguay expat community probably has more retired people as the opportunities for work are much fewer. However, Punta has a small but very  nice expat community, which is one of the best things here)

h) Environment:  Uruguay has plenty of places with very clean air, low pollution, one of the world's largest aquefers, low population density and plently of land for growing things.  Chile overall has a low population density, too, except for a few big cities, and access to water is an issue (ie. securing water rights is important).

i) Economy: though both economies have commodities as a major pilar, Chile's economy is more dynamic, diverse, deeper, enterprenurial (though not compared to the U.S.) and better at long-range planning around the three E's.  Uruguay's economy is very dependent on Argentina, and as things spiral downward in Argentina, things will likely get worse in Uruguay as well. 

So there is some other food for thought - I think it is worth thinking about these issues and studying a great deal.  I can put you in contact with some Americans who are retired here in Uruguay if you like.  We could also discuss these themes in greater detail via phone, it takes so long to write it all!

Good luck with your explorations, and let me know if you want to talk about any of it.


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