Costa Rica is warm, amazingly beautiful, has a good system of education and health care and several more great features going for it! It also has about 250,000 Expats living there at any given time. We knew people who had loved living in and visiting Costa Rica. We ruled out Costa Rica because it seems that too many Expats have flooded in, bought property and have jacked up the prices of Real Estate to outlandish USA-type rates. Who knows, one day we just might have a vacation home in Costa Rica, but right now, it seems too closely aligned with the USA and the prices of the areas that were the most appealing to us simply shot through the roof. We feel we had just missed our opportunity in Costa Rica.
Panama was at this point our #1 most probable destination. We had some contacts there through mutual friendships and there is a well-developed network of Expat service firms. There was/is also a great deal of information available about relocating and living in Panama. We know, from all of the emails and phone calls we have received, that there are many of you living in this very nice spot right now or perhaps considering Panama as your future home or a place to invest in Real Estate. We will write more about Panama in just a minute.
Chile was a “Sleeper.” This country literally caught us completely by surprise. Compared to virtually all the other countries we had researched, there just was not that much press regarding Expatriation into Chile. We honestly could not find much in the way of Expat services on-line and while it HAD made the first cut, it actually had stayed there to this point because we simply could not find much information or statistics about Chile. The information we DID manage to find though, was quite positive.
After many more months of research we had gathered enough information on both Panama and Chile to warrant our first major expedition to find out what we really thought and felt. This maiden voyage, if you will, was to check out Chile and its potential.
Panama was dropped to position #2, because Chile came out ahead in many if not all of our final criteria. Here is how Chile stacked up against (well actually matched up is a better way to put it) the other possiblities:
A Fairly Stable Government That Possessed A Low Likelihood Of Domestic Or Political Upheaval. Chile has a long tradition of democratically elected governments. In the late 1960’s Salvador Allende was elected President with a little over 30% of the popular vote. Allende was a Marxist/Socialist and when things started getting out of control, General Pinochet led the uprising and took control of the government. After approximately 17 years of continuing free market reforms and return of the country to a democratically elected government (runoffs are now required so it is no longer possible to have a President in office who did not receive at least 50% of the vote) things have been quite stable in this neck of the woods. Chile is a country whose time has come! The years of dictatorship allowed necessary reforms to be implemented and Chile now has one of the most stable governments and economies in the world.
Economic Affordability. Chile is not what we would consider a “cheap” country but housing, insurance, food and health care are all significantly below the USA’s norm. Also, on the Mercer International cost of Living Index, Santiago, Chile ranks 121 out of a list of 144 major cities from around the world. Panama City ranked as being significantly more expensive at #65.
A Low Level Of Corruption. Chile is ranked #20 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2003 just behind the USA. Of course this was the 2003 Index and if they ask us, the USA is losing ground quickly.
Out Of The Crossfire Of Terrorist Locations. Have you seen any media reports of friction between Chile and the rest of the world? Well, neither have we. Yes, there are a couple of border disagreements and some fishing territory disputes but Chile has not been in any foreign wars since the 1800’s. With the Andes on the East, the Pacific Ocean on the West, the world’s driest desert to the North and Antarctica to the South, Chile has been left largely to itself and has few, if any International enemies.
A Low Level Of Poverty (which tends to also link up with our next item on this list). There are some areas that are not considered to be thriving in the true sense of the word and there are those who are less fortunate but for the most part, the people of Chile are well taken care of. In fact, the words “of the people and for the people” actually seem to mean something here. While some people choose to live a simpler lifestyle, a more prosperous lifestyle awaits those who wish to work for it. There are people in every part of the world who prefer to not work very much and Chile is no different, but we do not know of anyone who has applied himself or herself who can not make a decent living here in Chile.
A High Level Of Education. Education is compulsory in Chile. With a literacy rate above 96% Chile possesses a high percentile and is a country filled with people who can read and write! Also, learning the English language is now mandatory in the schools of Chile. Ricardo Lagos, the current President of Chile was the Minister of Education and Chile continues to invest wisely in the human capital through education.
The Ability To Invest In And/Or Own Real Estate. Many countries do not allow foreign citizens to own land in their country or if they do, the title can be clouded and it can be next to impossible, once your investment has been made, to expatriate your funds back out of the country. Chile has maintained strong property ownership laws since the mid 1800’s. Also, there is a constitutional guarantee to allow foreigners to expatriate their investment funds as well as profits. In Chile, foreign investors are considered on an equal footing with Chilean citizens.
A Low Population Density. Okay, consider this: California has a population of over 30 million people. Chile’s ENTIRE population is just a tad over 15 million people. Need we say more? Just in case you were wondering, Chile’s population density is ranked #153 on Wikipedia’s list of countries by population density.
The Ability To Import Personal Belongings Without Penalties. Many countries limit importation of personal belongings to the clothes on your back or perhaps a suitcase or two. Chile allows up to $5,000 worth of belongings. Chile does not allow for the importation of used cars, but if it is a fairly new vehicle, there are exceptions. Vehicles are very reasonable in Chile and there are strong new and used car markets. Also, Chile has established trade agreements, which reduce or eliminate duties on the importation of vehicles so you can expect to find prices about the same or perhaps a bit lower than what you are used to.
A Culture That Promotes Ethics And Values. How can one measure Ethics and values? We guess you will have to take our word for it but we have met a great number of decent, honest people with very strong family values. This is a very refreshing experience, when coming from a land where the word “Enron” is now considered a verb that means, “to cheat.”
A High Quality Of Health And Dental Care. In Chile, the smiles are usually wide, clean and if not pure white, at least close to it. There is not a lot of illness to be seen and the hospitals are clean, well-stocked and the medical care is first class as well. Life expectancy rates are high and rising in Chile. The Chilean average life expectancy is now 76.3 years, which is on a par with the USA.
Low Crime And A Safe Environment. Can YOU walk outside at night without fear of being mugged? Where we live, we can and do quite regularly. While there ARE places in some of the larger cities that would NOT be considered safe under any circumstances, Chile is relatively safe and unless you are a walking advertisement for a mugger, wearing showy jewelry and flashing wads of cash, you do not generally need to worry because no one will be seeking you out. Our 22 year old daughter and a friend made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time one evening, but the five young, would-be muggers did not expect that a 6 ft 1 in., thin and beautiful blonde Amazon would knock their teeth out and take away their chance of ever having children, either. Luckily our daughter was prepared for this type of event. We would have preferred that she not have PUT herself in that spot, but we are thankful that she is well trained. No matter where you are in the world BE CAREFUL!
The Ability For Us To Obtain Visas And Work In Our New Homeland. Obtaining a visa to work and live in Chile is not the mass of red tape that many countries have in place. We must say that we have researched other countries’ requirements for visas and Chile is about as straightforward as it gets. In Panama, where the Pensionado program does not lead to a Passport and one can not work under that type of Visa, Chile will easily allow you to work, live and eventually to receive a Chilean Passport. One can form a corporation or a Limited Liability Association and may even be the only employee, if you wish. In Panama, there are restrictions about working yourself and a requirement for hiring Panamanian employees. In Chile, it took us less than three weeks to receive our Visas from the time we first applied. We will say that it appears to be a much simpler process from within Chile, rather than from one’s own home country. Also, we have never heard of anyone being denied a Visa if they first obtained a Work Contract.
Ease Of Importing Family Pets. As you may already know from reading some of our other articles, our pets are family members. For them to languish in an “Animal Jail,” while we roam free is unthinkable! We understand the problems that certain countries may have involving diseases like rabies, heartworm or worse, but to make a DOG or a CAT have to spend MONTHS in Quarantine, when the worst thing they “might” bring into a country is a case of ear mites is unacceptable! Chile has a very simple process for importing your furry family members. While not barbaric, Panama’s procedure usually requires the services of an attorney and your pets may be allowed to be under personal Quarantine so they can stay with you. We are not sure about bringing them in and out of Panama, on a regular basis, though, so it would be wise to check.
Lack Of Widespread Disease(s). We preferred an area with little-to-no malaria, Yellow Fever or Dengue, TB, cholera, hepatitus, typhoid fever, Mad Cow, etc. Chile has a nearly 100% vaccination rate for childhood diseases and there are none of the above listed “majors”. Plus, TB is well-controlled here. We have not needed to worry about only drinking bottled water, in fact the water is quite tasty! We have never thought even once about eating only cooked or peeled foods and we are still alive and well. We all love our daily salads and fresh fruits! For any meat eaters out there, mad cow has not found Chile.
A relatively low number of disease-carrying insects or other pests other than the above mentioned mosquitoes. One of the first things we noticed about Chile is that no one has window screens. Nada, nunca. At first this seemed odd, because where WE come from, to not have a screen is to invite every type of insect into the house and now with the West Nile Virus and a host of other potential plagues in the USA this practice does not sit well with us. However, over time, we have come to ask ourselves, “why spoil the view of a particularly beautiful mountain vista or a lake view at sunset, since there are no bugs to really worry about around here?” Since more than one of us is a walking hors-d’oeuvre for mosquitoes or other blood-loving bugs, it is rather important that we not put ourselves on the menu in any country, ‘nuf said! Actually, we are still looking for a mosquito but it has been two years now and we haven’t seen a single one. Granted, there are flies in the Summer, but a bit of flypaper in an out-of-the-way spot, with a teensy piece of smoked salmon used for bait is remarkably effective and one can enjoy a screen-free view and we can then enjoy the rest of the smoked salmon (NOT the portion on the flypaper!) with some wine, crackers and cheese!
A Clean, Hospitable Environment And Culture. With a few exceptions, every place we have required the services of a communal restroom, be it a gas station restroom, a movie theater or a restroom in a mall, has been both neat and clean. This goes for the people as well. Chileans are proud, CLEAN, well educated and very cordial. We wish we could say that about some of the other countries we have visited. Some visiting friends of ours mentioned that it was absolutely refreshing to enter a subway in Santiago and not be assaulted by the malodorous person standing or seated next to them. Yes! Here in Chile, people DO take daily baths or showers. The words “a breath of fresh air,” actually DOES apply to subways and buses.
We Hate Poisonous Snakes And Spiders! This IS the Biggest of the Biggies in MY (Bonnie, here) personal book! I can live with just about anything, but if there is a spider or a snake in the vicinity, I become a soggy bit of incoherently screaming Jell-O. My knees give out and one would think I was witnessing the end of the world. The size of the now offensive and invasive spider, snake or whatever does not matter, I am a one size fits all, blithering idiot if there is a spider in the house. It began the day my daughter was not yet born and I found my 8-month pregnant self sharing a shower with an eight-legged Godzilla. That event was followed about nine months later by a four ft. rattlesnake, a huge brute of a fellow that had (mistakenly for him), decided to take up residence right outside of our front door. Unfortunately Panama has more than its share of some pretty nasty creatures, so this one line item did it for me. Get this: CHILE has only ONE, small black and NON-poisonous snake and yes, one small poisonous spider. I will take my chances with the spider and hope I do not run into any snakes on my mountain hikes. At least I do not have to worry about something deadly slithering my way. However, I have heard there are some rather shy tarantulas here….gulp.
As you can see, Chile measured up pretty darn well in our list of “biggies,” and we have not regretted our choice for one minute.
Okay, great, so what does this mean and what is the relevance to you? Well, maybe nothing. It is certainly partly subjective, based on our impressions and our own research as well. We have a unique perspective and our criteria may not be the same as yours. We did a ton of our own research, we traveled, we have moved to Chile, acquired Visas, gotten involved in a couple of business ventures, shipped our belongings and handled all the customs requirements on both ends by ourselves. We have established ourselves in our new country and of course this tends to make us a bit biased. Also, we like the friendships we are building so please don’t make us wait too long before we can share a bottle of Chilean Cabernet, or whatever type of wine or natural juice your palate might enjoy!
Excerpted from "Moving To Chile, Part Two: Chile Measured Up!" in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 76.