From rainy UK to sunny Chile

  • expat family in Chile
Interview
Published last week

Meet Nina, serial expat who been living out of a suitcase since she was 18. With a background in luxury travel, she was thrilled at the opportunity to move to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Chile. Here she shares her experiences on expat life in Santiago and beyond.

Hi Nina, please introduce yourself.

My name's Nina, and I'm from the UK. I moved to Chile with my family in January 2018. Prior to this, my husband was working in Nigeria, and the original plan was to meet up there. However I was pregnant, and with two kids already we weren't sure our situation in Nigeria was going to work for us, so we switched to Chile.

I have three children - Sebastian aged four, Rafa aged two and Annabelle who is three months. Right now I'm blogging and enjoying getting to know this fabulous country. My background is public relations for luxury brands, and now I'm working as a freelance writer and blogger.

What is the process of moving to Chile?

You need a work visa before arriving in Chile, or at least one person within the family does. Then you need to present yourself at the visa office here for all the necessary paperwork. We were warned it would be a nightmare, and we saw queues snaking around the visa office for nearly a mile at the crack of dawn, but we were very lucky. We were in and out in 20 minutes. We had help from a consultancy and as I was pregnant at the time, we were also given priority.

What is your favourite thing about Chile, and what is your least favourite thing?

Coming from a rainy country with not so much sunshine I'd have to say the best thing is the weather. The sunshine really cheers me up, makes me feel alive and happy. It's also so much easier on a practical level. I can rush out of the door with my kids and some sun cream, rather than fighting with umbrellas, boots, jackets and so forth.

I guess the only drawback is the prices. Santiago is not a cheap city. In fact, I'd say the cost of living is higher than it was for us in Switzerland. While prices are lower, so are salaries, so it's all relative.

Accommodation hasn't reached the crazy prices of London or Hong Kong, but as so much has to be imported groceries and shopping, in general, can get a little out of hand. The cost of education is an absolute joke. In general, the standards are much, much lower than the UK and you get so much less for your money. I was shocked to see the state of many private schools here (and even more shocked to discover their fees).

How would you describe Chile in one sentence?

A beautiful, sunny and rather traditional country.

What has surprised you the most about Chile?

It's very developed. Or at least Santiago is. Startups are thriving here. From pay as you go electric scooters, to online grocery delivery apps, Chile is not a developing country.

expat in Chile

How is today’s expat job market in Santiago and Chile?

The mining boom of the 90s has eased off and gone are the days of incredible expat packages. There are plenty of opportunities here, however, especially for native English speakers. Salaries are rather low though.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Santiago, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

As for accommodation, it depends on your lifestyle and what you're looking for. On first moving here I wanted an apartment in the centre in order to get my bearings. We needed a place with three bedrooms, a playroom and a room for our maid, which was a real struggle to find. Areas like Vitacura and Las Condes are very popular with expats and most apartments here tend to be two-bedroom only, so we had to settle for an older style building which needed some renovations.

What are the biggest holidays in Chile?

As a foreigner, it feels like there is a holiday here in Chile every week of the year. By far the largest celebrations take place around 18 September, which is when the founding of Chile as a modern state takes place.

What is some essential etiquette in Chile?

Spanish friends tell me Chileans can be very reserved, and even a little snobby. As a Brit, I guess I notice this less as we are a nation of reserved people!

How do you find the lifestyle in Chile?

Like many places, assuming you can afford it, it is fabulous. You need to go private for just about everything or rely on a rather wobbly public infrastructure. As long as you can afford private healthcare here is very, very good. We've had our fair share of trips to the clinic, and we've had very good experiences.

Regarding routine, Chileans are generally late. People start late and work late. I find this a shame because it means that parents might not be able to see their children and have to rely too much on their maids to bring them up.

How is the transportation system in Santiago? How do you move around?

I rely on the car and my feet. I try to avoid using the car - the traffic sucks, and I feel bad contributing to the pollution here, which is already at a very high level. The metro is also efficient, and my husband sometimes takes the bus to work. Both can get very crowded in rush hour, but they do run fairly well.

Nina in Santiago

Do you feel that you have adapted to your new life?

I've lived in eight countries to date, including more challenging environments such as Angola. Assuming you can afford it, Santiago is a very easy city to live in. It's incredibly easy to meet both expat and local friends, and I' have yet to hear one expat complain about life here. Yes, I feel at home here, and I'd be very, very sad to move away.

What do you do in your free time?

I'm a freelance writer, I just had a baby, and I'm also looking after our two-year old, so I don't get a lot of free time! If I ever do, I like hanging out with friends, going to the park, trying new exercise classes (I've scheduled a Pilates instructor to come to our house this weekend) and exploring Chile's fabulous vineyards.

Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

An area called Barrio Italia is great for bars and restaurants. While a lot of the more lux restaurants are located in the Vitacura zone, Barrio Italia is really fun for a night out. Diners, speakeasies, pop-ups.. they're all here.

What new habits have you developed in Chile?

There is a large service sector here, so I admit to becoming a little lazy in many respects. I'm now used to relying on people to park my car, wash it, clean my house...

I'm also starting to take the fabulous weather for granted. If we had this weather in the UK, I'd be out in a bikini at 8 am, whereas here I might be checking out an (indoor) art gallery.

And what old habits have you quit in Chile?

I used to drink more tea. But decent tea is hard to come by so I stick to herbal infusions now.

mom and newborn

What is something that you would like to do in Chile but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

Horse riding! I love to ride but didn't feel safe doing so when pregnant. Now I just need to wait a little bit for my youngest child to feel safe without me for a while then I'll be off to one of the horse riding clubs here in the city.

Also, Chile has some incredible vineyards. We've done a couple of tours, but as I was pregnant or breastfeeding, I've been a little limited. I'm looking forward to discovering more of Chile's fabulous wine country.

Share your most memorable experience in Chile.

Fainting on the street with my two kids and then random strangers really going the extra mile to help me. I wish I could track a lady called Maria Teresa down to thank her properly. She stopped her car in busy traffic to rush to help me.

If you could do the move to Chile all over, what would you do differently?

I wouldn't be pregnant! Of course, I'm joking but moving to any country when you're pregnant (and sick) is very tough.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

I'm practically vegan and my second child has severe allergies so eating out is rather tricky. We prefer to eat with friends, and our favourite local dishes include empanadas (a pastry with a savoury filling such as chicken or vegetables), chanco en piedra (a wonderfully zingy chilli salad) and of course avocado which comes with just about every dish here. I'm also obsessed with a type of bread/pancake originally from Venezuela but which our Chilean maid cooks to perfection - arepas.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Tea, family and Sunday newspapers

Have you had a moment where you almost felt like leaving Chile? How did you overcome that? What kept you there?

Yes, my husband has been forced to work when I've been very sick. At one point I thought I was going to lose my baby. Thankfully we had a fabulous relocation agent who sorted everything out, and my daughter was born healthy.

mom and children

Can you give some useful tips that soon-to-be expatriates in Chile might benefit from.

Check and double check your budget. Write down all your costs and really try to think about the hidden ones. Health, education, transport, accommodation, childcare... it really adds up here.

Also if possible try to learn some basic Spanish before you arrive. Even at the very modern hospitals, doctors might not be able to speak English, and you will need Spanish in every walk of your life.

Finally, get your national ID (it's called a RUT) as soon as possible. If you have a relocation agent make this your priority. It's impossible to get a mobile phone, rent a home, set up utility bills without one. In fact, even for grocery shopping discounts, the cashiers will ask you for your RUT.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them to Chile, what would they be?

Good quality peanut butter, tea, vitamins and nappies if you have a baby. All are super expensive here. Finally medications - while you should be able to find most, you might face a long wait, and it's best to be prepared.

What are your plans for the future?

While I love blogging and writing on a freelance level, I miss the office atmosphere so I'd like to get back into a part-time marketing role. And yes, horse riding and wine!