In 2010, Mark and John decided to retire to Chile to live simply but without compromising on quality. One of their values was to retain the freedom to travel while having a home base. To read Part I of Retire to Chile, click here
In general, we enjoy a similar quality of life in Chile as we did in Vancouver. We have potable water in the taps, regular garbage pickup at the curb, high-speed internet to the house, and a large number of TV stations – including many English language stations – through a small satellite dish. There are several shopping locations within walking distance or a short drive from our home, and in major cities like Santiago or Vina del Mar, one can find all sorts of imported/exotic foods. Because there is a large expat community living in Chile, it is easy to meet others living here, and to share information about where to buy specific items. Not to mention all the online forums!
Airline connections in Chile
Chile’s national airline is LAN Chile, which is part of the ‘One World’ network of airlines. They are excellent, and compare favorably to the other major airlines in the network – indeed I would say they are better than many. The planes are new and well-appointed, the staff are friendly, and LAN Chile has a good safety record.
Santiago is also served by American Airlines, Air Canada, Iberia, TAM, Delta, AeroMexico, Qantas and Copa to name but a few. Connections from North America include regular non-stop flights from Toronto, Miami and Dallas, with one-stop connections through many major cities, such as through Lima, Mexico City and Sao Paolo. Connections to Europe include non-stop daily flights to Madrid and Paris. There are also direct flights to Auckland and Sydney.
Basically – it is easy to use Chile as a travel hub, and it isn’t difficult to get here.
The airport is quite modern and Immigration is easy as most major countries get a Visa upon arrival (fees may apply – although if you take a Visitor Visa, the fee is payable once and is valid for the life of your passport). Customs processes are simple and are focused primarily on keeping unauthorized food and insects out of the country, much like traveling to Australia.
Transport in Chile
Chile has an excellent public and private network of transit, based mostly on buses. There are several large coach operators which provide very high quality and comfortable bus connections throughout Chile’s large and medium-sized cities.
For example, where we live (near Algorrobo) there are buses from Santiago arriving hourly 7 days a week, 18 hours a day. The cost is about $7 per person (around 3500 Pesos) each way for the 90 minute bus ride from the city. You can even book these trips online. The coaches are superb quality with comfortable, clean seats, restrooms on board, and they provide on-board entertainment. For longer rides, say from Santiago to Puerto Varas for example, coach companies will sometimes include airline style service of snacks, drinks and fully reclinable ‘Lazy Boy’ type seats, sometimes with individual TV screens.
Even if you don’t like riding city buses in North America, you will likely be pleasantly surprised how easy and comfortable it is to travel short-to-medium distances in Chile. Santiago and other large cities also have excellent Metro/Subway systems, as well as city bus networks which serve to connect people in the city.
Most cities and medium-sized towns have a network of collectivos – which are informal taxis that run on set routes. These cost just a dollar or two, and can be both a fun and affordable way to move smaller distances in town. Basically one stands on the side of the road and flags down the next collectivo – you may be sharing the car with others. They won’t take you door-to-door like a taxi, but you can ask the driver to stop anywhere along his route. You need a little Spanish to use collectivos appropriately, but they are a cheap and efficient mode of getting around. It is very possible to live without a vehicle in Chile, if this is your preference.
Postal Services in Chile
The Postal Service is quite reliable, and we haven’t experienced any problems using it. It can be slower than expected to receive items from North America, but we haven’t had any major mishaps.
Sending and Receiving hasn’t been problematic for us, but we have been told to use ‘Registered’ mail to ensure nothing goes missing. The only issue we have experienced is a significant and annoying delay when an Ebay purchase got stopped by Customs for some import duty. Out of dozens of packages, this was the first time anything was stopped to collect taxes. The process was a bit bothersome and time consuming, but everything worked out in the end.
In our small town, our ‘Post Office’ is actually a small shop which offers a mail counter and we are charged 100 pesos (about 20 cents) for each letter or parcel we receive. If you live in a major city, you will receive mail delivery to your door. Major courier companies such as FedEx and DHL operate in Chile as well.
When we established ourselves and bought our house in Chile, we found that Immigration was very easy to navigate, once we engaged the services of a company who specialized in working with expats. We applied as retirees, and demonstrated that we had sufficient finances to look after ourselves. Our ‘Temporary Residency’ Visa allowed us to get a Chilean ‘Carnet’ – which is the photo ID card that every Chilean resident uses and carries with them.
After being in country for 183 days out of one calendar year, we were able to apply for ‘Permanent Residency’ which took about 6 months to be granted. Having this status allows us to live and even work in Chile without restriction – the only thing we cannot do compared to a Chilean citizen is vote. After 5 years of permanent residency, we are then eligible to apply for citizenship and we don’t have to give up our Canadian citizenship. Having permanent residency will provide us with the right to vote and even to get a Chilean passport if we wish.
Getting a bank account was one of the most frustrating aspects of getting established in Chile.
It is very difficult to get a bank account without having your ‘Carnet’ – which takes a few months of applications. We were fortunate in that the bank we used in Canada was also operating in Chile, and they were able to assist us to get started. However, the only North American bank currently operating in Chile is Scotiabank. (HSBC was operating here, however they were recently bought out by a competitor).
If you are planning on coming to Chile to buy a house/car or are planning on checking the country out as a place to retire, we recommend talking with one of the major banks operating in Chile such as Itau, Santander, or BCI, at one of their head office locations in Santiago. You will be able to find a representative who speaks English at the large locations, and they will be able to assist you – if not to open an account – at least to manage transfers coming in from your home bank.
We have had no issues moving money into or out of Chile, and there are no restrictions that we are aware of in moving money in or out of country once you are established. At many banks, you can also hold an account in a major foreign currency (such as US Dollars) so you can manage your foreign exchange needs accordingly.
While you may not have considered Chile, South America as a retirement destination before, from our perspective, we have found this country to be a most satisfying choice.