Have you ever thought about moving to Chile? If so, you aren’t alone. I think about it, too!
My mother emigrated from Chile to the United States in 1970 to settle in California. Growing up, we cooked Chilean food and celebrated Chilean holidays in our home. We hosted my Chilean cousins when they came to study English. We only visited Chile a few times (airfare was pricey back then), but I’ve since had the opportunity to explore my mom’s beautiful country as an adult.
If you’re considering full Spanish immersion in Chile, I definitely have opinions. Thanks to my family connections, I considered moving to Chile from the US for many years. The first question to ask yourself is, where might you want to live? Let’s explore more about the country, from its visa requirements to the best cities for soaking in Chilean culture.
Before moving to Chile, let’s review some basic facts about the longest country on earth.
Chile is a narrow strip of land in South America that measures 2,700 miles long. Chile shares borders with Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.
With vast changes in latitude and a location that’s sandwiched between the snow-peaked Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chile’s climate is extremely diverse. From the San Pedro de Atacama Desert in the north to the archipelagos of the south, you can find all of nature’s extremes within Chile’s borders.
If you’re considering moving to Chile, you probably already know that the vocabulary in Chile is just as unique as its geography. Beyond cool slang and stunning nature, Chile also has a rich cultural heritage spanning music, art, astronomy, film and literature.
Best places to live in Chile
Is listing off the best places to live in Chile a highly subjective thing to do? Yes. Am I still going to do it? Totally. For those planning a move to Chile from the US, there are definitely some preferred cities amongst US expats and others who want to learn Spanish fast.
Thanks to family all over the country, I’ve also seen cities that are less touristy and off the beaten path. You won’t find these cities on other top-ten lists. If I were to move to Chile, these five cities would be my top contenders.
Santiago de Chile is a bustling capital city on par with some of the best major cities on earth. About 40% of Chile’s 18 million residents live here, so it’s a true metropolis. To get a taste of what life in Santiago is like, check out the award-winning animated web series Pajarones on YouTube, which is about birds that go to college in Santiago.
As with most large cities, Santiago appeals to many different communities. Consider moving to Chile and settling in Santiago if you identify with one of these groups:
- Foodies: From divey empanada shops to international fine-dining restaurants, Santiago has world-class gastronomy.
- LGBTQIA+ community: Santiago is the hub of Chile’s gay scene, plus a good city to practice your LGBT slang in Spanish.
- Outdoorsy folks: Spend weekends jetting off to Patagonia to hike Torres del Paine, or boat through the Capillas de Marmol marble caves of screensaver fame.
- History buffs: So. Many. Museums.
- Job opportunities
- Active nightlife
- Green parks
- Plenty of history
- Expensive cost of living
- Poor air quality
2. Viña del Mar
As the name Viña del Mar (literally “vineyard by the sea”) suggests, Viña is an oceanside city. Calle Valparaíso, the shopping zone, is within walking distance of the sea. Local venues draw major musical talent, while local universities host some of the top scholars in the nation. Plus, public transportation is easy and affordable. Just hop on the metro, micro city bus, or colectivos fixed-rate taxis.
Consider moving to Chile and settling in Viña del Mar if this sounds like you:
- Students: Live and study abroad in a city that’s easy to navigate.
- Retirees: How about investing in a high-rise condo unit with ocean views?
- Big city vibes without big city prices
- Views for days
- Clean and tidy
- Petty crime is on par with bigger cities
- Ocean breezes bring chilly weather
“Valpo” is a street art photographer’s dream of the world. Local artists are given public space to show off. The city also offers art subsidies for work and living expenses, in some cases encouraging foreign applicants. Residences and workshops are plentiful.
Consider moving to Chile and settling in Valparaíso if you hang around:
- Artists: You’ll notice excellent graffiti, music, screen printing and sculpture.
- Partygoers: A classic Chilean New Year is celebrated in a Valpo condo, watching fireworks on the water.
- Buzzing art scene
- International and English-speaking communities
- Extreme hills
- Not accessible to those with mobility issues
- Crowded in summer
Vicuña is a dusty desert town in central Chile about six hours from Santiago by car. It is the headquarters of Pisco CAPEL, a major producer of the famed Chilean spirit pisco. Vicuña is also the birthplace of diplomat and Nobel Prize-Winning poet Gabriela Mistral.
Settle in Vicuña if you identify with:
- Literature lovers: Browse poetry at Mistral’s home, now a museum and library.
- Cocktail connoisseurs: Taste locally produced liquor at the source.
- Stargazers: Astronomy aficionados stop here for the star-studded skies of the Elqui Valley on their way to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) facility in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
- Culture and cocktails
- Sleepy, small-town vibes
- After dark, this town goes to sleep. Don’t expect too much nightlife.
Vallenar is a small city in the far north with a shady town square and around 51,000 residents, many of whom are young. The music scene at the local community center, Somos Cowork, spans from electronic dance to metal shows. The weather ranges from hot during the day to freezing cold at night.
Consider moving to Chile and settling in Vallenar if you fit in with:
- Digital nomads: Open-air cafes and coworking spaces abound in this walkable city.
- Backpackers: Vallenar is not far from the desert camping paradise San Pedro de Atacama.
- Surfers: Check the surf report in nearby Huasco or watch a competition.
- Wine lovers: There is a vineyard within the city limits. ¡Salud!
- Chill and affordable
- Full Spanish immersion, with very few English speakers around
- Nine-hour bus ride from Vallenar to Santiago
Whichever city fits you best, understanding the visa requirements is the first step towards moving to Chile full-time.
Why not visit Chile before making the leap? The Chilean Embassy allows US citizens to travel for tourism without a visa prior to arrival. You will be issued a 90-day Tourist Card, which can be extended another 90 days at the immigration office in Santiago.
- Temporary residence
- Permanent residence. This is available after two years of temporary residence.
- Work visa. The most common is the “subject to contract” visa, allowing you to live and work in Chile for the duration of your employment by a Chilean company. In this case, your employer needs to sponsor your application. They may submit paperwork on your behalf or provide you the paperwork for submission.
What about health insurance? Medical costs are high in Chile, considering the average income. Though social security (FONASA) does exist as a public option, the infrastructure isn’t the best if you can afford better coverage.
For those who make a higher salary, private health insurance (ISAPRE) replaces social security and allows you to use private clinics and hospitals. Most expats choose this road, but make sure the hospitals on your plan are near where you live.
Is Chile a good place to move to?
With a visa and health coverage squared away, moving to Chile is a good idea if it works for you.
What are the disadvantages of living in Chile? There are smaller expat communities here compared with other Latin American countries like Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia. On one hand, it might be difficult for you to make friends until your Spanish levels up. On the other hand, you will be forced to learn Spanish fast. True immersion, as we know, is natural motivation.
In Chile, as in the rest of Latin America, social events are often family-centered. Children live with their parents in the family home well into adulthood, sometimes even after getting married. It is normal for extended families to get together every single Sunday. This kind of socialization is fantastic if you get invited to a friend’s house, but it can feel isolating if you’re left out of weekend plans.
So, is Chile a good place to move to? It’s important to consider if you would thrive there. Does your lifestyle match Chilean customs and the unwritten social rules? If not, are you flexible enough to adapt and be happy?
Vamos (let’s go!)
Moving to Chile from the US has its pros and cons. In my case, I haven’t moved closer to family because I enjoy the hyper-independence that I grew up with. An annual visit is just fine. Still, there are cities that fit any lifestyle. From hikers to stargazers, there are communities to join and places to build social connections. Plus, Chile has a rich history and a unique national culture. As a place to learn Spanish, moving to Chile is both an immersive and fun place to choose. What do you think? Could moving to Chile be right for you?