While Chile may have the highest cost of living in South America, it also has the most developed infrastructure and a solid middle-class. For an ESL teacher, it is a logical destination because the economy is stable. I arrived in July 2010 and started work two weeks later.
I rent a spectacular apartment at Plaza de Armas, in downtown Santiago for $423 a month. The U.S. dollar was stronger when I arrived, so the cost of living in Santiago was less. In addition to rent, I pay building fees of $95 a month and $53 for electricity. My loft apartment is cool in the summer—I don’t even need a fan—and warm in the winter, as it is north-facing. My stove and hot water heater are electric, but if I had gas it would be a quarter to a third the cost of electricity.
As well as ESL classes, I made extra money writing for an American writing factory, write freelance articles and try to work on my book. Last October I’d reached a cross-road. Chileans say “ni checha, ni lemonade,” which translates as “it isn’t homebrew, but it isn’t lemonade either,” which about summed up my situation. So, taking a deep breath, I started writing full-time in November 2010.
I had no illusions about the cost of living in Santiago. The first thing I did was cut the “extras,” such as getting my hair colored in a salon. Now I use henna. After a decade of manicures and pedicures, I found I could do it myself.
I continued to spend the usual on fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, about $20 to $25 per week. The bill for staples at the supermarket comes in at about $20 every week.
A good bottle of local wine costs about $4 and a bottle of J&B is $16. Depending on the week, and how many visitors, I calculate the alcohol bill at about $18.
Even struggling writers need perks, and a lunch at a local Korean restaurant is about $9…and the occasional dinner out is about $20.
The Internet in Chile costs about $21 to connect to Wi-Fi in apartment buildings or $63 for a modem.
I live downtown and walk everywhere. It costs about $10 a month to take the metro to Las Condes for an expat event or to visit friends.
Summary of my monthly costs in Santiago:
- Rent: $423
- Building Fees: $95
- Electricity: $53
- Food: $95
- Staples: $80
- Alcohol: $75
- Lunches x 2: $18
- Dinner: $20
- Transportation: $10
- Miscellaneous: $70
Total Monthly Budget: $939
I like living in Santiago because it is so easy. My apartment is central—there is a metro stop about a hundred paces away, although I walk virtually everywhere. More importantly though, as a woman on my own, I feel safe in Santiago.
The most important reason I enjoy living here, however, is the people. David, a friend from Sydney, visited recently and couldn’t believe the wonderful friends I’d made in only 8 months. They invited us around for meals and parties. Consequently, he was able to parachute in and meet “real” Chileans and be privy to the life in Santiago a tourist wouldn’t find.