Matt Ridgway in South America's Most Spectacular and Unique City: Valparaiso, Chile

British expat Matt is no stranger to South America, having lived in Ecuador and Argentina before moving to Chile. He now lives and works in the city of Valparaiso, a place which he obviously enjoys and appreciates. Matt articulates what it is he likes about living in Chile and gives helpful suggestions on understanding and adjusting to the local culture.
 
Matt Ridgway in Chile
Matt Ridgway

-Where were you born?

Birmingham, England

-In which country and city are you living now?

Valparaiso, Chile

-Are you living alone or with your family?

Alone

-How long have you been living in Chile?

About a year and half on a permanent basis. Before that, I lived in Buenos Aires for 3 years and made regular trips to Chile for personal reasons.

-What is your age?

30

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Chile?

It just kind of happened. I moved to Ecuador in 2003 to teach English, left after 3 months, travelled through Argentina and then Chile where I met my then girlfriend. After 3 years in Argentina we moved back to Chile...the personal relationship didn't work out but I'm still here and loving Valparaiso!

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

No, getting residency is really easy. There are various ways of organising a visa and you can do it all once you're actually in the country (Chilean embassies always say that this isn't possible but the easiest and fastest way of sorting out residency is to arrive as a tourist and change your status once you find a job or have a business idea).

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I have private medical insurance here. It costs me something like US$120/month but I have not the faintest idea how to use it. Luckily, I haven't had any need to so far.

-How do you make your living in Chile? Do you have any type of income generated?

I set up my own company helping other foreigners buy real estate in Chile. At the same time, I'm involved in the regeneration of Valparaiso by restoring and converting old, damaged houses into apartments. http://pacificfive.co.uk

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

Yes, my Spanish is pretty much fluent. I think you can get by in Chile if you don't speak Spanish but you'll never become part of the society here. Everyday life is so much easier if you speak the local language. Things that would take hours for a non-speaker to achieve can be sorted out in a matter of minutes if you speak Spanish. You'll also get ripped off a lot less in local markets if you speak Spanish. Learn Spanish!

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

In general, not really. I'm quite a solitary person and I'm just as happy being on my own as I am with company. I'm used to being away from home, having gone to boarding school when I was 8 and half. I like being away from England. I do speak to friends and family on Skype, use facebook to keep in touch and chat on MSN. One of the things I really miss about England is going to the pub with my old friends, the people with whom I grew up and with whom I don't have to make any effort whatsoever. New friends will never know you as well as your school friends. I try to get home at least once a year although this time it's been a year and half and still no trip on the horizon...

-Do you have other plans for the future?

I'm just taking it one day at a time. I know I'll be in Valparaiso for at least one more year due to work commitments. After that...who knows? I'm a bit of an constant traveller and like to move around a lot. Valpo's got me kind of hooked, though. In a good way.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I bought my place and renovated it. Not cheap. It's difficult to say how much a place might cost as prices are kind of crazy due to Valparaiso being named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Let's say that a reasonable quality apartment conversion in a period building could cost around US$1400/m2.

Rent in Valparaiso is quite cheap - a room in a shared house costs between US$100 and $250 depending on location. Renting an apartment in the part of Valpo that everyone wants to live in (Cerros Concepcion and Alegre) can be tricky due to a lack of supply and high demand. There are plenty of options in the surrounding hills, though.

-What is the cost of living in Chile?

Chile is quite an expensive South American country but you can get by very easily on US$1000/month and less if you're not constantly travelling around. The recent rise in the strength of the Chilean Peso has made the country quite a lot more expensive for those living on foreign currencies, especially the Dollar.

-What do you think about the Chileans?

Chileans love foreigners and are often desperate to have them as friends. Often, this is more to show off to their friends and family that they have a 'foreign friend'. It can be a slightly pathetic status symbol here. Chileans can also be hard to get to know. But I like Chileans quite a lot and find them to be loyal and trustworthy friends in times of crisis, something that I can't say about my Argentine friends from my days of living there. Chileans also like to have the kind of fun an Englishman can also enjoy: namely getting very drunk and dancing badly. This is a part of the culture I really like!

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Chile?

Valparaiso is an awesome city. Totally unique, with a cool vibe and friendly people. Chile is still really cheap compared to the UK, the fruit and veg is ridiculously cheap and incredibly tasty, cheap and excellent wines, the freshest sea food ever, fantastic weather, the most incredible and extreme scenery of pretty much anywhere in the world, living by the Pacific with the Andes in the background, decent local beers, Pisco, friendly locals (once you get to know them), an uncorrupt and honest police force, lack of day-to-day corruption which blights more other South American countries.

On the downside, Chileans can seem a little cheerless and often rude. They don't know how to queue up and have little respect for others, especially in public. Once you get used to and accept the culture, though, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Chile?

Most people go through an "I hate Chile" stage after a few months here (I actually went through it from the first second I stepped off the bus on my backpacking trip 4 and a half years ago but it subsided after a few more trips). Some of this is for cultural reasons but most people complain about the bureaucracy and how 'hard' it is to get things done here. I'd suggest trying to live in Argentina, Peru or Bolivia for a few months - it'll put things in perspective and make you realise that life in Chile is quite a lot easier. It's not perfect - it's a long way from perfect - but compared to her neighbours, Chile is quite a long way down the path to becoming a vaguely normal country!

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Chile?

My own blog all about Valparaiso is: http://corrugatedcity.blogspot.com. There are tons of photos and lots of information about what to do, where to go, where to eat and what to see. It's pretty much the only source of English language info about the city.

I also maintain a list of other Bloggers in Chile here: http://bloggersinchile.blogspot.com.

working in Chile

jacklorince's picture

Hi Matt,

I love your stories and pictures. It sounds like an amazing place to live. I know you do your own thing, but do you think an American would have a hard time finding work there? I have a BS and currently own my own business, but don't know if that means anything down there when looking for work.

Thanks!
Jacqueline

Jacqueline-send me an email

matttheboy's picture

Jacqueline-send me an email to info @ pacificfive.co.uk and feel free to ask any questions you might have...Matt

Viva el rio Aconcagua

solarspeedster's picture

Dear Matt,

Your insights are terrific on the Chilean nation.
Whenever my chilean amigos visit us in Belgium. They display all the cultured social graces of the locals here.
If those Brussels / Santiago air fares weren't so teribbly expensive I'd probably already been to Zapallar by now.
Gracias por tu entrevista.
Bradley