Breaking the barriers at the end of the world: A Croatian expat's story in Chile

Croatian-born expat Srechko is no newbie when it comes to living abroad. He had spent some time living in Canada before deciding to move to Santiago, Chile, to teach English. Here he describes his desire to improve his Spanish-language fluency, one's ability to get by on a fairly low budget, and his appreciation of how Chileans in Santiago generally treat expats like him.
 

Srechko

-Where were you born?

I was born in Pula, Croatia.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Santiago, Chile.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

Alone.

-How long have you been living in Chile?

 Almost 2 years.

-What is your age?

39

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

Well, I was living a rat race life in Toronto, Canada and was getting little tired of it. Thinking of possibilities to change my lifestyle, I decided to try teaching English somewhere in Latin America. Mental preparation for such a big change took around 2 years, and finally in July 2009 I made the cut. I chose Chile as I found this excellent government-based program that allowed me to get my feet wet in teaching English. As I'm not a native English speaker and I had no experience teaching English, I took that chance. 

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

Actually, it was amazingly easy....Well after I just moved here, the semi-volunteering program I was in took care of all the paperwork and thanks to them I got 1-year temporary visa. The following year, just before the temporary visa expired, I applied for a permanent one backed up by my just-obtained English teaching 8-month contract. A few months later, I got a permanent visa, basically after 1.5 years of living in Chile.

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

No, it is easy getting medical insurance in Chile, well .... all you have to do is pay. There are lots of options, and it is compulsory to have one if you have an official job. Also, unless you prove you had health insurance for a period of time, you won't fulfill the requirements for a permanent visa. Medical insurance is big business in Chile, where many benefit including the government and they make sure you don't stick around without having one. 

Of course, it is still optional, but getting medical help without insurance is expensive here. 

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

Last few months I've been working as an I/T support engineer for an American company here in Santiago. I applied online directly through the company's web site and after a series of interviews, finally 3-4 months later I was presented with the job offer. Even though the process of getting this job was quite straightforward, I must say I'd never heard from any other company where I applied for jobs and sent my resumes.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.

You can get by in Santiago without speaking much Spanish, especially if your job doesn't require its knowledge (teaching English for example) and you hang out with English speakers all the time. However, one can't experience local culture without speaking the language. My Spanish is at a fluent level, but I'm still working on my level of comfort, as to communicate and understand Chileans, due to their speed of talking and use of local jargon; one's language skills have to be at an extremely high level to be taken seriously here.

Chileans are quite conservative and shy, but extremely helpful and friendly. I learned that I always have to make the first move in order to start a conversation with people I don't know, even though I still don't feel very comfortable due to my language insecurity.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

I do, but as I haven't lived in my homeland (Croatia) for almost 20 years now, I am used to missing family members and friends. I compensate living my life so far abroad by visiting home often and staying in touch through Skype.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Well I've just started this new job that I am happy with, and I've decided to stay here for at least 2 more years. In the future, I 'll probably think of settling down in Europe, Spain or homeland Croatia, but who knows.

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

Cost varies depending on where in Santiago you want to live. For a long time I had been renting a room for $220/month in the center that is considered more economical area to live. Now I live in more expensive part of the city and I pay around $480 monthly for a 1-bedroom apartment in a brand new building (utilities are additional). I have friends who live in center of the city and they pay between $300 and $400 for a 1-bedroom apartment.

-What is the cost of living in Chile?

Chile is considered to be one of the most expensive countries in Latin America, but it is still easy to get by on a fairly low budget. One can live comfortably with $700-800 a month by sharing accommodation, not eating at expensive restaurants, and using public transportation. For a more comfortable life, that will include monthly trips to the beach or ski slopes, around $1000 will suffice.

-What do you think about the Chileans?

One of the main reasons why I love living here is the way I have been treated  by the locals. They show a lot of respect to us foreigners and are flattered that we chose their country to settle down. People in Santiago are little colder that people in the country, but they are still welcoming. However, it isn't easy at all to get integrated into Chilean society. They are extremely family and friend focused and they won't allow you to easily become part of their lives. I started feeling rewards of my patience just recently as I think I am breaking the barriers now. The secret is in taking initiative and not just waiting for things to happen.

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

Well as I mentioned before, I like the way I am treated here, I feel more special that I felt anywhere else. Weather is great with lots of sunny days, well at least in Santiago. Beach and skiing are only an hour away. Chile is a country where I found a good balance of Latin American culture, stable economy, safety, and uncorrupted government. I also like how things are unpredictable here, well maybe this fact applies to all Latin American countries.

I don't like how people act on public transportation, they get quite rude and don't show much compassion for others. Local food is boring, thank God for the abundance of Peruvian restaurants.

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

Accept the way people are, blend in as much as possible, change your own habits, and you will enjoy this country much much more...

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

Hmm can't  think of any now...