Here are a few recurring favorite questions from the mailbag, distilled into their truest essence for your reading pleasure.
Q. How long have you been in Chile/What do you do in Chile?
A. Since 2004. I am a freelance writer/editor/photographer/translator. Please see About Me.
Q. Are you an English teacher?
A. No. Also, please see About Me.
Q. How can I get a job as an English teacher?
A. Come to Chile first. Don’t accept a job online unless it’s with an international school or someone you know and trust works there. For more info on teaching jobs, see Abbicita’s FAQ, though the info is from about 2010, I have no reason to think that much has changed. The author has moved on from Chile. Keep in mind that the ideal salary you will be quoted does not include the 17% deductions that will be taken out in taxes, retirement and health insurance (taxes you might get back), and that it is based on you working both early morning classes (as early as 8 AM, as far away as an hour from where you live) and until 11 PM (those classes are usually closer), and up until 3PM on Saturdays. Recently (2016), it has come to my attention that foreigners are also attracted to Chile with multi-hour contracts that would yield a good wage, but that these hours are exaggerated, and that they get fewer hours when they actually arrive.
Q. How much money do you make?
A. You wouldn’t ask a random stranger how much money she makes, would you? Thought so.
Q. How much does an apartment cost in Santiago?
A. Please see El Mercurio classifieds or Portal Inmobiliario (no links, on purpose). Varies, depends on what neighborhood you want to live in, and what your needs are (parquet floors, a view, double-glazed windows, concierge, etc). I cannot say this enough. It really depends on your standards. The higher they are, the higher your costs. Places that used to be cheap and funky are now expensive and bohemian yuppie. You will not spend less than 200,000 CLP a month on housing (updated, 2016). You will not. Trust me. Unless you are willing to live in a place that is non-central and probably does not have metro access, has iron gates over all windows and doors, and packed earth places for kids to play. Nearly all unfurnished apartments come without a fridge. Many also come without a stove. Gastos comunes (maintenance fees) are charged to the renter, and can easily be 10-25% of your rent.
Q. Can I get an apartment without a job, references or bank account in Chile?
A. Maybe. The housing market is tighter than it used to be, and you’ll have to speak Spanish to participate in the regular (non-gringo) market. Easiest upon landing would be subletting or renting from a we-rent-to-gringos outfit (though this is not what I did). Know the costs of an apartment in your hood so you don’t get hoodwinked, re: costs. Also, don’t trust too much. Stuff has happened (stuff=theft), especially in shared spaces.
Q. I have two cats and a ferret. Will it be hard for me to find an apartment?
A. Yes. Also, what is the ferret’s name?
How long does it take to learn Spanish?
Again, depends on you, your background, your ear, your innate ability, and how you choose to live your life, integrated vs. not integrated, and whether or not you have a Chilean mate (who is not bilingual). I took Spanish in high school but have not formally studied since then. I am fluent and have a slight accent, but your mileage may vary. I would say that after 6 months to a year I spoke well enough to talk about almost any topic, but since then my vocabulary and flow and listening abilities have really improved. See this article for more on what that was like.
Q. What are Chileans like?
A. They are like everything. In general (and I’m from Brooklyn, so your mileage may vary), more reticent than some other cultures I’ve known, loosen up with alcohol. They stick closer to long-term friendships than most Americans I know, still maintaining close contact with people from grade school.
Q. I have a Chilean boyfriend that I met online/at a concert/on my study abroad program. Should I go there to live with him?
A. First of all, I am completely unqualified to give advice on this topic. Despite that, here is some: know what you’re getting into. “Meet” his friends and family on skype if you think you’re serious (esp in the brief-meeting or online case). There is a culture of infidelity here. Not everyone participates, and not everyone who participates gets caught. I have no personal experience with this, but ask anyone and they will tell you.
Q. What is it like for foreigners in Chile?
A. It really depends on who you are. I have dark hair, which means from a distance, no one notices me. I also don’t walk around speaking English loudly where that is uncommon (or at all). I am a native English speaker, and from the United States, and am from a large city, and I have lived in neighborhoods with a strong Latino presence in the states. I find living here fairly easy. Everyone’s experience is different. In general, people are positive-ish on Americans. Less so for South Americans from other countries, though people are generally interested in/notice foreigners. People of color are assumed to be foreign, with most black people assumed to be from Brazil or Colombia, or possibly Haiti, and most Asian people referred to as “chino.”
Q. Can I get a bank account in Chile?
A. It takes a long time, so the immediate answer is no, though eventually, probably. There are whole forums dedicated to this question, and I got my bank account in 2005. Times have changed.
Q. What’s medical care like in Chile?
A. If you have private medical insurance, generally quite good. They are crazy for diagnostic tests, and will give you your xrays or MRI printouts to take with you. Consumer awareness is your best ally, and yes, I said consumer. It’s a market.
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