Barrio Italia, a small, quiet neighborhood in Santiago, Chile, is an appealing option for retirees, and not only because of the affordable cost of living. Barrio Italia was originally a center for furniture-makers, some of whom continue to ply that trade here today. Otherwise, this is an area of sidewalk cafes, restaurants, coffee and pastry shops, clothing boutiques, antique shops, and art galleries.
Interior courtyards are common in Barrio Italia, even though the architecture is more European than Spanish colonial. These courtyards often contain restaurants with excellent menus and impressive wine lists. The best part is that, thanks to the U.S. dollar’s strength against the Chilean peso, all this fine dining is a relative bargain.
Locals appreciate the standard of living on offer in Barrio Italia, but the rest of the world has yet to notice this spot, even though it’s convenient to Santiago Centro and easily accessible via modern public transit. Barrio Italia is just one of many appealing lifestyle choices in Chile. Here’s why this country deserves consideration as a retirement destination in 2015:
1. Chile is a First World country with Latin America’s highest standard of living. The water is drinkable, phone and Internet services are fast and reliable, the public transit system is modern and efficient, and the highways are modern, fast, and well-maintained.
2. Chile is now part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Since May 2014, Chileans can enter the United States without a visa, just like people from England, Denmark, or Japan. This indicates that in the eyes of the U.S. government the country of Chile is strong and economically successful, a country that offers its people enough opportunity so that their citizens have no need to try to escape to the United States.
3. Chile has an honest culture, with low levels of public corruption. According to Transparency International’s 2014 study, Chile is in the “clean” category along with Uruguay, Barbados, and the United States. (Only Canada made the “very clean” category in the Americas.) And make no mistake, corruption can affect your life as an expat. Corrupt countries aren’t just politically corrupt. They are also the places where you’re more likely to be short-changed, have your pocket picked, or to be cheated in a business deal.
4. Chile has amazing geographic diversity. The country runs 2,650 miles from north to south and offers an astonishing array of climates and settings, from seaside resorts and small beach villages to mountains, lakes and the sophisticated scene in Santiago.
5. The cost of living in Chile is reasonable. It’s not super cheap, but it’s a bargain given the standard of living you’re buying. To put things into perspective, Santiago is a more affordable place to live than many other cosmopolitan retirement options in Latin America including Panama City, Panama; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Montevideo, Uruguay. On the other hand, retirement in Santiago would be more expensive than retirement in Medellin, Colombia; Quito, Ecuador; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
6. Residency is easy to establish and comes with a path to citizenship. You can apply by mail, and no background check is required for U.S. or Canadian citizens. Citizenship requires five years of residency, a simple application and no test.
7. The lifestyle is hard to beat. Living in a central Santiago neighborhood, you could walk to everything you need. Fine dining, international-standard shopping, cafes and galleries are all just blocks away from any center-city spot. When your feet give out, you could hop in a taxi. They are inexpensive and plentiful. The flag drops at 50 cents at today’s exchange rates.
8. The summertime weather is great, with warm sunny days and cool nights, making Chile a good place to ride out the North American winter. If you’re looking for a retirement locale with four seasons, this is one of your best options.
Kathleen Peddicord is the publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, offering retirement and overseas living advice in her free daily Overseas Opportunity Letter and the monthly Overseas Retirement Letter. Her preceding essay originally appeared on U.S. News & World Report.