- Download our Moving to Chile Guide (PDF)
One of the most developed countries in South America, Chile won't entail a tremendous degree of culture shock for expats. Most Chileans are welcoming and friendly, and familiar Western brands and food items are readily available for purchase, although prices may be unusually high due to import taxes.
That said, expats in Chile will need to familiarise themselves with several minor differences. Some of these nuances include the lack of concern with punctuality and the countrywide fascination with football.
Meeting and greeting in Chile
Expat women in Chile may find themselves on the receiving end of a kiss on the cheek. In Chile, this is a common way to greet a friend or acquaintance; men will generally shake hands with each other. The standard greeting among close friends and family is the abrazo, which consists of a handshake and a hug.
Language barrier in Chile
Spanish is the official language of Chile, with a few indigenous languages also spoken by small percentages of the population. The easiest way to adopt a Chilean lifestyle and overcome culture shock is to learn the language. Being able to converse in Spanish enriches everyday encounters, and being fluent also attracts a greater range of employment opportunities within Chile and the surrounding region.
Chilean Spanish is quite different from traditional Castilian Spanish, which can throw off expats. The most noticeable differences are the heavy use of slang, the fast pace of talking, and the tendency to drop the 'd' and 's' sounds from words. These differences can often make a conversation challenging to follow for new learners. Expats learning Spanish in preparation for moving to Chile can get a head start by specifically learning Chilean Spanish rather than the global Spanish usually taught in language schools.
Transport in Chile
While Chile's transport infrastructure is advanced relative to South American standards, using the country's roads requires a working knowledge of Spanish, as all signs are in the local language. It's also important to brush up on Chilean road sign symbols, as some are different from those in Europe and North America.
People and lifestyle in Chile
Latin Americans are often stereotyped as loud, vivacious, passionate and energetic people, and this perception has some truth. Chileans tend to lead very active lifestyles, which isn't surprising in a country with kilometres of beaches and plentiful ski slopes.
Learning to balance an active social life with a busy workweek is key to making the most of Chile as an expat. Meals are central to forming connections; as such, they are quite big social events that often last into the early morning hours. With this potential for late nights, work tends to start later in the morning, and the lunch 'hour' is often on the long side.
Women in Chile
The evolution of women's role in Chile mirrors the country's own transformative journey. Chilean women have increasingly stepped into the public sphere, making notable strides in education and the workforce. With a high percentage of women attaining secondary education, they are more empowered than ever to pursue diverse career paths.
Despite these advances, women's workforce participation, although improving, remains lower compared to other Latin American countries. In politics, women's representation in parliament, although growing, still falls short of reflecting the population's gender balance.
Food and drinks in Chile
While mealtimes are important for social gatherings, what is eaten is also central to Chilean culture. Chilean cuisine will likely excite expat palates, ranging from hearty stews such as a cazuela – stew with chicken, beef, corn, rice and potatoes – to more simplistic meals. Humitas are another typical Chilean dish of corn, often with onion and basil, wrapped in a corn husk and slowly cooked in a pot of boiling water. Expats who enjoy wine will have a grand old time in Chile, as it is known for its world-class vineyards and wine varietals.
In general, new arrivals should prepare themselves for the sometimes-copious amounts of food, whether at dinner parties or Chilean asados (barbecues).
Time in Chile
The pace of life in Chile can seem slower than in many Western countries. It's not uncommon for a Chilean business associate to arrive late for an appointment or meeting. Locals tend to spend their time interacting with people and family rather than at a desk in front of a computer screen. This may mean Chilean colleagues take a while to get down to work and often put in overtime to finish their tasks. That said, many expats moving to Chile adapt quickly and even find their new lifestyle a refreshing and exciting one.
LGBTQ+ in Chile
Chile's approach to LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance has evolved considerably, particularly in the 21st century. Legal recognition and protection have been extended to the LGBTQ+ community in various forms, including anti-discrimination laws and the legalisation of same-sex marriage. These legislative advancements reflect a broader shift towards a more inclusive society, although a significant portion of the population remains less accepting of sexual and gender minorities.
How have expats found adapting to Chilean culture?
"I’ve heard that Chileans are very reserved, but in my case, this just isn’t true. I’ve been made to feel very welcome here." Read what Nina says about culture in Chile in her expat interview.
"The main issue was the local language, slang and terminology. I moved here without knowing much Spanish and was lucky enough to work for a company that provided private Spanish lessons, which helped a lot." Read what Karim says about language barriers.
►To learn more about culture in a work setting, read Doing Business in Chile
Are you an expat living in Chile?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Chile. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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