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Interview with Jérémie – a French expat living in Chile

Updated 29 Jan 2018

A native of Brittany, France, Jérémie quickly realized that working abroad would bring him a lot more opportunities. He's been living and working in cities like Stockholm, Belfast, London, New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai, to name a few. Right now, he's in Santiago, Chile, where he founded Bretagne Propiedades, a relocation company specialising in property. Expat Arrivals caught up with him for an interview.

About JérémieJeremie

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in Brittany, north-west France.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Santiago, Chile

Q: When did you move here?
A: 2 and a half years ago, beginning of 2015.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved here alone.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to Chile in order to start my own business. I had left my job in investment banking in France and wanted to change.

Living in Chile

Q: What do you enjoy most about Santiago? How would you rate the quality of life compared to France?
A: It is a capital city, yet it remains a quiet city. For outdoor enthusiasts, Santiago is well located. In less than half an hour, you can be in the mountains to do some trekking or skiing during winter. In a little bit more than an hour, you can be on the coast.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about France?
A: Pollution during winter is sometimes annoying. What I miss the most is my family… and French cheese as well!

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here in Santiago? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Not really, as I had travelled a lot in my past job. I learned Spanish here, so adjusting to the Chilean Spanish was not really a problem. However, most expats who can already speak Spanish have issues understanding, due to the fact that Chileans speak very fast and have their own words.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to France? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Real estate is way cheaper than in Paris. You can get a nicer apartment or house for the same rent. When it comes to food, internet, gas and activities, the cost is roughly at the same level as France. Therefore, Santiago is quite expensive, especially when relocating without a solid expat package.

Q: How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: The metro is okay; it’s clean and fast. The two new lines are great. However, it gets crowded at peak hours. As an entrepreneur, I have flexibility, so I try to avoid the metro in the morning/evening. The bus is a real nightmare. Drivers drive fast and do not stop at bus stations if they are late on their planning.

Depending on where you live, you may or may not need a car. In expat areas like Vitacura, La Dehesa and Chicureo, you definitely need a car, as there is no metro line. If you are young and live in Santiago, Providencia or Las Condes close to Metro Line 1, you do not need a car.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Santiago? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Private healthcare is really good, but very expensive if you want to go to a clinic with international standards. Clinica Alemana, Clinica Las Condes and Clinica Las Lilas are some of the best. The Chilean healthcare system is quite costly, especially for young women.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Santiago? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: There is no big safety issue. Santiago is safer than most Latin American cities. Of course, if you have a fancy telephone or a nice camera, you will attract thieves.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Santiago? What different options are available for expats?
A: Santiago is good quality in the construction industry. Chilean engineers know how to build, so you don’t need to worry about earthquakes. Buildings will survive without a problem. Regarding options, you can choose a freestanding house, a house in a gated community or an apartment. It really depends on the area where you plan to live.

Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: For families, Vitacura, La Dehesa, Las Condes and Chicureo are ideal. Your choice will really depend on where the school is located. For young people without children, Las Condes, Providencia, Nunoa are good options. If you are on a budget, Santiago Centro is the cheapest of the areas where foreigners live.

Meeting people and making friends in Santiago

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women?
A: Locals are tolerant, especially with Westerners. Yet, the recent increase in immigration has raised tensions. Chileans often look down on Peruvians and Bolivians.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Yes, it is rather easy to meet people. You can try expat websites or language exchange groups that host meetings on a weekly basis. Ask the embassy of your country for tips.

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: If it’s your first expatriation, or if you have issues getting used to the country, I would first try the expat associations, so you can meet foreigners that currently face the same issues as you do. The International Association of Chile can be a good option.

About working in Chile

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: Getting a temporary visa is quite easy. Chile has developed partnerships with several countries to attract young people with Working Holiday Visas. If you are an expat with a work contract, it is quite simple. It is faster to start the process at the consulate of your current country, rather than in Chile. If your partner comes with you and wants to work in Chile, do not add her/him on your visa application as a dependent, or she/he will not be able to work.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Santiago? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Chile has been in an economic crisis for two years now, so the economy has slowed down and there are fewer opportunities than before. Yet, if you speak English and Spanish and are motivated, you can find work within a few months. Apart from working in international companies, the average income is quite low, so you may be disappointed with what companies may offer you, especially considering the cost of living in Santiago.

Q: How does the work culture differ from France? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Chile?
A: Patience, follow-up and network are key in Chile. Start building your network as soon as possible, because you will need it. When you want to reach someone, call them first, then send an email to summarize the discussion and confirm your questions for the meeting, then follow up the next week if you are expecting your contact to do something for you.

Family and children in Chile

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to Santiago? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: My girlfriend is Chilean.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are several international schools. Most English-speaking schools are located in Lo Barnechea and Chamisero. When you have chosen a particular school, make sure to carefully select where you are going to live, because traffic jams occur in some streets because everyone wants to drop their kids at school at the same time.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Try to go out of Santiago when you can, to relax. The landscape is beautiful, especially during spring and autumn. Lots of great wineries are within an hour’s drive or less.

~Interviewed January 2018

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