21 July 2016

Crystal Manafi - Expat in Santiago, Chile

Crystal Manafi - Expat in Santiago, Chile

Crystal Manafi is a 25-year-old Freelance Writer and Marketing & Communications Specialist. She is currently residing in Santiago, Chile. Originally from Oakland, California, USA, Mrs. Manafi moved to Chile after graduating college. She said that Santiago’s good economy and employment opportunities made moving there “the best of both worlds.”


Mrs. Manafi said looking for employment was the most difficult experience she had while living in Chile, saying that adjusting to working in a professional environment within a different language and culture was the hardest aspect about her move. “Eventually I found a job that I liked, but it took longer than I had expected,” she said.


Mrs. Manafi also cautioned expats to take note of the details in their insurance policies. When I first came here, I had to rely on travel insurance since I wasn’t covered internationally with my U.S. health insurance,” she said, mentioning that her U.S. insurance company assured her that she was covered but did not provide her with any additional information, which led her to purchase travel insurance when she realized she was not actually covered abroad. “Don’t rely on just a simple answer from your insurance company,” she added.


While it can be a challenge to find jobs overseas, expats can make the process easier with the help of the right immigration services, which can assist expats in processing papers and other required documents that are needed to be seen as eligible when abroad. Expatriates who are preparing for their move overseas are advised to obtain international health insurance before they depart, as the right insurance company can provide expats with the protection and coverage they need as they start their lives overseas.


Find out more about Crystal Manafi’s experiences in Chile in her full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Oakland, California


Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: During college, I studied abroad for a semester in Valparaíso where I met my partner, Francisco. Once I graduated I considered moving to a larger U.S. city to pursue better career opportunities. Since Chile has a good economy and Santiago has a lot of employment opportunities, it was the best of both worlds because I was also able to live with my partner and embark on a new adventure of living and working in a foreign country which I had also grown to love.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: Santiago de Chile


Q: How long have you been living in Chile?

A: On and off for 4 years, and permanently for just over a year.


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Chile?

A: The most difficult aspect was finding a full-time position and adjusting to working in a professional environment within a different language and culture. It’s easy and a decent starting point to find a job teaching private English classes, but it’s not enough to live off of nor was it something I wanted to pursue. Eventually I found a job that I liked, but it took longer than I had expected.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?

A:  I knew off the bat that I did not want to get the Visa Sujeta a Contrato (Visa Subject to Work Contract). I moved to Chile two days after graduating college, and I wanted to travel and take a vacation for a couple months before looking for employment. I applied for the Visa for Professionals which allows you to live and work in Chile without worrying about obtaining and maintaining a work contract with a Chilean company. It involved some extra paperwork to legalize my degree, but since I do freelance work for clients in Chile and the U.S., it was the best short and long-term option. If you work for a company in Chile, health insurance isn’t an issue since it’s included in your work contract. When I first came here, I had to rely on travel insurance since I wasn’t covered internationally with my U.S. health insurance. Don’t rely on just a simple answer from your insurance company! My U.S. insurance company kept telling me over the phone that I was covered, but they were not able to provide me with any information or details other than pointing me to a short and vague clause in their policy. I then realized I wasn’t actually covered abroad, so I purchased travel insurance.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I live with my husband who is Chilean.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Chile? How did you manage to find a social circle in Chile?

 A: As a student in Chile, it was easy to make friends and meet Chileans and foreigners alike. As a professional, it became difficult for me to make friends with Chileans, and it is still a challenge. Comparatively and in a very general sense, it is easier to make friends with other expats. Not everyone is cut out to take a leap of faith and drop everything to jump to a relatively unknown world, so you are most likely to meet expats who have similar interests and experiences as you. The only downfall about this is that you make friends who may stay in Chile for shorter periods of time, so your circle of friends can change often. 


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Visit some of Chile’s wineries, there are some near the city and more in the Casablanca area just under an hour away. Explore the coast. Valparaíso is of my favorite cities. I love the rolling, colorful hills and its distinct and complicated character, but it’s not for everyone. Just across the bay is Viña del Mar, which is your nice, typical coastal city. They are great places to get out of the city for the weekend and get some fresh air. Beautiful landscapes and nature is one of Chile’s most appealing faces. From the sea to the mountains, you have many options to choose from in the area and all over the country. Get lost in Santiago! I enjoy taking long walks around the city and discovering new places I otherwise would have never known about.  


Q: How does the cost of living in Chile compared to your home?

A:  A cup of coffee costs USD$2-6. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant costs USD$7-10 / per person while a meal in an expensive restaurant costs USD$30-60 / per person. A bottle of wine costs USD$7-20 and a pack of cigarettes costs about USD$5-6.


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Chile?

A:  Chileans are very nice, warm, welcoming and interested people. They have a wonderful sense of family and it’s something I love about their culture. As an American, I find Chilean culture very easy to adapt to with very few, if any, instances where you will feel culture shock.  


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Chile?

A: Chile is an economically and politically stable country which makes it a great place in Latin America for professionals, entrepreneurs, investors and short-term expats.  For Chileans and foreigners alike, and more so if you stand out as a foreigner easily, you have to be aware of your belongings in public places, and not just in large cities. Little things like keeping your bag on your lap instead of on a chair next to you or hearing from your friend how their phone got snatched at the mall can be quite unsettling for some.  I wrote blog posts about the everyday perks and annoyances of living in Chile, I hope this helps some future expats get a better idea of how life is here.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: After a while, I didn’t miss my city or country as much since you get used to living in Chile and your life naturally begins to move to a different rhythm. Additionally, I can have the same luxuries and standard of living as I would in the U.S., so there are few things that I miss from home that I can’t have in Chile. Although I do miss my family, and it hasn’t gotten that much easier. As with my family, Chilean families are close and spend a lot of time together, so it’s especially hard during holidays or when visiting my in-laws. My in-laws are wonderful and have welcomed me into their family as their own, but sometimes I can’t help but think of my own family in the U.S. and wishing I were having the same experiences with them.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I regularly keep in contact with my family, either sending short messages via email and Facebook or chatting with them on Skype and Viber. I also make a point of visiting 3-4 times a year for 1-2 weeks at a time. When my family gets together, our gatherings always revolved around tons of food. I’ve been able to share this practice with my husband and his family in Chile, and it’s been a great way to not only share my culture but the familiar tastes and aromas conjure up memories and makes me feel more at home despite being thousands of miles away.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A:  My partner and I have always planned to either return to the U.S. or even move to a country in Europe for 2-3 years for graduate studies and work, but always having in mind to eventually return to Chile.  


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Initially it was jumping through the bureaucratic hoops in Chile and finding a job. Once those things were resolved, the hardest part is being separated from my family in the U.S.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Chile?

A: Master Chileno as quickly as possible! This will help you connect with Chileans more and simply make your life easier. Stop comparing things to your home country. It’s inevitable, but once you begin to accept that things are different here, you’ll save yourself from a lot of unnecessary stress.


Forge friendships with Chileans and expats. Having a group of expat friends will help you settle in more and give you that sense of home while you’re living abroad. Don’t forget to immerse yourself in Chile and make an effort to become friends with Chileans. They’re the real experts here, and you will never fully understand Chile without becoming part of this community.  Get out of your comfort zone! You can have the same lifestyle in Chile as you would in the U.S., perhaps it will be more expensive to maintain, but it’s doable. It’s much more rewarding to get to know the local culture and challenge yourself so as not to limit your experience abroad.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: Bay Essence is the blog that I write with my partner where we share our tips, recommendations and anecdotes on travel, food and cultural experiences in Chile.


This is Chile is a wonderful resource to introduce yourself to the Chilean culture, travel and economy.


Santiago Tourist is a great, independent resource for all things travel in Chile and neighboring countries in South America.


Como Sur is one of my favorite websites to keep up with the culinary scene in Santiago. They also have regular articles covering other Latin American cities which is excellent for foodie travelers.


The Chile Pages has a very helpful set of resources for expats living in Chile as well as directory and classified listings in case you are looking for a particular service or business in Chile.


Local Facebook groups and forums like ChileSpouses were my first encounter with the expat community in Chile and it was the most helpful resource I had. The community is very helpful and always quick to give you great advice and share useful information which is what you need when settling in a new country.