9 May 2017

Helen Cordery - Expat in Santiago, Chile

Helen Cordery - Expat in Santiago, Chile

We’ve had the chance to talk to Helen Cordery, 29, a New Zealander expat who has moved to Chile with her partner and two children. Ms. Cordery who has been living there for four years, is a stay at home mum. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: England but raised in New Zealand.


Q: What made you move out of New Zealand?

A: I fell in love with a Chilean man who was working in New Zealand, and I came to visit him in Chile because I´d always wanted to visit South America.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We live in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, as this is where my partner is from. It is also the easiest place to find work.


Q: How long have you been living in Chile?

A: Four years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my partner and our two children, who are 3.6 and 6 months. Our first child was born in New Zealand and came to Chile when he was 9 months old – he had no issues adjusting.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I don´t really. I left home when I was sixteen and have travelled to quite a few countries since then. About a year into living abroad you usually get hit with a bad case of homesickness but luckily Santiago is (mostly) a very modern city so you can find pretty much anything you want. You can find food from all over the world in the big supermarkets and there is a huge expatriate community who make food or bring products from their home country. I would recommend all expats to join the Facebook community ¨Discover Chile¨ which is free to join and you get exclusive discounts at various businesses, and mums should join ¨Discover Chile: English Speaking Moms¨ which is the most amazing resource when you´re far from home. I´ve actually met all my expat friends from this last group.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Once you make friends, Chileans are incredibly generous and amazing hosts. They are not like typical Latin Americans – they aren´t loud and they don´t dance a lot, for example.


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

A: To be honest, it is not easy making friends with people in Santiago. People tend to stay in the same social circle they´ve had their whole lives and this can be difficult to crack. The women, in particular, are hard to befriend and I would say that in general there is quite a bit of distrust between the people. People who have travelled are often more friendly. As for expats, there are a lot in Santiago because there are so many international businesses here. It is good to have friends from different countries because they give you a safe space to vent when the cultural differences get a bit much, though they don´t tend to stick around for a long time. I would recommend the Facebook communities recommended above (Discover Chile) as there are always gatherings and play dates being organized.


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

A: Santiago is very expensive if you want to have a life that compares with your home country in terms of healthcare and education. To me, as a New Zealander, Santiago is very cheap to eat out in, though people from the United States say it is expensive. You can buy pretty much anything you need from the market (feria), of which La Vega is the biggest.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: $2.900 for a decent one, more or less depending on what you order.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: $2.500 pesos for a set menu (colacion) in a cheap eating place.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Around $15,000 for a main.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Cigarettes are very cheap and you can even buy single cigarettes for a few hundred pesos. Wine can be any price depending on the quality – probably from around $5000 upwards.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Chile?

A: You need to have a residency visa to open a bank account, and a Cuenta RUT is the simplest account to open.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Long. Incredibly long. It is not difficult to obtain a visa but you need to wait in epic queues to get the paperwork and there are often no seats. It is faster with children but not by much. You can also now make appointments over the internet but these spots fill up weeks in advance. Once your visa is processing, it can take months or even a year to be approved or declined. There are also constant strikes which close the offices and slow the process down.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Chile is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Healthcare is good. Private healthcare is excellent though very expensive, while public healthcare is good but very controversial. My experience has mainly been with public healthcare (I have a birth in a public hospital and my son was hospitalized in one too) and quality has been varied.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in New Zealand or Chile? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: I have insurance for public healthcare, which I secured here through Fonasa once I got a RUT (tax) number. Most expats have Isapre, which your job will help you with. 


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Chile? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I don´t have any experience with this as I brought all my things on the plane.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The language. Where I live no-one speaks English, and the Spanish I thought I had was not enough to do anything. But you learn fast when there is no other choice.


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

A: The most overwhelming positive is the food. Chile is a food paradise: the restaurant scene is growing and becoming one of the best in the world (and still relatively inexpensive) while the variety of produce is jaw dropping. The only negative for me would be the same negative I would have living in any foreign country and that would be dealing with your position as a foreigner. Sometimes I would just like to fit in and not be so obvious as an expat.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: I really enjoy Barrio Lastarra for its cafes, and I would recommend visiting the General Cemetery (Recoleta) and also the Bahai Temple (Peñalolen). For food, all visitors should visit Peumayen (Bellavista) and Zully (Barrio Concha y Toro). Children will really enjoy the Parque de la Infancia (Recoleta), the MIM museum (La Granja), the Aeroplane Museum (Cerrillos) and Selva Viva (Las Condes). For the outdoors, I´d recommend Aguas San Ramon (La Reina), Santuario de la Naturaleza (Lo Barnechea) and Parque Fluvial Renato Sanchez (and all of Quinta Normal). We have a tour company and we do various private tours to all our favourite spots inside Santiago as well as day trips to places like the Casablanca and Colchagua Valleys (for the wine) and into nature, such as at La Campana National Park and the Cajon del Maipo.


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

A: No, though at some point I would like to give my children the chance to know the rest of their family living overseas.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Be understanding. Chile is growing at a rapid pace, has a difficult history and has a long standing issue with class struggles.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Chile?

A: I have a blog where I write about living in Santiago with family and I often interview people from all walks of life. A blog that is great for expats to read to learn about the Chilean culture in more depth is www.cachandochile.wordpress.com


My blog: www.queridarecoleta.wordpress.com

Facebook: @queridarecoleta

Our business: www.milesandsmiles.cl

Instagram + YouTube: @milesandsmileschile