Living in Arica: A quick guide for would-be expats

(Last updated march 20, 2007)

In recent years some people has moved from Europe and USA to live in Arica. They are coming here for longer stays than usual tourists, e.g. one year or more. Why those people decides to make such a big switch to Arica?. Here I will list some reasons:


-Arica is cheap, one of the cheapest cities of our country. Chile a pricey country nowadays with an overvalued chilean peso, but is still very cheap compared with any city in the developed world. The dollar still has value here and surely it will be worth more in the future. Not only housing and food, but also medical and all kind of services are several times cheaper than developed countries. Labour wages are very low here.

-Arica is safe, and Chile is the safest country of South America; except for small robberies and the usual pickpockets the violence is rare here. Only a couple of bloody crimes a year occur in Arica and they are usually solved quickly. The city is full of carabineros (policeman) and they are a very reputable police force (in fact, the highest ranked institution in surveys on public opinion).

-The weather is nearly perfect, quite even all over the year, mildly hot, never rains and sun shines almost every day. People dress with very informally. The "Arica uniform" is a T-shirt and shorts for nearly all seasons.

-We are in front of the Pacific Ocean with some nice views and a good supply of good fish and seafood,.Our valleys produce a lot of fresh vegetables and olive oil, at very affordable prices.

-We are near Perú and Bolivia, just on the border. Both countries have amazing touristic spots same as our high plateau. Arica is conveniently located as base for a long term adventure in South America, reasonably well equipped and not so chaotic as our neighbors.

-Well, many people in rich countries, specially those who live in big cities also have a sort of "back to basics" attitude, Arica is a well balanced place for that, much more basic than any big city but not so as many other cities in Latin America which are very poorly equipped and chaotic.

-Good Internet, Chile is ranked number one in Latin America and 29 in the world as stated by the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report 2005-2006 and Arica specifically has very good networking readiness at affordable prices (from some US$ 30 per month for basic ADSL to $ 80 per month for 2 MB ADSL), we have technical capacity for connection in most of the city and many services to choose from: ADSL, Cable, Will, WIFI and phone. Additionally there are lot of cybercafes around the city. We are well connected!

But there are also some problems with living in such small town as Arica. Despite our 180.000 souls we suffer all the shortcomings associated with this condition. Some of  those are:


-Unless that you manage to create a social circle with natives, Arica may be a very boring place There is not much excitment here and for people accustomed to working under pressure it may be frustrating to see how lazy, slow and siesta-loving the people of Arica can be.

I think this is the first cultural shock for people from abroad (even from Santiago). There is "not much to do in Arica", "Ariquenos don´t like to work" they used to say, and it is true. If you have not some special interest in beaches or a circle of friends here you will probably feel impatient seeing how people seem to live doing nothing, just meeting with friends for chatting, drinking and eating ocasionaly some asado.

--This may be a plus or a minus, depending on your view: Arica is esentially a sleepy beach town, with many people camping in the beach from December to early March, more than 3 months a year!. So during the winter Arica looks very boring. People here love to meet with friends for "asados" (grilled steaks) but barely go to dine in a restaurant. That is why restaurants and bars are limited here. Nightlife in Arica may not qualify as wild.

-People here sometimes offer more than they can give. Imprecise about time when they meet, don´t put their money where their mouth is, etc. Well, remember we are Latinos maybe more serious than our neighbors but still Latinos.

-We sometimes do not apreciatte candidness as much as foreigners do, even the equivalent word in spanish "candido" is not a virtue but a sort of fault. We are social liars and sometimes we consider rude or impolite to a person who expresess -in a candid way- his/her dislike for a food or something.

-Due the cultural difference explained above is not easy for a foreigner to start or run a bussines here or in any other part of Latin America. Authorities sometimes offer more than they can give. If you read about business rules in Chile you may think that all may apply as they are writen, but there are many exceptions and discretionary rules which may either help or hinder you. When you accept this cultural fact and you learn to take advantage of that you are in condition to start working here, but if you try to work in your own terms, it will be not easy.

-Garbage. Some neighborhoods have a problem with garbage collection, municipality distributed lots of big plastic containers but they don´t collect the garbage often and all kind of trash gets spread about the street. It is an old problem, not easy to solve, specially in old downtown and poor-middle class neighborhoods.

-Stray dogs are everywere, like beggars, they are feed by people and almost every neighborhood has its "own" dogs. However they are not aggressive and develop all kind of social skills to get simpathy from people. The problem: they shit and piss everywere in the streets.

-Graffitis, It is a local epidemic imported from USA. Youngsters playing the "bad boy" role used to mark walls with their tags as a form of rebellion, they covered walls and homes everywhere, specially in old downtown. Apart from this and some punky/gothic customs, they are quite peaceful and well mannered. There are no street gangs or such here.

Living in Arica

Besides the plus and minus listed there are many small questions about daily life that I have received. Here are some of them:

Language: if you come to Arica as tourist, don´t worry about your spanish, for basic things you will not have communication problems. People are generally helpfull and they will manage to understand you But if you come here to live or for a long stay, you must learn spanish first or be mentally prepared to live socially isolated for a long time. This is not a pleasant experience and you will miss most of the joy of living in Arica: to make friends.

Jobs: it is not a good idea come to Arica looking for a job to survive, Arica is economically depressed and the real unemployment rate is near 20%. This is a two faced coin: the good is that there is a cheap place to live, crime is very rare and there is almost no misery, the bad thing is that if you have not a source of income, it will be very hard to find it here.

Not a tropical island: Arica is not a tropical paradise to live with glamour, drinking martinis under a palm tree, not even palm trees are native!. We are just a little beach town similar to Southern California or Mexico´s Baja villages. Don´t expect a touristic pueblito here, just a relatively small town.

Racism: not in Chile, coloured people (any colour) are accepted with not problem in our society. Especially in Arica where we receive lot of people from neighbor countries and abroad, maybe we are a -mildly- classist society but racism is not a problem.

Anti USA, anti Europe, chauvinism: also not a problem in Chile, we are far away from 70s anti imperialist speech, on the contrary many people have simpathetic feelings toward the first world because we aspire to reach this status some day. Leftist parties are very moderate in Chile, at least in this sense.

Clothes: Arica is well known in Chile as the place where people dress in the most informal way, clothes are not symbol of status here, on the contrary, we feel sorry for people which are obliged to dress in a suit (bank cashiers, clerks, etc.). The Arica uniform is T-Shirt, sandals and shorts from September to April, and jeans with a light sweater for "winter".

Electric and water supply: both services are pretty good and shortages are very rare. Water quality depends on sector: north of Arica the water is not good because is treated  Lluta river water and contains an excess of Boron. In the rest of the city water is from  wells, very good quality from the melting of ices in high plateau. Despite the fact that Arica is the driest city of the world (actually never rains here), is not an arid place, because we are surrounded by two rivers and have a good supply of underground water. Anyway bottled water (purified) to drink is very popular here and a can of 20 liters cost only US$ 3.-

Pollution: in general terms air is very clean here, we are an open city near the sea with no buildings, but in a few narrow streets downtown may occur polluted spots due the high rate of cars/people. Anyway Arica is a paradise for biking because is plain, small and fair weather all over the year. Years ago there was a pollution problem with lead ores for export from Bolivia and other residuals which contaminated a neighborhood, but this problem is fixed long since.

Tolerance: we are a very tolerant society, open to all kind of religions, opinion, races, sexual preferences, etc. However this tolerance is limited by our catholic tradition and all lifestyle -let´s say- alternative lifestyle must be discrete, respective and polite.

Politics: is not a problem to discuss politics in Chile, even strangers may discuss this matter freely with no problem. In general terms, most of chileans in all parties tend to be pretty conservative in politics and liberal in values.

What ariqueños do for fun: many are beach bums because you can go there all year, fishing, scuba, sailing , surfing and other sea sports are also very popular. there are an active group of paragliders and a club of sandsailing, there are also some gyms, weigthtlifting, soccer (the local club is the worst of Chile, too lazy!), etc. The most usual is just meet at night on the beach for a couple of beers or something, just for chat

Electricity: electric supply for appliances is 220v with round pin power connector, however there are lot of extensions and cheap adapters for flat pin connectors

Price of home appliances: to get an idea see Falabella Website, there are actual prices of stoves, refrigerators, furniture, etc. which you may order online and receive the goods at your home in Arica.There are several others stores in the city, Falabella is only an example for reference. Prices are in chilean pesos, you may convert it to US dollars checking the rate at the universal currency converter

Gringo: the word "gringo" has not got a hostile meaning in Chile and is widely used to refer not only people from abroad but also natives with blond hair, we are not a "gringo go home" kind of country so, don´t you worry if someone calls you gringo here, it is a friendly word.

Planning to move

Try to learn spanish

You may live here even if you don´t speak any word of spanish -It is not a problem- all people will understand you, but your social life and interaction with local people will suffer a lot. You will be missing the most important half of the experience: the social interaction, the understanding of our culture and the possibility of making new friends. Well, you may limit your circle to english speakers but you will be missing a lot of the experience. It is advisable that you try to learn some spanish in advance and try to speak spanish here: many people will try to speak in english with you for the opportunitty to practice, but you may also try to understand as much spanish as you can. It is not hard living here...well, I guess...

Make a living

Then you may calculate if your current income covers the cost of living here, unless you have some prior arrangement for a local work, a wise idea is try to keep some income in U.S. dollars, even depreciated nowadays it will appreciatte in the future for sure. Just see how cheap is the labour cost here compared with rich countries: if you plan earn some money locally make sure that it will be a very small amount compared with any income in your country of origin. The other side of the coin of living in a cheap country is that people receive little money for their work. Arica is one of the most economically depressed cities of Chile with the highest rate of unemployment, this explain the low crime rate, there are nothing to steal here!. Take that into account: Arica is not booming economically.

Need a visa?

For residency visa better forget in the short term. you may live during years here with tourist visa, going Tacna every 3 months is enough to renew, many gringos living here do it that way. If you want apply for a residence visa it is simple in theory, but a bureaucratic mess in the practice, get ready for a long proccess..

Renting a home

You may rent a home either directly from landlord or with the intermediation of a real estate agent. Usually you must pay one half of a monthly fee to the agent as commission. It is worth it to rent or buy using an agent? the answer is usually yes, because they have a reputation to protect unlike landlords who has nothing to lose, the most usual conflict happens due the "guarantee payment" equivalent to one monthly payment that you must pay at contract and landlord must refund at the end if he receives the property Ok. That is: when you rent a home you must pay usually two and half monthly payments: One for rent of first month, one for guarantee and half for agent´s commision. Usually landlords  hesitate to give you back your guarantee so a wise countermessure is simply advise them that you will clear the property in the next month and -instead to pay the last month- to use the guarantee as payment.

Buy a car?

Arica has a free zone status, so you can buy used cars at very low prices... well, not exactly a Maserati but you may find a pretty good car in the USD 2500-3500 range. Since it is very affordable buy a car here almost anybody has one or more, and there are many activities tied to the use of a car (public transportation has few customers) , with the mild weather Arica is also the ideal place for motorcycle or bicycling, you may use it all year round.

Buying a property

You dont need a temporary residency to buy a home/property in Chile, just to obtain your RUT number, a very quick proccess in Servicio de Impuestos Internos. Prices may vary a lot and I recommend you check at classified ads in La Estrella de Arica.

For your reference you may check this deluxe apartment whose owner is a friend of mine and Is currently for sale.

To be continued...

Well, those are in my view, some basic facts that may be useful for any who are considering Arica to expatriate, will add more things as soon It comes to my mind, if you have any question feel free to ask me maybe your doubt is interesting to add to this words.

I think a wise idea is to come to live for a year or so as a try, in the worst case you will pass a long, cheap and relaxed holiday, you will have the oportunity to travel for many neighboor countries, to learn about the life in South America and to enter in a sort of time machine: