Residency in Chile


After a student visa, a contract visa, a professional visa and nearly four years in Chile, I have just gotten notice of my new permanent residency status! Why is this exciting? Life just gets easier. It doesn’t mean I can stay here forever necessarily, but for five years I can do anything any other Chilean does without having to jump through any special hoops. Bank account – no problem. I can use my new ID card to travel within South America without paying the US citizen entry tax. This reciprocal tax is usually equivalent to what we in the States charge others to enter. Maybe on the face of it, this seems fair, but in reality it is said that the money just lines the pockets of whoever is working that day at the airport. For budget travelers, this can add up to a lot of dough.

For anyone considering coming to Chile, it’s easy to arrive and simply obtain a tourist visa that lasts for 90 days at the airport and is renewable for another 90 days. The entry fee for those coming from the US is about 131$, which is the same price as a student visa. If you in fact obtain a student visa before arriving, and have already paid your visa fee, this will cover you at the airport. If you arrive on a tourist visa and decide you’d like to stay and work, there are many jobs for English speakers who know grammar, how to teach and hold either a language related Bachelor’s degree or a TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] certificate. The English institute or University or whatever institution that may offer you a job opening in your field would give you a contract. With this you could apply and easily acquire a visa sujeto a contrato, or a ‘contract visa’. These visas last for one year and are renewable. After two years on a contract visa at the same job, you can apply for residency.

Overall, for English teachers this is not a difficult process, and your Spanish skills need not be advanced. Be aware though that if you don’t speak the language, it will be easier to take advantage of you. One place jumps to mind. They advertise that they will offer you a contract before you step foot in Chile, and prefer that you do not speak Spanish. It is run by a man who left the US over 30 years ago and has never returned. That sounds a little suspicious to me. If you have questions on institutions, I have worked for a handful and most of my friends have experience with the rest. I could give you tips if you’re interested or let you know what is fair pay for this kind of work.

I chose to nix my contract early on because I like the ability to fire a client when need be. I switched from a contract to professional, which means I can send out boletas, or monthly invoices to each client – be it a student, translation, University, interpretation or whatever, and the 10% tax comes directly out (you get this money back if you’re not going to stay here, and Chile and the US have an accord that any money earned while in Chile is exempt from taxation up to $85,000 US per year). In order to have this type of visa one has to bring their university diploma that has been ‘legalized’ by the issuing secretary of state and then legalized again once in Chile. After one year of this visa you can apply for residency.

The other visa types are linked to having family here – not me – or having a whole bunch of money – definitely not me – so I can’t give any information there.

¡Vivan las fronteras! Just kidding.


8 responses »

  1. I’m thinking about coming to Chile at the end of the year or sometime early next year under a tourist visa and I’d probably like to renew it, so if possible I’ll be staying the whole 180 days. Definitely don’t have enough money to refrain from working during that time, though, so any recommendations you have for English institutes would be wonderful! I’ll be graduating uni soon with majors in Spanish and Communication, and hopefully I can gain a TEFL cert by then, too, to bolster my odds. If you have tips I’d really love to hear them!

    • Hello! There are two approaches people take to the tourist visa. One is to enter on it, after the 180 days are up hop over to Argentina (Mendoza is the nearest point) and re-enter Chile with the fresh tourist visa in hand. To me, that’s kind of expensive. Also, the entrance tax to get into Argentina recently has been extended to ALL points of entry, not just flying in as it had been. It is possible of course to request an extension, which requires a little government office line-waiting, but it usually is not a problem. What is a problem is working on the tourist visa. I’m not saying it isn’t done, I personally would not recommend doing something illegal with potentially serious consequences. That said, it’s not difficult to get a work visa – although it takes some time and a little cash depending on what country you’re coming from. If you want to get a work visa, you can get the “sujeto a contrato” if a place offers you a job, or you can bring in your professional degree that has been “legalized” in your home country, legalize it again here and then find a job offer. The difference here is if you get a professional visa you are not locked to a certain job (in the event you don’t like it, or you want to work part time at a few places for example). In that case you inscribe yourself into the SII (servicio de impuestos internos) system and send out monthly “boletas” to any place you work and they will then cut you a check each month.

      Institutes: Definitely don’t work for Sam Marsalli AKA Scam My Salary. The pay is low and they’ve tried to cheat a whole lotta people out of money. Also, El Instituto Norteamericano also went through a law suit/bankruptcy thing last year and a great deal of people were not paid for six months or so. Crazy, I know. Aside from those two there are a number of large institutes (Wall St., Tronwell etc.) who are always looking for people, but beware that they often expect full time hours (44 per week) at a salary of about 1,000 USD per month. Your best bet is smaller institutes such as the English Tutor Ltda., Lexian or others (I’d have to ask friends the exact names – I’ve been in the Uni biz for the last few years). The schedules are flexible, they pay about $16 per hour, and you’re teaching/tutoring or even simply conversing with usually one person, sometimes a few. Also, there is good old fashioned posting your email address on the telephone poles (people will call) or Craigslist even for private students.

      How much would you like to work while you’re here?

      • Oh, thanks for the heads up, I’d definitely want to remain strictly legal! Also, sorry in advance for the amount of questions I’m about to ask you, haha.

        The route of getting my professional degree legalized in Chile sounds like less of a legal gray area – and a lot more easy than trying to find work before I get there. Do you know what that process is like, especially regarding cost (coming from the US)? I’ll be newly graduated with a BA so I think that’d be all fine and legal here, and I imagine that getting it legalized there would involve maybe translating it or getting it “registered” or something along those lines? I’ll keep the SII bit in mind – that sounds more like what I’m looking for, without being locked into one job. That seems as if it could turn disastrous quickly if I don’t know what I’m getting myself into.

        Small institutes sound like the way to go. I’ll check out the two you recommended. Do they usually require a TEFL certification to work there?

        I’d like to work full time, or at least 30 hours a week, if I can get a work visa – really, however much I have to do to survive. Until my Spanish is better, I think I’m going to be out of luck with most other jobs, so I’ll take on as much English-teaching as I have to. I’ve got a bit of experience with tutoring already and I’ve done some tutoring for Spanish-speaking students in Spanish, so I hope that will look good to wherever I’m applying!

        This is totally unrelated to points about residency, but I am also wondering if you have any advice about where to stay while there. I’d like to stay for three months at a minimum, but hopefully for several months longer. I don’t know anyone there right now (hopefully I’ll meet a person or two before arriving!) but from the bit of research I’ve done, homestay seems like a good option. I’m sure it is a little hit or miss, but living somewhere I have to actually use the language would be a quick and effective way to immerse myself. I’ve heard hostels aren’t bad either, but the weekly rates for those I’ve seen look like they can start to out-cost the homestay option.

      • Ja ja – no worries. I am a big asker of questions, too. Yeah, trying to get a job before arrival isn’t easy, nor recommended. Honestly, I don’t recall if I translated my degree. I had it “legalized” by the Secretary of State in Illinois and they stamped it up full of official seals saying it’s real and such. Then I brought it to the department here where it took approximately five minutes for them to validate it (they are worried about people falsifying credentials). If you have that stuff, and get an offer for a job – not a contract – you can apply for the professional visa.

        TEFL is not 100% required, but most places want it unless you have a degree in languages/linguistics or have a bunch of experience. It’s about a thousand dollars so it’s worth it if you plan to teach for awhile. It’s definitely useful if teaching English is new to you.

        Hostels are waaaay too expensive, and you’d likely be surrounded by a lot of English speakers. What I did was stay in a hostel for one week while I checked out Craigslist ads. There are homestay options and also a lot of younger people who are looking for roommates. It depends on what kind of environment you want. If you want a more quiet place, the homestay people will be older. If you want to meet people your age, then a shared apartment would be a good choice. You have to be careful of the gringo tax around here. How much have you seen the homestays listed for?

      • Thanks for all the answers 🙂 The legalization process doesn’t sound so bad. I’ll have to get that taken care of before I leave, then. I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford TEFL before I go, so maybe I will have to look into some other line of work. If I can spend a few months bettering my Spanish, maybe I’ll have a chance in another area. Hopefully English will be advantageous in that search, at least.

        Thanks for the tips on the Craigslist ads. I’ve been lurking there for a little bit and that doesn’t look so bad. A lot of the apartment/room shares I saw seemed a bit on the expensive side imo, like $400+ USD, whereas the homeshares I found were between $250-350, which is more in my price range. Those were through an agency (ContactChile) which requires that matching fee, but even including that it still looks less expensive. Since I’m not super sure what to do about working, I’m trying to find arrangements that are as cheap as possible. 🙂

        It’s a good thing that I’ve still got like months and months to plan this because there are just so many decisions to make, haha. Also, I was wondering how LGBT things are in Chile, I don’t mean to pry or anything, just wondering as a gay person myself how things might be there?

      • You found homestays that were cheaper? I’m a bit surprised by that. Apartments – that are shared especially – should be in the 250 to 350 range per person. I have a one bedroom without a bunch of roommates and it’s 300 a month plus bills. Seems some may be taking advantage, or you’ve only seen the pricy side of town. May I ask where exactly they are listed? If you let me know when you’re coming, it would be quite possible that I’d have someone (probably a gay man) with a room open.

        TEFL is useful of course, but I don’t have one and I have to constantly turn down work. Do you know English grammar well? Just be aware that if you accept a full time job, the hours are 44 per week and you will likely make much less than you would teaching. Plus, you will almost be guaranteed to enter into a contract. A contract isn’t all bad, but you better hope you like the job! Of course, I don’t mean to sway you away from other options if that is your preference. The TEFL certificate helps, but is far from mandatory (even though the agencies act like it is).

        There are gay folk a plenty! Well, many of my friends are gay so to me it seems that way. There are gay political organizations and such, gay bars, lesbian bars, transsexual karaoke (my fave) marches in the streets for rights and things. I’ve been to many of the protest parade/marches and most of the people I’ve ever seen on the sidelines watching are usually cheering and not jeering. Ever since Argentina legalized gay marriage and adoption it’s gotten a bit of a push here, as people don’t want to seem backward. Chile is much more conservative than Argentina, though, and theoretically Catholicism is popular, albeit more in name than anything. I have an article on this blog about Daniel Zamudio who was gay-bashed by some drunks last year, and sadly died from him wounds. The positive end result of that is the whole country was sorta praying for him while he was in a coma, hoping he would improve. There were huge vigils around the clock outside of the hospital he was in. Since then I’ve heard a lot of people state their attitudes and gay-hate has done a 180. There is a new anti-hate law named after him as well, that had been languishing for years. It got pushed through when Daniel passed. My girlfriend’s family absolutely loves me, even those who used to disapprove. It seems a lot of minds have been changing lately. Bottom line? Not as open as NYC, but nowhere near anything like Uganda. You can be comfortable being yourself here. Last point about a homestay, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to bring friends over, and even less likely would be to bring a girlfriend over. Just thought I’d warn you about that because I had an issue with a homestay in Venezuela.

      • Wow, I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to respond, things have been a little crazy the past week or so. I didn’t realize it’d been 10 days. :/

        The homestays I found were cheaper than the craigslist postings I’d found initially (those definitely were the pricery side of of town, mostly Las Condes), but after I found compartodepto, I’ve been seeing some more affordable things in some places that look cool! A few in Ñuñoa and some other comunas that don’t seem to be too much on the outskirts of things. It’s difficult figuring out where would actually be a good place to set up shop; that’s probably something that will have to wait until I can get a feel for it once I’m there.

        And that’s a really generous offer, definitely more than I could ask! I’m hoping to arrive in late February or early March, and hopefully find a place to stay for at least a couple months. If you do know anyone who would be interested in that, I definitely would not mind communicating with them. I’m pretty quiet!

        My command of English grammar is good on a practical level, and I work as a writing tutor right now, I know a lot of the usages. What everything is actually called is another matter, so that’s something I’d have to investigate. Good advice about the contracts…that sounds like it could be a crapshoot, especially since my residency status would depend on it! I’ll have to see what comes up!

        And that’s really, really great to hear about there being a gay community there!!! It’s awful to hear what happened to Daniel Zamudio, though I am glad that that seems to have pushed things along in terms of public sentiment. Even better about your girlfriend’s family 🙂 Gives me hope, for sure.

        As you can probably tell, I’m still muddling my way through the initial stages of planning everything, and since this will be my first international jaunt, it’s pretty nerve-wracking. I really do appreciate all your advice and being willing to give me the scoop 🙂

      • Hey, no worries. ñuñoa is a great neighborhood and fairly convenient. Providencia and Las Condes are where most of the foreigners are, with Las Condes being the more expensive. I also see nothing wrong with the downtown area – slightly less safe than some areas, but a whole lot cheaper. Anyhow, good luck with all of your plans and let me know when you know what’s going on in the event I know of someone with space available 🙂

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