Category Archives: Tips for Santiago Living

Things you’re gonna need to know.

Titilating Taxes

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Yeah, I lied. Taxes aren’t exciting, but it’s a law and shit. You may be surprised to find out that if you are a US citizen living abroad and working for a foreign company or even self-employed as part of the your 2nd nation’s tax system, you have to report and pay taxes on that income to the United States as well. However, most tax benefits or breaks don’t apply to you. Isn’t that nice? I am no tax professional, as I’d rather drink a glass shard shake, but in keeping with my FYI theme of late, I thought I’d put up a quick note on it. I’ve talked to a lot of US citizens living here that either a) didn’t know that they are supposed to file and pay taxes at home on foreign income, or b) simply do not care. Here is the good news and a thought on why perspective ‘b’ is not the best approach. The US and Chile have a tax agreement [the US has these with some other countries, but far from all] that money a US citizen earns while working in Chile is not taxable up to roughly 85,000 USD per year. I think it was raised a bit higher recently. Essentially, if you make under that amount you will not be taxed twice by two countries, only in Chile where they give you most of it back anyhow. Another thing to consider is that if you spend time in the States each year, that time needs to be prorated and deducted from 85 G limit. Lame, but true. If you’re not too concerned about the law and figure since you don’t owe you can just forget about filing, you could get bit in the ass in the future. If you file and the IRS later on thinks you misreported, the statute of limitations on auditing you is 7 years [last time I checked], but if you file nothing there is no statute and your finances / income could be audited for any year you didn’t file at any time in the future. Not very fun. The last bit of good news is that there is an automatic two month extension for filing if you live abroad, meaning April 15th just became June 15th. Happy tax season. Buy yourself something nice for all your troubles. Or don’t and start another savings account.

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Foreign Frauds: Don’t Get Taken for a Fool

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Trust your intuition. It will not lead you astray. When the mind takes over and tries to rationalize, you know something is up.

As previously stated, finding an apartment in the summer in Santiago in the middle of a boom in housing demand is not easy. Many places are for sale instead of rent or simply over-priced. I’ve decided to wait until March once school is back in session and everyone goes back to work. Competition will drop.

I gotta say it again: check out the people who run hotels or real estate companies when renting a house for a year or even a beach house for a week. Get their full names, addresses and RUT (I.D. number all people in Chile have to do any official business) by getting a photocopy of their carnet, or ID card – even babies have them, which is weird. People take advantage of the ease of international communication and sending money online coupled with the fact that a lot of foreigners are more trusting than Chileans and they will try to rob you. Clearly, it’s a small percentage of people, but enough to merit a warning.

I almost got taken this week. I found an apartment that I liked quite a bit. It wasn’t perfect, but I have been feeling pressure to get a new, larger place because my mom and a few other Wisconsin folk will be here in a few weeks so I sent in the required documents. The woman named Patricia Villalobos said everything was in order, we make enough money to pay for the place and was in a big hurry to seal the deal. She called on Saturday to have Marcela see it and really wanted us to give her the deposit money (2 months rent totaling about 12 hundred dollars) and she’d give us a receipt. On Monday we’d sign a contract at the notary. That’s just weird so we said we’d rather wait until we have the contract in hand. She keeps pushing because next weekend is her birthday and she wants to spend it at the beach. Also, she says she needs the money up front in order to pay the painters this week and give us the keys by Friday. The bills for the place weren’t in her name. Also weird if she is the owner.

Monday rolls around and we were supposed to meet her today and sign the contract etc. She asks us to call her because she doesn’t have any money on her cell phone. Oh, really. After a speech about how much money she makes in real estate and working with foreigners and blah, blah fucking blah she can’t put two bucks on her phone? Her cheap business card says she runs apart-hotels. Her email is a gmail address. For her business? Another tell-tale sign. She says Marcela and I could work with her in real estate and that she doesn’t tell just anyone about this opportunity. It gave me a flash-back to American Hustle that I saw the other day. She emailed to say she wants 12 months of checks. She had never mentioned that before. I was recently told that sometimes the bank doesn’t pay attention to the dates on checks and cashes them ahead of time. Um. No thanks.

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We decided to investigate her and her website doesn’t exist at all. Now we know we’re dealing with a liar. So we call her and she starts saying she isn’t sure if we make enough money to pay for the place and all sorts of back-pedaling. That’s when it hit that she didn’t want to make the deal now that it was a business day and we could actually sign an official contract. I asked for her second last name, and she gave a nervous laugh, answers me and says I’ll have all her information when we sign and blah blah… I cut her off and told her I think she is a fraud. A friend works at the bank used her full name to find her in their system. She has a loan out for 50 million pesos, a decent chunk of change and hasn’t been paying it. It looks like she may be using her apartment to con people out of deposit money and then never shows up when it’s time to sign. You may think it’s odd that someone can buy an apartment, not pay the mortgage and still hang onto the house, but it’s been a real problem here. There is a housing subsidy designed to help the middle class purchase property and it has to go through the government’s bank and there has not been enough transparency or compliance with the loan stipulations. Another scenario is that this apartment isn’t even hers and she and the door guy are in cahoots. There are many possibilities really.

I had a feeling about this lady, but my monkey mind was telling me to ignore it because I really want to be done looking for a place. Marcela had the same feeling. Thankfully we figured it out before we parted with our savings.

Apartment Hunt

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UPDATE: There are many websites in Chile to find somewhere to live (Vendebien, Trovit, Emol, Portalinmobiliario, Yapo, Mercadolibre, Bienesonline, etc.) and they are mostly legit advertisers posting, but the site itself does not vouch for the veracity of the ads. After searching so many I’ve noticed a couple of advertisements that repeat themselves, but with some detail changes. Overall they show absolutely gorgeous, furnished apartments for a really low price. These are scams! Don’t transfer anyone money to Chile sight unseen or without having real data on them. Some swindle artists bank on someone’s trusting nature or desire to have a place to land immediately. Here is one example:

“Magnifico piso en zona privilegiada y emblemática en el centro de la ciudad. Acabados de exquisito gusto cocina totalmente equipada y amueblada con muebles de diseño office independiente lavandería trasero y parking. El apartamento dispone de puerta blindada, sistema de alarma, aire acondicionado frío / calor, doble acristalamiento, suelos de parquet en todas las habitaciones, eléctricas e instalaciones sanitarias en perfecto estado y parking.
Estratégicamente ubicado, a 150 metros del metro (estación de metro Francisco Bilbao) y el transporte público, a una cuadra de Las Condes y 2 cuadra de Ñuñoa.”

What is wrong with this? They give no contact information beyond an email address. Most people here still do business by phone. It includes no information on gastos comunes or how to actually go about renting the place. A real ad will usually say it is being rented by the owner (no commission) or an agency (usally 50% of one month rent as commission), 1 or 2 months as a deposit, “liquidaciones de sueldo” to show how much money you make, clean DICOM meaning your credit report is fine, etc. There is never NO information of this kind. Furthermore, it is impossible to be located near the Bilbao train and be 1 block from Las Condes and two from Ñuñoa, as they are two distinct and spacious neighborhoods that don’t even touch. It also calls the rental an “apartamento” which is used in other Spanish speaking countries, but in Chile they are called “departamentos”. Yeah, it’s weird and sounds like a department store but that’s the term used. This ad poster could really be anywhere for all we know. Lastly, the list price for this was about 400 dollars, but with all that bling included I’ve be shocked to find this truly for under 1,000 dollars (500,000 pesos) per month. As I said, the ad was posted on about 9 sites with no phone number. One site requires users to include a phone number so I called the one posted – not a real number. This ad is total B.S.

I recommend you get here and stay in a hostel for a week or so to look for a place. If you do line something up in a shared space ahead of time, that usually works, but don’t transfer ANY money until you are in person. This is a handy means to part ways with your cash and the asswipes continue to get rich while providing no service to society. If you have any questions, ask. I’ll be happy to help where I can.

Time to report the fake ads. Deseas denunciar este aviso como fraude? Yes ma’am.

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I’m on the lookout for a new place to live, and it occurred to me to put a little note on here for anyone searching for a place in Santiago, Chile. Craigslist is a good site to find rooms to share or fully furnished apartments for shorter terms. If that’s what you need, great. But if you will be in Chile a bit longer, bear in mind that any ads you find in English will have the Gringo Tax included. This means the price for those living spaces are hyper inflated; at least 3 to 5 times what they are worth. Look for ads in Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, find a bilingual friend or hire someone to help you. It will save you a lot of money. Look in printed newspapers and online, or even check the ad spaces near the door at a grocery store. Maybe you’re the crazy type and don’t care what you pay for a place to live. Well, then you’d be encouraging these people to keep up the rapery. Find a place at a decent price and donate your savings to someone else in need.

Another thing to think about are gastos comunes, or shared expenses [water, hallway/rooftop lighting, gym or pool, door guys]. If you rent an apartment [not a house], this is likely an additional fee that you have to consider. In my current building I pay about 35 bucks a month for this, as I have no pool or gym. If you rent in a high-rise, expect to pay 150 USD per month or more. If you share an apartment, ask if the price includes these expenses or not.

Lastly, I should mention this apartment / house sharing website. You can offer space in your own place or find a room for rent. The cool thing about this is two-fold; you don’t have to worry about finding all the paperwork necessary to set up shop. You just find people you get along with and install yourself in an already functioning home. Additionally, if you came to Chile to learn Spanish as a lot of people do, you will find Spanish speakers to live with and your language skills will progress much more rapidly than living alone or with English speakers. I  recommend making sure there is a lock on your door. While the vast majority of people will be respectful of you and your things, there is always that shit-head out there ready to give everyone a bad name. Don’t tempt society’s scabs.

Happy hunting.

Companies I Avoid in Chile

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I don’t usually get on here to bitch, but I think of this as consumer advice. The short of it: avoid Entel, Movistar and Banco Santander. They all have poor reputations for a reason. Oh, and if you use a foreign debit card in a cash machine, they will all charge you between five and seven dollars EXCEPT Banco Estado. They don’t charge any fee at all. I think they should all be free, considering it is illegal to charge fees on Chilean bank cards at any ATMs nationwide.

Without going into too much detail, last year I had nearly three months of almost no cell phone service with Entel. I had to visit locations at least 19 times, write letters, try to talk to supervisors, send emails, wait in line, get ignored and finally file a formal complaint with the telecommunication regulatory agency. Did I mention that most people who were tasked with “helping” me at Entel had no idea what the H. E. double hockey sticks they were talking about? I had to get this resolved with them because this is the phone number everyone has for me, former and current clients, etc. In the end, they have been giving me a few dollars a month free as compensation. Woo-hoo!

I just lost my phone the other day, and the woman who answered my phone when I called it told me it was too much of a pain to drop my phone off at the corner gas station half a block away. Yeah. Real nice. So she took the cheap circa 1989 cell phone with her instead of leaving it where she found it. I called to block the number and Entel told me that I have a late payment charge on my rental phone (you know, the fee people pay monthly to buy something super fancy) and my account was also overdue. I explained quite clearly and succinctly that I bought this phone outright for 20 bucks and I’ve never had a contract. She kept insisting that I have a contract and then asked if she could speak with someone else who could understand her. Someone should invent a device to wring necks over the phone line. Virgin Mobile arrived here not too long ago, and you can now take your cell phone number with you to a new company. Prepaid, no-contract is my style. I’m just waiting for my new double chip phone to arrive to finally tell Entel they can kiss my pale backside.

Movistar. Ugh. I hate that company. Unfortunately at the precise coordinates where I live I cannot get any other company for internet service. They called to offer us cable the other day. I don’t give two hoots about TV but Marcela wanted the offer. After she convinced me, she called back to accept the triple pack plan, and curiously it was no longer on the table. That’s just the most recent annoyance with them. They provide consistent problems. I’m moving in a few months so they can also get in line for a pale-butt pucker-up.

Banco Santander. Double frickin’ ugh. They charge for absolutely everything. They charged me for a notary fee on a document THEY had to get signed and stamped when I opened my account. They charge from 6 to 20 dollars each and every month to simply have a line of credit. Checking accounts here include credit. It’s automatic, and total shite. My debit card, credit card and online pay card all had problems with them when I opened the account, requiring my presence at the bank in lines several more times. They didn’t even get my email address right. I tried to access my account online once, and got access to someone ELSE’s account! I couldn’t believe it. The only reason I have a damn checking account is because my landlord requires checks; won’t take a bank transfer. After I move I no longer need checks for anything. You guessed it. They will receive the pleasure as well. My ass is gonna get used to all this kissing.

Tourist Visa Costs to Chile

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For the citizens of many countries, there is no need to obtain a visa prior to entering Chile. The latest visa fee chart published in April of this year shows how much a visa costs if needed, how long a guest can stay and if there is a “reciprocity” charge. The PDF chart is in Spanish, but not too hard to navigate. If you can’t find your country, chances are it has a different spelling. The USA, for example, is found under “Estados Unidos de América” and therefore is found under the E titled countries. Here is an example:

Nacion copyEUA

In the top part it says Nación, which is pretty obviously Country (Nation). Moving to the right we see “Existen Relac. Diplom.” which means “is there a diplomatic relationship between the the said country and Chile”. For the USA, it says SI or YES. We’re going to skip over to the right where we find the Tourist Visa requirements which is marked as Req. VISTUR. In the case of the USA it says NO meaning no tourist visa needs to be obtained before entering the country. When your passport gets stamped at the airport, that is essentially a visa, but it does not require a preplanned meeting at the Chilean embassy in your home country. All the way to the right on this chart it says basically the same thing. “VISTUR requiere consulta – NO” meaning that no tourist visa meeting needs to be set up. Redundant. Anyhow, in between there we find Ar. US$ which refers to the cost. For a US citizen there is no official visa charge, but don’t get too excited yet. Then it says Pl. Máx. which means maximum length of stay. It is written in days. In this case we have 90 days as the limit, which is a fairly typical limit for many countries. VISTUR SIMPLE up top means just one trip, and VISTUR MULTIPL means multiple visits. How can you do multiple visits if the limit is 90 days? You make a border run. If you reach the 90 limit you must go to another country before returning. If you plan to visit Chile for awhile without being employed, work in your jaunts to Argentina, Peru or Bolivia in the middle.

So the part about not getting excited… well that refers to reciprocity, or “reciprocidad”. Essentially, if your home country – let’s stick with the USA example – charges a fee for Chileans to enter its borders (it does), then Chile will charge one for that nation’s citizens when coming into Chile. If you must pay this fee, it will say something like this:

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In this case, US citizens entering on a tourist visa to Chile must pay 160 US dollars. They will put a sticker in your passport that shows you’ve paid the reciprocity fee, and it’s good for the DURATION of your passport. This means that if you enter and leave a number of times, you only pay once while your current passport is still valid. The price varies by country and as of this writing is only charged at the international airport in Santiago. This means that you are not subject to this charge if you arrive on a cruise ship or cross the border by bus. This is how the reciprocity fee is charged in most countries. I should add that Argentina recently made a change to their policy. Now any person who is subject to this fee (Australian, Canadian or US citizens) must pay it online before entering the country via any mode of travel. Here is their handy PDF guide to show you how to do it. The page was clearly translated with a machine. e.g. “Make your payment as closely as possible to the trip, so that it does not defeat.” Right on.

The section of the chart that I skipped over (ARANCEL VISA DE RESIDENCIA) deals with costs for work visas, which I’ll get into in another post.

Lastly, the US and Chile recently signed an agreement to drop visa requirements for Chileans visiting the US. This is supposed to begin sometime next year, at which time the reciprocity fee for US citizens should be eliminated as well. Hooray!

Questions?

Bike Ridin’ in Santiago, Chile

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Peddling yourself around and saving a few bucks while avoiding renting cars or taking the subway is a very doable proposition here. The bike advocacy group, Bicicultura, even has a handy bike route guide on their website. Type in your start point in the “desde dónde” box and where you wanna go in the other one, obvio, “hasta dónde”. It will give you a number of options starting with the best one first. It’s clearly marked there on the city map. The routes may not always seem direct, but they usually seek out the nearest “ciclovías” [bike paths] and avoid streets with too much bus traffic. Don’t mess with the bus drivers.

Overall, biking here may be different depending on what city you’re from. Biking on the sidewalk is frequently okay or even necessary. The local government even contemplated a law last year making it illegal to ride on the streets! That’s hilarious, and there was such a big blow-back that it went nowhere. Clearly, if you are on the sidewalk you must go slowly and give preference to pedestrians. Once you get to know your neighborhoods and what traffic is like at any given time of day, you can find the excellent one-ways, the lovely tree-lined side streets and the main thoroughfares that give you a wide berth.

General notes:

1] Sidewalk biking okay; be careful and respectful.

2] Take bike paths whenever available. Be aware they are likely to be also occupied by parked cars, people conversing or even a bike rider taking a break and talking on the phone. They randomly end sometimes, or zigzag all willy nilly (Alameda is the funniest bike path ever!)

3] More businesses are realizing that it’s a good idea to have a bike rack out front or in the parking lot – part of this is due to the advocacy of Bicicultura and others. Lock your bike up REALLY well, and never leave it outside at night. I’m on my fourth bike in as many years. C’est la vie. Kryptonite locks are for sale in a few places, including usually the park in Barrio Brasil on Sundays.

4] The first Tuesday of the month is a massive city ride. I always forget that I plan to join them until I see them flying past my apartment. I just dug up the page. Riders meet at Plaza Italia at 8:00 PM

5] If you want to try, but are afraid, get out on a Sunday. There are so few cars around that the streets are ours!

6] One of the best ways to see a city is, hands down, on two wheels. If you end up somewhere shady, you can get out of there fast. If you happen upon a lovely fountain or plaza, you can take a break. And of course, you feel like part of the city in a way that staring at it through a window just does not provide.

7] Feeling daring? Climb up Cerro San Cristobal to the zoo, the public pool or the Japanese water garden and FLY your ass back down to the bottom. Great exercise and extremely fun.

Let me know if you have any questions. I’m always happy to help.

UPDATE: Friday March 8th there is a big bike ride for International Women’s Day. Meeting up at 8PM! [I’ll be in Peru, sad face, wait no, happy face.]

Residency in Chile

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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.