As you've surely read by now, Uruguay is one of the most popular destinations for expats looking to move overseas, and there are good reasons for that. Uruguay checks a lot of boxes. It's arguably the safest country in South America. It has beautiful beaches, abundant natural resources, and nice weather. Its citizens do not fear the police. The government generally steps back and lets individuals choose what they want to put in their body or do to it. Overall it offers an incredibly high quality of life that is hard to find elsewhere.
But the purpose of this article is not to describe the pros of living in Uruguay. There are plenty of websites already dedicated to that. Instead, the purpose of this article is to help you manage your expectations when you move to Uruguay. So as one who makes a living helping people move to Uruguay, what I’m about to say might surprise you.
Uruguay's not perfect!
Surprised by my candor? I hope not. But just in case the only things you know about Uruguay are from Internet blogs that make money from promoting Uruguay, let me set the record straight. Please consider the following before making your move to paradise:
- Although pragmatic towards foreign residents, the government is largely socialist.
- Many workers seem to have an entitlement mentality.
- Efficiency, work ethic and competency are less valued here than they are in the United States.
- Business (and life) operates at a slower pace from what you might be used to.
Therefore, depending on your personality and goals in life, Uruguay might not be right for you. If you are a type-A, go-getter with expectations of being the next billionaire business tycoon while managing your army of hard working Uruguayan worker drones, you will probably find Uruguay extremely frustrating.
In fact, the following is a short list of common complaints I hear from friends and clients:
- It takes how long to start my corporation?
- Why won't my accountant answer my emails?
- The workers are on strike again.
- What do you mean I'm being sued by the employee I fired for stealing?
- My supplier didn't show up again!
- I can't find the parts I need; what do I do?
- My [insert noun here] is completely incompetent!
- The ATM is out of money? How do I get cash?
If these comments have you thinking twice about whether Uruguay is a good fit for you, fantastic! Consider yourself informed. Understand what Uruguay is, and isn't, before you move here. Uruguay cannot compare to the United States, Canada, or even Europe in terms of efficiency. The idea of forming a corporation in one day, or even one week, is laughable. Nor is Uruguay an international banking capital, as many outdated and uninformed expat websites tout. Try wiring money out of Uruguay from your bank's website. Or accessing cash from an ATM on Sunday. Or even finding a bank open at 10am.
Oddly, several of the brightest and most talented expats I know in Punta del Este moved here without truly understanding this. It's surprising that the smartest people in the room were also the ones least in touch with reality. They read the positive Internet blogs about Uruguay and simply believed the hype, never fully appreciating the realities on the ground. Not surprisingly, many of these expats have already moved out of the country, and several more are contemplating a similar move.
So where are they headed? To the newest and hottest jurisdiction on everyone's radar: Chile. If you believe the blogs, Chile is the modern, efficient alternative to Uruguay. It's where the efficiency of the United States meets the free spirit of Hong Kong. A libertarian's dream! Strangely these blogs seem to focus all their attention on describing the pro-business environment in Chile and don't address some personal factors you might want to know before becoming a resident. So at least consider the following before moving:
- Chile taxes its residents on world-wide income, with top rates reaching 40%.
- There is a 25% to 35% inheritance tax imposed on the "rich."
- Restrictive gun registration laws limit rights to gun ownership.
- Abortion is outlawed.
- Chile and the United States have a free trade agreement, making the countries intertwined politically and financially.
- Santiago has a serious air pollution problem, making it an unpleasant place to live for many months out of the year.
- Catastrophic earthquakes are a risk in Chile.
So what's right for you?
The bottom line is that both Chile and Uruguay have pros and cons. So don't be unrealistic when you make your move. Manage your expectations! Which country is best for you depends on the qualities you value most. Do you want to live in the South American version of the United States? Do you like shopping in American style malls? Do you need to live in a place where you can complete your to-do list in a day? Do you have aspirations of managing a workforce of hardworking employees in your country of residence? If so, Chile might work for you.
On the other hand, do want to live in a quiet and charming place, reminiscent of the United States circa 1950, where the pace of life is slower but things are not particularly efficient? A country still dominated by gentlemen farmers and not giant international conglomerates? Are you okay with the possibility of your contractor showing up a day late? Or not showing up at all? Do you love the beauty of Uruguay, its overwhelmingly abundant natural resources, and the fact that it's just a quiet little place? Then Uruguay might be perfect for you.
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