Editor’s note: After you read about how to find work here in Chile, look at “The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas,” Chile’s ultimate tour guide. Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful. American writer, Walker Rowe, sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet. What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another.
How to Find Work in Chile
Some people have asked me how to find a job here. So I will explain for you how I found my job. I work as a computer programmer in IT (update January 2013: now working full-time as an editor and publisher) so this would be relevant for those of you who are looking for work as a professional in any field.
First know that Chile is a rapidly developing nation that in a few years could reach what is called “developed nation” status. This means it is an economy is on par with, say, Korea who together with Chile and Iceland recently joined the OECD, Organization of Economically Developed Countries. The gross national product in Chile is about $15,000 which is slightly more than 1/3 of the USA and equal to that of Russia and Argentina, much higher than Peru, and slightly ahead of Mexico. In the mining city of Antofagasta the GDP per capital is $37,000 which is the same as Great Britain such is the prosperity there. (The GDP per capita is headed down in the USA and up in Chile. The middle class is shrinking in the USA while it is expanding in Chile.) Chile is an economy on sound footing with little public debt and hundreds of years of copper reserves (Chile has from 60% to 70% of the world’s discovered reserves), which is the major export, followed by abundant exports of agricultural products which Chile produces for the Northern Hemisphere while that half of the world is in winter. At the time of this writing, the unemployment rate in Chile is 7.1% (It is 9.1% in the USA) and the newspapers here talk of the country reaching or already having reached full-employment.
Regarding work, Chile is very particular about having proper credentials for employment. Even those working in non-professional jobs are expected to have a vocational degree there. So the students here study for either 2 year “technical” or 4 year “professional” programs that come after high school to obtain a certificate for, say, cooking, agriculture, or computer networking. University students study 4 to 6 years depending on what major they elect. So you as a foreigner coming here looking for work as a professional should have a university degree at a minimum. Employment in the mining sector is surging so it might be possible to find work there as a machine operator or other if you do not have a university degree. The biggest mining companies operating here include Anglo American, Codelco, and Antofagasta Minerals.
Wages here are pretty good especially if you consider the cost of living. Things here cost either twice as much as in the USA or half as much depending on what you buy. Anything imported like cell phones, brand name clothes, snow skiis costs twice as much. To put that in terms of the currency they say that $100 USD and $100,000 CLP are roughly the same meaning what you can buy in the USA for $100 USD will cost $200 USD here. Gasoline is over $7 per gallon and your cell phone and internet bills will be about $100 per month. Rent in the east side of Santiago–this is where you would probably want to live since it is the safest area–goes from $400 to $800 for a studio or one bedroom apartment in Providencia or Las Condes. To buy an apartment costs anywhere from $30,000 USD to $200,000 USD or much more. Houses outside the capital can be bought for as little as $30,000 USD.
There are things which costs less here. You can buy lunch for $5 and most employers here are obligated to give you a voucher for $4 or $6 per day. You can fill up your refrigerator with fresh vegetables that you buy in the street markets which pop up all over the city on the weekends for $20. A whole fish can be bought for $5. You can visit the beach and stay in a hotel for $25 per night and a bus to get you there will cost $14 round trip. Daily you will spend about $2 for the subway and taxis here cost more but there are shared taxis which bring in people from more distant areas of the city to the center.
So all this means that you can live quit well here on the 30% to 50% of what you might earn in the USA. For example, as an experienced professional working in the USA who makes $100,000 might earn about $50,000 here when considered on a post tax basis. So don’t look at what might be considered a low wage here from the point of view of the USA and think it is too little money. Here are the details.
As a junior engineer working in IT you can expect to earn from $800,000 to $1 million CLP per month. As senior person would get $1.5 to $2 million. That $2 million per month is roughly equal to $54,000 USD per year before taxes (see Addendum Below) which is pretty good even in the USA where that is say the salary of a teacher in the USA. Taxes are not considered when you talk about wages here because wages are quoted here on a net (“liquido”) and not a gross (“bruto”) basis. And wages here are expressed on a monthly and not an annual basis. To put this into American terms a $2 million Chilean salary is about $4,000 per month. So if you can get $1 million that is about $2,000 per month which is pretty for a young person with no mortgage, child support, and even some lingering US debts such as student loans and credit cards. (Consider that the minimum wage here is about $380 USD per month and large portions of the population get by on $500 USD or $1000 USD per month. This is what it is like here for those with no university education.) There is a national sales tax here on most products of 19% which is steep.
Your salary does not include taxes which your employer pays directly to the government. The Chilean pension system here is called “AFP”. The employer puts 10% of your gross pay (on the first 1,471,000 of salary) into one of these accounts. They also pay 7% health insurance tax which you get returned to you as a rebate when you buy Isapres (private) health insurance. The income tax your employer pays out of your gross income is shown at the chart at the bottom of this page.
Now, to actually find this job you are looking for reach out to people you know and use the employment web sites. For example I had worked at a company which had installed a computer system here so I contacted that company. If you put your resume (called a “curiculum”) here on linkedin.com and list your address as Chile then recruiters will contact you. For doing it the other way around put your resume on trabajando.cl, laborum.cl, bumeran.com, acciontrabajo.cl, and computrabajo.cl .
Another good source of information is the Chilean overseas offices or their equivalent of the chamber of commerce. This would be prochile.cl or investchile.cl. Call their offices in New York or Washington or wherever and get a list of companies working here then proceed to email these people there trying to make connections. Another source of employment is the company where you work now. Do they have offices in Chile? Most of big corporations and those in IT in particular—IBM, CSC, Oracle, McAfee, Deloitte, Accenture–have offices here. When you contact these people do not be surprised if their recruiter who contacts you back is in Argentina as that seems to be the norm for some of them. (Argentina is a much bigger place so their administrative offices might be there.)
You can come here as a tourist on a tourist visa (meaning no actual visa)—Canadians and Americans are required to buy those when they come through the airport–and then when you have a job you can get a work permit. To do this the immigration will ask for your work contract which your employer will give you.
Now what about the Spanish language? People who have university degrees in Spanish will come to Chile and probably not understand anything as the Chilean accent is so much different from other Latin America countries and Spain and there are many words here which you will not know. The Spanish spoken here cannot really be called a “dialect” but know that even people coming here from Mexico and Peru do not know what the Chilean people say when they talk to each other. But Spanish is not too important in the technical fields because especially in computers all the manuals are written in English. Most of your coworkers here will speak English barely or a little but there will be enough people fluent in English to help you along until you yourself achieve fluency in 12 months or more (that depends on your age and your ability to adopt a new language).
Anyway it is just not necessary that you know Spanish before you get here. Obviously you cannot manage a group of people here nor meet with clients at the onset because you cannot speak their language. But you can work on engineering assignments writing a computer program or doing whatever is your specialty until you get fluent. In the meantime when you do meet with your company’s clients some of them will speak English. But a lot of people will not understand you because of your gringo accent and a lot of them you will not understand because they are simply unable to slow down so that you can understand them. The Chilean people speak so fast that you will simply be unable to keep up. But as you are assigned to work with a group of them they will understand that if they enunciate and speak slowly you can understand them. This is how you will have to operate for a good while as you limp along in the language.
So there is an overview of the process. Don’t make the mistake of so many people coming here and think that all you can do is teach English. That is for tourists and people with wanderlust. If you want to work here look for work in your field. And don’t consider you stay here temporary. Especially don’t tell any prospective employer you only want to come here for some short duration. Chile is a nice place to live and work and has the same weather as Southern California so come here instead of going there because there is work to be found and aside from the capital it is not as crowded.
Here are some bullet-point comments about working in Chile that the foreigner might find odd:
Job interviews usually include a psychological screening. This is given by an (unqualified, non-psychologist) person in the office, usually the boss. It means nothing.
There are 15 holidays here. Contrast that with the USA where they are 5. Most people take their three weeks of vacation all at once and do it in January or February.
In Chile the work week is 45 hours. One reason the subway and streets are so crowded is the Chileans all come to the office at 9 and leave at 6. There are not flexible hours like in the USA. Employers insist on face time meaning you are expected in the office even if you are just wasting time on Facebook. Only people working for international companies get to work remote. Chilean bosses watch the clock.
Here people worry about their job even when there is no need to do so. For example people will tell you that it is important that you turn in a doctors permission slip on the second day of your illness or you will be fired. But in the current environment there are plenty of jobs so if you don’t like yours quit. Chileans job hop a lot and many get fired too.
Feminists in the USA would be appalled, but in Chile an office might have a beauty contest to identify the most beautiful girl in the office. Men will send sexy pictures around the office in email. Americans would worry about punishment and lawsuits for that. But this is part of the culture. Female sexuality is on display through the Chilean culture with women wearing tight pants that show the curves of their derriere and low cut tops that show their breasts–that is true through Latin America. On television here there are burlesque shows, topless nudity in prime time, and television news cameras pan from one girl in a bikini to another at the beach. The whole family watches these shows together with no surprise at all. Perhaps Victorian America could relax a bit on this issue.
The Chilean culture is quite different than the USA culture with regards to behavior in meetings. In the USA when you go into a conference room meeting the discussion is animated and often like combat. You are expected to battle so that your opinion and indeed the best opinion rises to the top through vigorous debate. Junior people do this without deference to senior person in the room. This is how the best ideas are realized. Chileans do not engage in lively debate like this. They are more reserved and more likely to say such issues are best discussed in an email or offline. Of course that just tables the issue where it festers unresolved.
In the USA if you do not know something you can ask a coworker. Also knowledge sharing sessions are encouraged. If Chile if you ask a question they will think you do not know something. Obviously, but that invites criticism. Chileans would rather read a book than ask a question of their peers.
Chileans often will work a second job or teach at night. Even those who do not need the money.
Here are the income tax rates as of 23 December 2011. Not sure why but they print this table in the newspaper everyday. Presumably it changes. The figures are for monthly gross incomes in Chilean pesos.
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May 12, 2017
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Great article! I´m excited to see everything when I arrive there tomor
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Anita! I know someone who wants to work in Chile but as electrician. D