As I hinted this (northern hemisphere) summer, we decided a few months ago to relocate to Chile, the most stable, secure and less corrupt country in Latin America (see for instance recent coverage in The Economist). Well, now it’s done as of last Sunday. We’re in Renaca on the Pacific coast, 90 minutes from Santiago and less than three hours from pretty good ski options. Not only does Chile have great geography and climate to offer, but it seems one of the rare countries these days that hasn’t decided yet to melt down into a police nanny state. Since all we want is to be left alone, that’s an attractive value proposition. The best resource to prepare such a relocation ended up being the All Chile forum.
Once we decided five years ago that we were done with France for good (and oh have events there vindicated us since then) my motto for expatriation has been “more sun, less taxes.” Unlike the US, the visa requirements in Chile are not out of hand with the benefits offered by the country. Since it’s a stretch for Ron Paul to really influence the result of the next presidential election, let alone win it, I’m betting on another round of spying and prying by the forthcoming US administration. Face it, all but one Democratic and Republican candidates are Big Government advocates. Once you start from that shared platform you’re just arguing at the margins, and candidates from Giuliani to Edwards look a lot alike to me. It seems it’s all about hair or lack thereof. Guys, I’m not appointing anyone to take responsibility for running my life in my name. Given the pattern of over-spending and under-delivering in everything from defense to healthcare to education, America seems headed to become another European country where personal freedom doesn’t matter as long as the government buys your vote with some welfare entitlement — only with a bigger military. Thanks but no thanks. Someone needs to get this country out of the debt and tax loop that has been worsened by Bush. There are few worst sins than claiming to be for low taxes while increasing deficits. Great, buy the votes of the current electorate at the expense of future generations. Typical parasitic behavior from Baby Boomers.
In the meantime I have no need to be on US soil to run a business there, so I’ll continue to enjoy what’s still a relatively good business environment. Let’s face it, online businesses still have only much smaller opportunities outside of the US. Don’t get my libertarian rant wrong, I still love the US and think it has a lot going for it, but it’s also too bloated and complacent to live up to its own high standards. I’ll pick and choose from it.
So what’s in store for us in Chile? Culture shock within reasonable limits, we hope. We have two kids whom we want to provide with the best opportunities, and we’re convinced immersion in different cultures and languages is how you make this new globalized world your own. We were glad to spend the last four years in Portugal, but we were starting to itch for something else. The exchange rate between the Euro and USD and decreasing competitiveness of the Euro area and Portugal more specifically were strong incentives to move. When you do shopping on three continents you realize how bad it is for Euro consumers right now in terms of purchasing power parity. Stuff from China that you buy for cheap in the US ends up being as much as two to three times more expensive in Europe. I swear I’m not stretching the truth, this gap has always been there but it’s never been that bad. We’re avid shoppers and categories like apparel, computers and electronics are turning into luxury items in Europe.
Chile is a different animal. With its reasonable taxes and FTAs with the US, the EU and South Korea, pricing is not that bad. Dell Chile for instance has pricing similar to its parent company (i.e. way cheaper than in Europe). What’s still limited is distribution and choice. Some companies such as Apple don’t get it, but even people who don’t travel to the US have smart options such as LanBox, a service that will let you order from US websites through a mail box in Miami. Ourselves we go to the US about once a year and always come back with crammed baggage.
Of course Chile is still an emerging country. It doesn’t take much scratching to see poverty, though the slums I’ve driven by seem to have electricity for instance. Don’t expect the manicured cleanliness you see in affluent parts of America, but what we’ve seen so far is still pretty good. And though practical daily matters are mostly slower and less convenient than how they’re run in the US, there’s progress every day. Hey, I used to complain about the dearth of good maps, and Google added Chile coverage yesterday! (Well ok there’s not a lot of detail outside of Santiago but it’s a start.) MapCity.cl really needed to be shown how it’s done.
Speaking of Google Maps, if you guys run out of challenges, how about adding topographic support? The 3D option in Google Earth is fun but it doesn’t match the goodness of a military-grade map. Isn’t it amusing that one of Google’s most exciting products these days (check out this blog) happens to be a desktop application? I need to find whom to talk to at SEK – my daughter’s new school – to show them these educational uses for GE and GM. Does your first world school have wifi? Is it bilingual? Do 12-year-old students have laptops? The great thing about emerging economies is that they sometimes leap forward because they have less infrastructure legacy.
We may stay in Chile for two years and move on, or we may stay a decade. We’ll see. As long as we keep the freedom to look at the world, pick a new destination and reboot our life once in a while, I think we’ll be fine. It’s more about the itinerary than the destination.
Update: sorry again for my broken comments, I have to find someone to update my blog to MT4 and refresh its design. This post triggered some lively discussion on Chileno’s blog for those interested in poverty, income inequality, digital literacy, and the state of Chile.