The 5 Best Places to Live in South America

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There are few places in the world as diverse as the region of South America.

From mountainous climes, tropical rainforests and the beaches of the Caribbean, South Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Urban living is just as varied from the rich and heady metropolis of Rio de Janeiro to the cosmopolitan capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires.

Of course, there are downsides to living anywhere and South America is no different but, depending upon what you are willing to compromise on, there are some amazing places to settle for expats.


Latin America has cities, countries and towns that are rich in culture, have a low cost but high standard of living, are welcoming and safe and can give the best experience of living on this beautiful continent.

In this guide, we’ll be looking at the top five places that can offer this enticing mix for expats in South America.

5 of the Best Countries for Expats in South America

We’ll be looking at the best countries, as well as our choice of the best South American cities for expats.

For each city we have tallied up how it compares to living in London.

Brazil

View of Rio for British expats

A stunning view of Rio de Janeiro; image creative commons by Rodrigo Soldon.

This economically super-charged country is leading the South American boom and can offer a huge range of amazing locations depending on what you are looking for. The major cities of Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre have good expat communities from British and Australian, Canadian and American to other European nationalities.

The country spreads from the Amazon basin in the north bordering Venezuela and stretches along 4,650 miles of coastline where it meets Uruguay. Some of the most famous locations in the world can be found in the country including the Copacabana beach, Sugarloaf Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Iguazú Falls and, of course, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer.

The official language spoken in Brazil is Portugese but English is understood in all the main cities. The climate, again, varies depending on whereabouts you are and can be as extreme as experiencing snow in the mountainous regions of Santa Catarina or Grande de Sul or be tropical like Salvador or Rio. Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre both have subtropical temperatures which mean they experience seasons much like those in the southern United States.

Our best pick for living in Brazil would be Florianopolis.

Best Brazil City For Expats: Florianopolis

The beautiful city of Florianopolis

The beautiful expat-friendly city of Florianopolis; image creative commons via Francisco Anzola

With a population of 460,000 people the city of Florianopolis is the capital city of Santa Catarina in the south of Brazil is big but not too densely populated. One of the safest cities in Brazil, the area has been named the best place to live in Brazil and was voted one of the top ten most dynamic cities in the world in 2006.

An island city with a climate just comfortably lower than tropical, the area combines busy urban living with a relaxing beach holiday vibe. Since the turn of the millennium many Europeans and Americans are making the area a second home and a large expat community has established itself. English is widely spoken and is comparable to London on the quality of life index.

Florianopolis Compared to London

Thinking of moving to Florianopolis?

Measure/Index London, England Florianopolis, Brazil
Ave. Summer Temp. 19oC 25oC
Ave. Winter Temp. 5oC 16oC
Cost of Living1 £4,500 per month £1,777 per month
Crime 47.24 (Moderate) 56.51 (Moderate)
Health Care 69.11 (High) 48.66 (Moderate)
Pollution 56.35 (Moderate) 49.75 (Moderate)
Traffic Commute Time 47.94 (High) 39.33 (Moderate)
Quality of Live (higher is better) 121.87 118.90

1The cost of living index is worked out on an average cost including rent, transportation, utilities, groceries, entertainment and other incidentals.

One of our top cities for South American expats.

Ecuador

A throwback Ecuador train on the Guayaquil-Quito line south of Riobamba

A throwback Ecuador train on the Guayaquil-Quito line south of Riobamba, image creative commons via David Brossard.

Straddling the equator (hence the name), Ecuador is situated on the west coast of South America and encompasses areas rich in ecological, historical and cultural significance. From the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon jungle and highlands of the Andes, Ecuador has it all.

The official language is Spanish yet the currency is US dollars. It has a stable and growing economy and has excellent transport links to the rest of the country, the US and Europe.

In common with many South American countries there is a reputation for high crime rates however the cities have far fewer incidences than the trappings of the coastal tourist hotspots and outlying towns. The capital city of Quito, our recommendation for expat living in Ecuador, has moderate crime rates that are actually lower than in London.

The country does experience earthquakes, the most recent of which in 2016 was a magnitude of 7.8 and caused severe damage. There have been three earthquakes which caused such disruption in the last twenty years.

Best Ecuador City For Expats: Quito

The capital city of Quito at dusk

The capital city of Quito at dusk, image creative commons via Anthony Albright.

As Ecuador’s capital city, Quito is the country’s gateway to the global economy and is a bustling economic hub. Officially the highest capital in the world, as well as being the closest to the equator, Quito is situated on an active volcano, in the Andes mountains. That doesn’t put off the population of 2.6 million people who live there nor the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit each year.

The city is one of the best-preserved World Cultural Heritage Sites with much of the old town dating back to the 17th century. There are plenty of beautiful sites and points of cultural interest including religious buildings, art and sculpture, as well as the military hospital.

The city is safer than much of the rest of Ecuador and compares to London (or any other major city). Access to health care and education is excellent however pollution does remain a problem.

Being situated at such an altitude the temperature never really peaks above the late teens yet is stable all year round.

Quito is a popular destination for expats and, as such, there is a strong community here that welcomes new faces and actively encourages new arrivals to get involved in local groups.

Quito Compared to London

Thinking of moving to Quito?

Measure/Index London, England Quito, Ecuador
Ave. Summer Temp. 19oC 14oC
Ave. Winter Temp. 5oC 13oC
Cost of Living1 £4,500 per month £1,852 per month
Crime 47.24 (Moderate) 54.96 (Moderate)
Health Care 69.11 (High) 69.37 (High)
Pollution 56.35 (Moderate) 67.97 (High)
Traffic Commute Time 47.94 (High) 51.12 (High)
Quality of Live (higher is better) 121.87 103.10

1The cost of living index is worked out on an average cost including rent, transportation, utilities, groceries, entertainment and other incidentals.

Argentina

A stunning view of Córdoba, Argentina

A stunning view of Córdoba, Argentina, image creative commons via Marina Balasini & Juan M

The world’s eight largest country, Argentina covers a huge range of landscapes from glacial lakes, the Andes mountains and the large grasslands upon which its cattle graze.

The country’s official language is Spanish although English is widely spoken in urban areas, particularly in the capital. There is even an area which speaks Welsh as its primary dialect!

Famous for its wine, football, beef and the Pope, Argentinians are a friendly but passionate people. They hold their country very dear and treasure the wealth of the nations cultural heritage.

Best Argentina City For Expats: Buenos Aires

The sprawl of expat-favourite Buenos Aires

The sprawl of expat-favourite Buenos Aires, image creative commons via Rodrigo Paredes

Attracting several million visitors each year the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires is the most visited city in South America. There is no doubting its appeal with a diverse cultural and ethnic blend which encapsulates both Latin America as well as the best of international destinations like Paris, Los Angeles and Madrid. The city will get busier over the next few years as the infrastructure is put in placed for the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics as well as the G20 summit.

The metropolitan areas around the capital offer diverse communities and living accommodation with a huge variety in styles of architecture.

There’s little wonder why so many expats call the city and its surrounds home when you consider all the community and landscape has to offer.

In terms of quality of life, citizens of Buenos Aires enjoy a higher quality than those in London.

Buenos Aires Compared to London

Thinking of moving to Buenos Aires?

Measure/Index London, England Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ave. Summer Temp. 19oC 25oC
Ave. Winter Temp. 5oC 12oC
Cost of Living1 £4,500 per month £2,192 per month
Crime 47.24 (Moderate) 60.91 (High)
Health Care 69.11 (High) 72.66 (High)
Pollution 56.35 (Moderate) 61.11 (High)
Traffic Commute Time 47.94 (High) 43.11 (Moderate)
Quality of Live (higher is better) 121.87 130.14

1The cost of living index is worked out on an average cost including rent, transportation, utilities, groceries, entertainment and other incidentals.

Uruguay

The landmark Carrasco Casino hotel in Uruguay's capital

The landmark Carrasco Casino hotel in Uruguay’s capital, image creative commons via Marcelo Campi.

Nestled between Argentina and Brazil and bordering Paraguay, Uruguay is a blend of two ecologies; coastal beaches with rocky headlands fringed by the south Atlantic Ocean and an interior of low hills, verdant and productive. There are lakes, swamps, rivers and lagoons which break up the green of this otherwise featureless landscape. There are no mountains or volcanoes.

The official language is Spanish with Portuguese and English also being widely spoken.

Best Uruguay City For Expats: Montevideo

Montevideo, one of the most popular expat cities in South America

Montevideo, one of the most popular expat cities in South America, image creative commons via Jimmy Baikovicius

The inhabitants of Montevideo have an exceptionally high quality of life and enjoy a thriving economy. The city is home to half of the population of the country and is a bustling community of entrepreneurs, creative talents and students.

The capital has a reputation as being the ‘Switzerland of Latin America’ and is home to many private banks and large international institutions. Employment is good, prospects are high and there is plenty to commend both living and working in and around the city.

Montevideo Compared to London

Thinking of moving to Montevideo?

Measure/Index London, England Montevideo, Uruguay
Ave. Summer Temp. 19oC 24oC
Ave. Winter Temp. 5oC 11oC
Cost of Living1 £4,500 per month £2,517 per month
Crime 47.24 (Moderate) 56.25 (Moderate)
Health Care 69.11 (High) 67.24 (High)
Pollution 56.35 (Moderate) 57.78 (Moderate)
Traffic Commute Time 47.94 (High) 51.78 (High)
Quality of Live (higher is better) 121.87 110.07

1The cost of living index is worked out on an average cost including rent, transportation, utilities, groceries, entertainment and other incidentals.

Chile

A sunset in the mountains of Puesta de Sol en Farellones in Chile

Sunset in the mountains of Puesta de Sol en Farellones in Chile, image creative commons via Max Besser Jirkal

One of the most stable nations in South America, Chileans speak Spanish but English is also widely adopted as standard.

The country has an excellent economy, a low rate of corruption and good income per capita.

Situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Chile has an abundance of natural beauty as well as the volcanoes for which it has become famous. The landscape changes depending on whether you are in the arid deserts of the north or the lakes and forests of the south. Chile has coastal plains, mountains and grand cities that are as diverse as the people who live here.

Best Chile City For Expats: Santiago

Moving to Santiago? Expect to be blown away by the mountainous landscapes

Moving to Santiago? Expect to be blown away by the mountainous landscapes. Image creative commons via McKay Savage.

Well connected via direct flights across Europe, USA and Australia, Santiago offers a picturesque colonial downtown which nestles in an urban skyrise metropolis. The city generates almost half of Chile’s wealth and has a strong economy.

The modern Gran Torre Santiago (the tallest building in Latin America) against the 18th century Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral offers an architectural expression of the juxtaposition of heritage vs modernity in the city.

Popular with expats, English is widely spoken and there is a strong community of British, American and Europeans who call Santiago home.

Santiago Compared to London

Thinking of moving to Santiago?

Measure/Index London, England Santiago, Chile
Ave. Summer Temp. 19oC 21oC
Ave. Winter Temp. 5oC 9oC
Cost of Living1 £4,500 per month £2,028 per month
Crime 47.24 (Moderate) 52.55 (Moderate)
Health Care 69.11 (High) 62.99 (High)
Pollution 56.35 (Moderate) 77.87 (High)
Traffic Commute Time 47.94 (High) 37.03 (Moderate)
Quality of Live (higher is better) 121.87 126.47

1The cost of living index is worked out on an average cost including rent, transportation, utilities, groceries, entertainment and other incidentals.

Is South America Safe For Expats?

We hear this question a lot, and it’s a regular concern on expat forums, particularly amongst the older generation looking for safe places to retire.

It’s perfectly understandable that you wouldn’t want to trade Blighty’s relative safety net for chaos, corruption and crime.

But to answer the question…

Is pointless.

As everybody knows, there are pockets of South America that can be extremely dangerous, riddled with poverty, drugs and corruption. This is the same for every continent, however South America often gets a bad rep due to its inequality and the skewed incentives that it brings to the poor.

The truth is there are plenty of places to settle in South America that are safe for expats so long as you do your research and base yourself in the ‘best part of town’.

If you trade the UK for a favela (Brazilian slum), then… you’re asking for trouble.

We’d trust most of you wouldn’t do that.

One of the curious things about scouting out safe places to retire is that even some of the more dangerous towns and cities can feel safe when they represent your daily reality.

Some expats will be familiar with the looks of dismay on friends and family’s faces in Middle England when they hear that they’re moving to Foreign Sounding City XYZ in anywhere that isn’t a bonafide first world country.

Truth is, many of these places sound like the wild west because the UK can be so mind numbingly dull and comfortable by comparison.

Is it safe to move to South America?

Probably not, if you’re used to the comfort of Sunday strolls around Waitrose in a leafy shire.

For some people, that’s the point.


Our Verdict on Moving or Retiring to South America

Where to live in South America?

Where to live in South America? Image creative commons via Jaafer Alnasser.

There are so many beautiful places to live across South America.

It is a truly spectacular continent that is worth visiting and exploring from top to bottom, regardless of any decision to move there.

Yes, there may be some compromises along the way but don’t be put off by the headlines; many parts of South America can offer safe, friendly and beautiful homes.

Language is likely to prove a larger barrier in this part of the world than, for example, South East Asia (another popular British expat location), but this is something that is worth learning to immerse yourself in a new and exciting culture — of which South America has many.

Our five suggestions above represent some of the best countries and cities to settle in Latin America.

They are by no means a definitive list.

If you have experience of living in this part of the world, we’d love to hear from you.


Would you consider moving to South America?

Retiring in somewhere like Brazil or Argentina?

What are the standout cities that you’d consider immigrating to in South America?

Let us know your experiences and thoughts below.


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