Livin’ Cheap in Latin America

Pimsleur Approach • Travel tipsComments (0)

Happy hour is at six, dinner is at eight and salsa dancing starts at ten. Vamos!

Have you ever dreamed of escaping your run-of-the-mill, humdrum life? Maybe you’ve already retired and have to stretch your monthly budget just to survive. Or perhaps you just want a life that offers a little more daily adventure and culture. Well, if you’re ready to break free, then head to Latin America and start living large and cheap.

Rent prices in Mexico City, Mexico are typically more than 50 percent lower than those in San Francisco, California. Restaurants in Cusco, Peru are nearly 85 percent cheaper than those in New York City. If you move from Des Moines, Iowa to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, you can cut your overall living expenses by more than 33 percent.

Cost of living calculators found on the Numero website, which uses user-provided data for cities and towns around the world, provided all of these comparisons. Living costs offered on the site are surprisingly accurate, so it’s worth taking a look to see how cheap you could be living.

Even the thought of moving to another country probably leaves you with a head full of dreams and a lot of anxiety. But don’t worry, living cheap in Latin America is much easier than you might imagine. So, if you’re considering a life-changing adventure, here are a few tips to get you started.

Livin' Cheap: VisaImmigration

Immigration laws vary from country to country. While some will only allow you to stay for three to six months on a tourist visa, you can usually find ways to legally get around restrictions.

Some nations have no limit on the number of months you can live in the country, but will limit the amount of time you can stay during a single visit. For instance, U.S. citizens can usually stay in Peru as a tourist for up to 90 days and don’t need to get a visa before entering the country. After three months, you can cross the border into another country and return for another 90 days. That might sound like a hassle, but you’ll find expatriates who’ve lived in Peru for 10 years or more as a tourist.

In some Latin American countries, you can obtain a resident visa for up to several years if you work for a registered nonprofit organization. In most countries, you’ll find many nonprofits that need volunteer or paid workers.

In Colombia, you can remain in the country as a tourist for no more than six months in a calendar year. However, if you enroll in a qualified language program or college course, you can usually get a residency visa for the length of your study.

If you meet someone special, you can enter into a civil union or get married. In many Latin American countries, marrying a citizen enables you to obtain permanent residency, get a work permit and even qualify for national health insurance coverage.

There are many ways to legally stay in a country. Obtaining residency can take some time and might require a lawyer. After you spend a little time in your new country, you’ll likely discover many options for long-term residency.

Culture Shock

Wherever you decide to live in Latin America, you can expect a certain amount of culture shock. Every country has individual customs and quirks, but here are a few common social differences to keep in mind:

- Dogs, horses, cows and goats wandering around towns rarely cause problems for people.
- Friends expect you to engage in long conversations when you pass them on the street.
- Streets are for cars, not people, so stay out of the way.
- Businesses in many towns, and even some cities, close for lunch – sometimes for up to three hours.
- Water, electricity and Internet services frequently shut down without warning. Be patient.
- Music is part of life, so get used to the noise. Expect to hear the most popular songs everywhere you go.
- Birthday parties last all night, so take a disco nap before venturing out.
- Buses and taxis are not just for people. Chickens, pigs and the occasional llama also need a ride.
- Bus schedules contain suggested departure times, so stop looking at your watch.
- Police checkpoints and pat downs are standard practice – there’s no need to be alarmed or offended.

Latin America: Vendor selling different fruit jams.
Vendor selling different fruit jams – Image via Wikipedia

Gringo Pricing

If you’ve never heard the terms “gringo tax” or “gringo pricing” then now’s the time to learn what they mean. A gringo price is a cost offered just to you, because you’re a foreigner. And guess what? Because you’re from another country, you get to pay a little more.

Smart business owners charge the same prices to all of their customers. After all, a good business owner wants repeat business. However, some taxi drivers, shop owners, hotels, bus companies and landlords will try to charge you more.

You shouldn’t get paranoid or angry about gringo pricing, just be aware that you’ll encounter it more often than you like. If the difference between what a local pays and the price offered to you is extreme, simply walk away.

Once you settle in to your new community, you can easily find honest merchants to patronize on a daily basis. They’ll no doubt appreciate your business.

Latin America: The Caminito in La Boca, Buenos Aires
The Caminito in La Boca, Buenos Aires – Image via Wikipedia

Finding a Home

Depending on the country, finding a permanent home can be challenging. In some countries, such as Colombia, you can’t sign any contract if you have a tourist or temporary visa, even if you want to buy a home or rent an apartment.

However, other countries make the process a bit easier. If you have the cash to buy a home, then chances are you won’t run into problems in most Latin American countries. But, if you need a mortgage, you might face restrictions if you’re a nonresident. It’s best to find a good lawyer to help make any home purchase.

If you plan to rent, you can usually find a landlord who’ll offer you an apartment, regardless of contract laws. Rental agreements usually require a six month or one year stay and can require several months of up-front rent payments. In many large cities, you can find a hotel or hostel that rents apartments for long-term stays.

What’s most important is that you take your time. Many people arrange for an apartment over the Internet before they arrive, but that’s often a bad idea. Websites that provide apartment listings typically inflate their prices, sometimes drastically.

It’s best to spend time getting to know a city or town. If you make a few friends first, they’ll be happy to help you find a place to live.

Expatriate Communities

Throughout Latin America, you’ll find expatriate communities in large cities and tourist towns. These groups typically provide all types of assistance for newcomers.

Expatriates can help you find a place to live, figure out immigration regulations and advise you about local safety issues. In many places, expatriates also open restaurants and bars, where fellow foreigners meet for dinner, drinks, conversation and entertainment.

Latin America: Carnaval in Nicaragua
Carnaval in Nicaragua – Image via Wikipedia

Start Living

Once you settle in to a new city or town, it’s time to start living large and living cheap. The best place to start is to find out where the locals shop for everyday essentials, like food.

Most Latin American towns, and even many large cities, have farmers’ markets, which offer everything from fruits to meats. In many markets, foods come fresh from family farms and are often organically grown.

In many tourist towns and large cities, you can find treats from home at restaurants owned by expatriates. They offer almost anything you can imagine, from full English breakfast to pork barbeque.

Restaurants that cater to local residents typically have the best prices. Most local restaurants serve traditional foods, which you should get to know. While the thought of new foods might turn you off at first – especially dishes like cow heart or guinea pig – don’t be shy, because you’ll probably find a few new favorite dishes.

When the weekend arrives, head out to a local disco. It’s best to start with an establishment that caters to natives and foreigners. But once you make some new friends, don’t be afraid to visit clubs designed specifically for local residents. If you’re a lousy dancer, don’t worry, no one will care. Simply participating is usually enough to gain acceptance with local residents.

If you’re single and looking for a mate, you’ll probably have no trouble find eligible bachelors or bachelorettes. However, be careful. In some Latin American places, especially tourist towns, some locals are scouting for a free ride to the United States or Europe. The best way to swim into the dating scene is to ask local friends for a few introductions.

Throughout Latin America, you’ll find no shortage of activities, including hiking, rollerblading, surfing, photography, travel, dancing, scuba diving and martial arts. You can also find plenty of clubs to join, most of which happily welcome foreigners.

Most large cities offer world-class museums and art galleries. In many cities, you can enjoy free admission to museums on Sundays. Cinemas typically show the same blockbuster films you’d watch in your country of origin – usually at much lower prices.

So, what are you waiting for? Latin American is ready to welcome you to a new home.

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