One might think that the most attractive places in Chile for newcomers would correspond to comunas with the highest incomes. While this thought is actually a pretty good guide, it has some holes. According to a study by the University of Chile cited by national daily La Tercera, the ten highest income comunas in Chile are:

1. Vitacura
2. Las Condes
3. La Reina
4, Lo Barnechea (which contains La Dehesa)
5. Ñuñoa
6. Providencia
7. Calama (2nd Región)
8. Diego de Almagro (3rd Región)
9. Antofagasta (2nd Región)
10. Magallanes (Punta Arenas, 12th Region)

It is not surprising to see the first six spots going to northeastern Santiago, although it is odd that La Reina is #3, ahead of #4 Lo Barnechea and #6 Providencia, and that Providencia is #6, even behind #5 Ñuñoa. I would not have expected that result. The rest of the list includes mining and natural gas cities, all of which are known for being highly-paid occupations in Chile.

The list goes to show that “money is not everything,” at least when choosing a place to live. For instance, Calama (#7) is the ugliest and most horrid city in Chile, and Antofagasta (#9) is not far behind, even though it has a nice sector amidst so many awful slums. Diego del Almagro (#8) is hardly a town, much less a city, and if the mine were not within its comunal boundaries there would be no attraction. It is certainly no place for an immigrant to come unless he is a miner.

Punta Arenas (#10) is in the extreme south, windy and cold, with very long nights in wintertime and very short ones in summertime. Still, it makes other top ten lists in some studies for being a very livable city, as reported in national daily El Mercurio. I am not convinced it is a good spot for newcomers, despite the history, great restaurants and tax-free zone. On the other hand, there are extensive wealthy suburbs in the Viña del Mar, Concepcion and La Serena metropolitan areas that also have high personal income but are not included in the top ten because of nearby poverty.

In that study reported in El Mercurio, the top thirty comunas with highest quality of living are:

1. Vitacura
2. Providencia
3. Las Condes
4. La Reina
5. Punta Arenas
6. Ñuñoa
7. Santiago
8. Lo Barnechea
9. Colina
10. Curicó
11. Rancagua
12. Valdivia
13. Macul
14. Osorno
15. Viña del Mar
16. Quillota
17. Huechuraba
18. La Florida
19. Chiguayante
20. Peñalolén
21. La Serena
22. San Felipe
23. Puerto Montt
24. Temuco
25. Los Ángeles
26. Quilicura
27. San Pedro de la Paz
28. Calama
29. Puente Alto
30. Coquimbo

I have been to all of these places. There is no way I am going to recommend to newcomers chilling #5 Punta Arenas, ugly #14 Osorno, upper-lower-class #29 Puente Alto, or industrial, smoggy and congested #26 Quilicura. Forget, too, mining town, ugly, high-elevation #28 Calama, and likely not largely Marxist mining enclave #30 Coquimbo. Largely lower middle class agricultural worker towns like #16 Quillota, #22 San Felipe, #9 Colina (especially if Chicureo is included) and #10 Curico all have a certain attraction, and are cheap places do live, but I really doubt they would suit the vast majority of immigrants from North America or Europe.

I have no idea why Viña del Mar is so far down the list (#15) or why neighboring Concon is excluded, unless it was subsumed in Viña del Mar. The same goes for lovely #19 Chiguayante and #27 San Pedro de la Paz, which are some of the nicer parts of Concepción and decent choices for a newcomer that does not mind cool and rain.

All of those places should be in the top ten, in my mind, ahead of #4 Ñuñoa and probably #6 La Reina, and certainly #7 Santiago, which really should not figure in the top twenty. I can see how the other places, especially #24 Temuco and #12 Valdivia, could be on a newcomer’s radar screen that likes smaller cities in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and does not mind rain.

The Institute for Urban and Territorial Studies at the Catholic University in Santiago produced its “Index of Urban Quality of Life” for 2015, which ranked the 93 most prominent comunas in Chile, spanning ten metropolitan areas and 85% of the country’s population. The index and rankings were based on six variables of labor conditions, business environment, socio-cultural conditions, connectivity and mobility, health and environment, and housing and environment. The following list is the ranking for comuna in relation to the mean, most superior to the mean first.

1. Las Condes
2. Providencia
3. La Reina
4. Puerto Varas
5. Punta Arenas
6. Antofagasta
7. Colina
8. Copiapo
9. Villarrica
10. La Serna
11. Tome
12. Valdivia
13. Quilpué
14. Talcahuano
15. Huechuraba
16. Rengo
17. Temuco
18. San Fernando
19. Osorno
20. Villa Alemana
21. Rancagua
22. Coronel
23. Angol
24. Lampa
25. Calera
26. San Antonio
27. Quilicura
28. Curico
29. Linares
30. Estacion Central

This part of the study may make sense to some Chileans, but from a newcomer or foreign-onlooker point of view, it is pretty weird. Not only are Lo Barnechea (La Dehesa), Ñuñoa and Vitacura missing, having been beaten out by nearby horrid #24 Lampa, mediocre #30 Estacion Central (main bus and train terminal for Santiago), mixed socio-economic bag #15 Huechuraba, and #7 Colina where my former maid lives unless, again, fabulous Chicureo is included. Likewise puzzling is the superiority of scuzzy port town #26 San Antonio over elegant 5th Region neighbors Viña de Mar and Concón, which do not appear at all, while including middle class inland communities of the Viña del Mar metropolitan area like #13 Quilpué, #20 Villa Alemana and #25 Calera. It makes little sense.

The ranking also highlights boring #8 Copiapo, lovely #23 Angol and coal mining slum #22 Coronel, each Marxist hotbeds. Punta Arenas (#5), Rancagua (#21) and ugly Osorno (#19) made the list again, although I am not sure why, and more worker’s farm towns were added like #29 Linares, #25 Calera, #16 Rengo, and #18 San Fernando, but most of the ones on the previous list are not included.

A horrid, smelly naval port #14 Talcahuano is the only representative from the Concepción metropolitan area, displacing Chiguayante and San Pedro de la Paz? Give me a break! I guess there is some bias or stupidity in Chilean university studies. Maybe it was done by leftists?

The only cities listed that make sense, from my perspective, are #1 Las Condes, #2 Providencia, #3 La Reina, #4 Puerto Varas (they definitely got that one right!), and I would agree with #9 Villarrica (but where is Pucon?), #10 La Serena, #17 Temuco and #12 Valdivia being somewhere in the top thirty. However, the study’s rankings themselves are a bit different, even though still bizarre or surprising:

1. Las Condes
2. Vitacura
3. Providencia
4. Lo Barnechea
5. La Reina
6. Ñuñoa
7. Puerto Varas
8. Castro
9. Punta Arenas
10. Concepcion
11. Antofagasta
12. Maipú
13. Colina
14. Machalí
15. Copiapó
16. Talca
17. Villarrica
18. Quillota
19. La Serena
20. Viña del Mar
21. Tomé
22. Vallenar
23. Valdivia
24. Coihaique
25. Quilpué
26. Santiago
27. Talcahuano
28. Concón
29. Huechuraba
30. Puerto Montt
This list makes more sense, except for the curious inclusion of Concepcion over its much nicer suburbs, and the low rankings for #20 Viña del Mar, #28 Concón and #19 La Serena, which would certainly be more desired by nearly all Northern Hemisphere immigrants than mixed middle class #6 Ñuñoa (home of the national soccer stadium and lots of vandals), quaint but puny and remote #8 Castro, barren #9 Punta Arenas, #10 Concepcion, and the rest of the list starting with #11 Antofagasta (with the possible exceptions of #14 Machali, #17 Villarrica and #23 Valdivia for certain people). I know a couple of expatriates that like their farms near #16 Talca, but not necessarily the boring city itself.

According to a study by Centro de Estudios Públicos in 2010, the next highest income comunas of the Metrolpolitan Region are Santiago (centro) and San Miguel. I do know a few expatriates living in San Miguel, and it is a decent place, much less expensive than northeastern Santiago. So, obviously, it is a possible destination for newcomers. However, the third poorest and lowest income place in the region is Alhué, a small farming community that is clearly a lovely, quaint place, that could be of interest to newcomers that want to live in the country but yet not too far from the big city.

Iquique is very high on the personal income scale for Chile, but it is the bottom of the barrel on lists of most livable places in Chile. Yet I know several expatriates that live in Iquique and love it. It just goes to underscore that one cannot judge a comuna solely on the basis of personal income statistics, and probably have to take with a grain of salt the livability rankings as well.

Other examples are regional comunas like Viña del Mar (and Reñaca), Concón, San Pedro de la Paz, Chiguayante (and other parts of metropolitan Concepcion), Zapallar and nearby beach towns, Pucon and Puerto Varas. All of these comunas contain significant First World areas and amenities that make them clear possible destinations for newcomers. Yet the poorer neighborhoods that they contain, for example Forestal in Viña del Mar, are significant enough to drag down the median income figures. The same is true for Santiago comunas like Huechuraba and Peñalolen, which have significant First World areas within a sea of poverty. All of these places, especially the provincial ones, are much cheaper to live than the top comunas in northeastern Santiago and should be on the list of relocation spots under consideration by newcomers,

If we can trust Wikipedia GDP statistics for Chilean regions, they might add something to the discussion about where newcomers might be most comfortable.

1. Santiago metropolitan area (GDP US$101.7 billion)

2. 2nd Region, Antofagasta and includes Calama (GDP US$21.8 billion)

3. 5th Region, Valparaiso, includes the Viña del Mar metropolitan area (GDP US$16.7 billion)

4. 8th Region, Biobío, includes the Concepcion metropolitan area (GDP US$16.5 billion)

5. 6th Region, Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins (GDP US$9.4 billion)

6. 7th Region, Maule, includes Talca (GDP US$7.7 billion)

7. 4th Region, Coquimbo includes the La Serena metropolitan area  (GDP US$6.6 billion)

8. 3rd Region, Atacama including Copiapó and Salvador, mining (GDP US$5.7 billion)

9. 10th Region, Los Lagos, including Puerto Montt, Castro and Osorno (GDP US$5.14 billion)

10. 1st Region, Tarapacá, inlcuding Iquique (GDP US$5.12 billion)

11. 9th Region, La Araucanía, including Temuco (GDP US$4.7 billion)

12. 14th Region, Los Ríos, including Valdivia (GDP US$2.5 billion)

13. 12th Region, Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic, includes Punta Arenas (GDP US$1.8 billion)

14. 15th Region, Arica and Parinacota (GDP US$1.3 billion)

15. 11th Region Aysén of General Carlos Ibáñez, including Coyhaique (GDP US$0,99 billion)

It is pretty clear that Santiago dominates the country economically. Antofagasta and Calama are high on the list on account of mining earnings which does not translate into a generally high quality of life in my opinion. Next up are the Viña del Mar and Concepcion metropolitan areas, for good reason, since they are the main centers for industrial production and tourism outside of the capital city. They are followed by farming regions and some more significant mining in the 3rd, 4th and 6th regions. Lumber, dairy and fisheries are on the low end of overall economic production in the southern regions. Living where there is a lot of economic activity generally translates into a higher quality of life. That fact should provide a good starting point for newcomers making choices about where to live.

Another good indicator to consider is the median household income statistic for 2009, by comuna. The data are a little bit old and in a dynamic country like Chile, things like this statistic change a lot in a few years. But at least it will provide a good idea. The data were obtained from the webite of the Library of the National Chilean Congress.

Remember that only Vitacura is nearly completely free of a significant poorer section. Lo Barnechea and Las Condes both have them, and Providencia’s has been growing. However, Viña de Mar, Concón, much of Concepción and Las Serena have very large poor neighborhoods, dragging down considerably the community average. Considering Viña del Mar in particular, it is likely that the coastal section, especially Reñaca, has a median household income similar to south Concon, which is certainly much higher than the Concon statistic in the following list (which includes poorer sections in north Concon). Indeed, if Reñaca and south Concón were to become a separate comuna, as some Chileans have been pushing for, then it would probably be 6th in ensuing list.

Comuna (selected) Median Houshold Income (pesos)
2009
Lo Barnechea (La Dehesa) $ 3.256.310
Las Condes $ 3.246.457
Vitacura $ 3.066.970
La Reina $ 2.281.099
Providencia $ 2.271.430
Ñuñoa $ 1.255.232
Santiago (centro) $ 1.230.676
Concon $ 1.076.438
Antofagasta $ 862.784
Rancagua $ 865.167
San Pedro de la Paz $ 853.545
Punta Arenas $ 773.823
Huechuraba $ 763.445
CHILE $ 754.795
Iquique $ 752.842
Valparaíso $ 720.623
Temuco $ 705.271
Concepcion $ 702.613
Alhue $ 699.130
Colina (Chicureo) $ 695.812
Puerto Varas $ 681.652
Osorno $ 654.351
Viña del Mar $ 642.786
Chiguayante $ 624.401
Quilpue $ 620.451
La Serena $ 585.880
Talca $ 584.756
Valdivia $ 567.329
Zapallar $ 555.243
Olmue $ 549.263
Puerto Octay $ 546.021
Rengo $ 520.720
Castro $ 484.848
Pucón $ 461.966
Coronel $ 454.950
Alto de Carmen $ 432.987
Puqueldon $ 409.010
Vichuquen $ 399.796
Camiña $ 345.269
AVERAGE $ 952.667

Hopefully this information will help the prospective newcomer have a better idea of where he chooses to live in Chile.

Be sure to become a member of Escape America Now and gain access to the monthly webinar. Details at www.esccapeamerianow.info. Visit AllAboutChile.com for discussion and forums about the country.

Dr. Cobin’s book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost every topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service–Chile Consulting–where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $49.

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Christian Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience (2006)

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