Sometimes Americans can be confused by Spanish words that are similar to English ones but do not mean the same thing (false cognates). For instance, the Spanish word compromiso means “commitment” in English. Condado (the extension of the land holdings of a count or conde under feudalism) does not mean “county” in English–in fact the term is not used in Chile, although the concept is understood. Ciudad does not exactly mean “city” in the way we use it.

In strict English and in Spanish, a city (ciudad) is “a center of population, commerce, and culture; a town of significant size and importance.” But we use the word “city” more loosely at times, even to describe smaller towns (pueblos), at times modifying the word with an adjective like “huge,” “big,” “small,” or “medium-sized.” In Spanish that is not the case. In Chile, only larger population centers qualify as cities and the rest are pueblos or villorrios (i.e., a cluster of houses along the roadside or a few shops), They do not have villages (aldeas), even colloquially as, for instance, Greenwich Village.

However, they do add provincias, which are similar to counties in the United States, and comunas, which are basically cities or towns in the United States. The city hall structure of each comuna is called the municipalidad, where the municipio administers the comuna. They also use área metropolitano (metropolitan area) in the same way that Americans do, in order to describe large clusters of population that include many cities (comunas) and can encompass one or more counties (provincias) and even cross state (región) lines, as in the case of the New York metropolitan area. In Chile, there are four significant metropolitan areas: Región Metropolitana de SantiagoGran ValparaísoGran Concepción and Gran La Serena.

Political subdivisions in the United States and their equivalents in Chile are as follows.

Political Subdivision Spanish Equivalent
the state el Estado
nation nación
country país
state (50) región (15)
territory territorio
county provincia
medium-sized or larger city, or group of contiguous cities ciudad
city comuna
town pueblo
village aldea
urban cluster villorrio
metropolitan area área metropolitano

Note that ciudades, áreas metropolitanos naciones, territorios and villorrios do not have their own governing bodies, except for things like inter-city (inter-comunal) administration of mass transit. There is national governance of the Estado or país, and local governance of the regiones, provincias and comunas and some pueblos.

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

Dr. Cobin’s updated and enlarged 2016 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 $149.

For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights found in the two larger books. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at

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

Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective (2003)

A Primer on Modern Themes in Free Market Economics and Policy (2009)