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11 Expats Talk About What It's Really Like Living in Uruguay

Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats in Uruguay have often lived in other Central and South American countries before landing in Uruguay. They appreciate Uruguay's low-key lifestyle, beautiful beaches and family-focused Uruguayans. 11 expats talk about what it's really like living in Uruguay.

Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

We cannot thank our members in Uruguay enough for their willingness to help newcomers and others preparing to move to Uruguay. When we asked them questions about what it's really like living in Uruguay, they offered these insights:

Deciding Where to Live in Uruguay

When we asked expats living in Uruguay how they found the right place to live in Uruguay, they responded:

"We searched Punta del Este from one side to the other. We decided that we wanted to live in Punta for 6 months a year or longer and that meant a house versus an apartment since many of the apartment buildings are unoccupied 8 months of the year. We also decided that we would build a house as opposed to finding one. We wanted bigger rooms, more bathrooms and fewer bedrooms than is conventional. The difference being that we were not looking to rent the house," said one expat living in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

"Looked for an area with natural beauty, reasonable taxes, and slightly off the beaten path....," mentioned another expat in Uruguay.

In a discussion on the Uruguay forum about the best expat neighborhoods in Montevideo, one member said, "Most expats would go directly to Pocitos, Punta Carretas or Buceo as the preferred neighborhoods to live but if you're looking for something a bit cheaper try Cordon, Centro or Palermo as good alternatives."

When a family moving to Uruguay, who will be working from home, asked about living near schools, they got some great advice about deciding where to live. An expat advised, "Working from home means you will need a good Internet connection. This will restrict you search area enormously to Montevideo, Maldonado (Punta del Este) and Colonia. Secondly, I would reconsider the option of a public school for you kid, because in this case you will have much more restrictions in finding good public schools as the differences depend very much on how much the parents of the kids in that school get financially involved in finding solutions not provided by the State. Even in Montevideo the learning quality in different public schools are enormous depending on the school you live near, because the child must be schooled in the school of the area where you live. Consider also that most of expats with kids, send them to private schools thinking in their future."

Check out our article, 7 Best Places to Living in Uruguay, for some of the favorite expat destinations in Uruguay.

Expat Life in Uruguay

Expats were asked what life in Uruguay is like. What are people's priorities? Here's what they had to say:

"Family is the MOST important consideration here. Raising kids on pure air, clean water, unprocessed foods (keeping them from eating too many sweets) are all high priorities. Life is not a race here. Relax, take five minutes instead of one - they're small. :D The parilla is an EVENT, not a meal. It's a chance for family & friends to get together around the grill for nice conversation while the kids run around, a few delicious bites, a glass or two of excellent wine... Our village is centered around two things: tourism & fishing. One feeds the other & vice-versa. The one word that ALWAYS comes up in conversations about Punta del Diablo is "que tranquilo," which, of course, it IS. Everyone is relaxed... I found myself relaxing immediately. Anything that can't be finished today will certainly be waiting for you tomorrow. I doubt, when I stand before my Maker, that I will regret not having spent more time cleaning house or washing dishes. Rather, time with friends on the beach fishing or taking the sun, enjoying one another's company is a high priority for me," said one expat living in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.

"Family, family, family. Getting ready for tourist season. Working like demons to keep their renters happy & greet guests, etc. during the season. Rest like crazy the first 2 months after high season & plan for next year. Many things have changed since we arrived in 2011. For one thing, instead of having little wooden "corrals" for the garbage (which dogs would get into & spread trash everywhere), we now have the standard type dumpsters and DAILY garbage service. There is another truck that follows the first once a week and it is equipped to wash the dumpster once it is emptied... Very cool," mentioned another expat in Uruguay.

International Schools in Uruguay

As mentioned earlier, if you're moving to Uruguay with children, you'll need to carefully consider school options when deciding where to live.

In Montevideo, Uruguayan American School is a pre-K through 12th, private school in Montevideo. One expat said, "I would recommend to you Uruguayan American school at Carrasco Area. It's an expensive choice, but the school has plenty of International Students." Another Montevideo option is The British Schools, which welcomes students from 4 to 18 years of age. An expat said, "British school in Carrasco too good option (mix between international students and a lot of diplomats." St. Brendan's School is also in Montevideo. It's a bi-lingual school with an IB program. Stella Maris College is a bi-lingual Catholic school that welcomes students from 3 to 18 years old.

In the Punta del Este area, St. Clare's College is an IB World School serving students from K-12. Expats in Uruguay have submitted some cautionary reviews of this school. Other bi-lingual schools in Punta del Este, include Woodside School and International College.

Some parents moving abroad choose to homeschool their children. In Uruguay, homeschooling is uncommon. One expat said, "Homeschooling is not legal here from what I have heard if you want residency. Someone I know wanted to do this but Immigration said it is only permitted if the child has a significant disability making regular school attendance difficult and even then must be in Spanish." Another said, "Homeschooling in Uruguay is not accepted and for Residency purposes you MUST inscribe you kid in a school."

Advice for Newcomers to Uruguay

Expats in Uruguay were asked what advice they would offer to newcomers. Here are some of the highlights from their insightful responses:

"Bring flip-flops. Bring your favorite condiments, especially if you like spicy foods. Leave heavy coats behind, as winter only lasts about 3 months & spring is usually beautiful. That said, bone up on your fire-tending skills, as most home heating is by wood fire... If you split your own wood, you can buy it cheaper. Make friends with a good firewood vendor. Bring earmuffs for winter, as we do have a lot of wind (the Pamperos). Bring comfy pants with lots of pockets for shells, etc. when you hit the beach. Get the tri-fold maps from an Ancap station. Worth every penny of the $10, they have a map of UY, another of all the MercoSur countries, a map of Montevideo, and city street maps of all of the major cities... PDD is not listed, as we have only one main road through town... ;p Be prepared to be unprepared for the welcome you receive, the wonderful food & wine, the genuinely friendly people. We have found our new home, for sure. Lay out your trips in advance & plan to use the least fuel possible... Gas is about $8/gallon, so we use it well. We bought a 1968 VW Bug for $3500 USD. She's economical, reliable & parts are cheap as dirt. Learn to use propane. It's one of the things they do best here. Exchange of a 33-lb cylinder is only $16. The 2-lb cylinder for the gas stove in the kitchen costs $5. If you plan to immigrate, come down during the fall & stay thru the winter, so you know what you're getting into. You will probably be pleasantly surprised - we were. Now that we're hooked, we're buying property & starting building a home. Be prepared to make friends with the police. They are not at all the threatening thugs one fears in the US," said one expat living in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.

"Learn Spanish before you come! Yes, they say everyone speaks English, but that's not true of the interior (or anyplace away from Montevideo). Learn Spanish! Learn to ride a small motor bike or 4-wheeler. You do not want to own a car here; the streets will eat it. Also, the salt air from the Atlantic. We use the bus to go out of town for major purchases, and use a small scooter & a 4-wheeler for getting around town. DRESS DOWN! Wearing your old sweats & flip-flops works to your advantage here. Especially if you're thinking of living here, you want to dress down. Flashy clothes gets you robbed. Dress down comfy - jeans, t-shirt, camos, work clothes.... Leave the suit in the suitcase. Learn to use a fireplace and/or wood stove competently without smoking up the house. Learn what to look for before you rent a house with a fireplace or wood stove. i.e., don't rent a small house with a huge fireplace! The big fireplace will actually suck more heat out of the house than it leaves in it - where YOU are! Find a house with a fireplace sized appropriately. It will make the difference between an economical, comfy winter and a chilly, expensive one. If renting, you will never find a Uruguayo house that has hot water in the kitchen, so just get over it. They have a tap in the shower and a bucket. Fill bucket with hot from the shower & tote it to the kitchen. Make yourself speak Spanish, even if you're shy or feel embarrassed. Check out DuoLingo.com. Even if you're tripping over your words, the people will appreciate you more for making the effort. Shop around for your internet. Antel (govt phone company) currently offers LTE superfast modem with 30GB downloads for 1,200 pesos (about $60USD) per month. BUT... when you get there to buy one, they're always out of them. We just got a new one after our old contract expired... We pay 750 pesos/mo for 12gb, about $25USD/month. DON'T be afraid to shop on the Brazil side of Chuy, the international free zone town. We bought our wood stove there at factory prices because Brazil's cast iron is better made than UY's. UY produces very little in the way of picante sauces, etc., so we get most of our groceries there as well. Clothes, groceries, shoes, tools, etc., we buy in Brazil for better selection, better prices, better quality," mentioned another expat in Uruguay."

Health Insurance in Uruguay

In Uruguay, there is public healthcare, but Mutualistas are private groups of healthcare institutions spread across the country. These mutualistas has age limits and pre-existing condition restrictions. For that reason, many expats obtain private health insurance. In our article, 5 Important Tips about Healthcare for Expats in Uruguay, we further explore mutualistas, health insurance and the quality of healthcare in Uruguay.

"I don't bother with health insurance. Medical care is so cheap here I don't need it. Can't see paying a monthly fee when I've been "sick" once in 11 years," commented one expat living in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.

"I have type 2 diabetes and have had cancer. No where that I applied would cover me here. At the British Hospital the nurse rejected me within 2 minutes because I was overweight. So I self insure mostly and use the doctors available through the ambulance service I belong to. You need to be signed up with one as there is no 911 ambulance service. My savings on medical care and insurance is about $5,000 a year from what it was," mentioned another expat living in Uruguay.

"Our experience in regard to a healthcare provider and insurance is a positive one. We are content that it covers our whole family at an affordable rate and is accepted by our local hospital. We are thankful locals and friends recommended this route," said an expat in Uruguay.

"We have private healthcare insurance; however we have not used it yet. Our experience has been with alternative (naturopathic) doctors. These types of doctor have been paid out of pocket as the average healthcare insurance does not cover alternative healthcare. The healthcare insurance that we have is accepted by the private hospitals near us. We chose our healthcare provider due to the nature of our living situation; we live on a large farm and part of the farm insurance includes healthcare for our family and any hired help," remarked another expat in Uruguay.

Expats living in Uruguay interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Jul 16, 2018

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