Today I’m going to help you decide whether or not you should live in Latin America.
And we’ll be taking a slightly different approach to this question than you may expect.
Because, here’s the thing: you all already know the things that make Latin America a good choice: sunny weather, laidback lifestyle, lower cost of living, beautiful beaches, etc.
All those things are pretty well promoted on websites like International Living.
However, what you might not know are some of the minor and-not-so-minor frustrations that you’ll encounter after actually living down here in LATAM for a decent period of time.
That only comes with experience.
But, not to worry! I’m going to share those things with you today.
We won’t be all negative, though. I’ll be sure to cover some of the positive aspects of life down here.
Some of pros and cons may be obvious to you, others may not be.
Let’s get the ball rolling.
Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Live in Latin America
It’s Not Safe
Latin America is not a safe part of the world. You are much, much more likely to be a victim of random crime here than you would be in Canada, Australia, the USA or Europe.
And, before anyone assaults the comment section with “But Vance! St. Louis and Chicago have higher murder rates than many Latin American cities!” you must understand a few things.
First, reported crime statistics in Latin America are not accurate (they are much higher, since most people don’t bother to report crimes to the police because they know it’s futile).
Second, random crimes are much more common here. Wrong place at the wrong time sort of thing. Like, you’re walking down the street or out of the metro and some guys rob you.
In fact, last week the owner of the shop below my apartment building here in Mexico City told me how a fellow Canadian was robbed a few blocks from here.
Third, the lack of security goes beyond petty street crime.
For instance, did you know that the doormen of apartment buildings are often responsible for aiding home invasions? Since they know who lives in the building and his/her schedule, doormen can help robbers break into someone’s home and take their valuables while they’re at work. For this reason, doormen are regularly rotated to different apartment buildings before they can get a solid idea of people’s comings and goings.
Bottom line: most locals I’ve met have either been robbed or know someone who has.
I don’t know about you, but where I’m from, I don’t know too many folks who’ve been robbed.
And while it’s true that many small and mid-sized cities in Latin America are safer than large metropolises, you still can’t expect the same safety and security that you’d get in a mid-sized American/Canadian/German/Australian city.
Things just don’t work right down here.
For instance, in my neighbourhood, the power goes out once a month or so.
No one really knows why.
Just this month, they cut the water supply to almost all of Mexico City for 5 days to upgrade the pipes.
The upgrade was unsuccessful…
When I lived in Lima, floods in the country resulted in me not having water for a week. And certain types of produce couldn’t reach the capital. For example, I couldn’t get limes for two weeks (no big deal, but you get the point).
Despite having dealt with fairly heavy rainfall for, well, forever, Bogota still hasn’t figured out a decent drainage system for their roads.
Just last month in fact, a video emerged of Bogota residents driving the streets through about 3 feet of water!
So, there’s all that.
And there’s also the mad bureaucracy it takes to get things done. If you need to do anything that requires paperwork in Latin America, expect it to take a ridiculous amount of time to be processed, and expect to have to obtain seemingly irrelevant documents, and visit a handful of different offices.
It’s Corrupt As Hell
Ever think you’d have to bribe someone to get out of a difficult situation?
Neither did I.
Until I came to Latin America, that is.
Here in Mexico, I’ve had to pay cops 3 times to avoid an ugly situation (once was my fault…well, my friend’s, but the other two times were just straight-up robbery).
Chances are, if you choose to live in Latin America, you will have to bribe someone at some point.
Now, some countries are worse than others for this. Mexico is very bad. But while living in Peru, I never had such problems.
It gets even worse for people trying to do legal things, like get a divorce or get their residency. If you search expat Facebook groups, you’ll encounter countless examples of lawyers cheating clients; disappearing out of thin air after being paid, or purposely delaying processes to milk their clients for more money.
And these are supposed professionals.
That, along with getting cheated by waiters, taxi drivers or even fruit vendors, well, it can wear you down.
It’s Difficult (Impossible?) To Assimilate
Of course, this issue isn’t limited to Latin America. If you move anywhere with a different culture and language, assimilating will be tough.
However, the ability to feel part of a culture is an underrated aspect of mental health, I find.
Even though I’ve been living and traveling in Latin America for the better part of 7 years now, I’m still very aware of the fact that I’m not integrated and will never be able to completely integrate. Although I speak the language, I’m constantly reminded of the different views, mindsets and priorities of the people here.
You’ll also find that locals have subtle ways of reminding you that you’re not from their country.
This whole not-fitting-in thing is abstract, and it may not bother you too much, but you’ll definitely notice, and at times you will feel like a complete outsider.
But! Here’s Why You Should Live In Latin America
Lower Cost Of Living
This is one of the main reasons people choose to pack up their life and head down south.
It’s so damn cheap!
You can have more or less the same living comforts here in Latin America as you could in the United States for around 60% of the cost. In some cases, even less (in some cases only 20-30%, if you move to Brazil, Uruguay or Chile).
The benefit of such a lower cost of living really can’t be overstated. A bit of extra money in your pocket can also help reduce some of the aforementioned cons about living in Latin America (the money to live in a safer neighbourhood, hiring people for daily tasks, thereby freeing up your time, etc).
The ability to enjoy a much lower cost of living and still maintain a high quality of life is why many retirees find themselves happier and healthier living down south.
A Stronger Focus On Community
People in Latin America deeply care about friends and family. Frequent family get togethers, meals and fiestas. The bond between extended family is much stronger here in general than it is in my home country of Canada.
There’s just a neighbourly vibe in general here in Latin America. If you live here, you’ll find yourself chatting with the local bodega owner, bakery attendant and butcher.
Now, whether you want to tap into this community vibe is up to you. Many foreigners in Latin America tend to restrict their community to fellow foreigners. That’s OK, too. Whatever makes you most comfortable. But I’d argue that you’ll have a much richer experience if you try to bond with some locals.
Remember how I said how it’s difficult to assimilate here?
Well, making an attempt to plug yourself into a warm and welcoming community will make it so you don’t feel as much as a stranger in a strange land.
Here in Latin America, you have plenty of climates to choose from.
Blistering heat, “eternal spring”, brisk, high-altitude climates (even snow! If you want…), rain, although I’m not sure why you’d want rain…humid, temperate.
Depending on where you’re from, this may not seem like too much of a draw. But for me, coming from Canada, it’s wonderful. Whatever climate suits you, you’ll be able to find it here.
You may think this is a somewhat “throwaway” pro of living in Latin America, but it’s not. I was shocked by how much my well-being and mental health improved simply by living in a climate that I preferred.
A “Healthier” Lifestyle
I put “healthier” in quotations here, because the choice is yours.
There’s no doubt that the average person in Latin America doesn’t eat particularly “healthy”. Fried foods, sugar and vegetable oil are staples in most Latin American countries.
That said, it is very easy and very cheap to eat well in Latin America. GMO foods are much less of a thing than they are in Canada or the USA (you’ll be shocked how quickly meat goes bad here compared to the USA, simply because less preservatives are used). The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is much more plentiful south of the border as well.
There are even plenty of “gluten free” and “certified organic” choices down here, if that’s your thing. But for that, expect to pay the same price or more as you would in your country.
While I’d suggest staying away from most street food if you’re health conscious, with its bounty of fruits and vegetables and locally sourced eggs and meat, it is very easy to eat clean down here.
Not to mention the fact that if you’re in a smaller Latin American city, life mores slower. Things are less stressful. Relaxing here isn’t a sin. If you were caught up in the rat-race back home, you’ll find a much slower pace of life down here.
The One Big Reason I Wouldn’t Build My Life Here
When I was younger, I always figured I’d eventually live permanently in a Latin American country.
However, last year, I seriously started to consider whether or not that was a good idea.
One thing made me reconsider.
That thing was doing business in Lima, Peru.
You see, prior to trying to trying to earn local currency in a Latin American country, I was more or less blind to various inefficiencies and difficulties of living in Latin America.
I was living in, for lack of a better term, a bubble.
I’d rent Airbnb, or stay in hotels or hostels. Furnished, utilities were taken care of etc. I worked exclusively online, and was paid in foreign currency.
In other words, I avoided most of the inconveniences that locals have to deal with.
But, in an attempt to get set up properly in Lima, I had to go about finding a trustworthy electrician and other various handymen, getting a decent internet connection, (trying) to deal with banks and the postal service, getting a POS system, as well as various fabric salesmen, seamstresses — anyone who sold anything related to the clothing business I was involved with.
And let me tell you: it was a goddamned headache!
Way more time and energy than it would have been to do in Canada.
…and I even had my partner to help me out! (doing the bulk of it, to be honest).
In short, the one main reason I wouldn’t build my life down here is if I had to or wanted to find a way to earn money in these countries. That fact that things don’t work quite right down here when you're on vacation is one thing, but it’s quite another if you’re trying to build your livelihood.
So, if you find that your investment income, social security, passive income etc, isn’t quite enough to keep your head above water, and you’re thinking about starting any kind of business in Latin America, keep this in mind.
Inefficiencies, corruption and general incompetence may be enough to bury you alive.
In my opinion, the best chance you have at relocating to Latin America is if you meet the following qualities.
You earn an income from abroad (i.e freelancing/investments/social security
You’re willing to learn Spanish (or, Portuguese, in the case of Brazil)
You have at least a cursory interest in the country/city you plan to relocate to
You’re patient, and low in neuroticism
As for money, you should have at least $2,000.00 USD a month coming in to live anywhere in Latin America.
Although many folks do, I personally wouldn’t suggest trying to manage on less.
As I mentioned, the good thing about Latin America is that — if you have money — some of the pros of living here allow you to more or less negate the cons. Things like taking Ubers everywhere, getting your groceries delivered, having a cleaning person, etc.
Most people would suggest trying not to live in a bubble in Latin America.
I disagree with that somewhat.
You’re going to want to position yourself in a bit of a bubble.
Don’t skimp on safety measures and if you can afford to free up time by hiring people to do various tasks, do it!
And if you want to start a business in Latin America, make sure you have enough other income and/or savings to safely keep your head above water.
It’s foolhardy to forgo basic comforts in the spirit of “living like a local”.
Don’t buy into this romantic notion.
The point of relocating to Latin America is to create less stress for yourself, not more.
Like anything in life, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons.
Should you live in Latin America?
Only you can answer that question.
There are certain personality traits that don’t do well here.
If you need things done fast and efficiency, you’ll find life down here maddening.
If you’re not open to learning a different language, you’ll find things frustrating.
Likewise, if you want to move somewhere to improve your economic prospects, Latin America may not be the best place to do so.
However, if you’re looking for a change of pace, vibrant cultures and (mostly) beautiful weather, Latin America is a good choice.
Heck, even if you’re simply looking to improve your dating prospects, this is the place to be!
Remember, there is no right or wrong reason to move to a different part of the world. We all have different things that drive us.
But it’s not a flippant choice. Uprooting your life is a big deal. Not something to be taken lightly.
I hope this post has helped illuminate some of the good, the bad and the ugly of living in Latin America.
If you’re still not sure this life is for you, and have some more specific questions. . .
I hope to see you down here soon.
All the best.
Until next time,