Image courtesy of Osmar Valdebenito via Wikimedia
The Metropolitan Region of Santiago is comprised of 52 “comunas” (neighbourhoods). Long story short, Isaac and I chose to live in Santiago — located in the centre of the map in bright red — as it is close in proximity to our host university. As confusing as this may seem, our address is indeed Santiago, Santiago. Hah. Do note that the neighbourhood in which we live is in the centre of the city, which will be important to consider when I talk about cost a little later.
With a desired location in mind, we set out to find our home for the next 10 months. After replying to several ads on MercadoLibre (Chile’s version of Kijiji) and receiving a couple of sketchy responses, we decided that we needed a different approach. It’s one thing to buy a couch or a coffee table through one of those sites — and I’m sure it’s safe — but, brokering a deal while being over 8,500km away from the other side of the table seemed like too big a gamble to make. We found peace of mind through HomeUrbano, a Chilean housing agency that guarantees that your apartment is actually an apartment (in good condition) and that your lessor is actually a lessor, not a scam artist. There is a fee for this service, but it’s worth it in my opinion. Isaac and I were feeling pretty crafty for stumbling upon this little gem of a website. We found a listing that we liked, sent out an email, and voila — South America, here we come!
We had it all figured out; we’d land in Santiago on February 11th around noon, hop on an airport shuttle and make quick for our apartment building, where our landlord would be waiting for us. This part worked out well— our landlord even had some cold beer in the fridge awaiting our arrival. Warning: cultural differences ahead. However, there was confusion when we requested an inspection of the apartment, which is considered common practice when taking possession of a rental in Canada (the housing agency also instructed us to do this). In lieu of a damage inspection, our landlord’s wife began to show us every item in the apartment (“this is a pot, you use it to cook on the stove”, etc.) — completely in Spanish. While Isaac was busy learning about how well equipped our kitchen is, I mentioned to our landlord that we hadn’t signed the lease yet. “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll come by next week and you can sign it.” I’d just like to put it out there that it is now April 21st and we still have not signed a lease! This blows my mind. Furthermore, when I asked him how he would like us to pay the rent each month (i.e. cash, cheque, direct deposit, non-sequential $100 bills, etc) he replied, “on time.” We still haven’t established a process for this and spend several days at the end of each month discussing how we are going to pay.
The first two weeks in the apartment went by without a hitch. By the 16th day, Isaac started to wake up with bites all over his body. Yep, that’s right — we had a bed bug infestation. Luckily my room was spared from this atrocity, although it still wasn’t fun living with the fear that a wayward bug might find its way into my bed. On top of the bed bugs, we began to notice the presence of cockroaches in our kitchen…yay us. After fruitless attempts to contact our landlord several times over two weeks, we managed to register ourselves with a fumigation company. Crisis (not really) averted. When we finally did get in contact with our landlord, he joked that it seemed we had a “penqueña problema” (little problem). Yeah, tell that to Isaac who had to sleep on a loveseat for two weeks. Rent also came due while our landlord was AWOL — he didn’t seem to care. We ended up paying it several days late, no questions asked.
After much stress, frustration, and quiet self-thought, I have learned to just go with the flow; that seems to be the status quo here.
I should note that everything is fine now, but I also urge you to use our experiences as an example of what may happen while on exchange — it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. The most important thing is that you keep an open mind, laugh it off, and remember that it could always be worse.