This week I return to a topic I find ceaselessly interesting – the cost of living in Chile. Some things are (much) cheaper than in the U.S. Other things are surprisingly about the same price, or even more expensive. Considering that the average monthly salary in Chile ranges from $870 – $1,160 per month (depending on the website), I find it shocking that anything can be more expensive here.
To provide somewhat of overview of clothing costs in Chile, I’ve broken this blog into three parts. The first introduces currency conversion between the dollar and the Chilean peso (and how I deal with this daily). The second part considers clothes, shoes, purses; the last part considers outdoor gear (think Colombia, Merrell, North Face). There is definitely a market here, though I’m not sure if it’s strictly for the tourists or for Chileans as well. I know that I have seen the individual stores in every mall I’ve visited in Chile (from Santiago to Valdivia), along with each company’s clothes in the department stores. So I feel compelled to consider this separately.
***Quick disclaimer – these are prices I have found, and my experience (with a few Chileans’ validation). Other gringos and/or Chileans may disagree with my thoughts below, and they are welcome to comment! I’d like to hear other’s perspectives on what they find expensive (or cheap) here in Chile. So let’s begin.
Last February, I went on a therapeutic (post-tough language day) “shopping spree”. Remember all those dresses I bought? (and which I love so much – for a quick reflection see here) Each one cost me anywhere between USD$30 – $48. Would I have paid that in the US? Maybe, but I would have thought about it first. I didn’t do the currency calculations at the time. I just assumed everything was cheaper in Chile, and bought whatever I wanted. Hahaha – the joke was on me. 😉
Consider this – the conversion rate from peso to dollar has ranged approximately between 600-650 pesos to US$1 since I have been here. So, I have developed the habit of keeping the 6 times table in my head. If something costs 1,800 pesos, it’s about $3. If something costs 4,800 pesos, it’s more or less $8. (this is how I keep myself from buying ice cream – as the kinds that draw my attention are about 4,800 pesos) If something costs 12,000 pesos, it’s more or less $20. Beyond that, my mind actually doesn’t like thinking about it. I don’t actually want to know that 24,000 pesos equates to (more or less) $40. But these are very helpful conversions as I go shop.
The pictures below reflect the prices I found in the local mall last Saturday afternoon, just wandering around taking pictures as I went. The prices may not be shocking based on our experience of US prices, but then remember the average monthly salary here. I wonder how the malls are full of people. Chileans have confirmed my thoughts – clothes are generally very expensive in Chile, especially compared to the US. A few Chileans have talked about shopping sprees they enjoyed in the US, as they were able to find clothes cheaper there than in Chile. And many of the stores are the same – Express, Mango, Zara and H&M all exist in shopping malls here. There are just as many stores you do not find in North America or Europe, but overall the variety, quality and availability of clothing is what one would expect to find in any American shopping mall.
$95 – black jacket
$20 – women’s top (on sale – and not the greatest quality; I’d probably pay $10 for the equivalent top in the US)
$25 to $100 – women’s jeans (wide range of quality)
$25 to $64 – women’s shoes
$40 to $64 – women’s purses
$23 to $31 – backpacks
Finding affordable jeans has been just as difficult here as in the US. I looked long and hard to find the ones I have, and which cost about $25. If I just walked into a store looking for jeans, the price hovered between $75-$100. I was shocked – and walked right back out again. I had to go to the “cheap” store to find jeans I could afford.
When it comes to outdoor clothing, all the big names exist in Chile – North Face, Merrell, Jack Wolfskin, Colombia, Patagonia, even a few I don’t recognize (Weinbrenner, anyone?). This made sense to me in Santiago – for tourists who forgot something en route to Patagonia and needed to pick a few things up. I was surprised to find all the same stores here in Viña del Mar, and again in Valdivia. Were these really just for tourists? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not. In Valdivia (whose climate I feel akin to Seattle or Vancouver), nearly every person I saw was wearing a pair of heavy duty, waterproof-hiking shoes.
Expect to pay premium prices on outdoor items. While I did find hiking shoes in a department store for $79, most prices were higher. Hiking shoes in any of the name brand stores cost over $100, often between $150-200. The items you see below consist of a basic North Face sweatshirt ($71); a heavier fleece-type sweatshirt ($135) and a basic waterproof jacket ($269) in one of the department stores. Basic wicking pants cost around $100; waterproof pants cost more like $150. How I miss the sales at REI!! I don’t buy outdoor gear here. So keep that in mind should you wish to venture to Chile!
Overall, I stay away from the mall. It’s far too tempting to shop, and the prices are generally too high. To find items that I consider affordable, I have to really search and usually find myself in the “cheap” stores. This experience has also made me more conscious of my overall monetary choices. While my personal cost of living in Chile is very low compared to the US, it depends largely on the lifestyle I choose to lead.
In future installments, I’ll discuss apartments, healthcare and owning a car. I hope you enjoyed this, and if there is a topic you’d like to see, please let me know!