Chile’s capital is a lively, contemporary city with a vibrant Latin feel. A mix of colonial European architecture and modern skyscrapers make Santiago a very unique and electrifying place for people of any age to live. With its pulsating night life, flourishing cultural and arts scene, and unmistakable history, Santiago is truly the nucleus of the country. If you want to live in a thriving and exquisite city surrounded by breathtaking beauty such as the Andes mountain range, volunteering in Santiago is for you.
The most popular type of volunteer program in Chile is English education. Native English speakers are very much in demand in Santiago and Chileans are always looking for ways to learn English. Teaching English programs do not require any experience in teaching, so don’t be afraid to apply if you don’t have any sort of teaching background.
Even though Santiago is a very modern and up-and-coming city, there are still many parts of it that are impoverished and lacking in necessary materials. Many volunteer programs have students repairing homes, working in food shelters, and even babysitting so that parents can get a better education.
Along with community development comes youth development, which is just as much in demand. There are many ways that volunteers can help beyond teaching English, and those include volunteering in orphanages and day care centers, and providing support that is not always available. There are also many different types of mentoring programs, and previous experience is not usually required.
Planning Your Trip
Know Before You Go: Speaking Spanish is not required for most volunteer programs, but a basic knowledge can be useful for things such as trips to the grocery store or a restaurant, or if you want to meet locals. Chileans are typically very friendly and welcoming, and can give you good recommendations for places to visit. Utilize the bus system while in Santiago, as there are buses that travel all over South America for a reasonable price. You can get to Vina del Mar or Valparaiso (both about 2 hours outside of Santiago) for under $20 USD, or over to Argentina for between $20-30 USD.
How to Save Money While Volunteering: The best way to save money is to use a program that arranges for a host family that includes housing and meals. Living with a host family is much cheaper than finding your own housing, and you will save money on things such as food and utilities. There are also many ways to make some extra money while living in Santiago. Activities such as babysitting, teaching English (or another skill), or working at a market are great ways to make some spending money.
How to Save Money While Volunteering: By being immersed in a Spanish-speaking culture, not only will you perfect your language skills, but you will learn more than you thought possible. Each volunteer program has its own set of skills that you will gain, which will build character, awareness, and knowledge more than any other abroad opportunity.
Visas for Volunteers in Santiago: A visa is not required to enter Chile, or if you plan on staying for less than 90 days. However, visitors arriving via airplane must pay a $140 USD reciprocity fee before clearing customs, which is required for every visitor in Chile no matter the length of time you plan on staying. This fee is valid until your passport expires, so you don’t have to worry about paying it every time you enter Chile. If you wish to stay in Santiago longer than 90 days, you must apply for a temporary resident visa, which will allow you to obtain a Chilean identification card. The majority of programs will assist volunteers with the visa process.
Health & Safety in Santiago
Health: In Santiago, it is safe to drink the water and eat the fresh produce. Chile is a very healthy country with no vaccinations required before entering, but many doctors will recommend getting the yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations just in case. Free healthcare is available at public hospitals, but they are usually not as up to date as the private hospitals, which cost about $50 USD to visit. Private hospitals and clinics provide extremely advanced healthcare and the doctors usually speak English.
Safety: Santiago is one of the safest cities in Latin America, but petty theft is common. Women’s purses are typically the target in public areas, but be careful not to flaunt anything expensive (such as a camera or jewelry), as they could make you a target. You should also avoid taking unnecessary risks such as walking alone at night or being in an unfamiliar area. Chile is situated in one of the world’s most unstable geographical areas, so tremors and minor earthquakes are common. However, new buildings have been constructed with reinforced steel and are very secure. Be sure you can locate a secure area to go to in case of a tremor or earthquake and you know what to do in these types of situations. Also, even though Chile is a politically stable country, there are often demonstrations and marches in Santiago. It is wise to avoid these, as they have the potential to quickly turn violent.
Contributed by Rebecca Murphy