South America is one of the most exciting places you can move.
It’s exotic. It’s affordable. It’s relatively undiscovered by tourists.
After all, who wouldn’t want to spend their days practicing Spanish with friendly locals, marveling at ancient archaeological sites or hiking through the Andes and Amazon?
So where can one indulge in all these activities?
Stretching across the continent’s Pacific coastline, this nation serves up a multitude of adventures. Pristine beaches, steamy rainforests, snow-capped mountains and mysterious Inca ruins are all par for the course.
With so much on offer, the hardest part is choosing where to live.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered!
Things to know before you move to Peru
Getting a Peruvian visa
Peru grants most travelers a free 180-day tourist visa on arrival. Certain nationalities need to get one sorted through their embassy in advance.
The maximum amount of time a foreigner can spend in Peru on a tourist visa is 183 days per calendar year. For each day you stay over that limit, there’s a fine of one USD. Therefore, tourist visas are great to get a feel for the country, but they aren’t long-term solutions.
Immigrants usually apply for a Carnét de extranjeria (Foreign Resident ID card), which essentially functions as a work permit. A significant amount of paperwork is required, including a work contract with a local company.
Learning Spanish in Peru
To make the most of your time in Peru, you should become as proficient in Spanish as possible.
The Peruvian accent is fairly easy to comprehend, which is excellent for beginners. But beware, there’s a considerable amount of regional slang to wrap your head around.
In general, folks speak quickly on the coast and more slowly in the highlands.
Try FluentU free for 15 days before you go to get a jump start on learning. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, news programs and game shows—and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.
The best part? FluentU is available for offline use! So you can download documents and keep studying on your morning bus ride to work in Peru.
Work opportunities in Peru
Peru is a developing country, so expect wages to be modest. Thankfully, living costs are low, as well. (More on that below!)
The following jobs are popular with foreigners across the nation:
- Tour guides and travel agents, particularly in tourism hubs such as Cusco, Huaraz and Máncora.
- Hostel receptionists and bar staff, often done in exchange for food and accommodation through websites like Workaway.
- English teachers in local schools, language institutes or universities.
- Remote employees in fields such as writing, web design and programming. Search for jobs on freelance sites like Upwork and Fiverr.
The cost of living in Peru
The upside of Peru’s developing economy is the low cost of living. Any money you bring in will stretch a long way.
Most gringos (foreigners) live on anything between 750 USD and 1,500 USD per month, with the upper limit providing considerable luxury. Here are some typical costs in Peru:
- Two or three USD for a simple three-course lunch
- 400 USD per month for a one-bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood
- Three USD for a short taxi ride
- Less than one USD for a city bus ride
- Three USD for a big bottle of beer in a mid-range bar
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Lima: A mega-metropolis
Lima is a hit with the city-slicking bohemian crowd.
With 10 million inhabitants and counting, Peru’s mega-metropolis capital is among the most vibrant cities in South America. And with such a large local populace comes a myriad of entertainment options, from bopping nightlife to a thriving cultural scene.
Above all else, however, Lima is known for its cuisine. Two of the world’s top 10 restaurants are nestled among its upmarket barrios (neighborhoods), while tons of cheap and delicious seafood eateries satisfy the hungry masses.
Affluent locals and expats alike prefer to base themselves in the glamorous Miraflores district, a ritzy seaside neighborhood home to Peru’s finest restaurants and boutiques.
Nearby Barranco is a haven for hipsters while San Isidro boasts an upmarket suburban vibe just a short walk from the central business disctrict.
Keep in mind—the city may lie along the coast, but ever-present pollution and a dense layer of winter fog mean this is no beach destination. Locals venture to nearby spots such as Punta Hermosa during the summer instead.
Furthermore, pollution is rife, traffic is horrendous and certain areas are sketchy at night.
Arequipa: A colonial delight
Come to Arequipa if you love colonial architecture and balmy weather.
Dubbed the White City, the stunning historic center of Arequipa was constructed almost entirely out of sillar, a blindingly white volcanic rock sourced from the nearby El Misti volcano. These whitewashed streets lined with Spanish-era buildings have led many to proclaim Arequipa the most attractive city in Peru.
Aesthetics aside, Arequipa is blessed with a warm year-round climate. Its smaller size of some 750,000 makes it decidedly more laid-back than Lima. In fact, the historic center—where most expats live—is entirely navigable on foot.
Within this cobblestoned central district are ample first-rate restaurants, bars and cafes. Meanwhile, natural wonders such as the renowned Colca Canyon are an easy bus ride away.
Cusco: The Inca stronghold
If you’ve already started researching Peru, you’ve probably heard of Cusco, the former headquarters of both the mighty Inca and Spanish New World empires. The city welcomes a throng of tourists each day who come to visit the spectacular Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.
With such an enormous influx of new arrivals, Cusco’s tourism business continues to boom. As a result, work opportunities abound for expats in the travel industry.
It’s a remarkably attractive town as well, with grand colonial constructions second only to Arequipa. Nearby, the lush Sacred Valley is full of Inca ruins and picturesque vistas that make for the perfect weekend escape.
A disadvantage is that the city is unmistakably touristy, which isn’t ideal for gringos looking to fully immerse themselves in the culture.
Altitude can also be an issue. The 350,000 inhabitants of the 11,150 foot (3,399 meter) city suffer through a consistently chilly climate.
Huaraz: An outdoor lover’s paradise
Mountain lovers should look no farther than Huaraz, a ramshackle town perched high in the Cordillera Blanca (White Mountain Range). As Peru’s trekking Mecca, this stunning snow-capped region is packed full of mountain peaks and hiking trails to explore.
A small contingent of die-hard alpine enthusiasts now call Huaraz home, typically working in the town’s burgeoning adventure tourism industry.
On the downside, a devastating 1970 earthquake destroyed much of the city’s colonial architecture. Now a haphazard array of unattractive exposed brick houses are in its place.
It’s also rather cold and offers little appeal outside the hiking and mountaineering scene.
Máncora: Peru’s most pristine sand
Beach bums rejoice, for not all the country’s beaches are covered by a thick layer of seasonal fog. Straddling the border with Ecuador, the northern resort town of Máncora is famous for receiving an abundance of sunshine all year!
In addition to the cheerful climate, Máncora’s shoreline is considerably more charming than those of the south. A series of white, sandy beaches fringed with palm trees have transformed this formerly quaint fishing village into Peru’s premier beach destination.
Work opportunities are limited outside the tourist industry, although sun-loving digital nomads do tend to stick around longer than intended.
Unfortunately, cost of living is high compared to elsewhere in Peru. Another drawback is the hordes of holidaymakers who overrun the town during the peak summer vacation period.
None of the above appeal? The following lesser-known locales may be more to your liking:
- Ayacucho. A stunning colonial city which is refreshingly off the beaten track.
- The Northern Highlands. A remote region full of Andean cities and high altitude lakes.
- Iquitos. A sweltering jungle city that serves as Peru’s gateway to the Amazon.
Regardless of where you decide to settle, there are three things you can count on in Peru: Amazing views, delicious cuisine and friendly locals.
So get out there and take advantage of everything the land of the Incas has to offer.
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
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