¡Vámonos! Pack Your Bags for Any of These Best Places to Live in South America
Walking through the sun-dappled campus, sipping fresh mango juice and munching on an empanada (meat pasty), I thought to myself, “Yep. Moving to Colombia is the best decision I’ve ever made.”
I fall in love a little more every time I explore a new corner of South America, and I come away from each trip knowing it won’t be my last.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxed place to retire, a buzzing city to work or a stunning spot by the beach, South America has it all.
The continent’s diversity means there are hundreds of great options for setting up a new life at a much smaller price tag than the United States or Europe!
- What to consider about living in South America
- 7 of the Best Places to Live in South America
- 1. Culture lovers: Medellín, Colombia
- 2. Beach buffs: Florianópolis, Brazil
- 3. Retirees: Cuenca, Ecuador
- 4. English teachers: Santiago, Chile
- 5. Professionals: Buenos Aires, Argentina
- 6. Active travelers: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- 7. Students: Córdoba, Argentina
What to consider about living in South America
Before you make the decision to pack up and move to South America, there are a few things you should think about.
How much will the monthly living costs be?
Does the area have good schools and medical care?
What about work opportunities?
Also, what kind of visa or work permit will you need?
And what kind of weather are you after? The climate can vary drastically from one town to the next. The same goes for geography, as South America has everything from rugged mountains to beautiful beaches.
Language is an important consideration when moving to South America. There are plenty of places where you can easily get by with English, but you should consider learning some Spanish before you go to make life easier. Especially if you want to venture outside of the touristy spots.
Or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn Portuguese. Moving to Brazil could actually be the perfect opportunity to learn and improve your Portuguese skills.
But there are plenty of language courses available online that offer both languages if you haven’t narrowed it down yet. For example, authentic media clips from both Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking nations are available on the FluentU language immersion program.
7 of the Best Places to Live in South America
So let’s get down to it.
The following seven South American cities are all amazing locations for any traveler. However, some are better suited to certain types of travelers than others.
Let the adventure begin!
1. Culture lovers: Medellín, Colombia
Why move to Medellín?
Known as la ciudad de eterna primavera (the city of eternal springtime), the year-round warm, sunny climate is only one of the amazing things this colorful city has to offer.
Although the media still often tarnishes Colombia with a reputation of violence, in reality, Medellín is now one of South America’s most livable cities.
With nightlife, plenty of shopping opportunities and a modern metro system, you won’t lack any facilities in this city. There are also green spaces and quirky squares galore!
Medellín is a creative and cultural hub, known for its concerts, art exhibitions, theater and street art.
What you should know before moving to Medellín
You’ll need a work visa if you plan on working in Medellín.
Colombia’s main language is Spanish. Colombians are often said to have the clearest accents on the continent, so this is the perfect place to work on your language skills!
Living costs are relatively low. Many foreigners tend to congregate in the metropolitan area of El Poblado. But if you venture out of this neighborhood, expenses drop even lower.
2. Beach buffs: Florianópolis, Brazil
Why move to Florianópolis?
With over 40 beaches to choose from, this idyllic beach island is ideal for travelers who love sun, sand and surfing.
Florianópolis, also known as Floripa, is one of the wealthiest and safest areas of Brazil. Combine this with its subtropical climate, active outdoor lifestyle and great nightlife, and it’s no wonder it’s consistently heralded as having one of the highest qualities of life in Brazil.
What you should know before moving to Florianópolis
Brazil is the only South American country where you’re better off learning Portuguese than Spanish. But keep in mind that the accent differs greatly to that of Portugal.
The living costs are reasonable for South America. Although not as cheap as some of the other cities on this list, your trade-off is for quality of life and a subtropical climate.
You are required to have a work visa to work in Brazil.
3. Retirees: Cuenca, Ecuador
Why move to Cuenca?
You can’t deny the charm and character of the colonial town of Cuenca, which sits among the lush, green countryside of Southern Ecuador.
With its relaxed atmosphere and mild climate, it’s no wonder the town has attracted a stream of foreign residents over the years, particularly retirees.
The people of Cuenca are very welcoming to foreign residents. American expats don’t even need to exchange their currency. That’s right, Ecuador actually uses the United States dollar!
The town contains a variety of people, from students, to artists, to families. The community is safe, making it comfortable for all types of travelers. It has all the facilities, restaurants and outdoor spaces of a major city, without the price tag.
What you should know before moving to Cuenca
If you’re looking to retire to Cuenca, you’ll need to obtain a pensioner visa.
Ecuadorians speak Spanish. However, this city has a large English-speaking community. It’s easier to get by with only English in Cuenca than most cities on this list. This is convenient for retirees because they may not want to start learning a new language late in life.
Living costs are relatively low in Cuenca, so your money can go further than you might expect.
4. English teachers: Santiago, Chile
Why move to Santiago?
The city of Santiago is located just an hour and half away from beaches, mountains and vineyards. It’s ideally situated for those who want to make the most of Chile’s diverse geography without sacrificing the amenities of a city.
English speakers can find extensive opportunities for language teaching in the city, even for those with no prior teaching experience.
Although sometimes overlooked as anything other than a tourist hub, the city has numerous characterful pockets to explore as a resident.
Hang out in trendy restaurants in Barrio Providencia and European style cafes in Barrio Italia. Wander through artsy, graffitied streets in Barrio Bellavista.
What you should know before moving to Santiago
Teaching English in Chile usually requires you to arrange a work permit. Even though you don’t necessarily need to speak Spanish to teach English, knowing the language is helpful if you want to work in any other field.
The cost of living is reasonable, and the living standards in Santiago are decent.
5. Professionals: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Why move to Buenos Aires?
Three words describe Buenos Aires: Big, busy, loud. This city seems to split people into either a love or hate divide.
But if you love bustling city life, late steak dinners and dancing the night away, you might just fall in love with the capital of this exciting country.
There are European undercurrents that run through the city’s architecture and energy, giving it the nickname ‘The Paris of the South.”
Buenos Aires has one of South America’s most educated populations. There are more work opportunities here than in many other cities in South America, so it’s a good place for professionals to continue growing in their careers.
What you should know before moving to Buenos Aires
Before you start working, you need to arrange a work permit.
Buenos Aires isn’t the cheapest city in South America. Granted, it’s still much cheaper than living in most major cities on other continents!
Argentinians speak in a heavy accent that can be difficult for foreigners to understand. It won’t be like what you heard your high school Spanish teacher speak!
Don’t worry, though, it just takes a little time to adjust to the dialect.
6. Active travelers: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Why move to Rio de Janeiro?
Beaches run all the way down the edge of the sprawling city of Rio de Janeiro. It won’t be long before you find yourself caught up in the super active lifestyle of the cariocas (people of Rio de Janeiro).
You won’t get far before spotting friends playing soccer, runners, surfers and even hikers in the overlooking mountains.
With a growing economy, Rio de Janeiro can be a good place to find work opportunities. The scale of the city means you won’t be short of things to keep you entertained.
Many foreign residents live around the vibrant Ipanema and Copacabana areas. But for cheaper options, try the Flamengo and Leblon districts.
The economic disparity between the more affluent areas and the favelas (slums) can be a bit of a culture shock. However, the city has a unique energy that explodes each year during Carnival.
What you should know before moving to Rio de Janeiro
To work in Rio, you’ll need a work visa.
As it’s Brazil, remember Portuguese is the national language.
The living costs of the city are also some of the highest in South America, but comparable to some other major European or North American cities.
7. Students: Córdoba, Argentina
Why move to Córdoba?
The huge student population and friendly vibe of Córdoba make it the perfect place to study abroad. La Universidad de Córdoba (The University of Córdoba), one of South America’s oldest and most prestigious universities, sits among the city’s beautiful colonial architecture.
Although the city still gets a steady stream of English-speaking visitors, it’s still relatively off the map compared to Buenos Aires. This means it’s a great place to integrate with locals. Many find forming friendships with natives easier here than in the capital.
The city also has a vibrant nightlife, particularly Barrio Güemes, an old-turned-trendy region, with hipster bars and a buzzing atmosphere. Get ready to drink a lot of fernet (herb liquor) with your new friends.
What you should know before moving to Córdoba
You’ll need to apply for a student visa if you’re planning on an exchange program in the city.
Locals speak Spanish here, and again, it may take a little time to get used to the accent.
Living costs are relatively low, so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting by on that student budget.
Do you want to spend your time befriending locals or trekking by yourself in gorgeous mountains?
Will you be an English teacher in Santiago or a student in Córdoba?
Which of these South American cities will be your new home?
Hanna Greeman is a language lover and global traveler. After graduating in Spanish and Italian from the University of Bristol, she has lived in Colombia, Peru, Italy, Australia and Thailand, and traveled across four continents. When not working as a freelance writer, catch her salsa dancing, reading or seeing live music.