10 Things I’ve Learned While Living In South America

I had never planned to spend the majority of my twenties living in South America. That wasn’t part of my vision back in high school and college.

Honestly, I knew nothing about the region back in those days. I had a Brazillian college professor who continually suggested taking a vacation to Brazil. Other than that – I was clueless.

Then I hopped on a plane. My body wasn’t holding up. I wouldn’t be able to play basketball any longer. So it was time to travel.

I hit up Central America with a plan to travel around for 4-5 months. Then I’d go back home and get another “real” job. That never happened, either.

I know spend the majority of the year living in Colombia. Some say I should go check out Europe or Asia, but there’s something about living in South America that keeps me coming back.

10 Things I’ve Learned While Living In South America

If you’re considering coming down to the land of latinos, salsa, Spanish, and more – here are a few things you should know:

Learning the Language is Vital

Don’t think you can live down here without learning a little language. Spanish or Portuguese is essential to fully enjoy and immerse yourself into South American culture.

You don’t need to be fluent. Hell, I just got to a basic conversational level. But being able to converse even a little will improve your life down here considerably.

If you plan to live in South America, invest a few months into studying Spanish basics for an hour or two a day. Your time down here will be vastly improved if you do. I promise.

This is a great place to start learning Spanish! Click here to learn more. 

People Are People

While the people in South America may not speak your language or look exactly like you do, there still people. You’ll find amazing people in South America, and you’ll find some shitty ones. Just like anywhere in the world.

Once I started speaking a little Spanish, I quickly realized we’re all more alike than we are different. Sure, customs and culture can be different.

But people will be people. Our driving forces are always the same – no matter where we are from or what we do.

It’s Not “That” Dangerous

It’s true. The majority of the “most dangerous cities in the world” are in South America. There’s no doubt about it.

But…

South America is not that dangerous. A few precautions here and there can almost ensure you won’t run into any trouble.

If you stay in safe neighborhoods and avoiding stumbling around shitfaced drunk at night, you can eliminate 99% of any issues you may encounter.

Don’t let the perceived levels of danger deter you from living in South America. Book a flight and come see the region for yourself. Then determine how dangerous you think it is.

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Not All Latinos Are the Same

Colombians are different than Peruvians. Peruvians are different than Argentinians. And of course, Brazilians are different than all other South Americans, as they don’t speak Spanish.

Lumping all Latinos into one category is like saying people from every European country are the same. It’s just not true.

Every Latin country has a unique culture. Often, the only similarities are the language they speak.

There’s even a difference in countries. The people from the coast of Colombia are quite different than the Colombians you’ll meet in Bogota or Medellin.

Once you travel around the region for a bit, you’ll quickly be able to pick up these difference in countries and cultures.

You Might Never Leave

I’m not the only expat to spend significant time living in South America. You’ll find hordes of us down here.

From the Internet hustlers to the European girls studying Salsa dancing and more – there are many foreigners who find leaving South America tough.

The dancing, unique cultures, great weather, low cost of living, and interesting locals offers a unique mixture that many expats just can’t leave.

If you book a plane ride, just be aware – life in the USA or Europe may never be the same afterward.

Don’t Expect Perfection

Now, some people hate living in Latin America. They come down for a short trip and can’t wait to get back to the Western world. A few of my friends are like this. And I can’t blame them.

They came down to Colombia or Peru expecting things to be like they were back home. They expected everything to be perfect.

South America isn’t perfect. A lot of things don’t work like they do in the USA. There’s a solid chance the Internet goes out on occasion. Hot water and air conditioning isn’t a guarantee.

You might drop good money on a luxury apartment that’s suppose to have a pool and gym. Once you arrive, you realize neither the pool nor gym is open.

After the third or fourth day of being told the pool will probably be open tomorrow, you give up.

If every little thing bothers you, then South America may not be the best place for you. There’s no such thing as perfection here.

There’s a Reason Some Cities Are Popular

Many travelers dream of “getting off the beaten path” after they travel around a bit. I’m guilty of this, too.

The problem is certain cities are popular for a reason. There are good reasons every traveler starts off in Medellin when visiting Colombia. The city is amazing.

Medellin offers the best infrastructure in all of Colombia, possible in all of South America. The city is cheap. The weather is unbeatable. Oh, and the girls aren’t ugly. It’s easy to see why foreigners flock there.

If you’re planning to live in South America, don’t discount the cities that everyone goes to. They’re often the best.

You’ll Have to Slow Down

The pace of life in South America isn’t like the Western world. Things are slow. The people enjoy relaxation. Rushing is frowned upon.

In Colombia, they have 2-3 holidays every damn month. On these days, nothing is open. The gym is closed. The malls are closed. It’s hard to even find a place to grab a burger during these holidays.

It’s frustrating when a few Mondays a month you don’t have access to the gym, your favorite restaurants, and more. But you get used to it.

You realize the pace of life is slower here. You learn to relax a bit and not get stressed out at the small stuff.

The gym isn’t open. Who cares? Go on a run and bust out a few pushups. It’s not the end of the world.

The same goes for time. Latinos are not a punctual people. If you’re from South America and reading this, you know I’m right.

Showing up to a party or meet up with friends doesn’t ever happen on time. One or two hours late is common. Well, it’s expected.

Get Off the Internet

It’s tempting to use the Internet too much while traveling. You can find apartments on Airbnb. You can meet sexy locals on Tinder and can order food straight to your apartment with Rappi. Hell, you can even study Spanish through Skype. You can search hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor and Yelp.

It’s pretty easy to become an online addict while you travel around. The Internet makes life easier, especially when you’re in a foreign country that you barely speak the language of.

I urge you to not rely on the Internet too much. The best experiences I’ve had while living in South America come from getting off the Internet and just walking around.

Every single thing you can find online you can find while walking around the new city you’re residing in.

Don’t Live at the Beach

Oh, and don’t think living at the beach will be the paradise you imagine it is. Trust me. I’ve tried it.

Beach cities offer more problems than anywhere else. Sure, you’ll get some great Instagram pictures and shit.

You’ll also find headache after headache. Apartments not working. Vendors continually hassling you while on the beach, walking around, or sitting down for a meal. Rampant sex tourism.

The ocean may be appealing, but the realities of living at the beach never live up to the hype.

Base up in a great city like Lima, Peru or Bogota, Colombia. Then go vacation on the beach.

Click here to learn more!

 

Life in South America

Living in South America is ideal for some. For others, you’ll be ready to book a plane ticket back home within a week.

There’s only one way to find out if you’ll love it down here or not. Book a ticket and come check it out…

Planning on visiting or living in South America? Get a free $40 USD off your first Airbnb rental. Just click here!

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Jake D

Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.

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TradeGrind - May 5, 2017

Hah!

Great list. When I saw the headline on Twitter, I wondered what 10 things you were going with, and all 10 apply to Costa Rica as well. Great list!

I especially really like this sentence:

“If you book a plane ride, just be aware – life in the USA or Europe may never be the same afterward.”

So, so true. After spending 13 years in Latin America, I think the States is way too fast-paced.

Reply
    NomadicJake - May 5, 2017

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    13 years in Latin America is quite some time, man! You’re practically a local now.

    I’m creeping up on three years and life in the USA tends to bother me more and more each trip home.

    After 13 years, there’s no way going back to the states is even an option.

    Reply
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