Moving to South America – 5 Mistakes People Make & How to Avoid Them

moving to south america - 5 mistakes people make

Moving to South America – Things to Bear in Mind

For those of you interested in moving to South America, it’s worth bearing a few things in mind before making the big leap to make sure that you hit the ground running on arrival. After living in South America for 4 years in 4 different countries, there are certain mistakes that I’ve seen foreigners make over and over again (including myself in some cases), which prevent them from truly making the most out of their experience here or in the worst case, forcing them to give up the dream and go back home. Luckily, all of this can be avoided. Continue reading to see the 5 most common mistakes that foreigners make when first moving to Latin America

1.Wrong Financial Mindset

When it comes to moving to south america or anywhere else abroad for that matter, having the right mindset towards finance is crucial.

Us foreigners can often be too relaxed when it comes to money matters, and I’ve seen the following situation play out a few times:

You come to South America with some savings and with the expectation that things will just fall into place when you get there. Carried away by the excitement of being in a new exotic environment and beghasted with the lower prices, you make the most out of all opportunities to socialize, splash out on food, and try out as many new activities as possible. This near “Holiday Mindset” may be great fun for the first month or two, but if you’re not careful, you may find yourself penniless and jobless after the first few months, limiting your options and in the worst case scenario, causing you to have to ditch the dream of moving to South America.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the hardcore savers, who are determined to keep their bank balance topped up at the expense of actually going out and exploring, having fun and immersing themselves in the culture.

Unsurprisingly, the key to this is balance – exploring as much as possible whilst having a sense of urgency when it comes to finding ways to support yourself financially once your savings run out.  

When it comes to actual figures, from my experience it’s worth having enough savings to survive for at least 9 months in your chosen destination. Now this may seem like a lot, but as you likely know, the cost of living in south america is lower,  meaning that you’ll likely be able to scrape by on less than $1000 per month in most parts of Latin America, and live well for less than $1500.

Having some capital behind you when first living in Latin America will not only put your mind at ease, but will also to allow you to have flexibility with testing out different locations to live in and different types of work, preventing you from being tied to some crappy job just because it’s the only option that allows you to make enough to survive.  

cost of living in south america - financial mistakes to avoid

2. Relaxed Attitude Towards Work

Another common mistake when moving to South America that I also made when living in Rio de Janeiro, is being too relaxed when it comes to looking for work. Due to the language barrier, lower pay and visa obstacles, finding a job in Latin America can be tough and requires determination and effort to find something that you actually find fulfilling. .

The two most common paths that foreigners tend to take when living in Latin America is either to work at a hostel or teach English. These are great short term options to help get you on your feet and to help resolve the issues mentioned in the section above, but from my personal experience, they aren’t particularly satisfying in the long run. Unless you’re very passionate about the prospect to teach English in Latin America or about hostel work, then it’s best to avoid working in these areas for more than a few months. Finding work in Latin America can be tough, but is fundamental for thriving medium and long term.

3. Underestimating the Visa Obstacles

Just before living in Chile a few years back, I remember my Dad asking me if I’d figured out how I would get a visa. Being used to having the right to work anywhere in the EU, I casually brushed off the question as if permanent residence would just fall into my lap as I got off the plane. I can now rightly say that this was naive and reckless thinking. Although far from impossible, getting a visa to live in any Latin American country can not only be complicated, owing to bureaucratic factors, but downright confusing and frustrating. That being said, you shouldn’t let this put you off and getting it sorted eventually makes moving to South America it all the more rewarding.

expect plenty of paper work

4. Negative Attitude towards Language Learning

The benefits of learning Spanish or Portuguese (in the case of Brazil) when moving to South America are immense, and learning languages is unfortunately another area where foreigners often make mistakes and excuses.  

Firstly, there’s the complacency mindset. Countless times I’ve heard foreigners telling me that the best way to learn Spanish quickly for them is to just go to the country of choice and pick it up “naturally” only to find themselves a year down the line unable to have a decent conversation.

Surrounding yourself with native speakers is undoubtedly a great catalyst for language learning, but it it’s not enough by itself. There are several reasons why people don’t get fluent in Spanish or Portuguese, and luckily there are enjoyable ways to do this that don’t require hours on end of sitting in a classroom whilst it’s hot and sunny outside.  

Another toxic mindset that people have  when it comes to language learning is that there’s actually no point in learning Spanish or Portuguese as English is considered the global language. Whilst you’ll undoubtedly find people who will be eager to practice their English with you, you’ll essentially be a like a child, unable to navigate through the world on a daily basis without having someone to hold your hand.

By learning Spanish or Portuguese when moving to Latin America, you’re opening the door up to a limitless opportunities.  

5. Indifference towards Integration

Integrating and adapting to a new culture can be very intimidating, and can be a tough and  alienating experience. When I first started living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, I was terrified, as I had no idea of what to expect and was overcome with fears of not fitting in and not being able to get by socially.

In this kind of situation, the easiest thing to do is to fall into an expat bubble, as it kind of acts as a halfway house between moving to a new culture and being at home. Whilst I strongly recommend creating ties with other expats and foreigners, you’ll find that you never actually properly integrate and feel part of the culture or country if you make it your only option.

In order to push through this, it’s vital to have an open mind and a strong will to get out your comfort zone. Try out new activities, do things that intimidate you or that you never thought of doing before and always say yes to invitations to meet new contacts.


Moving to Latin America was one of the best decisions of my life, but was one that wasn’t easy by any means and it took me a good while to find my feet. Luckily, you can avoid much of what I went through by avoiding the 5 mistakes in the article above.

If you’re considering moving out here, or have already made the move, feel free to drop my an email with  any further questions or doubts.

Please let me know in the comments section which point most resonated with you or whether I missed something.

4 thoughts on “Moving to South America – 5 Mistakes People Make & How to Avoid Them

  1. Pingback: 5 Signs that Living in Latin America Could Be for You | LinguistLifestyle – Living and Thriving in Latin America

  2. Love the post, man! I am interested in moving to South America from the U.S. soon. Is it possible to email you to ask you a few questions about how you pulled it off?


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