Dateline: Atlantida, Uruguay
Uruguay is one of the most European countries in South America. This tiny country, occasionally referred to as a low tax haven, has one of the highest costs of living and one of the high standards of living in the region.
While Andrew has advised against Uruguay as a second citizenship, there are still many reasons to consider living in Uruguay.
Every region of Uruguay has a distinct personality, which allows expats to choose the one that best suits them. In fact, Uruguay has something for just about everyone.
The Greater Montevideo Area
The Rio de la Plata, a broad estuary river dominates most of the southern portion of Uruguay. Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, sits near the mouth of the river. This cosmopolitan city offers a vibrant blend of the old and new.
The county´s history lives within the old city, but many high rise offices and residences occupy other neighborhoods. Cultured, energetic, and sometimes frenzied, Montevideo draws many expats who love city life.
The thriving metropolis of Montevideo houses a number of high-end, multi-story shopping malls, trendy restaurants, and the country’s major hospitals. Montevideo is also the place to be if you want to connect with Uruguay’s emerging tech industry.
When people want to escape the pace of the city, they head to the Rambla, where they jog, skate, stroll through the park, and walk their dogs.
In the summer, the Rambla turns into an urban beach, with municipally supported swimming classes, beach volleyball, outdoor exercise classes and more. Several expat communities meet in Montevideo on a weekly basis.
San Jose and Colonia, Uruguay´s agricultural and dairy farming departments, stretch along the western shores of the Rio del Plata. The Swiss were the first settlers in the department of Colonia, which might explain why the region is known for its dairy farming.
The Portuguese originally founded the historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, which was granted UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status in 1960. A short ferry ride from Colonia brings you to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Many Argentinians have bought summer homes in this area.
While some US expats live here, temporary available properties are often difficult to find.
Uruguay’s beach resort towns, called balnearios, attract a different type of expat. Some are expat retirees, while others are investing in Uruguayan real estate, which they rent out over the colder summer months.
A third type, the digital nomad, can work anywhere in the world, but simply chooses the beach environment. For the most part, coastal Uruguay has fewer crime issues than the beach areas in other Latin American countries.
The beaches of Uruguay extend along the entire length of its coastline. Although Punta del Este is Uruguay’s most famous beach, the 30-mile stretch that makes up the Costa de Oro offers some of the best values in the country.
Atlantida, about 40 minutes outside Montevideo, is one of them. Although the town evokes images of a 1950s resort town, it has a variety of modern conveniences, including two major supermarkets.
To continue with the 1950s analogy, both of the supermarkets offer punto or point cards. After collecting enough purchase points, you can trade them in for merchandise: kind of like the Green Stamps of the days of yore. For fresh produce, most people shop at the Thursday Feria or open markets, where fruits, vegetables, toys and clothing are available at a significant discount.
Uruguay´s personal freedom philosophy makes Atlantida an architecturally intriguing destination. Homes with thatched roofs sit next to Art Deco-inspired and traditional South American “casitas.” Only two high rise buildings occupy the entire town.
Atlantida also has some quirky attractions, such as the former love-nest for Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and his mistress, a house in the shape of an eagle, a building shaped like a cruise ship, and a tiny, intimate zoo, which does not charge admission.
During the Uruguayan summer, Atlantida has a small carnival, complete with a Ferris wheel, a mini roller coaster and a local crafts fair. The town has a movie house and a theater, which produces plays, and hosts twice-weekly coffee houses and occasional tango nights.
Uruguayans also have a strange fascination with US oldies music. As such, in August, many locations host an official Oldies Night. This all-night party takes the chill out of the Uruguayan winters.
Atlantida´s unpretentious ambiance does not draw celebrities, but locals would not have it any other way. As such, properties are far less expensive than what you would find in other coastal Uruguay towns.
It´s possible to rent a small house near the beach for $500 a month. Spanish Uruguay, the local language school, can help you find temporary residences, especially in the off-season.
Atlantida has a small but growing expat community, which puts out a newsletter, has two monthly meetings, and sponsors a variety of monthly events. Most of the US and Canadian expats here are between the ages of 45 and 80.
Heading east from Atlantida, you reach the town of Piriapolis. Founded in 1893, it was Uruguay´s first beach resort town. A sizable international expat community, who meets every month, calls Piriapolis home.
Piriapolis is more expensive than Atlantida, less expensive than Punta del Este, and one of the only places in Uruguay that has big hills, which can almost be considered mountains.
Piriapolis has an intriguing history. A mystic named Don Francisco Piria designed the layout of the town in accordance with the principles of Alchemy and Kabbalah. Even if you do not decide to live here, Piriapolis is worth a visit.
Statues of Greek Gods, each representing a metal used in alchemy, line the pathway to Piria´s hilltop house, called Castle Piria. The house is now a museum. The town also has a nature reserve and an Art Deco-inspired hotel.
Surprisingly, unlike Atlantida and Punta del Este, Piriapolis does not have any major supermarkets directly within the main section of the town. A new gated community, called the Sugarloaf Ocean Club and Spa, is scheduled to open in 2014.
Punta del Este
Punta del Este was once a seasonal destination, which went to sleep during the winter months. Now, because of a growing number of English-speaking expats, Punta has a year-round population of 20,000. High-rise condominiums line the streets and make it look like Miami.
Several other beach towns east of Punta del Este are slowly attracting a small expat community. La Paloma, for example, a surfing and fishing town, is far less built up than Punta. As such, it goes to sleep during the winter months, but that might change as more people move there.