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I wasn’t going to get dragged into another Uruguay costs social network discussion again, but some Facebook Uruguay Expats group members pulled me back in.

I’ll say this: There are at least three to five types of “Uruguay Expatriation” with very different costs:

Type 1 Expat. Live in a North American/English/Oceania-oriented Expat Compound (e.g. something like the Sugarloaf Development pushed by International Living). Everything you need is there, the world is gated off, and they discourage going to town. “Everything is here in The Village, why are you being unmutual?” Meanwhile missing out on the true Uruguayan life in the beautiful and affordable resort city of Piriápolis which they show on their website. In which town I could rent a 2-bedroom sea-view raised apartment for under $800 USD. Or simpler, away from the beach properties, cheaper. But the Type 1 Expat would not consider such integration.

Montevideo 35% cheaper than Boston

Comparing Montevideo Uruguay and Boston, MA, USA cost of living

Type 2 Expat. Live in a Major City or Major Resort Area, in upscale US-upper-middle-class-equivalent with a full North American lifestyle (anything based on the Expatistan cost of living calculator that factors in buying 42″TV, new VW Golf TDI, regular meals out, regular pub drinks out at “an expat bar”, regular paid entertainment – read the assumptions on it.)

Type 3 Expat. Live a downsized but perfectly acceptable existence outside of big Expat Villages, Major Resorts, and Pocitos/Punta Carreta. Rent the small casita or apartamento, or buy a very nice but modest house, for less than half what that equivalent property would cost in the USA.

Type 4 Expat. Live like a local. And not a paid-by-Northern Hemisphere type of local. (edit 2014-01-30 removed reference and link to organization we no longer recommend.)
1 and 2 are definitely more expensive than North America. 3 and 4 are definitely less.

I can compare my Qwest/Centurlink bill for Phone/DSL to my Antel bill for the same and say the bill is cheaper. I could also show you pictures of pricing at fruitstands all around my Uruguyan immediate neighborhood (in a faded, 2nd-or 3rd-rate resort town), and compare them to Safeway and Kroger City Market pricing (in a faded, 2nd-or-3rd-rate resort town in the USA, Dillon, CO.)

I could compare the comparative lack of automobile need in Atlántida with safe walkability and cheap regional bus service ($2.30 USD all the way into Montevideo), to what basic commuting whether by car or by intercity bus in the USA. I could compare laundry costs (for living simply without a home washer dryer) to my coin-op laundry in Colorado or North Carolina, or the local laundry service in NYC, and Uruguay local laundries would be cheaper. A non-data-plan non-smartphone big bundle of minutes and text for mobile would be cheaper in Uruguay, even with Antel. Ingredients for quality home-made meals would be cheaper. Frozen and fresh seafood of quality would be cheaper (Chilean mussels, nom nom nom.)

Despite the much higher cost of electricity in Uruguay, as a Type 3 expat I don’t use nearly as much as I did in a full-blown North American middle-class aspiring upper-middle-class existence. Heating and supplemental cooking is the biggest hit. Meanwhile energy-savings bulbs, especially the environmentally safest LED versions, are far more available and inexpensive in Uruguay than in USA. I could post photos of the Disco and Tienda Inglesa light bulb aisles vs. Safeway and Home
Depot equivalents.  Electric heat is a bitch, but I also had electric heat in Tacoma, WA and in the heart of downtown Boston, MA.

In Uruguay, a Type 3 or Type 4 expat would not have central or full-room baseboard electric heating; one learns to spot-heat the part of the home in use at the time rather than the entire potential living space. That offsets much of the higher electricity cost.

We’re paying a delta of about $80 USD to Uruguay government electric monopoly UTE over what was our pre-winter bill. That’s not tremendously different from the winter delta in our Tacoma Power or Boston Edison bills when we lived there in those similar sized apartments. Those had one big built-in electric baseboard heater for the bedroom and just one other for the entire kitchen/living/dining open space. In Uruguay we have a mix of portable electric fan heater, halogen radiant heater, and oil-filled radiator heater. We bring them to where we will be and spot-heat only as needed. More green, more economical, and horrifyingly “third world” to a Type 1 or Type 2 expat. Yes the UTE bill is a pain for a few months. But overall, our “monthly nut” is still far lower.

I could pull many more examples. And I would be able to prove that overall it is far cheaper to live in somewhere decent and interesting in Uruguay, than anywhere decent and interesting in the USA. But not to Type 1 or Type 2 expats. As a Type 3 expat, it is trivial to live more inexpensively in Uruguay than anywhere I’d care to live in the US.

Unlike some, I will admit that the other “side” is also right – that it is far more expensive to live as a Type 1 or Type 2 Expat in Uruguay than in the USA.

Even so, even with the flawed Expatistan Calculator, Montevideo, Uruguay is 35% cheaper than Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Let’s call the 5th type a Type 5 Expat as the “International Relocation” Expat – they probably don’t care since their employer, government agency, NGO, whomever, is probably picking up most if not all of the cost. Unless the “trailing spouse” that comes along for the ride has expensive, non-expensable tastes, nobody cares how much it costs.

This post is repurposed and rewritten from my reply on that FB group. I may even post it back over there. I know there are people who will either rant about how I must be lying or who claim I have some agenda. It really makes me wonder about people… and is a great example of Cognitive Dissonance Reduction. If your USA lifestyle was McMansion oriented or big NYC Apartment with lots of entertainment, or the upscale Florida or California upper-middle-class community, you are going to spend a lot more money in Uruguay – if you try to re-create that exact same lifestyle.

But then I must ask, Why Bother? If you’re changing your country and even continent, and your primary language, why are you recreating your old life?

PS I haven’t gone anywhere near the lower cost of medical care yet. Whether pay for service, or via the hybrid public-private “mutualista” polyclinic/medical home system of care. Future posts.