5 of the best South American Cities to live in

Cuenca, Ecuador

We’re going to take a look at some of the best cities to live in South America. We’ve got five suggestions that might suit digital nomads or remote workers looking for a new base in South America. They offer both affordability in global terms and a higher quality of life than you might find in some of the continent’s other major cities.

5 of the best cities to live in South America

Buenos Aires, Argentina

living in south america
Buenos Aires by Andrew Milligan Sumo, CC BY 2.0

The Argentine capital is arguably the continent’s most exciting city to both visit and live. It’s a truly 24-7 place with its famously late dinner and party culture ensuring Buenos Aires barely ever gasps for breath.

Buenos Aires in many parts feels like an elegant European city but boasts the energy of New York and a truly Latin American soul. That blend of cultures and influences, combined with the vast size of the metropolitan region, ensures you’ll be spoiled for choice in terms of cafes to work in, restaurants to dine in and bars to drink in. For those who love truly big cities, it probably should be your first point of call when considering where to live in South America.

The other positive, at least from the point of view of a foreigner moving there, is that Buenos Aires is seriously affordable, in part due to the economic problems in Argentina and the severe deflation of the Argentine Peso in recent times. While those looking to find a job in the city will also see their relative income slashed as a result, those working online and earning in another currency should feel the benefits.

South America Living Cost Index – 700 US Dollars per Month

Medellin, Colombia

Living in medellin

Once the home of Pablo Escobar and the infamous Colombian cartels, Medellin has reinvented itself in the 21st Century and is now one of the country’s best places to live. Indeed today it is also actually recognised as one of the safer cities in South America, and is perhaps the most popular destination on the whole continent for digital nomads.

A major draw is unquestionably its affordability. South America is quite a cheap continent to live on the whole, certainly when compared to North America or the best places to live in Europe. Medellin is cheap even by South American standards with renting accommodation great value, even if you’re looking to live in the very heart of the city.

Its burgeoning international, nomad scene is another draw and it’ll be easier to meet other people from different countries around the world than in other cities in Colombia. It feels like a city that is going places with loads of exciting new startups and projects to get involved with, while it’s also one of the cheaper places in South America to learn Spanish.

South America Living Cost Index – 700 US Dollars per Month

Montevideo, Uruguay

best cities to live in South America
Montevideo via Ana Raquel, CC BY-SA 2.0

At the other end of the cost scale, the Uruguayan capital Montevideo is a great option for anyone less conscious about saving money, and more interested in having a secure place to live with some benefits that you seldom find elsewhere in South America.

Montevideo is a much smaller city than Buenos Aires, its near neighbour just across Rio de La Plata. Living so close to BA is certainly nice in terms of expanding your options for travel, as many other major South American cities are quite isolated. However Montevideo has many advantages on the Argentine capital for those looking to move for a longer period with a more stable economy and an excellent healthcare system among its perks.

It also has a much more laid back feel which will be a welcome bonus for many and it has a sense of calm that is almost completely lacking in other South American capitals. It is significantly more expensive though so digital nomads and remote workers will find much better value elsewhere, but it could be one of the better places to look for fixed employment.

South America Living Cost Index – 1350 US Dollars per Month

Cuenca, Ecuador

Quito is the most popular city in Ecuador with foreigners and it does have one of the bigger expat communities. However Cuenca is a really viable alternative, that in many respects is a much more liveable city.

The third largest in Ecuador, after Quito and Guayaquil, Cuenca was also the cheapest of the trio although the gap has closed in the last couple of years and that may no longer be the case. It’s also something of a cultural hub with some of Ecuador’s best festivals, culinary options and scenery. Base yourself in or close to the pedestrianised city centre, and you won’t have to worry much about the hassles of travelling via public transport which can be a frustration in big cities across the continent.

Once you get used to the altitude (Cuenca lies at 2,560 metres above sea level) you can also take advantage of its unique location that enables you to explore the Andes mountains, head into the Amazon rainforest or hit the Pacific Coast, with all three easily accessible from the city.

South America Living Cost Index – 800 US Dollars per Month

Santiago, Chile

cost of living in South America

Finally we head to Chile and another of the best places to live in South America and another stunning backdrop. Santiago may not be near the Rainforest but it also boasts an Andean location with great opportunities for hiking and skiing nearby, while it’s less than two hours by road to the coastal towns of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.

Generally considered to be one of the safest and most developed big South American cities, Santiago has grown into a modern capital and comes with everything you might expect to find in such a place. From historic districts to grungy alternative barrios, Santiago has many different sides.

In terms of costs, it ranks as one of the more expensive cities in South America, but the cost of living has fallen slightly of late relative to many other major cities across the world. It’s certainly still really affordable when compared to most major cities in North America or Western Europe.

South America Living Cost Index – 1200 US Dollars per Month

South America Living Cost Index Explained

We used data from Numbeo.com as a starting point to help research and calculate the figures in our articles on living abroad like this one. The index figures should be a useful means of comparison for seeing how expenses vary across South America and aim to cover monthly rent and typical living costs such as groceries and leisure activities for a single person.

However, they shouldn’t be taken too literally and your exact spend will massively depend on your lifestyle and risk tolerance when it comes to choosing a place to live which can still be costly in many South American cities if you want to be in the very best and safest neighbourhoods.

The figures also don’t include the cost of any travel/health insurance packages which will vary depending on your age and circumstances. You can get a quote in less than a minute from SafetyWing who specialise in covering nomads abroad.

This post on the best places to live in South America was last updated in June 2023.

5 of the best South American Cities to live in

2 thoughts on “5 of the best South American Cities to live in

    1. Hi Johan, It’s a tough question to give a clear answer to as there are still some parts of Colombia and some districts in all the major cities that aren’t particularly safe, but overall Colombia is nowhere near as dangerous as it has been portrayed over the years.

      Cities such as Medellin and Bogota have got a lot safer over the past decade or two with crime rates falling dramatically and while foreigners can still be a target for petty theft, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as it once was.

      There’s some good info here on safety in Colombia.

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