Uruguay Basics – 1 of a new series

Plaza Fabini, Centro, Montevideo
Plaza Fabini, Centro, Montevideo ©2011 Mark Mercer

Starting a new series of posts here at Uruguay Expat Life, with just the basics. We get lots of questions in our email, social media. and other channels. Much of it keeps coming back to some of the same questions. Our several years of posts have touched on most of the regular questions, but have been in the context of larger stories, anecdotes, photo essays, commentary on news articles, or other topics.




Let’s start with some real basics. These will get admittedly simplified answers, but are some of our top questions we get directly, or see others asking on Uruguay-related sites.

Basic questions about moving to Uruguay:

  1. Can I visit Uruguay?
  2. Can I move to Uruguay?
  3. How much money do you need to have to move to Uruguay?
  4. What do I have to do to move to Uruguay?
  5. Can I bring my household items to Uruguay?
  6. Will my <fill in the blank> work in Uruguay?
  7. Can I bring my car to Uruguay?
  8. Can I bring my pet to Uruguay?
  9. Can I use my credit/debit cards in Uruguay?
  10. Can I get a bank account in Uruguay?

Each of those is worth a “basics” or a longer, full, post, by themselves. Many of them Lisa and I have addressed in existing posts, so please search via your favorite search engine, or the handy on-site search widget at the top of every page. Also look for our posts at our social networks, which have handy widgets on the sidebar to help you get to them. But let’s take a quick shot at each.

Answers to basic questions about moving to Uruguay:

  1. Can you visit Uruguay?
    Sure thing, and it’s one of the easiest countries in South America to visit. For citizens of USA, Canada, most other English-speaking nations, most Spanish-speaking nations, and most of Europe, you don’t even need a visa, nor any type of advance formalities. Nor vaccinations (to visit – you do need current tetanus to live here). No “reciprocity fee”. Typical permit-upon-arrival (not a “visa” as some sites improperly call it) is 90 days. Please note that there is absolutely no time of year where “90 days” is the same as “3 months” and visitors have been given “multas” (fines) upon exit on the day of, or day before, “3 months” from arrival, because that was day 91 or day 92.The other part of the answer is, Yes, and you really should visit before committing to live here. We believe in the two-visit minimum concept, what we call the Uruguay Reality Check™ and the Uruguay Test Drive™. In the first, you come for at least 1-3 weeks, with your primary goal not being tourism but serious research – cover a lot of ground in the country, at least in the areas of interest to you where you might want to live. (We ranged from Conchillas and Carmelo up along the Rio Uruguay, through Colonia, various parts of Montevideo, Atlántida and elsewhere in the Costa de Oro, Piriápolis, La Paloma and elsewhere along the Rocha coastline all the way up to the border with Brazil. Bits of San Carlos, Rocha city, and some towns in the Colonia departamento too.) Check out small stores, prices of things you would buy, both ongoing items and set-up items like furniture, appliances. Look at and talk to real estate agencies. Look at homes of various types. The second trip, the test drive? Pick one of the places you liked from your Realty Check, and at least one adult family member move there for at least 2-3 months in a temporary rental. Deal with actually living in Uruguay. Learn (or learn more) Spanish while doing it.

    Though we know of some people who moved here sight-unseen, and are happy about it, we would never recommend that. At least visit as a tourist, but preferably more than just as that. Moving to a new country is a big deal. Not as big a deal as some people who never bring themselves to try make it out to be, with their “I wish I could move to another country” mantra but never doing it. But not as simple as just up and moving, unless you have researched and thought it through. Even though Uruguay is one of the rare countries that you can just “up and move to”.

  2. Can I move to Uruguay?
    Very likely, yes, if you have sufficient income (see the next question), and a place to live, and the right documents from your home country and any other countries you’ve lived in recently. (E.g. a US citizen who’s been living for 4 years in Mexico likely needs Mexican police reports, not just the FBI criminal history requested via INTERPOL for US citizens.) Note the emphasis on income and no mention of savings. Regular money coming in, not big piles of money sitting around, is what Uruguay wants to see.

  3. How much money do you need to have to move to Uruguay?
    Lots of ways to answer that question, including both from the ever-contentious “Is Uruguay expensive or cheap?” issue (answer: it’s both, we have lots of posts on that), and the “What does Immigration require?” perspective.

    On that latter point, there are all kinds of outdated info and misinformation on the web. There is no “magic number”. Not anymore. If you’re read, “$1500 dollars a month”, forget that, it’s outdated and was only a special edge case for a passport fast-track that no longer exists, and which also required a 6-year 100.000 dollar bond or housing purchase of that amount with a 6-year no-sell pledge. Doesn’t exist. Haven’t heard of anyone actually ever doing it, though lots of people talked about it, and somebody likely did do it.  If you’ve heard, “500 USD per month” or “650 USD per month”, ignore that too. All reliable reports, plus our personal experience, is that there is no longer any “magic number”.What Uruguay Immigration wants to see is, sufficient income to support yourself here in Uruguay, income that is received in Uruguay. Note emphasis on received, which says nothing about where earned. Obviously, how much money you need to support yourself in Uruguay depends very much on where and how you live in Uruguay. Which is one of the reasons Migraciones wants to know where you live. As in, you really need to have committed to living in Uruguay before you apply for residency. As in, you’ve rented (or purchased) a home. Our still-under-500USD/mo casita 3 blocks from the beach requires a whole lot less income than somebody else’s luxury hi-rise 3-bedroom apartment in the Pocitos section of Montevideo or in glitzy Punta del Este.Can you afford it? Can you prove that you can afford it? Then you’re probably fine.

  4. What do I have to do to move to Uruguay?
    As odd as it may sound, especially to US citizens in a country struggling with immigration law issues, or to Canadians with your very complex Immigration Canada process and multiple provincial variants, or to an EU country citizen with countries that have wildly varying immigration policies and even some migration restrictions post-EU-accession for new member nations, here’s how you move to Uruguay:

    You move to Uruguay.

    Then, after you’ve moved to Uruguay, you start the official processes for moving to Uruguay. Obviously you need documents from your home country, and it’s easiest by far to get them before you move. But plenty of people have come here, decided to stay, and then gone about getting the documents needed – birth, marriage, and if applicable a name change was involved, divorce certificates and doing whatever is needed to make them legal for use in Uruguay. (Remember, I did say these quick answers were simplified and don’t apply to all cases.)What you don’t have to do, unlike moving to most other countries, is to start with the Consulate of Uruguay in your home country, or some immigration department at the Embassy. In fact, if you live in a country that signed the Hague Convention on Apostiles, you no longer have any reason whatsoever to deal with any outside-of-Uruguay division of the Uruguay government.  (Again, simplified answer for most cases of individuals in our target audience – your situation might differ if you’re trying to start an international business, or some other edge case.)

  5. Can I bring my household items to Uruguay?
    That’s a tough one. It almost totally depends on how attached you are to “stuff”, how much you are willing to spend on moving, including really high shipping costs and likely some import duties or at least a substantial bond, and we can’t answer that for you. For us, we answered that by “Chat can we fit into about a dozen suitcases?” – which involved some of them being held by friends or family for a while till our next visit back to the USA, and about $500 USD in excess baggage charges. With that, we eventually brought in a small set of hobby/avocation equipment (Ham Radio gear of Mark’s: license KC2ZI, rarely operating from CX1-land here; some old film cameras from Mark’s photography hobby), some of Lisa’s smaller exercise equipment, and a few pieces of good cookware. Bunch of old photos we didn’t want to take the time to digitize, bunch of movie DVDs similarly. Otherwise, clothing, our laptop computers and a few small peripherals. Everything else got sold, given away, donated to charity, or otherwise disposed.

    If you’ve got enough stuff that you’re emotionally attached to, it’s worth about 10,000 USD to you (más o menos a few thousand), and worth the added cost of posting a 60% duty bond on it that you don’t get back until after you get your final permanent residency, then sure, consider sending a container to Uruguay. But for most people, a change of country is much more than just a change of geography, and maybe you should both consider buying locally, and whether your new life requires the same things as your old life. When figuring out your answer to that question, be sure first to read the next one.

  6. Will your <fill-in-the-blank> work in Uruguay?
    Again, simplified answer. We’ve posted more about this, there’ve been many posts at our Google Community and elsewhere, and lots of resources on the web.TV: No. Don’t bring it. Don’t even think about it.Electrical Appliances: No. Don’t bring it. Don’t even think about it.Computer: Yes, bring it, if a laptop. Laptop power supplies are almost all auto-adusting 100-250 Volt range and 50-60 Hz (Hertz=cycle). Desktop computers have a voltage switch on the back if not auto-adjust. All better fit in your suitcase to avoid duty.Monitor: LCD/LED monitor will work if it has a mulivolt power supply. If it fits in your suitcase, OK, probably won’t get charged duty.

    Cell phone: Yes, if it’s GSM (uses a SIM chip) and its unlocked by your carrier. Need to register it (free) at customs upon arrival if you want to buy a contract plan here. Most North American cells, even if not quad-band, will work fine here on all three carriers. High-speed data varies by frequency of your phone’s UMTS/HSPA/LTE bands which have nothing to do with being “quadband” – if your phone doesn’t match the high-speed bands of your Uruguayan carrier it’s going to work at dialup speeds. Don’t bring shiny new phones in boxes if you don’t want to pay 60% duty and 22% VAT.

    Power tools? No, they won’t work if 110V/60Hz. Not safely, even with a transformer, because of the different cycles. Can not only cause slowdown but overheating.

    Large electric appliances that run on 110V? No, same reason.

    US/Canada-style 220V appliances like Stoves/Ranges, Clothes dryers?
    No, don’t bring it, won’t work, US 220 is two sides of separate 110V, not what we have here. Plus, really? You’re going to spend money to ship something you can replace for a few hundred dollars?

    Your washing machine? (For some reason a common question on Facebook)
    No. Really, you simply MUST have your US or European washing machine? Even if yours happens to be technically compatible, Lisa and I really facepalm whenever we see this question. How about you move your whole house too?

  7. Can I bring my car to Uruguay?
    No. End of discussion. Impossible.
    (Impossible as in, very limited edge cases, ridiculously overcomplicated, and unless you are a returning Uruguayan citizen, totally impossible anyhow. Also see question 3 on that 1500USD fast-track program no longer existing, which was the only alleged way any non-Uruguay citizen could bring in a car.)

  8. Can I bring my pet to Uruguay?
    Yes, absolutely, assuming you’re talking about a cat or a dog. Here, ask this dog:

    Whister the greyhound in his Uruguayan chairNow that we have that settled, are there complexities and procedures to bringing in a pet? Yes. topic for a full post, and if you have specific questions, topic for a consultation. But totally do-able.

  9. Can you use your credit cards and debit cards in Uruguay?
    Yes. Assuming you have notified your card issuer that you will be in Uruguay, and they don’t have any policies against foreign use. (Some, but not all, prepaid Visa and prepaid MasterCard cards do have such policies.) Also, assuming they are accepted in Uruguay – Visa is very common. MasterCard is much less commonly accepted, but still does have wide acceptance. As odd as it may seem to USA folk, where MC/VI are essentially identical, there is a big difference between them here in terms of acceptance. American Express is much less accepted, and typically only major stores, more expensive restaurants, and tourist-oriented places like hotels and car rentals, or entertainment venues, will take Amex. Discover Card? Forget it.

    Your typical combined ATM/Debit card, where it’s a Debit MasterCard or Visa Debit, will work in Uruguayan ATMs. Extensive posts about that on the Uruguay Expat Life Community on Google, and elsewhere on this website, please go search.There’s a new law as of August 2014 that reduces the 22% IVA (Value added tax – Impuesto de Valores Agregado) by 4% down to 18% for payment by debit card, or by 2% for payment by credit card, on everything. There’s a 2011 law that totally rebates the entire IVA on car rentals and restaurant meals for non-Uruguayan plastic payment cards – so there are big reasons for making sure you notify your credit/debit card issuer before visiting, or moving to, Uruguay. That new law drops to 3% debit/1% credit in Aug 2015 for the 2nd year of the law, and then in 2016 is only 2% debit/0% credit discount, but there’s still time to benefit from it. That new law also made the tourist-rebate law finally be an instant-discount rather than something posted several days later, for many merchants now.

    Your USA- or Canada-issued Visa Debit or Debit MasterCard ATM card works as an ATM card here, and for payment, works as “credit”. The question, “debit or credit” has no meaning here in that context. It’s a Visa (or MC) payment card, processed as such, rather than a PIN-based ATM-style debit card.

    Also, for European visitors and others – no, we don’t yet have “Chip and PIN” nor even “Chip and Signature” – We don’t have the EMV system. Uruguayan ATM and debit cards with a PIN are the online-PIN type, not the PIN-in-chip type.

  10. Can you get a bank account here in Uruguay?
    Yes. After you’ve moved here. (Again, simplifed answer, your specific case, especially if it’s an edge case, may vary.)

    Almost certainly not, if you just want to “Pop down to Uruguay to keep my money offshore.” Not any more.  Unlike a few years ago, and much like Uruguay Immigration’s current policy, Uruguayan financial institutions no longer want “fly-and-apply” people.

    If you’re a US citizen, the only bank which will still do business with you, thanks to the US FATCA Law and the very aggressive interpretation of it by the current US Administration, is BROU, the Uruguay government-owned retail/consumer bank, Banco República Oriental del Uruguay. We’ve had plenty to say about them before. To be fair, their ATMs have gotten better and no longer go out of service for 2 minutes after each use of a USA-based card.

    There are unconfirmed rumors that US Citizens who are receiving Social Security can get an account at the Uruguayan division of BBVA, which also has a subsidiary in the USA; and get their Social Security direct deposited into BBVA Uruguay. Though some Uruguay website posters often mention it, we at Uruguay Expat Life have read no evidence of it actually happening since 2012, which is when Uruguayan banks began closing accounts of US persons and refusing new ones. The fact (or rumor) that the USA embassy in Montvideo’s consular section for US citizens might be continuing to tell US citizens that it is possible, does not mean it is possible. However, it might be.

    One of the owners of Uruguay Expat Life, this writer in fact, recently did apply for Social Security to start in early 2015. However, I’m not having any part of dealing with either BBVA nor the US Embassy – a place which now in my 4th year primarily in Uruguay, I’ve never had any reason to visit yet and don’t plan to do so any time soon. I applied over the internet, just as I would have if I were back in the USA, and set up direct deposit into one of my US-based financial institutions (in this case, a credit union that pays 4% interest on the first $1000 on deposit between checking and savings). Its ATM card works here in ATMs, its Debit MasterCard feature works as a payment card, and I can transfer money from it to BROU by wire (cost-effective only for large amounts) or by Xoom (cost-effective for smaller amounts) with no significant hassle. Plus, unlike BBVA, there’s a BROU in my town and nearly everywhere in Uruguay.

colonia_uruguay_ilkerender_creative commons
Colonia, Uruguay. Photo ©2007 ilker cc-by-2.0 grant.

Remember, if you have specific questions you want to ask us about life in Uruguay and about how to move here, and get specific-to-you researched answers and/or detailed opinion and observation on your needs, we offer low-cost consultations via Plansify. Officially Uruguay Expat Life co-owner Mark Mercer is the designated advisor for Plansify, but unofficially co-owner, travel author Lisa Marie Mercer also gets involved in the research. Although we both love to get your emails (via our handy contact form), we hope you understand that answering your specific questions is a service that takes time, and our time is worth at least a modest payment. Don’t think so? That’s fine, too, and you’re certainly welcome to read, search through, and comment on the hundreds of thousands of words we’ve both written about moving to and living in Uruguay, become a member of the free-to-all Uruguay Expat Life Community where you can join in on discussions and start your own topics, follow our Twitter posts, our Google and Facebook Pages, subscribe to this very website you’re reading to get our latest posts in your email, your reader app, or on the front page of your favorite web portal such as My Yahoo!

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Mark Mercer

Site co-owner Mark Mercer. AKA Marcos Cristoforo Mercer, AKA the Fuzzy Wanderer. Expat from USA living in Uruguay as of mid-2012, after "test-driving" it for a few months in 2011 and early 2012. Married to Lisamaria, AKA well-known travel and fitness writer Lisa Marie Mercer. Follow Mark on Twitter @mcmxs and his many other sites, which you can find at http://about.me/MarkMercer. I write and engage about many of my other interests, on Google+ at https://google.com/+MarkMercer

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