Why Uruguay? An Interview with a South African Expat

Piriapolis, uruguayan coastal town

Despite its small size, Uruguay has much to offer would-be expats looking for a new country to call home. With a stable economic and political system that is weathering the global economic downturn quite well, plus a steadily growing tourism sector, Uruguay is becoming a popular choice for North Americans and Europeans who are less than eager to invest in property back home. South African investors have also taken a liking to Uruguay as a stable place to invest in property with a climate very similar to home. As Uruguay’s global popularity continues to grow, so does its property value—especially in jet-set tourist destinations like Punta Del Este. Savvy investors are currently honing in on places just outside of these popular areas, resulting in an increase in property sales in less-publicized, yet still desirable areas such as Piriapolis, a charming port town located just a short drive from Punta Del Este. For investors looking to live in Uruguay part-time, part of the appeal of buying land near a tourist destination is the prospect of renting the property out as vacation rentals to visitors looking for non-hotel accommodation.

South African citizen, David Brown, is one such investor. He recently purchased a home in a development just outside of Piriapolis. His work schedule is such that he is on assignment for up to 6 weeks at a time, followed by a 2-week break. With his new home being situated in a prime location with views of the mountains, the ocean, and the city of Piriapolis, he plans to occasionally rent it to vacationers in his absence. But the potential rental revenue is just one of many reasons on a very detailed list of why Mr. Brown chose to purchase real estate in Uruguay. Listening to Mr. Brown, one gets the sense that he has spent more than a few casual hours researching his overseas investment options. In a gentle, yet matter-of-fact tone, Mr. Brown rattles off a laundry list of the factors he took into account when deciding to buy his home. First on that list is safety. He readily quotes stats he has come across in his research, and was especially impressed with Uruguay’s rankings in the Global Peace Index. He explains, “It is ranked 24th on the 2010 Global Peace Index, which is higher than the United States. It’s higher than the United Kingdom, and it’s higher than my native country [South Africa, which rates 121st]. And I wanted to come to a country where I could put my roots down, invest, and start a home–start a family.”

Sugar Loaf Mountain provides mountainous scenery near Piriapolis.

As important as safety is, especially to someone looking to settle down and start a family, it was not the only reason Mr. Brown chose Uruguay as his new place of residence. In Uruguay he was able to fulfill his desire for a house surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape–and by purchasing from an eco-friendly development he hopes to help ensure the continued environmental health of his newfound home. “There’s no interruption to the features we have here: we have a sea view, we have a forest view, we have a mountain view, we have a view of the nearby town.” This combination of safety and natural beauty was something Mr. Brown did not find in the other places he considered. “Before coming to Uruguay, I’d considered the United States, I’d considered the United Kingdom, I’d considered Australia, and all in all, Uruguay offered the most in terms of safety and security as well as value for money,” he says, noting that his new home often feels like “a private retreat.” When he needs the amenities of town, he heads to nearby Piriapolis, where he says can easily find everything he needs, from restaurants and nightlife to groceries, markets, and shopping of every sort. He has noticed that the cost of living is very reasonable in Uruguay and notes that, “most of the items in Uruguay are cheaper than [comparable] items in South Africa.”

Mr. Brown has also been impressed with Uruguay’s infrastructure. “If I compare it to the infrastructure in South Africa, I notice that in Uruguay the roads are in very good condition,” he says. He happily gives some specifics: “The rail networks work. The electricity doesn’t go off—there are no power cuts. The water connection is good; there is nothing wrong with the water. And also all the government entities like your hospitals and your municipalities and things like that, all are up and running and are functioning.” While these may seem like the most basic of public services, they are tremendously important determinants of quality of life in a country–not to mention their importance as factors in property value. This is something Mr. Brown knows from experience. He continues, “That is a very big plus coming from South Africa—that everything from the government’s side of things actually works properly. And furthermore the government is actually encouraging foreign investment.”

A simplified climate zone map with Uruguay and South Africa labeled. Country borders are not marked.

While Mr. Brown is happy that many aspects of life in Uruguay are different than in his native country, there’s one thing he is glad is quite similar: the warm climate. “From someone coming from South Africa, the weather here in Uruguay is very much the same as the in Cape Town; Uruguay is on the same latitude as South Africa, so the weather’s the same,” he says. Located within the temperate zone, Uruguay’s climate does not feature extreme temperatures in any season. Uruguayan summers are warm, but tempered by the ocean breezes. Winters are cool and damp, but never extremely cold. Because the climate is mild, tourists visit Uruguay all year round, but by far the busiest season for tourism is summer, which is from December to March. Mr. Brown has found travel between Uruguay and South Africa to be quite easy with a couple options leaving from Johannesburg International Airport and connecting through either Sao Paolo or Buenos Aires. He has flown these routes several time, and has had no problems with the flight connections, noting that the layover time is usually between two and three hours.

Due to the ease and safety of travel to Uruguay, Mr. Brown is confident that his property in Uruguay will hold its value well, and that he will be able to rent his home as a vacation property to vacationers from South Africa (and beyond) for the months that he will not be living in it. But more importantly, Mr. Brown is confident in that he has found a safe, secure, and comfortable place to call home that will serve him well now and for many years to come.

By Ola Uruguay - Carrie Hilligoos