Chile: an unassuming economic powerhouse in South America

Chile often flies under the radar as the long strip along the Pacific coastline of South America. But in a country that stretches from the Atacama desert to Patagonia and Easter Island, you’ll find both cultural wealth and one of Latin America’s richest countries.

In fact, according to the World Bank, Chile has the highest GDP per capita in all of Latin America (15 346$, a little more than Panama at 15 087$). Chile is also the country with the highest HDI in Latin America (#38 in the world), ahead of European countries like Slovakia, Portugal or Hungary.

Pretty impressive for a country that virtually flies under the radar, isn’t it? Well, here are a few more interesting economic facts about Chile:

  • it’s the only OECD member from South America - and it is joined by only 3 countries in the Americas: the United States, Canada and Mexico.
  • it is the highest ranking country in South America for competitiveness and economic liberty (3# in the Americas, after the US and Canada, by both measurements).
  • its credit rating is the best in the region and one of the best in the world. Standard & Poor’s gave it a A+ ranking last July, while Moody’s ranks it with A1 and Fitch with an A.

The country relies heavily on mining and on its natural resources. Chile is the world’s lead exporter of copper, which alone accounts for 50% of exports. Chile also has large productions of iodine, lithium, carbon and nitrates. Altogether, 14.2% of the gross GDP comes from mining. A strong chemical industry comes from these widely available raw materials.

Agriculture is worth 4.3% of the GDP and employs 10% of the population, which is quite a large slice for a developed country. Chile is a noteworthy producer of grapes, cranberries, plums and other fruits. This industry is also related with a processed food industry, which is one of the country’s main activities.

As a leading economy in Latin America, Chile attracts more and more foreign companies every year. It’s not uncommon to hear our students say that they need to learn Spanish to make business abroad in South America - and most of them travel to Chile at one point or another.

Besides its obvious appeal for business travelers, Chile also has a lot in store for those who seek adventure destinations and cultural tours. Stretching 4 270 km (2 653 miles), Chile has so many different landscapes that it may be used as a postcard for Earth. Up North there’s the Atacama desert, where NASA famously trialed satellites to walk on Mars. South, you reach Patagonia. Off shore, there’s Easter Island.

Cristian Quezada Valdés en Flickr

Sanhattan (Santiago + Manhattan): the business district.

Chile’s capital and largest city is Santiago de Chile. It’s one of the biggest in the Americas, with a population of 7 million. Santiago is comprised of a historical center and a new, modern, business district, also known as Sanhattan. The center, despite the many earthquakes, has well-preserved colonial buildings and heritage sites.

The second biggest city is the coastal city of Valparaíso, a World Heritage site dubbed the “little San Francisco”. It is well-known for its labyrinthian alleys and cable cars. The city is also home to centuries-old universities, libraries and cultural institutions.
Ready to travel? Check out our cultural guide to Chile and get ready by learning Spanish online!