Technically, the title of this post is probably a lie. I am, in fact, still very much a gringa, as evinced by my refusal to drink disgusting sugar water labeled as “juice”, opposition to cigarette smoke in my apartment and, of course, my height. I had to learn how to say my height in meters (1.75, in case you were wondering) because it is common for people to ask how tall I am. Anyway, clearly there are lots of other reasons I´m not Chilean, but those were the first three off the top of my head. And just for the record, here “gringa” isn´t a derogatory word and is used to refer to all white foreigners, not just Americans. Anyway, back to the point. Lately I´ve been doing lots of exciting “tramites” (aka bureaucracy and errands) that have been relatively low-stress and instant gratification – a welcome change from other excitement! On Monday I got my Chilean ID card. This is very exciting since there was some doubt that I would actually end up getting it (see the previous link for more info), and now I´m officially legal to be here until 2010.
I also signed up for my Chilean health insurance and pension. I know basically nothing about these things in the US, which I find slightly embarrassing after the whole social security crisis a couple years ago – by the way, have we done anything about that? It sort of just faded from the headlines. But honestly, social security isn´t the most interesting topic for a teenager, and health insurance was always a parental issue, I just went to the doctor and the bills magically got paid! That said, I think Chile has a good scheme, at least in theory. Here, everyone has health insurance via the public health system of Fonasa. Since Fonasa is – like most public health systems – very slow and doesn´t cover you for the best clinics and doctors, most people have Isapre as well. Isapre is what in the US we would call health insurance. If you have a contract, your employer is obligated to pay 7% of your salary toward Isapre, and if you want a better plan that gives you more coverage or better clinics you can pay more from your own pocket. Essentially, if you work in a stable job, you for sure have at least some health coverage that is above the most basic level. You also have a good amount of choice since you choose which insurance company to go with as well as the specific plan, so everyone has the best plan for them. On top of Isapre you can get private seguros (insurance), but I´m not quite clear on those…I know that some clinics have their own insurance which gets you better coverage there, but I don´t know about other options.
Pension planning is equally easy. 12% of your check goes to AFP, where you have your own account to be used after you retire. Again, you choose your company and whether you want your money invested in high, medium, or low risk funds. Basically it seems to me like a good balance of government-mandated planning and personal choice. Also, here when you get told your salary, they tell you your liquido, or take-home pay. So even though I am now getting these extra benefits, it´s not like the US where they tell you one number and your check ends up being less because of taxes. I may have a completely different take on all of this after I go to the dentist – my first test of insurance – but for now I´m a happy camper.
Today I also signed up with the equivalent of the IRS. For some reason the fact that I have a contract here doesn´t mean that I exist in the SII, and to get paid for those translations I did a while back I need to “emitir boleta” which is basically like sending an invoice. To do this, you need to get on board with SII, so that they can tax you. Most people do this online but clearly it would be too much to expect the same to be true of foreigners, so today I went to the office, where the only thing they did was print a piece of paper giving me a password. Oh, and they also all looked at me like I was crazy and told me I could do this online – no, no I can´t, I clearly thought of that and it was the official SII help people who told me over the phone that I had to come here! I don´t just like going to government offices! Anyway, that´s now also all taken care of, and I was in and out of there in 20 minutes, which is amazing. Of course since it´s the end of the month I won´t get paid until the end of next month, but that´s ok, it´ll be a nice chunk of money to look forward to!
I can also make rice, which is something quintessentially Chilean. I don´t burn the bottom anymore either, at least not usually.
A vacation post with photos will be up probably by the end of the weekend. We had an amazing trip and are already planning on going back to Pucón in a few months. Definitely a success.