Is Santiago the Next Hong Kong?
For many recent college grads, the job market in the US is becoming the hurdle they just can’t seem to get over. Employers, worried about the economy and the high costs of bringing on new hires, are opting instead to do more with less. The American Dream that college students had heard so much about is turning into just that… a dream. Enter Santiago, Chile.
A mecca for millennial entrepreneurs
Young entrepreneurs are facing their own set of hurdles as well. With increased regulation and costs, those looking to transform their dreams into tangible businesses are finding that the costs are making it more uneconomic with each passing year.
So what can you do to negotiate these obstacles? One option is to do what countless others have done when their current location was no longer an advantage: relocate. And not just to another US city, but somewhere where your skills and talents will really set you apart.
The Economic Boom of Santiago
A little more than 40 years ago, this South American city was embroiled in a brutal revolution that cost many lives. However, today the city is positioning itself to become what some are calling “the Hong Kong of South America.” Santiago is now considered a Mecca for both entrepreneurs and those with valuable skills. And for good reason…
Here are just a few of the things the city is doing to entice foreign workers and capital their way:
- You can start a business there in just one day. Yes, you read that correctly. The government has done its darnedest to remove as much red tape as possible so businesses here can get set up and start operations quickly. Did we mention this can easily be done online?
- The Start-Up Chile program. Have a great idea for a business and just need some seed money to get it up-and-running? This program is your answer. Simply submit your business plan, and if your idea meets the required criteria, the Chilean government will give you up to $40,000 to set up your business in Chile instead of your home country. Try that with the US government…
- Work visas: the Chilean government has also streamlined the process for foreign-born workers to complete a work contract and get approved quickly. There might be a country that makes it easier for foreign workers to move and start working, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it.
Even Hong Kong didn’t make it this easy…
The unfortunate truth is that the entrepreneurial spirit in the US is waning. When regulations and startup costs make doing business in an area uneconomic, those businesses migrate elsewhere. At any point in human history, there were advantages to being in one geographic area as opposed to another. In the past people went to London or New York to make their fortune. No one at that point would have even considered the backwater states of Singapore and Hong Kong. Now the reverse is true.
Hong Kong started out as a small fishing village and by the early 2000s was a major international financial center. If you moved there early there’s a good chance you are VERY well-off today. It always happens the same way: when times get tough, people move to where the opportunity is and turn that city into a major player on the world stage.
In each case those who were willing to take a risk were rightfully rewarded while those that weren’t had to fight over crumbs. It’s happened over and over again: Europe had London, North America had New York, Asia had Hong Kong and now Singapore, and soon South America will have Santiago.
While doing business in the US is still very possible, and even profitable, the pendulum is now swinging in the other direction. It’s getting harder every year and by most estimates the average American is losing ground when it comes to keeping up with cost of living. It’s like being on a treadmill while the incline is steadily going up, even if it’s just a few millimeters every so often, at some point you’re going to go flying off.
Luckily, there are places in the world where the opposite is true, places where there is an abundance of opportunity and hard work and risk taking are both encouraged and rewarded.
Santiago is about to enjoy its day in the sun. The world is constantly in a state of “economic Whack-A-Mole” where there is always one country rising up while another is being knocked back down. At this point, Santiago is definitely on its way up.
So how does someone take advantage of this opportunity?
Let’s say for example that you just graduated from college with a computer science degree. You’ve honed your programming chops and are ready to attack Silicon Valley to land that coveted six-figure position building the coolest app ever. There’s just one problem: so are thousands of other recent grads, most of whom are indistinguishable from the next. How will you separate yourself from the herd?
Now imagine that instead of focusing your efforts on the Bay Area, you instead took your skills to a place like Santiago. How many other talented programmers educated in the US do you think you’ll be competing against. A lot LESS.
You’ve significantly separated yourself from the herd by simply going where there is almost no herd to speak of. This would in turn allow you to charge much more for your services. You might even consider starting your own programming business right from the beginning instead of slaving away on 80-hour weeks for someone else.
If you’re currently a struggling college grad, a young entrepreneur, or just someone with valuable skills looking to improve your situation, start thinking outside the box of your home country for opportunities. The world is constantly in flux, some countries are coming up while others are crashing down. If you currently live in one of the latter, take a minute and give Santiago a look. Like those who packed up and headed to Hong Kong several decades ago, you might be very glad you did.
The one drawback of Santiago…
The language barrier.
Unbeknownst to most people, many Chileans do not speak English. So if you’d prefer not to rely on your caveman skills (lots of pointing and grunting) for much of your time there, consider investing in some Pimsleur Spanish courses before your departure flight!
Ryan Brown has had a long-standing obsession with world travel, internationalization, and searching for entrepreneurial opportunities abroad. His main area of interest is helping millennials acquire more money and more freedom by taking "unconventional" approaches to their education and careers. He has traveled to over 20 countries and has spent time living in Austin, NYC, and Santiago, Chile.