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Five things you need to know about Uruguay

I love Uruguay… it is, without a doubt, one of my top five choices in Latin America– the country is clean, beautiful, and cheap, full of great wine and friendly people. But if you’re considering the country as a place to live, work, or do business, there are definitely a few things you need to know:

First, Uruguay is NOT a financial center. It achieved a reputation over the years as a tax haven full of private, secret bank accounts. Not true. Sure it was a great place for wealthy Argentines to stash their cash, but frankly your 3-year old’s Piggy bank is probably safer than most Argentine banks.

By comparison, Uruguay’s banks seemed extraordinarily stable… and because it is so close to Buenos Aires, Uruguay became the natural offshore financial center for Argentina.

There was a time when Uruguay had some level of banking secrecy and no personal income tax. This has all changed, most recently because Uruguay was temporarily placed on the OECD’s banking blacklist earlier this year.

Their Finance Minister literally jumped through hoops to have this scourge removed, and when the ‘blacklist’ label was dropped, any remaining semblance of bank secrecy went with it.

Ironically, despite no longer having any significant benefit, many banks in Uruguay refuse to work with US citizens. You will run into this a lot at many private banks– so if you are looking to open a personal account there, try Banco Republica: it’s a government-owned bank with government-backed deposit insurance, and they accept US customers.

The second thing you need to understand is that Uruguay is not a tropical paradise. Sure it’s a lovely place, but there are definitely four seasons there– it’s not Costa Rica or even Brazil where you can expect balmy weather year-round.

Third, you have to be prepared to enter a time warp… though a lot of people are drawn to the old-timey feel of Montevideo; the entire country is so quiet and sleepy, it seems as if you were living in the 1950s.

Fourth- Punta del Este is a vibrant, happening place… for about 3 months out of the year. From December through February, Punta swells as thousands upon thousands of visitors from around the world descend on this small town to party all night and roast all day.

The nightclubs are nonstop, the restaurants are packed, and the beaches are littered with European models and FashionTV shoots.

For the other nine months, Punta is about as happening as an average town in rural Iowa… and pursuant to point #2 above, these are the months where the weather is slightly less than spectacular.

Fifth– Staple items like groceries are noticeably cheaper in Uruguay, at least 10% to 30% less than what you would pay in North America, Europe, or Australia. But if you’re in the mood to go shopping for clothes, cars, electronics, or just about anything that has to be imported, get ready for sticker shock.

The Uruguayan government imposes stiff luxury taxes and duties on imported goods, and this includes most products beyond basic staples.

For example, rundown cars that you wouldn’t consider paying more than $5,000 for in North America might cost $10,000 to $20,000 in Uruguay; and a shiny new computer at the Punta del Este Apple store will set you back almost twice what you would pay in the US.

You can get around the stiff automobile prices by first purchasing and registering a vehicle in another country, then driving it into Uruguay as a ‘tourist’. This is a prime example of the multiple flags theory that I discuss frequently– having your assets registered in one country and living in another.

Overall, you should consider Uruguay if you fall into the internationalist, hermit, or retiree expat categories.

If you have any other personal experiences from Uruguay or specific questions, I would love to hear them.

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About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lugo

    Can expats own property? What does property cost?

  • Jim M

    How do you feel about: A. investing in Buenos Aires area B. Mendoza area. Then about living in either one of the locations. Could be part time or full time.

    What would be “your” top areas to invest in real estate then areas to live.


  • Dave

    I concur with your assessment. Its demographics tell the story. Average age over 50 and 70+% European heritage with the lowest birthrate in South America. Not big enough to attract too much attention and not dynamic enough to be a threat or powerhouse. I believe it could become the banking capital of South America especially with Brazilian oil. THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE. May be good country for long term retirement, i.e. last phases of life. My country of choice in South America to live.

  • Willard St.Germain

    Dear Simon,

    What do you think of Doug Casey’s expat development called”LaEstacia de Cafayate in Argentina as a place to build a house & live part time? Have you heard of the place.It is 7 hours south of Buenos Aries,Argentina.

    Best Regards,
    Willard St.Germain

  • francesco

    You mentioned buying a vehicle in another country, perhaps Chile comes to my mind and then drive it to Uruguay as a turist. Ok, but insurance?

    I have a old car registered in Uruguay and I can keep it without any insurance, but I can’t go to Argentine without insuring it, because the government of Argentine wants foreign vehicles to be insured.

    So if I buy a vehicle perhaps in Chile then I need an insurance and it will probably be impossible to insure it in Uruguay if it is registered in Chile. Then I need to insure it in Chile. But is it possible for a foreigner, not resident to insure a car in Chile?

    The same happened in Switzerland, where I cannot buy a car because cannot get the compulsory insurance because am not resident.

    Regarding prices the same fish that cost 16 eur/kg in Italy and 40 Francs/kg in Switzerland costs 70 pesos/kg in Montevideo. So fish is 80% less expensive expensive than in Europe or less.

    The same meat that cost 50 Francs/kg in Switzerland cost 100 pesos/kg in Montevideo. Discount is 90%

  • Marat


    I am planning to visit Uruguay and Buenos Aires in early November (5-11) so would be happy to meet anyone like minded while I will be there. Shoot me an email if you will be there at this time (visiting or resident)


  • Jamie

    I will be leaving for Uruguay in 7 days for a 7 day boots-on-the-ground recon then to Buenos Aires for 3 days. Future home? Maybe. I previously requested if you had any information on Capital Conservator and had not received a reply. Any other information from you or any other viewers would also be appreciated. I enjoy your articles and the information you provide. Keep up the good work.

  • Martha

    Everything you say is absolutely true. Nevertheless, the stream of expats from all parts– but particularly the US, Canada, Britain– is steadily turning into a river. And, while Punta is very quiet during the winter, the influx of year-round residents is changing the dead scene slowly but surely. One benefit the off-season offers is that they turn off all but the most crucial traffic lights. On the other hand, Uruguay has raised useless bureaucracy to an art form. When dealing with any transaction, from banking to immigration, be prepared to make several visits. We moved down to Uruguay in 2006 but were only finally granted our permanent residency in 2009 because of the endless bureaucracy. A loan on our property took over a year to complete—even though the amount in question was but a fraction of the value of the land put up as collateral. Most laws and regulations seem to be enacted on the assumption that everyone is out to scam the system, resulting in needless hassle to the vast majority of law-abiding, responsible citizens/residents. On the other hand, life is laid-back and tranquil. Socializing revolves around friends and family, food and music.

    • TM

      We are seriously considering purchasing a home in Punta. One of the reasons for doing this would have it be a location where we could start a health research center. My husband likes the four seasons or we would be in Panama. However the bureaucracy issue is a little daunting. Yet I think it is very possible with the right connections that this would not be such an issue. Simon, as a believer in who you know, would that not be true in this case? We like small towns, not too cold not too hot climates, organic fruits and vegetables, hormone free meats, interesting intelligent people, easy access to the arts. It’s the restaurant situation during off season that could be a challenge for my husband. But that is the least of my concerns. We have many options there. Anyway, just want to say I love this newsletter and wish I had more time to write questions or read the reply section. If I put my email address in does it then go out to everyone?

  • diane rousseau

    dear simon, l have been to uruguay several times and almost bought a beach house outside of la paloma… even started making arrangements to have my peruvian horse flown down. those beach rides are the best! i rode from cabo polonio to chuy the first trip. the temperate climate, water, arable land, hydro, windmills, public transport, good infrastructure is attractive to hermits. also liked the cleanliness, the civililty of the people, the laid-back 50’s tempo and the lack of visible military everywhere, unlike argentina and chile. your comments on uruguay are right on. things are changing. an older member of the landed gentry said things are getting less transparent in the government with a lot being “whited out”, and it really isn’t a banking haven anymore. a disposeable camera set me back $19 in punta. they are $7.50 for two at wal-mart (until healthcare passes and we inflation and a vat tax in the u.s.). a young german i met on the road said it is easy to have re-invention fantasies, but for the price of a cheap house one could live well many different places (“like the swan that’s here in gone” in the condor passes), especially when it’s not a propitious time to sell here and a lot of work to relocate unless it is as a new base. the realtor said it takes about two years to sell a house there, same as here. also, it takes me two days to get there, and it’s not going to ge easier and cheaper in the future. ex-pats there said rent first..for a year so that you can experience all the seasons. i enjoyed the off-season tranquility, at first, but then it got boring eating everything on the same menu at the only place that was open and would you want to be there when it was hot and mobbed? that’s when you make the rental income. you can stay most countries for up to six months without a visa rather than being tied to any one. the responsibilities of being absent is like supporting two factories only open half the year. then there are the liabilities of things changing. with the global economic crisis there is going to be a lot of change everywhere and the nature and depth of it uncertain. last night i heard col. john alexander speaking on coast to coast am on geopolitics from a speech he had just given to former intelligence people at a las vegas confab. he said drugs from the northern andes are being circumnavigated south and mentioned uruguay. later, he mentioned paraguay twice. wondering if the mention of uruguay was a confusion with paraguay or in addition to? it kind of surprised me (except for the part about paraguay), though i recall the bus being stopped and searched several times on the cuarenta this year for drug smuggling. wondered what the market was in tierra del fuego, but maybe something is going on? i enjoy reading international living, but they airbrush as much as the upscale travel magazines because they are selling something. montevideo is not charmingly european. centro looks like it was built by the soviets not the french. they say mexico is the top retirement haven, but as alexander says “the wheels are beginning to fall off”. gerald celente goes so far as to say it could become another congo. good to know before you go. the truth is not on many agendas anymore so thanks for articles like this one on uruguay that give a more balanced picture. think i will use up some of those airmiles on new zealand next, though residency and distance are problematical (and sand flies). but honestly, i haven’t found anything i’d trade for long term, yet. always looking, and maybe that’s enough. diane rousseau, crestone, co.

    • lrm

      hey diane;
      thanks for your post. very informative and insightful!
      yea,colorado is good living….and a sensible state,relatively speaking,gvmt-wise. I am currently in CA,but lived in CO for 3 yrs…like you,regularly investigating a ‘better permanent option’ abroad…like you said,6 mos may be the way to go; and in fact,I think it’s really more in line with what sovereign man advocates=the multiple flags approach.
      Please continue to update us with your findings,if you feel like doing so!

  • km

    You should also mention that Uruguay has a fast track passport program.Once you residence visa is approved you can have a passport some months after. Also..you can import your car duty free as long as you dont sell it in Uruguay for 4 years.

    • Hugo Heule

      HI KM,

      I am from Belgium and I read from you that ‘you can import your car duty free as long as you dont sell it in Uruguay for 4 years’ Are you sure about this?

  • cruzer

    Hi Simon,
    I’ve seriously considered Uruguay for a place to establish residence and then a second citizenship. According to an article written by David Hammond, “If you are a US citizen applying for Uruguay residency, you need to get a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report instead of a police certificate from your home country.” The article goes on to say that the Interpol police take fingerprints of all fingers and then sends them off to the FBI. I’m willing to go along with a countries residency requirements to provide a police report because that’s reasonable. But sending fingerprints to the FBI is over the top for me.

    • cruzer

      Hi Simon,
      I’ve seriously considered Uruguay for a place to establish residence and then a second citizenship. According to an internet article I read recently, US citizen applying for Uruguay residency are required to provide an FBI report, including fingerprints, in lieu of the standard police report. Is this true?

      • http://www.corporateraiter.com corporate raiter

        yes you will be fingerprinted by interpol and need a clearance from fbi. while it’s a bit ‘big brother’ and sucks if you can’t make the cut, i’m pretty sure i wouldn’t want to live in a place that was a welcome haven for those that couldn’t get cleared.


      • lrm

        Contrary to the other reply to your post…I believe the interpol/FBI is a way of tracking citizens who are looking to be sovereign.

        Thinking it is ‘for your protection’ or for the country’s protection,is unrealistic/slightly funny. Sure,Urug. would say it’s for their own country’s benefit…but c’mon-70% european descent and a major WWII migration to argentina,paraguay,uruguay-everyone does realize the history of this region,right? Who do you think might be living there and operating?

        Perhaps not today,but of yesterday….
        One could argue that they do not want a repeat of this,but honestly,the country was founded by those who chose to escape the laws of their home countries. (I know,I am widely generalizing,sorry for this).

        I am not saying I agree or disagree with any country’s history-it is what it is. Just saying it’s naiive to think that Uruguay is pristine and doing this to ‘keep out criminals’.

        Bush Jr. has a ranch there and I believe second citizenship.
        There are safe havens for all who want them in the world. And every individual who has the means, including most political leaders,has another location/option.

        FBI fingerprinting is enough to make me say ‘no thanks’,too,however. will not keep me safer,will just keep me ‘tracked’ by interpol.
        And that really defeats the purpose now,doesn’t it? For me. IMHO,of course.

        btw,r8r: do you think the definition of who ‘doesn’t make the cut’ according to FBI standards,by design,thus creates a ‘safer place’?
        Are their standards neutral and in and of themselves criminal-free guarantees? I personally do not think so. Any govmt organization,and particularly an intl. one,is inherently acting in it’s own interests,not yours or mine.

  • Genie Goldilocks

    Would you be interested in an exclusive opportunity with an exclusive company?

  • Bruce

    Hi Simon,

    If you own a place in Uruguay,that you use part of the year and rent out the rest do you have to pay tax in Uruguay on your rental income and if so what is the rate?Thanks. Cheers Bruce

    • http://www.puntadelesteexpats.blogspot.com Margarita Palatnik

      There is a 12% tax on rental income for locals and non-locals alike.

  • Greg

    How about its next door neighbor, Paraguay?

    • secutor

      look at the map, Paraguay is not the next door neighbor.

  • diane rousseau

    having made two trips to uruguay recently, i agree with your points. also might add that montevideo centro is a singularly ugly city looking more like it was built by the soviets than the french. col. john alexander said this week that drugs from the northern andes were being rerouted south through uruguay. he then mentioned paraguay twice. did he mean uruguay too? the bus was stopped and searched twice for drugs on the cuarenta heading south in patagonia, so maybe there is something to it. also, said “the wheels are coming off in mexico.” keep up the truth alerts. diane rousseau

  • jein

    hello simon,

    do you have any feedback on people seeking naturalisation? i’ve read the process takes 3 years for married couples, 5 for single people. is this accurate or does the bureaucracy lengthen the process?

    LUGO- no restrictions on foreigners owning property on any of the sites i’ve read.

    DAVE- like to hear more of why you think as you do.

    many thanks for your attention.

    kind regards,


  • http://www.internationalliving.com dan

    Learned a lot about Uruguay and current real estate opportunities from Lee Harrison, our roving South American editor, who splits his time between Uruguay and Brazil. He confirms the seasonality (gets cold in the winter, but Ururguay winter is U.S. and Canadian summer — opens possibilities). Also confirms the bureaucracy… labyrinthine. But it remains his top choice for a retirement destination in Latin America.

  • http://www.corporateraiter.com corporate ratier


    i have some *biased* info on capital conservator if you’re curious. i’ve also been living down here since 2006. anyone wants to meet up this spring summer (not till end of feb) shoot me an email to corporateraiter (at) gmail (dot) com


  • Arlean

    Simon, of course I agree with your analysis of Uruguay. However, I had occasion to meet with one of the principals of one of the largest (perhaps THE largest) stock brokerages in Montevideo recently and he assured me that Uruguay has not given up their bank secrecy. He said they did what they had to do but that secrecy in Uruguay is alive and well.

    This is not intended as disagreement. It may be that they rolled over where US citizens are concerned (one banker told me they could no longer accept US citizens because of Uruguay´s bank secrecy laws) but this broker claims that so much of their financial business here is from Argentines putting their money here that it would destroy banking here if they were to give up bank secrecy. So . . . just some different viewpoints. None of them mine personally. I don´t claim to know.

  • Mrs. X

    Slightly off topic, but is anyone familiar with Ecuador? I’ve been looking at that and weighing my options. but I’m having a hard time finding tax information other than VAT and property tax. If anyone has any insight I would greatly appreciate it.

  • P Riehl

    “You should also mention that Uruguay has a fast track passport program.Once you residence visa is approved you can have a passport some months after.”

    IF you have own a property and IF you have a government pension above a certain amount per month. That’s like saying you’re eligible or an Irish passport without mentioning IF you happen to have an Irish grandparent.

    Mrs. X: haven’t to Ecuador been but hope to. Three issues I have with it: tall pink people don’t blend in, overwhelmingly superstitious (i.e., Catholic), and the possibility of currency controls, meaning you could sell your house there but not get your money out of the country without risking time behind bars.

  • UruguayGuy

    from lrm’s post:

    “FBI fingerprinting is enough to make me say ‘no thanks’,too,however. will not keep me safer,will just keep me ‘tracked’ by interpol.
    And that really defeats the purpose now,doesn’t it? For me. IMHO,of course.

    btw,r8r: do you think the definition of who ‘doesn’t make the cut’ according to FBI standards,by design,thus creates a ’safer place’?”

    no. i never said it was ‘safer’ because of it. i just don’t want to live in and around the kind of element that is scared off by the screening. personal preference.

    i’ve been here for 3 1/2 years. uy is incredibly bureaucratic, but too inept to rely get too deep into your biz — even if they cared — and they don’t.

    does interpol want to know you’re trying to be ‘sovereign’? perhaps. but expats are too paranoid as it is. i prefer to assume they could get my entrance/exits from the passport and border control folks if they wanted it and let go a bit.

    if i had a 2nd passport in a different name and had illusions that my whereabouts were secret i might feel otherwise.


  • sara

    I live in Ecuador and it is a wonderful country. Its people are so nice and kind, they will give you the most warming welcome. I have put together a helpful fact sheet, and also an article on Ecuadorian manners and customs

  • TashaK

    Hey.. im gonna be in Montevideo and wondering if there is an import tax, and how high it is? For example, if i order Victorias Secret from the states to Spain, shipping will cost me, but I will pay nothing once it arrives at my door. But when I am in the Bahamas, i not only have to pay shipping, but also a ‘quite fucking high’ rate once it is delivered too. I think its 65%. So wondering what it is for Uruguay. Thanks.

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