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I’m a Brit living in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. I could be living anywhere in the world but chose Uruguay over two decades ago and absolutely love it.

This week a reader asked what frustrates me about daily life here. So, here goes. These are some the things that irritate me—in no particular order—, about day to day life in Uruguay.

Do you have a rant to share? Feel free to post in the comments! 

Convoluted tax system

Uruguayans are sticklers for rules and regulations—and doing things by the book. To be honest, I appreciate it. It certainly flies in the face of stereotypes around Latin American corruption and bribery (don’t try to bribe a Uruguayan traffic cop, you could be arrested). And some bureaucracy in Uruguay like paying bills is now incredibly streamlined and easy. But not being able to do my own taxes as a sole trader, because the system is so convoluted, is definitely frustrating. I even know MBAs who threw up their hands and hired someone to do their taxes—which is what I quickly realised I needed to do too.

A lack of glamour

When asked what she wished she had known before she came to Uruguay, my friend Edie said she wished she had not wasted valuable luggage space on the expensive high heels she never got to wear. People don’t dress up much in Uruguay, not even when going out to dine or the theatre. While most of the time I love the freedom from convention, sometimes I confess, I long for a bit of glamour.

No real chips (french fries, for my US readers)

Chips made from actual real potatoes sliced in a restaurant kitchen are hard to come by. In fact when I’ve asked at a restaurant if their chips were ‘real’, the proud response was “Yes, we only use [insert brandname of frozen fries]”. Fortunately the situation is improving.

Poorly insulated homes

Coming from a country where home insulation is a given, it can be a shock how poorly built and prepared houses are for the Uruguayan winter. Combined with high utility costs and damp from the ocean and the Rio de la Plata, many newcomers to Uruguay are condemned to a miserable winter when they arrive. My first winter in rented accomodation was truly miserable indoors—during the day it was actually colder inside the house than outside. Grrrr. Or rather, brrrr.

Barking dogs

Uruguayans absolutely love their dogs but in my experience they don’t tend to train them (well). To make it worse, owners tend to think that it’s perfectly normal for dogs to bark. A lot. It’s common to have several dogs for security purposes, especially in the countryside. Expect quizzical looks and limited action when you complain to your neighbor about their incessantly barking pooches.


The streets of Montevideo are lined with gorgeous art Deco buildings but unfortunately the walls are also riddled with graffiti and tags. There’s also outstanding street art but the tagging has made more than one unsuspecting visitor imagine that Montevideo had a serious gang problem. It really makes me sad and was bloody annoying when my own home was repeatedly graffitied.

Poor customer service

The customer is rarely right in Uruguay. I don’t mind it that in general staff are not particularly friendly, but what is truly frustrating, is to have a legitimate complaint and be met by a defensive, rather than helpful or sympathetic, response. Customer service has definitely started to improve. Businesses do seem to be aware of the situation and interestingly are choosing to hire recent arrivals—super friendly Venezuelans, Cubans and Dominicans—to staff their front desks. But expect neither automatic helpful service nor refunds. It’s so frustrating to have to accept a credit note, even when the goods you are returning are faulty—but that is common practice here.

No place is perfect, right? And I’ll be posting some antidotes to the issues raised above.

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