7 things that frustrate me about daily life in Uruguay

I’m a Brit living in Uruguay. I could be living anywhere but chose life in Uruguay over two decades ago. Time to spill the beans!!
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on September 24, 2021
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.

Graffiti

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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22 Responses

  1. It’s rather amusing to read all these opinions really.
    I’m Uruguayan/ Dutch, born in Uruguay but lived for about 15 years outside the country, mainly in Europe (the Netherlands).
    I am back in Uruguay since November 2020, mainly due to the pandemic and to spend some time with my mother who has been alone for most of the first months of it.
    I think Uruguay is a lovely country with lots of potential, but as a Uruguayan, and making a generalization,… I am starting to despise Uruguayan culture.
    The lack of commitment, punctuality, seriousness or sense of commitment gets on my nerves on a daily to the point I find myself being in a bad mood most of the time.
    I can’t expect anything from anyone when speaking about paid work. If I hire an “albañil” for instance, I feel I’m left to his will. Will he come in time, if at all? Will he finish the work, will he not? Or is he gonna try to rip me off for a poorly executed job? Who knows but odds are, it will be Sh*t.
    I’m right now in Amsterdam for a few months and dreading the idea of going back alrady.
    The graffiti I get it all too well, as my shop’s front is constantly being graffitied, littered and pooped and pissed by dogs.
    It’s sad, cause as I said, the country has potential, but it’s inhabitants don’t seem to get it.

    Anyway, I’m sorry for all the negativity and hey, don’t forget I’m Uruguayan myself.

    Cheers.

    Daniel

    1. Hi Daniel, glad you enjoyed the list. I hear you about lack of punctuality and commitment in some areas and also about service providers. That’s why I always stress that it’s so important to hire people via recommendation. The same bricklayer (albañil) who might do a crap job, will generally do a great job if he’s come through a recommendation. It’s one of the reasons we started our free directory Guru’Guia which you can download from our ‘store’ on the site. To be able to recommend reliable service providers.

      Regarding your last point, to be honest, Uruguayans are the most negative about their own country in my experience! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, very appreciated! – Karen

  2. I’m happy to have return to my birth country but yes, frustrated with the dog poo, broken sidewalks, already tripped and fell twice and bleeding knees, and the cuidacoches, I’m staying temporarily at my mom’s in barrio centro sur and these things are worst than ever before. I agree with everything.

    1. Hey Mary, thanks for commenting. So sorry that you fell… those sidewalks can definitely be uneven in Montevideo. I hope that the government decides to take over their maintenance soon (I read that that was being floated) and not leave it up to the householders. Best wishes — Karen

  3. 5 years ago my wife and I began looking at retiring in Uruguay and the fact is there is little in the way of accurate information on everyday life which concerned us. Now that my wife is retired and I am completely burned out I am happy I found a place to look for real answers. Before we met we traveled the world on our own, but kids, work, etc. has taken a toll. I started to worry maybe I don’t have the flexibility to pull up stakes but this site has made me feel much better about giving this a shot.

    1. I’m so glad to hear this, Robert and I look forward to being in touch directly through our newsletter. Best wishes — Karen

  4. Reading from Malaga, Spain where insulation is pathetic on buildings so winter feels brutal when at home and I can hear a dog barking as I write. Same here too. And here I was hoping to find somewhere better to run away too.

    1. Your comment is hammering home the message that Uruguay was settled by Spaniards, Marta! Cheers to you, my fellow Brit — Karen

  5. Yes, Karen, I do receive all your online postings. Since at least 5 years I guess. That was the time that you still called yourself the Welsh Witch I believe.
    As I was born in South Wales myself I then wrote you my (Belgian) family’s story including the great hospitality with which we were welcomed as refugees at the start of and during the whole of WW II. Time flies by, I still have to honor your invitation to come and see you and have a drink together. My wife and I live in Punta. From time to time we spend a while in MVD visiting our son and his wife and their 2 Uruguayan born daughters (rounded ages 5 and 2 respectively). We are then always kept terribly busy as you can imagine. However I should indeed look for an opportunity to meet you in person !
    Kind regards, Jean.
    P.S. Jean is French for John 🙂

  6. Hi Karen, I would like to add the horrible state of the pavements in MVD (and possibly all over the country ?). Even Punta del Este is not up to standard. While walking in MVD I fell on the ground at two different occasions. On of these occasions I had to have my chin sewn at the emergency department of my mutualista. Nonetheless my wife and I are still pleased to live in Uruguay (and to read your excellent periodic publications). Cheers !

    1. Dear Jean, I am so sorry to hear about your accidents due to the pavements. Yes, they are often not in great shape, I am in agreement with you. Thank you for sharing and the kind words! I assume you get our newsletter too? If not, you can sign up in the form in the footer 🙂 Great to be in touch. — Karen

  7. Graffitis are the worst! In particular those that are stupid letters or signs intended to just ruin a wall or monument – they don’t even have the decency to mean anything.

    1. Agreed. It’s really irritating. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Cecilia. Hopefully in the future, things will change. — Karen

    1. Hi Roberto, that’s sad to hear. It feels more understandable if it’s protest graffiti. This is just ugly graffiti 🙁 — best, and thanks for commenting! Karen

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