Living in Uruguay – A digital nomad from NYC

What's it like to be a gay vegan in Uruguay? New Yorker Chris has visited Uruguay twice for a total of 16 months and spills the beans.
By Karen A Higgs
living in uruguay as a digital nomad
Last updated on June 30, 2023
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Guru’Guay talks to a US communication coach about his extended stays in Uruguay as a digital nomad. Chris shares with Karen A Higgs, CEO of Guru’Guay, about life in the capital Montevideo, how it is to be vegan in the mecca of beef and how Chris feels in Uruguay as a gay guy.

Chris Roe, 41, arrived in Uruguay for the first time in March 2020. His plan was to launch his new online business coaching start-ups and CEOs and stay for a few weeks to check out the country. We all know what happened. The borders closed and Chris found himself accidentally stuck in Uruguay for 13 months due to the pandemic.

Guru’Guay wrote about Chris’s experience in the national press in a series on foreigners stuck in Uruguay during a pandemic. He eventually left in April 2021, returning in January 2023 for another three-month work/play stay—he couldn’t stay away!

Don’t miss the full interview above as we go into much more detail. This article has been edited for brevity and clarity. And don’t miss the rest of our series on Living in Uruguay (as a foreigner).

Being a vegetarian in Uruguay

Karen: I’ve got to get this out of the way. What’s it been like living in Uruguay as a vegetarian?

Chris: When I first arrived here, I was still eating a little bit of meat, but I actually met a lot of vegans and vegetarians when I was here before. So they—both international people and locals—introduced me to a lot of restaurants and Uruguayan brands that are selling vegan and vegetarian things. Now I’m full vegan and that has been interesting because there’s even more things now than there were before.

A restaurant doesn’t have to be solely vegetarian or vegan. Give me a couple options on the menu. I feel like no matter where I go, I always find something on the menu.

Life in Uruguay – the pros

Karen: So I wanted to get some ideas of your typical week while you’re here.

Chris: I stay in the neighborhood, Parque Rodó, and that for me is very centralised. But the best thing about it is the park is right there. So like if I have a little bit of a break, I can just go to the park. Or the beach is right there to go watch the sun.

Something I love about this city (Montevideo) is the walkability factor. I’ve walked that park so many times and it’s just beautiful to have that outside your door.

I’ve joined a gym less than a ten minute walk away, which is really important to me, as I want to get to the gym in between meetings.

And then something that is part of this culture that I love is merienda.

Karen: Tea Time.

Chris: Or as I call it, happy hour before happy hour. It’s a social community-based thing that I love. I use that time to work from about 6pm to 8pm most days, take my computer and go to the coffee shop and just work and focus and have a coffee.

Every once in a while I’ll go out to dinner. I like that we eat dinner late here. You walk down the street and the restaurant’s empty at nine and you think, Oh, they must not be doing very well. And it’s like, No, no, no, it’s just not time to eat yet.

Cost of living in Uruguay

Karen: Can you give me an idea of how much going out costs?

A coffee and a little snack is eight or ten bucks. But then I just went out the other night to a great place and my friend and I shared two plates, had two drinks and we split it and it was eighteen dollars each for a great cocktail and to share a meal.

Karen: 18 dollars for a meal and a drink seems quite cheap.

Chris: It was. I think it also depends where you go. That particular restaurant is a vegan place with super fresh food. Those cocktails are handcrafted cocktails. I got the 22% rebate back for using my foreign credit card. So yeah, that was great.

“…you can sit and watch the sunset…”

Karen: Anything else to add about your typical week.

Chris: I always make time for sunset. It is almost ingrained in me since being here. Yesterday someone asked me for a meeting and I said, I’m available from this time to this time, except for sunset. It’s a time for me to reflect or to connect. Just to be with people or to be with yourself.

Karen: You did tell me that the best sunsets you ever seen are in Bali and here.

I talk about this a lot, and it’s all over my Instagram, too. We are in this particularly cool situation in Uruguay, where we’re on the east coast of this continent, on the Atlantic Ocean facing east. Yet often you can sit and watch the sunset go into the water. It’s a beautiful thing.

You also watch people just be together. They’re having their mate and just being together and just sitting like we are.

At first it was a lot to adjust to. I’d never sat more in my life! I’m a New Yorker. I’m used to moving around and walking everywhere and you don’t sit still for very long. And so the art of sitting and sunsetting, I think is something I’ve learned here. So that’s part of my day.

And then on the weekends, my friends always go up the coast. Like this weekend, I’ll go up to visit a friend in La Paloma, which is a completely different world, right? It’s just a moment to just disconnect from the city and to connect to nature.

Social life in Uruguay

Karen: How did you make a friend in La Paloma, a seaside town 3 hours away?

Chris: Through your Facebook page. Honestly, that’s how my community started here. When I arrived here in Uruguay, I didn’t know a single soul. And I feel like I had more of a social life in this foreign country during the middle of a global pandemic than I do in New York City, where I’ve lived on and off for almost 15 years.

Read more about Chris’ time in Uruguay during the pandemic

Life in Uruguay – the cons

Karen: What’s not so great about living in Uruguay?

Chris: It’s what you’re comparing it to, right? So I’ve lived in a lot of different places and a lot of different major cities. Here you can’t escape trash. Trash is everywhere in the city. I think it’s gotten better [Guru’Guay note: He’s right]. But there’s dog poop everywhere. So the trash can kind of get to you but I don’t really have much bad to say.

Karen: Oh come on. You mentioned to me about having to go and get something from an office.

Chris: Oh well, those things. Yeah. So there can be confusing things. Not necessarily bad, but like learning a new system, learning the health care system, or picking up a package from DHL that you get shipped to.

I think sometimes because it’s such a small country, maybe sometimes people aren’t used to dealing with someone like me who doesn’t know the system. So little things like that can get confusing and a little frustrating and stressful.

Speaking Spanish

I’m actually surprised how many people speak English. I do think that a basic level of Spanish is kind of necessary, no matter where you are in the world. People are helpful and understand and can speak enough if you need help. But I think, you know, it would be a really good idea to have at least some knowledge while you’re here or before you come.

Especially because of the regionalism of the accent which is very different. My Spanish has always been more Mexican than anything. But when I was making the decision to come back here, I got a Spanish teacher who lives in Buenos Aires in Argentina because I wanted to reacclimate myself to the accent, the different words and to all of those different things [Guru’Guay note: Good choice. The Argentine and Uruguayan accents are very similar. However there are some differences in vocabulary. See our article on expressions you’ll only hear in Uruguay]. I will say my Spanish greatly improved after living here for 13 months.

Being gay in Uruguay

Karen: Chris, I wanted to ask you, as a gay guy, how is it living in Uruguay? How do you feel?

Chris: It has been a great experience. A few years before I came here, I saw a travel blog written by a gay couple which included a picture of two guys on the ferry—I’m assuming between Argentina and here. (In the picture) one guy was asleep on the other’s shoulder, their arms were around each other. And they wrote that if this was any indication of what the country was like, then they were very curious to go and they expected to feel welcomed there.

I’ve not had great experiences in other places in the world where things have been said to me or things have been thrown at me. I have not had that experience here. And I think that has to do with just tolerance, community and the importance of a tolerant, community-based country and city.

For me as an international person and living in New York for so long, I feel designated queer spaces are necessary for people to feel safe and comfortable. And that in the US those are the only places where they feel that safe. Here there aren’t that many—because it’s a smaller place, but also because (being gay is) kind of folded into the culture and it’s accepted more. There’s obviously people that probably don’t—but I have never felt unsafe and I have never felt like I couldn’t express myself.

In New York for example there are (exclusively) gay parties. Here it’s kind of like, the party is for everybody. Gay parties do exist, but just last week I was at a party and we’re walking through and I said, Oh, we’re in the ‘gay section’ now. And no one seemed to care. It was just that it was what it was. And that’s kind of refreshing.

The art of slowing down

Karen: Anything else you want to add before we finish?

Chris: The experience of being accidentally stuck here for 13 months changed my life and in a very unexpected way. For me, the balance between large metropolitan go, go, go, go, go cities and cultures like New York, and then being able to come here… it’s like a 180°. You still have a large city with all its offerings but it really just allows you to slow down.

It’s like the art of slowing down and sunsets or something like that. It allows you to take a break and a step away from that craziness and to realize that it’s about connection and community. And those things are really important, in my experience, in Latin America, but also in this country.

Karen: And it’s something that’s brought you back again and you’ll be back again?

Chris: 1,000%.

Karen: Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

Chris: It’s my pleasure. I can talk about Uruguay all day long.

Karen: Chris and I got together earlier today to film a short video for Uruguay XXI, the Uruguay investment agency, regarding a new digital nomad residency. There Chris talks more about work-life balance, the quality of internet connectivity and all that kind of good stuff in the video. So we’ll put a link so that you can go check that out as well.

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