The first thing to know is that all exchange students attending UAI are at the Viña del Mar campus, NOT the Santiago campus. Viña is a seaside resort town about 1.5 hours west of Santiago (a very easy, cheap bus). It is very quiet in the winter, PACKED in the summer with rich Chileans taking their summer holidays. Viña is nice…. But it feels like any Western country. I chose to live in the neighbouring town of Valparaiso. It’s true, Valparaiso is dirtier and poorer than fancy Viña, and there was quite a rivalry between the two (you either love Valparaiso or you hate it). I love Valparaiso and barely went to Viña except for my classes. I did my research before I left Australia and decided that I wanted to live in Valpo. There were only about 3 of the 150 exchange students that chose to do this. I strongly recommend it.
In Valpo you actually feel like you are someplace different, it feels like a more authentic experience… it’s bohemian, artistic, has a great live music scene, amazing colourful houses and is the street art capital of South America, if not the world. In contrast, Viña is the Miami of Chile. It was very easy for me to get to Viña for classes and I preferred the nightlife in Valpo. A lot of people feel more unsafe in Valpo, but I know about 6 people that were robbed, and 5 of them were in Viña. Crime is rarely violent but petty theft is common. You just have to be careful about showing your valuables and walking alone at night.
I got to Valpo a few weeks before semester and stayed in a hostel and then an Airbnb place while I house hunted. I then searched on the website compartodepto.cl to find a share house in Valpo, sharing with Chileans, French and Argentinians. There was heaps available, mine was $140,000 CLP a month (about $280 Aus dollars), but you could definitely find something cheaper. My room was in a perfect location in Valpo on Subida Ecuador, very spacious and had a balcony. All bills were included, including unlimited internet. I just bought a local simcard with Movista network to put in my iPhone 5 and it worked just fine. A lot of people just bought cheap Nokias to use whilst in Chile.