10 Most Developed Countries in Central and South America
When it comes to identifying the most developed countries in South America, it’s important to remember what “developed” means.
A developed country is industrialized. This means that they have:
- a mature economy
- a stable average income per resident
- access to quality health care
- advanced technology and infrastructures
Some countries are developed in some areas but not in others. Many expats from wealthier countries choose to live in Latin America because the way of life is much more relaxed than in their fast-paced countries.
Another important element to take into consideration is a country’s GDP (gross domestic product). This statistic measures a country’s economic activity and indicates whether its economy is expanding or shrinking.
In addition, the Human Development Index (HDI) takes each nation’s health, education system, and standard of living dimension into account.
Central and South America
The name America comes from the navigator Amerigo Vespucci, a European explorer of the New World. Since Mexico, Central America, and South America share an Iberian heritage, they are known as Latin America.
South America is the fourth largest continent on Earth. Central America is a subregion of The Americas between North and South America.
Also for you: All the Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean
10 Most Developed Countries in South and Central America
Let’s learn about the most developed countries in South America and Central America!
Per capita GDP: 255 billion USD
Population: 18.7 million
Human Development Index: 0.851
Chilean culture has a mixture of influences including Spanish and various indigenous cultures. There’s a huge mestizo culture, a blend of Indian and Spanish bloodlines. A small elite society controls most of the land, economy, and political life in Chile.
Chile is the most developed country in South America. In 2010, Chile joined the OECD. Their GDP, quality of life, infant mortality rate, life expectancy, and HDI are enough for most economists to classify the country as developed. Chile’s life expectancy is 75, and the infant mortality rate is low.
Chile’s future is bright thanks to the improvements the country has made in its economy and quality of life.
Per capita GDP: 519.9 billion USD
Population: 44.5 million
Human Development Index: 0.845
Argentina plays an important role as one of the most developed countries in South America. After three centuries of Spanish colonization, the country became independent in 1816. The 1970s were a time of violent military dictatorship.
The 1980s saw the fall of the military regime and reestablishment of democratic rule, which has continued despite various economic crises. Argentina is a developing country but it is still considered one of the most developed countries in South America. It ranks higher than most countries based on its metrics.
Nobel prize winner economist Simon Kuznets said there are four kinds of countries: developed, undeveloped, Japan and Argentina. What he meant is that Argentina’s circumstances are unique over the last century, and it’s difficult to categorize.
Argentina’s infant mortality rate is 10.4 per 1,000 which is double compared to other developed countries. Argentineans tend to have more children than people in other developed countries. Some parts of the country lack access to clean water and healthcare, but they have an advanced technology infrastructure.
In South America, I have personally only visited Argentina. When I arrived, I was surprised to see how flourishing it was. It has old architecture, art and the most delicious Italian food.
Per capita GDP: 59.6 billion USD
Population: 3.4 million
Human Development Index: 0.817
Uruguay has been influenced by Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, and the UK. In 1828, they became independent. In this treaty, they asked for the removal of forces from Brazil and Argentina. A constitution was drafted and the country was named Republica Oriental del Uruguay or República de Uruguay.
Uruguay is a small country, but it has historically been wealthy. Uruguay, like Argentina and Australia, had one of the world’s richest economies due to its rich agricultural endowment.
The economy of Uruguay has been free since the 1990s. GDP growth for the last few years has been moderate but stable, making Uruguay one of the strongest economies in Latin America.
To improve their economy and create more economic freedom for its citizens, Uruguay’s next government could introduce reforms to improve the business environment and boost growth, making the labor market more flexible and opening the banking sector to more international business.
Uruguay’s culture has been significantly influenced by the gaucho tradition. Cattle ranching has been popular since colonial times and their traditions remain important to the country’s identity.
Seeing how well Uruguay has handled the pandemic reflects how stable and united the country is. That is why Uruguay is one of the most developed countries in South America.
Per capita GDP: 65 billion USD
Population: 4.2 million
Human Development Index: 0.815
Built in 1914, the 51-mile long Panama Canal connects the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and has made Panama a strategic transportation hub for international trade. The canal gives Panama an ongoing role in international affairs and world commerce.
The US renounced jurisdiction of the Panama Canal in 1999. For the first time in almost a century, Panama controlled its own territory. The Canal has made Panama’s economy bloom and has led many enterprises to move their headquarters there.
Panama has a lively nightlife and a mix of cultures and cuisine. Panama City, the capital, is on the Pacific coast and east of the Panama Canal. Although the country has environmental problems and political turmoil, its economy has continued to grow.
5. Costa Rica
Per capita GDP: 60.1 billion USD
Population: 5 million
Human Development Index: 0.810
Costa Rica has a large agricultural sector that exports bananas, coffee, pineapple, and sugar. Its population is relatively small and highly educated. In the last 20 years, eco-tourism has bloomed and technology has taken off.
Costa Ricans enjoy a high quality of life and land ownership. The country also has a high literacy rate and has had a stable government for more than 60 years—quite an achievement in Latin America.
Costa Rica is safe which makes it a popular tourist destination, and its environmental sustainability is renowned. The people work together to make Costa Rica one of the most developed countries in Central America.
Per capita GDP: 222 billion USD
Population: 31.99 million
Human Development Index: 0.777
Peru’s capital, Lima, enjoyed a period of wealth and prosperity at the turn of the 20th century. During this time, iconic architecture was built that mimicked the early colonial period.
In the mid-20th century, Peru had political and economic turmoil altering between periods of democratic regimes and military dictatorships. Many people migrated from rural to urban areas, making Lima overpopulated. Other important cities such as Cusco and Arequipa have also expanded.
During the 21st century, Peru has enjoyed a period of political and economic stability. About 30% of the population lives in Lima. The most popular tourist destination to visit in Peru is Machu Picchu. In recent years, Peru’s gastronomy has become popular.
Per capita GDP: 331 billion USD
Population: 49.6 million
Human Development Index:0.767
Since the 1990s, Colombia has gone through major efforts to export their culture around the world. It’s a major cultural exporter and has the highest cultural exports after Mexico.
In the 2000s, the country passed legislation to encourage Colombia’s film industry. Colombia hosts several film festivals including the Cartagena Film Festival, the oldest in Latin America.
Colombia is also famous for its music. Shakira, Juanes, Maluma, and Carlos Vives are just a few Colombian artists who have succeeded worldwide.
As home to some of the oldest Spanish language academies in Latin America, Colombia is known as a literary country, and it attracts millions of students and travelers each year. It’s home to Caribbean beaches, Amazon rainforest, and Andes Mountains.
Colombia’s economy is growing, and the country has large quantities of coal and petroleum. It has seen rapid improvements in technology, renewable energy, shipbuilding, and tourism.
Per capita GDP: 1.9 trillion USD
Population: 209.5 million
Human Development Index: 0.759
Brazil has the largest economy in South America. Due to Brazil’s high birth rate, the death rate is also high. Some people have limited access to adequate healthcare and clean water, making Brazil a developing country.
Brazilian life expectancy is 74 years and ranks higher than many other countries in Latin America. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America.
What makes Brazil appealing is the people, the culture, and their famous Carnival. Many Brazilians are optimistic, joyful, and have a zest for life. It is full of beautiful beaches, and its people are family-oriented. It’s a country with warm weather all year long. Millions of people visit Brazil yearly.
Per capita GDP: 108.4 billion USD
Population: 17 million
Human Development Index: 0.752
The culture in Ecuador is influenced by Spanish colonialism and the traditions of pre-Colombian people.
The Inca built massive and monumental cities. When Spanish conquerors arrived, they ruled Ecuador for nearly 300 years. The Spaniards introduced Ecuador to the Roman Catholicism, colonial architecture, and the Spanish language.
Ecuador became independent in 1822 thanks to Simon Bolivar. Bolivar founded the state of Gran Colombia which included Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
Ecuador became a democracy in 1979. Many people love to visit Ecuador to practice Spanish or visit the Middle of the World Monument and the Ingapirca ruins.
Per capita GDP: 40.5 billion USD
Population: 7 million
Human Development Index: 0.728
Some of the earliest civilizations that were colonized were in Paraguay. When the settlement in Argentina came under attack by natives, the colonists moved to Paraguay to establish Asunción, the capital.
Another important episode in Paraguayan history was when Jesuits controlled the territory between 1610 and 1767. This made Paraguay a Catholic country. After the expulsion of the Jesuits by the King of Spain, Paraguay was ruled by a series of military dictatorships. In 1811, Paraguay became independent, and it is now a strong independent developing country.
Today, the economy in Paraguay has grown thanks to their agriculture and a young population that gives it a bright future. They also have vast hydroelectric power. Travelers love going to the spectacular national parks and language learning schools in Paraguay.
Living abroad is one of the most intense but rewarding experiences you could ever have. If you take it as an adventure and a wonderful opportunity to practice a second language, all the better. Nothing is more effective for learning a second language than fully immersing yourself in the culture. That’s why talking to a native speaker is key and you can start today.
Why Latin America?
Now that you know the most developed countries in South America and the most developed countries in Central America, which one would you like to travel to first?
Many people who travel to Latin America fall in love with the culture and choose to move there. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts about which country you’d like to move to or visit first.
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