Chile is a long, narrow country along the southern half of the west coast of South America, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The bordering countries are Peru to the north, Bolivia to north east and Argentina to the east. Chile has over 5,000km (3,100 miles) of coast on the South Pacific Ocean.
Prior to arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, northern Chile was under Inca rule while the indigenous Mapuche inhabited central and southern Chile. Other indigenous tribes existed in the southern part (Tehuelche, Yagan, etc.,) but many of them died due to diseases and warfare, or were mixed with the European immigrants.
Although Chile declared independence in 1810, decisive victory over the Spanish was not achieved until 1818, thanks to a joint attack with Rioplatense forces. After that, the Transandine Army headed to liberate Peru from Spanish forces, eliminating the Spanish influence from the region.
In the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile invaded parts of Peru and Bolivia and kept territory that subsequently became its present northern regions. Also, it was not until the 1880s that the Mapuche were completely subjugated, and it was during this period of time when the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego were annexed by the Chilean State, along with Rapa Nui, expanding its influence to the inner Pacific.
Chile endured the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990), supported by the United States, and that left between 3,000 and 5,000 people dead or disappeared, most of them being left wing thinkers, democrats, and people critical to the government. The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet was criticised worldwide for using brutal methods to control its population, including torture and forced disappearances, but left a relatively successful and stable economic model, which is credited with providing one of the highest standards of living in all of Latin America, but also with increasing corruption and the gap between the rich and the poor.
A Centre-Left Chilean administration came into power after the military government lost a national referendum in 1988. The new moderate government of Patricio Aylwin thought it sensible to maintain free market policies that present-day Chile still employs. Many debate whether the model should be modified to a more social-welfare system, or if it should be left like it currently is.
Chile is a member of both United Nations and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and is also a member of the OECD, the group of the most developed countries by current international standards, becoming the first country in South America to do so.
Argentina's and Chile's claims to Antarctica overlap and neither is based upon the discoveries of either nation. Chile also voices a claim to a 1.25 million square kilometre portion of Antarctica, but given the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, no country's territorial claims to Antarctica are ever recognised or permitted to be exercised at any time. However, Chile has an active presence in the Antarctic peninsula, and cooperates closely with other nations in activities in the Antarctica.
Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape — 4,300 kilometres long and on average 175 kilometres wide — has given it a varied climate, ranging from the world's driest desert—the Atacama—in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a rainy temperate climate in the south. The climate and other details of the far south, including the regions of Aysén and Magallanes, remain a mystery to people from central Chile. The northern desert contains great mineral wealth, including copper, gold, arsenic, and lithium reserves.
Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, has a tropical climate all year round.
In Chile there is no restriction on religion. Nearly 70 percent of the population which is above 14 years of age are identified as Roman Catholic, but most of them don't necessarily practice it, and nearly 15 percent is considered evangelical or protestants.
Spanish is the official language in the country and is spoken everywhere. Chileans use a distinct dialect called Castellano de Chile with a variety of differences in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and slang usage. Spanish-speaking foreigners won't have problems understanding it and will only think it sounds funny, but non-native speakers often struggle to understand it, even with years of practice. If you ask people to speak "neutral Spanish" they can do it for you; people only speak this dialect in informal situations and it doesn't translate to a formal difference in grammar (like with Argentine Spanish).
Here are two of the most common Chilean expressions:
English is widely understood in large cities, especially in Santiago, but also to a (very much) lesser extent in Valparaíso, Concepción or La Serena. Since English is now mandatory in schools, younger people are far more likely to speak English than older people, the latter (over 40 years old) being unlikely to speak any English, unless they are tourist industry workers or in the far south where the British heritage remains stronger. (Chile currently has the largest population of British descendants in Latin America - even larger than that in neighbouring Argentina. Over 700,000 Chileans may have English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh origins, amounting to more than 4% of Chile's population.)
Various indigenous languages are spoken in Chile like Mapudungun (in Araucanía and Bíobío regions), Quechua (in Atacama and Tarapacá regions) and Rapa Nui (in Easter Island), but only between indigenous people, which are less than 5% of the population. Even a lot of people identifying with one of these groups are not able to speak their native language and speak Spanish instead.
Some people understand some French (every high school student had 5 years of French in school until the Pinochet dictatorship eliminated this requirement), Italian and Portuguese (because of its resemblance with Spanish) and also there are some German speakers, especially in the south of the country.
Citizens of the following countries may be exempted from tourist and business visa requirements:
However, citizens of Australia and Mexico must pay a reciprocity fee on their first entry to Chile by air. The fee is USD 95 for Australian citizens (as of January 2014) and USD23 for Mexican citizens (as of September 2012) and is payable in US dollars or by credit card at counters prior to passing through immigration. This one-time charge was valid for the life of your passport, however Customs officials (as of December 2013) were correcting themselves to only 90 days. Citizens of most other countries, such as the UK or the US, do not have to pay a fee.
Indian passport holders should apply for a tourist visa in advance at the nearest Chilean consulate and should present proof of solvency and hotel reservations.
For consulate information, please visit the website of the Chilean Embassy to the US or the website of the Chilean Embassy to the United Kingdom.
Entry and exit procedures
When entering Chile, you will be processed at immigration by the International Police, a branch of the Investigations Police of Chile (Policía de Investigaciones de Chile, or PDI). The current immigration procedure is that the officer runs your passport through a scanner, asks you questions about the purpose of your visit and where you are staying in Chile, then prints out a receipt showing information drawn from your passport, your destination in Chile, and a large matrix bar code. Keep this receipt safe: it is the current equivalent of the old tourist card form. You will be required to present it to the International Police when you depart Chile, and you may not be allowed to leave without it. Together with your passport, it also exempts you from the 19% room tax at all hotels, making losing it quite costly.
If arriving by air, you will then be required to proceed to the baggage claim to pick up your bags. You will have to fill out a customs declaration form (which is handed out in flight), and proceed to customs inspection. Regardless of whether you have anything to declare, all bags of all international arrivals are screened by x-ray machines at airport customs stations.
On flights leaving Chile, there is an airport tax of USD $30 or the equivalent in Chilean pesos for flights longer than 500km, which is normally included in the ticket price. On domestic flights, airport tax depends on the distance with distances less than 270km costing CLP1,969 and longer distances costing CLP4,992; either way, it will also be included in the ticket price.
Like most countries, Chile has immigration inspection stations at airports for both arriving and departing international passengers. The total time to clear immigration (not including additional time for customs for inbound flights or security for outbound flights) usually takes at least 30 minutes to one hour. This is why some airlines ask passengers leaving Chile on international flights to check in at two hours before departure time, to ensure they have adequate time to clear outbound immigration and security inspection.
Chile is a geographically isolated country, separated from its neighbours by desert, mountains and ocean. This protects it from many pests and diseases that can hit agriculture, one of the biggest national economic sources. Due to this, importation of certain fresh, perishable or wooden goods (such as meat products, fruits & vegetables, honey, untreated wood, etc.) can be either restricted or even prohibited. Upon arrival, the customs declaration form will require you to declare that you are not carrying any restricted product. If you are, declare so and show the form to SAG officials at the customs inspection station. If you don't declare them, beware of hefty fines by the SAG, the agricultural oversight body.
Prior to 30 August 2016, Chile was not a signatory to the Hague Convention on apostilles, meaning that all documents other than passports were considered legally worthless in Chile, unless legalized by a foreign Chilean consulate or embassy before coming to Chile. Since the Convention has come into effect in Chile, it is sufficient to obtain notarization or certification, together with apostilles, to ensure that foreign documents will be accepted as legally binding in Chile.
Remember that Chile is a centralized country (a "unitary state" in the parlance of political science), so the laws stay the same regardless of region.
The most common entry point for overseas visitors is the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (IATA: SCL), commonly referred to simply as Santiago Airport) in the commune of Pudahuel, 15km (9.3 miles) north-west of downtown Santiago. It is the largest aviation facility in Chile and the 6th busiest of South America by passenger traffic (over 11 million in 2010). It is a major connecting point for air traffic between Oceania and Latin America. The domestic and international are the same terminal, with the international on the left and domestic on the right.
Santiago International Airport is served by several non-stop international service, mainly from Europe, the Americas and Oceania. LATAM Airlines is the largest carrier and has flights from the several cities in the Americas, Sydney, Auckland, Papeete, Frankfurt and Madrid. Other airlines serving SCL include Aeromexico, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, Avianca, British Airways (from January 2017), Copa Airlines, Delta, Gol Airlines, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, PAL Airlines, Qantas, Sky Airlines and United Airlines.
If you are arriving at Santiago, keep in mind that Santiago does not have enough gates to allow most international aircraft to occupy parking spots at gates while being serviced. Your aircraft will likely be directed to a remote parking spot on the tarmac along with many others and you will be bused to immigration inspection, which will add another 15 to 20 minutes of delay.
Other airports with international services are in Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Concepción, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, all of them to neighbouring countries. The Mataveri International Airport in Easter Island receives only LATAM Airlines flights from Santiago.
If you are already in South America, a cheaper and reliable way is to go by bus to Chile. Buses from Argentina depart daily from Mendoza, Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes, and even from Buenos Aires weekly. From Peru, there are several buses from Arequipa; some taxis also cross the border between Tacna and Arica. There are also several buses from Bolivia to northern cities and Santiago. Also, there are Brazilian buses from São Paulo, on Mondays and Thursdays.
If you are crossing from Bolivia and Argentina through the Andes, be aware that it takes place at high altitude, up to 4000m (13,000 ft). Also, the roads from Peru and Bolivia are a bit poor in quality, so be patient. During the winter season, which begins in June and ends in August, it is not uncommon for the passage from Mendoza to close for days at a time.
The main hub for flights in Chile is the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) in Santiago, from where several airlines serve even the remotest corners of the country. These airlines are the three chilean airlines: LATAM Airlines, Sky Airline and low cost carrier Jetsmart. Although LATAM is by far the largest, Sky and Jetsmart offer good services to the main cities.
When travelling within Chile, please consider reserving your tickets before entering the country: flight coupons are recommended and can be bought at LATAM when you also purchase your flight to Chile with them. LATAM offers a good online reservation service but in the others is not that good yet and mainly in Spanish, although it is possible to use them to compare fares. The reason the website is in Spanish lies in the fact fares are aimed at Chilean people or long-term residents.
Because of the shape of the country, many routes are subject to several time-consuming layovers. You might take this into account as you can have up to 4 stops en route to your destination! (e.g. for a flight from Punta Arenas to Arica you may have stops at Puerto Montt, Santiago, Antofagasta and Iquique). Both LATAM and SKY Airlines use A320-family aircraft on domestic routes.
The only airline flying to Easter Island is LATAM from Santiago. Other remote locations are served by regional airlines. In the Extreme South, Aerovías DAP offer daily routes from Punta Arenas to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego and Puerto Williams. Between November and March, DAP offers very limited and expensive flights to Villa Las Estrellas in Antarctica. To Robinson Crusoe Island, there are weekly flights from Santiago and Valparaíso.
Local companies will usually stop at many stations along the way, however, you can always ask if there's a non-stop or directo service. Companies that cover almost the entire country include Turbus (site in Spanish only) and Pullman (sit in Spanish, English and Portuguese). In Santiago, you can find both terminals and more companies on Universidad de Santiago subway station; if you need to go to the Northern Center area (Valparaiso, Vina del Mar), Pajaritos metro station also has some ticket-selling booths. Always be on time, as they are very punctual; this is especially stressed if you buy your tickets in Pajaritos Station, since the buses will stop just for few minutes and it's highly likely that you'll purchase the ticket at the booth and then have to hop onboard immediately afterwards.
Keep in mind that prices vary on a daily basis, so are usually more expensive on weekends and holidays tickets than on weekdays. Don't be shy to ask for a discount if you are in a group.
The quality of service varies quite a lot. Check if the bus is "cama" (bed), "semi-cama" (heavily inclining seats) or ejecutivo (executive - slightly inclining seat). Toilets are not always available - especially if you are getting on a bus at a later stage of a long journey (i.e. Arica - Santiago).
Passenger trains still operate between Santiago and Chillán and Talca and Constitución. All passenger rail service is operated by Trenes Metropolitanos. Trains depart from Santiago from Estación Central (address: Ave Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 3170). Tickets can be booked at the station or on the rail company's website (tmsa.cl), which also displays route maps and timetables.
Micro = transit/local buses. The word is the contraction of microbus. Larger cities have cross-town bus routes at very affordable prices. Only Santiago's system, called "Transantiago", has maps (Map as of July 2014) with all the routes, so a little bit of Spanish and the audacity to ask around can get you places effectively in other major cities. To travel by "micro" in Santiago you will need to buy before a smart contactless travel-card called "BIP" and charge it with money. You can do so in any subway station, in most supermarkets and in some smaller stores. This card also allows you to travel by subway in Santiago. Be careful! You won't be able to travel by bus without money in your BIP card. The card costs about USD2.50, and a ticket costs a little over USD1.00, which allows you to make up to two transfers between metro and buses within a 2-hour time period. You only need to scan the card at the beginning of your journey and at every transfer. You should hop off the "micro" through the back doors.
A mix between a micro and a taxi. These small cars have routes and get around quicker and more comfortably. Fares are similar to those on the Micro, and depend on the hour. Fares must be paid in cash.
A metropolitan railway system operating in Santiago and Valparaíso. A reliable way to move around in the city. You must pay the fee only once (when you enter the system) and you can ride as much as you want. There are now more stations in Santiago because of the recent construction of two new lines. Visit the website  for more information.
Uber can be found in the larger towns all across Chile with payment being possible by credit card and cash, Cabify being the other, more expensive option existing in central Chile (Santiago, Viña del Mar/Valparaíso and Concepción).
Car rentals are widely available throughout most major cities, but not in smaller towns. Usually a credit card, a valid driver's license and a passport, all three issued to the same person, are needed to rent a car. Technically, if your driver's license is not in Spanish, you also need a International Driver Permit (IDP). Many rental car companies will not actually ask for an IDP, but it's a good idea to have one, just in case you encounter the police. Rental rates in Santiago are very similar to those in the U.S., but prices can be much higher in other cities. If you want to bring rental cars across South American borders (as part of a road trip), you will need to notify the rental car company in advance, pay additional fees, and obtain extra paperwork to show that you are authorized by the company to drive its vehicles across borders. Rental cars in South America all come with hidden GPS transponders (even if there is no navigation system in the car) so the company will know if you try to take the vehicle out of the country without their knowledge or drive too many kilometers per day (if your vehicle has a per-day limit).
Parking spaces and street lanes are narrower than in the U.S., so it's a good idea to get a small vehicle. However, like most Latin Americans, Chileans prefer to drive vehicles with manual transmissions to conserve fuel. As a result, the smallest vehicles available for rent with automatic transmissions are usually standard-size sedans, which are more expensive. North American drivers who can only drive automatic transmissions (and would also like to obtain both required and supplemental liability insurance and to reduce personal responsibility for vehicle damage to zero) should be prepared to pay up to USD $100 per day to rent such vehicles.
There are several important vehicle-related documents which you must be able to present upon demand by the police, like the permiso de circulation (proof of payment of a vehicle registration fee to the local jurisdiction in which the vehicle is regularly garaged), and proof of Chilean vehicle insurance. The rental car company will normally keep those documents somewhere in the car. For example, Avis Budget Group puts them in a portfolio folder which is small enough to fit in the glove compartment. Make sure you know where those documents are, so if you encounter the police, you will be able to present the vehicle documents promptly, along with your passport, driver's license, IDP, and rental car contract.
Road signs and markings
All traffic signs and markings are in Spanish only. They are an interesting hybrid of European and North American influences. The European influence is more obvious in areas like speed limit signs and graphic icons, while the North American influence is more obvious in areas like warning signs (yellow and diamond-shaped) and typefaces (Chile uses the FHWA typeface that is standard in the United States). Most traffic signs are self-explanatory but a few are not. If you cannot read or speak Spanish, you must take the time to memorize the meaning of the most common signs and markings, so that you will not inadvertently violate traffic law and draw unwanted attention from the police.
Like European countries, but unlike most North and South American countries, Chile uses white lines on roads to divide both traffic moving in the same direction and traffic moving in opposing directions. These are supplemented with arrows on the ground as well as arrows included on street name signs.
Chile does not use the "DO NOT ENTER" sign used in English-speaking countries. Instead, Chile uses the Latin American version: the international prohibition symbol (a red circle with a diagonal slash) over an arrow pointing directly up.
Chilean guide signs on regular highways are usually green. Guide signs on expressways (autopistas) are usually blue, except for guide signs for motorway exits, which are usually (but not always) green.
Rules of the road
Speed limits are usually 60 km/h in cities, 100 km/h on intercity highways and some urban expressways, and 120 km/h on the finest intercity expressways. Dangerous road sections are all often signed with lower speed limits, such as hill crests, blind curves, tunnels, busy urban streets, and narrow urban alleys. The latter two tend to be signed for 30 km/h.
There is no right turn on red, except for signs (rarely seen) which expressly authorize right turns on red with caution after making a complete stop.
Santiago and other cities have reversible lanes and roads. They also have bus-only lanes (also used by taxis) which private vehicles are supposed to stay out of, and which are enforced by photo and video surveillance. If you enter bus-only lanes and proceed to cruise straight down several blocks, without any indication of making a turn or merging into regular lanes, don't be surprised if the rental car company informs you that you were ticketed.
Like many countries, Chile prefers to use yield or give way signs whenever possible, and uses stop signs ("PARE") only when absolutely necessary (usually because it's a blind intersection and someone was killed there). If there aren't any visible traffic signs or markings governing priority, and two vehicles reach an intersection simultaneously, priority belongs to the vehicle approaching from your right.
Traffic signals are usually on timers with no sensor loops, so you will have to sit and wait even if it's the middle of the night. Unlike most Latin American countries, carjackings are relatively rare, so running red lights and stop signs late at night is not tolerated by police.
Also, despite steep fines and frequent use of radar guns, photo radar, and speed traps, speeding is rampant. When driving on intercity expressways, you will often encounter the "autobahn" problem seen in Germany, where you might merge into the right lane behind a truck or subcompact vehicle barely able to sustain 80 km/h, then have to patiently wait for the opportunity to merge into a left lane dominated by regular vehicles driving at the speed limit of 120 km/h, as well as occasional speeders exceeding 140 km/h.
Expressways are virtually always well-maintained, paved, painted, signed, and largely free of potholes, cracks, litter, and debris. However, many older streets in cities are in poor condition, and drivers must be alert to avoid cracks, dips, drains, and potholes. Country roads are also sometimes in poor condition; they are not paved to the same thickness as in foreign countries, and even slight deterioration may cause the underlying dirt base to show through.
In big cities, it is a good idea to avoid rush hours, between 7 and 9 AM and between 5 and 8 PM.
Chile has relied upon privatized toll concessions to build and maintain major highways since the early 20th century. If you plan on driving around Chile, plan on paying lots of tolls. Many toll concessions have surge pricing during major holidays and weekends. Rates ("tarifas") for all types of vehicles are always posted on large signs before toll plazas, and if you miss the rate sign, the current rate in effect that day for standard passenger cars is always posted on a sign in front of each separate toll booth. Chilean highways normally use barrier toll plazas at locations that are hard to avoid (e.g., near steep mountain ranges and rivers), and do not use distance-based tolling tracked through tickets.
If you rent in Santiago, note that Santiago has adopted a mandatory electronic toll collection system ("TAG") for use of all privatized tollways in the city; even the airport access road is a tollway. There are no toll plazas on the Santiago tollways, only toll gantries, so driving on them without a TAG transponder means you may incur a large fine. All rental car companies in Santiago are required to include TAG transponders in vehicles and include TAG fees in their rental car prices. Once you have rented a vehicle in Santiago, you should feel free to use Santiago tollways (which can save substantial amounts of time), since you are paying for them.
Unfortunately, Chile has not yet mandated full automatic interoperability between TAG and the various Televia transponders used on intercity toll roads, such as Route 68 which connects Santiago to Valparaiso. There are now programs under which users of transponders on one system can temporarily gain interoperability, but such access has to be manually requested before each use and it is a substantial hassle. And many toll plazas still do not take credit cards. Therefore, if you rent in Santiago but plan to drive to other cities, you must obtain sufficient Chilean pesos to pay tolls before leaving the city and go through the cash ("Manual") lanes at toll plazas. Similarly, if you rent in another Chilean city and drive to Santiago, you should examine city maps first and stay away from tollways that require TAG.
Many private parking facilities in Chile are just like parking facilities anywhere in the world. You take a bar-coded ticket upon entry, pay at a vending machine before returning to your vehicle, and then insert the ticket into a reader at the exit gate. In Santiago, the parking concessionaire Saba uses orange RFID "ChipCoins" for the same purpose, as well as for access control to parking garages (so that the only people who can enter underground parking garages are those who already obtained ChipCoins at the vehicle entrance).
Otherwise, public parking on streets and in some surface lots is more complicated, because Chile does not have parking meters. Instead, you will see signs saying that so-and-so curb (or lot) has been concessioned out to a specific person or company, between certain hours, for so many pesos for every 30 minutes. If you don't see anyone present, it's usually okay to park there (unless the sign also says you can't do that), but if the concessionaire is present, they will print out a receipt on a handheld machine and tuck it under your windshield wiper to track when you arrived. You then pay them the parking fee when you come back.
In some public parking areas, even if there isn't a sign declaring that a particular street has been concessioned, you may see self-appointed car guards who will demand tips in exchange for watching your car when you are absent (and who might sometimes help you back into spaces and back out of them). This is a racket (and quite annoying to people from places where car guards are not tolerated), but it's generally a good idea to cooperate; CLP 500 is usually more than sufficient to secure their cooperation. Car guards are usually not seen in private parking facilities, as they have private security guards on patrol who are paid out of parking fees.
Petrol fuel in Chile is normally unleaded and comes in 93, 95, and 97 octane. Diesel is also available at many stations. Due to high taxes and Chile's distance from major oilfields, expect to pay about 1.5 times the average U.S. price for equivalent fuel (but still less than in most of Western Europe). Self-service fuel stations are rare, so you should know enough Spanish to ask for the correct octane and to tell the attendant on duty to fill it up.
Hitchhiking in Chile is not difficult, given enough time and patience. It is seen as a common form of travel for tourists or young, adventurous Chileans. On large highways such as the Panamerican Highway, hitching is really great and easy because there are many trucks going between big cities. Smaller, more scenic roads such as the Carretera Austral in the south, can leave you waiting for half a dozen hours in the more remote sections but the rides will generally get you a long way and are worth waiting for. If you are a tourist be sure to show it with your backpack.
There are also carpooling platforms available in Chile like Rides that allow people to hitchike in an anticipated and safer way.
Chile's currency is the Chilean peso often symbolised locally as "$". To avoid ambiguity we use the international symbolisation of CLP placed before the amount with no intervening space. Other currencies are not widely accepted, but most cities have exchange bureau with reasonable rates on euros and US dollars. The rates should be published on widely visible boards.
Never exchange money on the streets, especially if a "helper" indicates you to follow them.
It's not advisable to exchange currency in the hotel or the airport as the rates are awful. Just be patient. Banco Santander has a monopoly on the ATMs of the airport and will add a surcharge of CLP3,000 for retrieving cash - at moderate and larger amounts this results in far better exchange rates than exchangers. Some ATMs in Chile retain INSIDE the card during the operation and you run the risk of taking the money and forgetting the card.
The automatic teller machine (ATM) network in Chile is respectable in coverage--they're all connected to the same service, accept international cards, and have the option of switching the machine to English - look for the "foreign" button on the bottom left or right. Be aware that different banks will charge you different amounts of money for extracting cash - you will be advised on the screen of the surcharge. The normal fee is CLP3000. Banco Estado does not add a surcharge for MasterCard, but will for Visa.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in most of the independent commerce of major cities and in all chain stores, no matter where they are. The PIN security system has been introduced for credit cards, so you will mostly only need your personal four digit PIN as it exists in other parts of the world. For some cards you will not be asked for your PIN and they will use the four last numbers of the credit card entered manually and you will have to show a valid ID. Swipe cards still work routinely.
Be aware that Chile is still significantly a cash culture, and it is routine for residents to carry around larger volumes of cash than some other nations are used to.
When checking into major hotels, your passport and visa will be photocopied. There is a 19% tax on hotel bills which is waived with your proof of being a foreigner, however you must also pay in US dollars to ensure the exemption. If you prefer to pay in CLP cash, the 19% VAT will be added no matter what identification you have given. Credit cards will be billed in USD. Always ask a hotel's policy before finalizing your stay to make sure you fully understand all the payment implications.
As of 2 December 2015: €1 ≡ CLP747 and USD 1 ≡ CLP704.
For basic supplies like groceries, there are many convenience stores and corner grocery stores. Large supermarkets like Lider, Jumbo, Tottus, and Santa Isabel are often found both as stand-alone stores and as mall anchors. Lider will seem a little familiar to North Americans in that it is owned by Walmart and has reconfigured its store signage to look somewhat like Walmart stores. However, Chile's strong consumer goods economy is dominated by local brands, which means almost all the brands on the shelves will be new to most visitors from outside South America.
The dominant pharmacy chains in Chile are Cruz Verde, Ahumada, and Salcobrand. Only cosmetics are kept in the public area. All drugs and supplements are kept behind the counter and must be asked for by name, which can be tricky if you cannot speak Spanish.
Besides typical foods, you should expect food normally found in any Western country. The normal diet includes rice, potatoes, meat and bread. Vegetables are abundant in central Chile. If you are concerned about the portions, consider that the size of the dish increases the farther south you travel.
With such an enormous coastline, you can expect fish and seafood almost everywhere. Locals used to eat bundles of raw shellfish, but visitors should be cautious of raw shellfish because of frequent outbreaks of red tides. Chile is the world's second largest producer of salmon, as well as a number of other farmed sea products, which include oysters, scallops, mussels, trout and turbot. Local fish include corvina (sea bass), congrio (conger eel), lenguado (flounder), albacora (swordfish), and yellow fin tuna.
Vegetarians and vegans need not despair. These days a lot of cities and towns have at least one restaurant that caters to their needs. The international 'chain' Govinda is widespread, even in smaller towns. In the bigger cities like Valparaiso, La Serena, etc. you'll find plenty of options. Some Chileans seem to get veganism and vegetarianism confused, so if you're a strict vegan you might want to confirm that food advertised as "vegano" has no eggs, dairy, or other animal products.
A common combination is meat with avocado and/or mayonnaise, e.g. Ave palta mayo (chicken with avocado and mayonnaise) or Churrasco palta (thinly-sliced beefsteak with avocado). The strong presence for avocado is a Chilean standard for sandwiches that influences the fast food franchises to include it in their menus.
Central Chile is a major tempered fruit producer, you can easily get fruit for dessert, including apples, oranges, peaches, grapes, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, chirimoyas, and several other varieties.
Temperate fruit is of very high quality and prices are usually much lower than in most of North America and Western Europe, while tropical fruit is rather rare and expensive, except for bananas and mangoes.
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18. People appearing over 18 are usually not asked to show ID.
In Chile it's illegal to drink in unlicensed, public areas (streets, parks, etc.) The laws also restrict vendor hours depending on the weekday (in no case after 03:00 or before 09:00).
Still, Chileans drink a lot of alcohol so don't be surprised to see one a litre bottle of liquor per person.
Chile has many types of hotels in the cities: some of the most prevalent chains are Sheraton, Kempinsky, Ritz, Marriott, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn. Several hostels and little hotels of varying quality wait to be discovered. On the backpacker trail, a local hostel version can be found in every small city residencial. There is also a variety of accommodations in the mountain ski centers,such as the world-class resort Portillo, 80km (49 mi) north of Santiago; "Valle Nevado" in the mountains approximately 35km (22 mi) away from Santiago, and the "Termas de Chillan" ski resort and hot springs, which lies about 450km (280 mi) south of Santiago.
In the Central Valley (Cachapoal and Colchagua wine valleys), you have some historic sites such as Hacienda Los Lingues in the Colchagua wine valley. It dates back to 1575 (and some constructions around are from 1650, 1670, 1760), it's decorated with period antiques and is a architectural and historic patrimony of CHILE. It can be located 75 miles south of Santiago.
Along with Mexico and Argentina, Chile continues to grow as a preferred destination for studies abroad. It is not uncommon to find groups of European or North American students taking interdisciplinary studies in Spanish language or Latin American culture and history in one of its many reputed universities:
Work & Volunteer
Foreigners need to apply for a work visa before arriving (it can be done after, but it is a lot harder to get one). Temporary permits are issued to spouses and people with a contract. Under-the-table jobs are normally not well paid, lack the mandatory health insurance and retirement plans, and are a reason to get deported.
A Broader View Volunteers has worked in Chile for over 10 years (2007) and has programs in primary and secondary schools, elderly care centers and orphanages in La Serena and Coquimbo
Spanish Immersion Lessons gap year Chile Another way to work in Chile is to Volunteer for the English Opens Doors Program. It is sponsored by the United Nations Development Program and the Chilean Ministry of Education and places volunteers in schools throughout Chile to be English teaching assistants. The program provides volunteers a home-stay with a Chilean family, meals, a participation bonus of CLP60,000 for each month of completed service, health insurance, TEFL training, and access to an online Spanish course. There is no fee for participation.
To make sure that you are not missing out on any volunteering opportunities in Chile, it's good to get an overview of all projects and programs available. One way to do so, is to visit a comparison platform such as Volunteer World, . where you can search and compare all volunteering options in Chile. edit
Pick-pocketing and muggings are quite frequent in major cities such as Santiago or Valparaiso. Caution is recommended. It's advisable not to travel in the downtown area wearing expensive-looking jewelry or watches, even during the day. Stay alert and be especially careful in all crowded areas in Santiago. It is recommended to wear your backpack at the front of your body in crowded areas. If you have a laptop it can be relaxing being outside in a café doing some work but thieves may see you. For your own safety, go to a internet café if you need to be connected and leave your laptop at home. It will save you from losing it and it can save you from a violent attack from thieves. However, it is much safer to be inside the Metro stations, where you even can use free Wi-Fi hot spots in Universidad de Chile (L1), Baquedano (L1-L5 junction) and Tobalaba (L1-L4 junction) stations.
For tourists or other "beginners" lacking experience in over-the-counter transactions with hard Chilean currency, you can reduce the chance of your wallet getting stolen by following some advice:
Chilean Carabineros (National Police) are very trustworthy - call 133 from any phone if you need emergency assistance. Some municipalities (such as Santiago or Las Condes) have private guards; however, they usually don't speak English. Do not try to bribe a carabinero, since it will get you into serious trouble! Unlike other South American police corps, Chilean Carabineros are very proud and honest, and bribery would be a serious offense against their creed. Also note that while the Carabineros are professional and trustworthy, they are quite militarized and you don't want to get on their bad side -- they often shut down protests violently and have been known to pull the visas of any foreigners arrested in the random round-up at the end of the march, so steer clear protests unless you really care about the cause and know what you're getting into.
Regarding driving conditions: Chilean drivers tend to be not as erratic and volatile as those in neighboring countries.
Avoid taking photographs of navy ships and buildings or other military buildings, ask first. If caught they have the right to arrest you and expect to get all your photos examined and erased; however, imprisonment is rare as officials understand you might not have noticed the warning because you don't know Spanish.
In case you insist on taking the pictures expect some questions about why you photographed. Chile lives in peace with its neighbors Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, but the country is always preparing for an attack, which some Chileans think might happen since it's a small and narrow country compared to its bigger neighbour Argentina, for example.
Some cities like Talcahuano and Punta Arenas are naval cities, so be extra careful when taking photographs. Some marines may speak a little English, so point at the object you want to take a photo and say "si?" ("yes?"). If they reply with a "no", then it's better to just leave.
Since May 2011 there have been ongoing protests by Chilean students who demand better and free education. If you happen to be a foreign student, most universities will allow the protesters to enter classes when there is a protest and occupation is taking place. The chances that something will happen on campus is low. But it's a different story if the protest takes places in the streets. Most of them have ended with violence from protesters and police. So even if you may sympathize with the students, avoid demonstrations arranged by students or professors.
Emergency Numbers: 131 Ambulance 132 Firefighters 133 Carabineros(Police)
Chile has excellent health standards in medicine throughout the country, it is not difficult to stay healthy. However, one will usually find more refined resources, less bureaucracy, and shorter waits at a private medical facility.
Emergency attention is available to everyone, regardless of their legal status or nationality. However, ambulatory procedures require either a legal residence permit or having an international health insurance. If you need medical attention it is advisable you got to a private hospital because command in any foreign language is not common in public health centers.
In case of emergency, call 131. In case of an accident you can also call Chilean firemen -Bomberos- dialing 132 -they tend to be the fastest ones to respond-. You can always call the police -carabineros- at 133 in case of an accident or if your life is at risk for any reason. Don't expect to have an operator who is fluent in English.
Rabies has been pretty much eradicated from Chile, along with many major diseases. Despite this, it's still recommended to get a rabies shot if bitten by a stray dog, or wild animal, especially a bat.
Tap water is safe to drink, although bottled water is ubiquitous.
Chile suffers relatively frequent earthquakes. If you are caught in one, keep your calm, stay away from objects that may fall down, don't run, and unless the building you are at is literally falling down don't try to escape. All buildings in Chile made after 1960 must comply with strict building regulations and should withstand even the strongest of earthquakes, so during an earthquake you should protect yourself from anything that may fall down from ceilings or walls. If you have been on a very strong earthquake, expect to feel aftershocks for a few days after that. Chileans tend not to care about minor earthquakes and will at most make a comment such as "tembló?" and continue with their lives.
There are cybercafes in every major and midsize city and at all tourist destinations. Some libraries are in a program called Biblioredes, with free computers and Internet (they may be very sensitive if you plug in your camera or something like that). In some remote locations, public libraries have internet satellite connections. Also notice if there's a Wi-Fi hotspot around. They're usually in metro stations, airports, malls, cafes, public buildings and several public spaces. (Check for the ones that say "gratis"--for free.)
If you have a smartphone (unlocked if you bring it from home) it can be quite affordable to buy a local SIM card and use the internet from the cellular network (pretty good quality 3G most of the time). Major and midsize cities all have 4G Internet access for cell phones (if you are bringing your phone, check its compatibility beforehand).
Wom, Virgin Mobile and Claro may have the lowest mobile internet prices. Check their respective websites beforehand to compare. You can always use your phone to make a Wi-Fi hotspot and share the connection to your computer (watch carefully how much you use if you don't want to bust your budget!).