Banks in Chile: Tips for Expats

Banks in Chile, what an expat needs to know: how to open a bank account, credit cards, cheques, money transfer from and to Chile...

There are around 15 large banks in Chile that serve private clients. The largest ones are:

  • Santander
  • BancoEstado
  • Banco BCI
  • Scotiabank
  • BICE
  • Itau
  • Consorcio Financiero
  • Grupo Security
  • BBVA

You can also find a lot of representative offices of international banks, but that’s not what is of interest for us now, as they are mostly focused on corporate clients.

Which bank to choose?

In most countries, when you need to choose a bank, you compare their services, the price, their reputation, and then you choose the one that seems the best fit for your needs.

That’s how it should work in theory.

But in Chile, opening a bank account is so tedious, that you are likely to open the bank account with the first bank that accepts to open you one. This can be the bank of your company (if you are an expat) or the bank where you have a friend of a friend who can put you in touch with a relationship manager.

To help you choose, here a few facts:

  • BancoEstado allows you to open a CuentaRUT as soon as you have an ID card (see our article). For checking accounts (cuenta corriente), you often need permanent residency or Chilean citizenship, so don’t bother contacting this bank if you don’t comply with these requirments
  • Banco BCI has a service called BCI NACE, which is dedicated to new entrepreneurs, who are just starting their company. A few years ago, banks were only willing to open accounts to companies already making money… Now, it’s still difficult, but BCI is one of the most entrepreneur-friendly
  • Banco ITAU and Banco Santander are focused on the affluent people. Therefore, if you have a nice steady income or a lot of assets (not necessarily in Chile) you should not have problems. Same thing if you are an entrepreneur with a nice project that has a growth potential. If not, these might not be the best option.
  • ScotiaBank is member of GlobalAlliance, like Bank of America (USA)/BNP Paribas (France)/Deutsche Bank (Germany)/WestPac Australia’s First Bank (Australia)/Barclays (UK)/Scotiabank (Canada). They have agreements regarding withdraw fees, which can be a solution at first.
  • Banco BICE offers a current account without a credit line, and is more inclined to open an account if your project is large enough (a few hundred thousand euros).

Very limited opening hours

Like most administrations in Chile, banks are only open from 9am to 2pm, Monday to Friday. This explains the queue you can sometimes see at 8:45am when you walk near a bank. Everyone wants to do operations before going to work.

A few branches can open a little later, or even during the weekend, but that’s (very) rare. Have a look at the website of your bank for more information.

However, it’s good to know that even if a bank close at 2pm (sometimes 15 minutes before), they will attend you if they have allowed you to enter.

Online services

Online banking services are quite developed in Chile. Your online account allows you to do wire transfers, to check your balance… The interbank wire transfer system is really well designed. Any wire performed from a local bank to another is immediately available on the beneficiary’s account.

Keep these 2 things in mind:

  • Try to download your bank statements as soon as they are available (especially for company accounts). Indeed, you can download for free the last 12 statements, but they will charge you for older statements.
  • Check that your relationship manager has properly registered your email in the system. All wire notifications or confirmation requests are indeed sent by email. But I got the same problem with 2 banks: none of them registered my mail, and none of their systems generates an error when trying to send an email to an account with no mail registered. Therefore, you are stuck without the possibility to perform a transfer, to check if you have received fund…

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