04/07/2019, updated 15/06/2023
A visa is required if you stay more than 3 months in Chile. If you are moving there and plan to stay permanently, you must apply for a temporary resident visa online, from your origin country before coming to Chile. You can no longer enter Chile as a tourist, and then apply for a temporary resident visa once you get there (unless you meet specific criteria such as having a family member who is Chilean or permanent resident in Chile).
Once arrived in Chile, you will have to finalize the last steps to obtain a RUT (the Chilean identity card), whose number is essential for everyday life. For more information on visas, you can consult our article dedicated to obtaining a visa in Chile.
Money / Banks
The local currency is the Chilean peso.
Banks are generally open only from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 2pm. This leads to queue in front of the banks before 9am, as everyone wants to go to the bank before going to their work. Most banks have ATM outside, which allows you to withdraw money whenever you want.
In Chile, most banks will only accept to open a current account if you have a consistent salary and a Chilean identity card. Thus, it can be difficult to get one quickly. If you relocate to Chile as an expatriate, the easiest way to get an account is to ask the finance department of your company to help you open one, via their bank.
If this option is not possible, you can open a "Cuenta RUT" at Banco Estado. This is a special account of the National Bank, which you can open quickly as soon as you get your ID card. Everyone is eligible, without income requirement. You will not have an international credit card, but you will have a withdrawal and payment card that works everywhere in Chile.
For more information on these topics, you can consult the Banking section of our guide.
Cost of living in Chile
Living in Chile comes at a much higher cost than in neighboring countries, such as Peru or Bolivia. For more information, see the part about cost of living in Chile.
For those who have studied Spanish, you may not feel like you are in a Spanish-speaking country when you arrive in Chile. Indeed, Chilean is the Latin American language that differs the most from Spanish. It takes time to adapt. For example, Chileans do not pronounce most "s" at the end of the words: for example, "estas" becomes "esta". Also, beware of some Spanish words, such as cola, coger or pico, which have sexual connotations in Chile.
Thus, to say:
- rush hour, use "hora punta" in Chile, not "hora pico",
- queuing, prefer "hacer la fila" rather than "hacer la cola".
Otherwise, Chileans may have a good laugh!
Driving in Chile
You can rent a car in Chile with your national license, although we recommend you to have an international license. If you are planning to settle in Chile for a long time, you will have to get the Chilean license, unless you have a Spanish or Korean license (the only 2 countries with a driving license agreement), or you work in an embassy.
First of all, remember that Chile is located in the southern hemisphere, so that the seasons are reversed compared to Europe and America for example.
The country's geographic situation, a 4,000km narrow strip of land, naturally encompasses a great diversity of climates. As you go north, the temperatures rise and rainfall becomes rare. Thus, the south of the country has a cold and humid oceanic climate, while the north has a rather dry desert climate. The central area around Santiago has a Mediterranean climate.
Given Chile's geographical situation, the country is subject to many natural hazards: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fires, volcanic eruptions, risks related to the break-up of glaciers, etc. However, the population is well prepared for these risks, so there is very little human and material damage in case of hazard.
Culture / religion
The culture is quite Westernized, so that the culture shock is not violent.
The majority of Chileans are Catholic, about 70%. Protestants represent about 10 to 15% of the population, about 10% of the population is without religion, 3% is Jewish and 1% is Muslim.
Domestic help / Maids
It is common to have a housekeeper in Chile, who lives at home or comes one or several days a week, depending on the size of your home and your family. Be careful though, all staff must be declared. If you refuse to do so and your housekeeper complains to the Labor Department, you can face a tax adjustment for not paying social contribution.
Health in Chile
Medical costs are very high overall in Chile, at least considering the average income.
Concerning social security in Chile, you have two options:
- The FONASA social security, which allows you to receive treatment in public hospitals, and in a few private hospitals, for certain types of operation and under certain conditions. This solution is the most economical if you have a low salary, but the quality of infrastructure is lower than in Western countries. If your salary is higher, and you are single, or a couple without children, the ISAPRE (see below) is a more interesting health cover.
- The ISAPRE health insurance, which replaces social security and allows you to receive medical treatment in private clinics. Most expatriates choose this solution. Each ISAPRE has agreements with one or several partner hospitals, so that you will only be reimbursed if you go in one of these hospitals. Thus, make sure you choose your ISAPRE carefully.
Things to pack in your suitcase
- Important documents: banking file, family record book, national and international driving licenses, identity documents, insurance card, family health record, vaccination record, passport photos, marriage certificate if applicable... We advise you not to move around with the original documents, but with photocopies, which you have made apostilled, so that they are accepted in Chile if necessary.
- A first-aid kit. It is recommended to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B before going to Chile.
Some cultural facts to avoid blunders in Chile
The Pinochet military dictatorship
General Augusto Pinochet governed Chile from 1973 to 1990. This period is known for its multiple human rights violations (over 3000 dead and missing persons, torture and exile). It remains a taboo subject in Chile, and it is better to avoid talking about it or not taking a stand if they ask for your opinion. Many disappearances remain unexplained. Thus, it is common to see graffiti or posters on the walls of the city asking for explanations or underlining the duty of remembrance. Yet, not all Chileans consider the Pinochet dictatorship a bad period of the history. We advise you to avoid the subject by answering you do not know enough about the history of the country to have an opinion.
Obesity is a real scourge in Chile, so the government has put in place a labeling system to inform consumers about food that is too fat, contains too much sugar or is too salty. It is common to see the label "Alto en calorías" (high in calories) on many products. In addition, brands producing high-calorie food for children are no longer allowed to advertise or to have a design that can attract children on the package of their products.
Student protests regularly take place in Chile. This movement is due to the excessively high cost of education and the poor quality of it. Indeed, Chilean universities, which are mostly private, are often real slot machines for their owners.
Chile has a private pension system, called AFP, which is actually very unequal, so that many older people are left homeless.
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