Chile Travel Tips
The currency in Chile is called the peso. There are currently six coins in circulation, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500. Peso bills come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000.
Visitors can exchange money at Santiago’s International Airport but the rates are usually worse than in town. Money and traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at a casa de cambio (money exchange house) for a small fee. These little exchanges can be found near the centre of every major city but they are scarce in small towns and villages. The exchange buildings are generally open from 09:00 to 18:00 Monday through Friday and until 13:00 on Saturdays. Like many businesses in Chile, they close from 13:00 until 15:00 for lunch. You can also exchange money at banks and some hotels, but their rates are always the worst.
Banks in Chile are open Monday through Friday from 09:00 until 14:00. They are one of the few businesses in the country that do not close for lunch.
Visitors can import up to 400 cigarettes, 500 grams of tobacco and 50 cigars as well as 2.5 litres of alcohol and a reasonable quantity of perfume. Edible products from animals, flowers, fruits and vegetables are only permitted with a certificate issued by the Department of Agriculture from the country of origin.
220V/50Hz and electrical sockets have two openings for tubular pins.
Chile poses very few health risks to visitors. Typical developing country diseases such as malaria and dysentery are not present so no special vaccinations are needed. Neither are there any venomous animals or poisonous plants in the country. However, it’s always good to get a hepatitis and tetanus booster before you visit an unfamiliar part of the world.
The worst health problem visitors are likely to experience is a case of traveller’s stomach from exposure to new micro organisms in the food. The tap water is safe to drink in Chile, though not particularly tasty in Santiago. It’s always better to use bottled water, which is readily available all across the country. Also, be aware that Santiago has a serious smog problem, especially during the winter. The city often has to declare emergency states when the smog reaches dangerous levels.
If you do get ill, Chile’s private hospitals and clinics are up to international standards, but there probably won’t be any medical service in the smaller towns and villages. The private clinics in Chile are far better than the general hospitals, so if you need minor attention, visit a clinica first. Most doctors in Chile speak English, but the cost of medical care is expensive. Visitors should ensure they have comprehensive medical insurance before leaving home.
Chile has numerous pharmacies, located in some surprising places such as gas stations. Most of them are open 24 hours a day and are usually very busy. You can get a quick fix for simple illnesses like a bad stomach or a cold quite affordably.
Clinica Central in Santiago (next to the Santa Lucia Metro station): +56 2 639 7551
InChile Spanish is the official language. There are also a few native languages spoken throughout the country.
In general, Chile is a very safe country in which to travel. The political situation is currently stable and the country is rarely home to terrorist attacks. Minefields are located in the border regions I, II and XII so if you plan to visit these areas, check with the local authorities first.
Pickpockets, theft and muggings occasionally occur but are mostly a problem in the larger cities. Still, be extra cautious at night and during the busy and crowded rush hours. A favourite for pickpockets is to clean you out while you are on a bus or the Metro. Wearing a concealed money belt and keeping your valuables out of sight will decrease your risk of theft.
Santiago lies in one of the most seismically active parts of the world, so you are almost sure to experience one or two tremors during your visit. Most of them are small and harmless but once every decade or so a big one hits. The safest place to be in any situation is beneath a door frame.
Chilean manners have a strong European influence. The customary greeting between a man and a woman or between two women is a kiss on the cheek. Men simply shake hands. In Chile, the greeting is very important. A simple‘hello’ is considered insufficient for someone you know. Chileans take a few moments to exchange a bit of friendly banter whenever they meet.
Many Chileans entertain their guests at home and it is perfectly normal for a guest to bring a small gift as a token of thanks. Informal, mildly conservative clothing works best in most places but women should never wear shorts outside of the resorts.
Chivalry still exists to a certain degree in Chile. Men are expected to open doors and give up their seats for women on the bus and Metro, especially for the elderly. Chileans also have a very relaxed attitude concerning punctuality. It is common for people to show up for appointments 30 minutes late, so if you arrive early be prepared to wait.
Tax and Tipping:
Chile levies a steep 19 per cent sales tax on all goods and services which they call the IVA. Foreigners are exempt from the IVA tax if they pay for their hotel rooms with dollars, however, this may not be the case in the cheaper hotels. Always check if the listed price includes the IVA or not, as it’s an easy way to take advantage of unwitting tourists.
In restaurants and bars it is customary to tip 10 per cent. In hotels, tipping is up to the guest and taxi drivers are never tipped. Small family restaurants rarely expect tips but since waiters in Chile receive such low wages, a little something is always appreciated.
The country code for Chile is +56. Nearly every town in Chile now has an Internet shop, either in cafés or at the telephone centres Entel and CTC. Most hotels also have their own Internet service.
GMT -3 (summer) and GMT -4 (winter)
Visa and Passports:
The tourist visa requirements for Chile vary for each country. Please check with the Chile Embassy in your home country for current visa information. www.tramitefacil.gov.cl