If you’re visiting Chile anytime soon, you’re going to need some local currency to make the most of your trip. Unlike some other countries in South America, US Dollars are rarely accepted.
Luckily, exchanging your cash for Chilean Pesos shouldn’t prove too hard, even if you leave it to the last minute.
Here’s what you need to know about getting (and spending) money in Chile.
The currency of Chile is the Chilean Peso (CLP or CL$). It’s a floating currency, which means that its exchange rate fluctuates daily.
CL$1 is made up of 100 Centavos. However, both notes and coins currently in circulation are denominated in Pesos. Centavo coins are no longer in use.
There are currently six coins in circulation - CL$1, CL$5, CL$10, CL$50, CL$100 and CL$500 - but CL$1, CL$5 and CL$10 coins are becoming increasingly rare. The notes come in denominations of CL$1,000, CL$2,000, CL$5,000, CL$10,000 and CL$20,000.
You should carry small notes with you as much as possible (CL$1,000, CL$2,000 and CL$5,000), as it may be difficult to get change once you venture out of the main cities.
The Chilean Peso isn’t usually considered a major currency. Banks and foreign exchange companies in your home country are unlikely to have a readily available supply. Consequently, you probably won’t get a good exchange rate.
Exchanging currency once you arrive in Chile is simple, especially if you have clean, undamaged US Dollar bills. That said, some merchants won't accept US$100 bills, because of past problems with counterfeiting.
You’ll find currency exchange kiosks at the airport and also at many major hotels. However, these rarely offer a good exchange rate and chances are you’ll be charged a hefty commission on top.
ATMs offer the best exchange rate possible. Alternatively, try a foreign exchange company in Santiago, the country’s capital city. Downtown Santiago is packed with foreign exchange bureaus (casas de cambio), especially on Agustinas Street. Competition is high, so It’s a good idea to shop around to see who can give you the best deal.
Always compare the rate you’re offered to the mid-market rate, so you’re sure you’re not getting ripped-off. Remember that there’s no such thing as commission-free foreign exchange transactions, and companies that claim otherwise often inflate the exchange rate to make a profit. You can check the current mid-market rate by using our convenient online currency converter.
Never, under any circumstances, exchange money on the street. While the exchange rate may seem very attractive, street money changers are often scam artists. They’ll rip you off by using a rigged calculator, giving you fake banknotes or simply running away with your money.
You can cash travellers’ cheques at most casas de cambio, but you’re unlikely to get a good rate. Expect a bad exchange rate and between 1% and 4% in commissions.
Exchanging cash or making an ATM withdrawal will often give you a much better rate. It’s also easier and much more convenient.
Paying by cash is by far the best option in Chile.
Visa, MasterCard and AmEx are widely accepted, but only in major cities and tourist hotspots. Merchants often impose a 2% to 4% surcharge when you pay by card, which means paying in cash is often cheaper.
You may also be asked whether you’d like to perform the transaction in your home currency. While this sounds convenient, it’s actually a rip-off, because you’ll be paying a made-up exchange rate worked out via Dynamic Currency Conversion instead of the mid-market rate.
If you plan on using your card, you should let your bank know you’ll be in Chile. Transactions originating from a foreign country are often flagged as suspicious, and your bank may block your card for security reasons unless it’s aware you’re in the country.
It’s extremely rare to find places that accept card payments in villages and other rural areas. If you plan on leaving the main tourist hotspots, make sure you have enough cash in your pocket to cover your expenses.
There are two main ATM networks (cajero automático) in Chile - Redf and Redbanc. ATMs are widespread, even in rural areas. However, many tend to run out of cash after 4pm, so it’s best to plan ahead.
Most ATMs typically accept Cirrus and Maestro (MasterCard). ATMs that accept Visa (Plus) and AmEx are available, but a lot harder to find. ATMs will usually display the logos of all the cards they’re compatible with. You can also check whether an ATM is available near you by using these convenient online locators:
Most ATMs have an English language option. However, you’ll need to select the extranjeros (foreign clients) option after you key in your PIN in order to make a withdrawal with your foreign card.
ATMs offer the best exchange rates possible, but only if you choose to be charged in the local currency. Transactions performed in Chilean Pesos are worked out at the mid-market rate. If, however, you choose to be charged in your home currency, the ATM will make up an exchange rate using Dynamic Currency Conversion. This rate will be less favourable and you’ll pay more in fees than necessary.
Most banks these days charge an ATM usage fee of between CL$2,000 and CL$2,500. Banco del Estado and Scotiabank are reportedly the only banks that don’t levy an ATM charge.
Your bank back home may also charge you a fee. Usually, you’ll be charged an ATM access fee and a foreign currency exchange fee.
Most Chilean ATMs will allow you to withdraw up to CL$200,000 per transaction. Your bank back home may also have per transaction and daily limits on foreign ATM withdrawals.
Chile has one of the most stable economies in South America, and it has a banking system to match. In fact, some of the main retail banks in the country are well-known international banks.
Santander - a familiar name if you’re from Spain or the UK - is the largest bank in Chile, with over 470 branches across the country. Banco de Chile is the second largest bank; and also the most popular provider of bank accounts in the country.
Here’s a list of the most popular banks in Chile:
|Banco de Chile||http://www.bancochile.cl/|
Several well-known international banks also have branches in Chile. These include:
|Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi||http://www.bk.mufg.jp/global/|
|JP Morgan Chase||https://am.jpmorgan.com/|
It’s worth asking your bank back home whether they've a partner bank in Chile. This might mean you can use ATMs free of charge or at a reduced cost.
Alternatively, if you or someone you trust has a bank account in Chile, use TransferWise to transfer money at the mid-market rate. You can then avoid foreign exchange fees and other charges by using your Chilean bank card to make withdrawals.