Chile is an attractive expat destination thanks to a reasonable cost of living and a lively culture. But financial systems in Chile are complicated. The banking infrastructure isn’t very accessible to foreigners. Additionally, banks in Chile are only open from 9 AM to 2 PM on weekdays. So you’ll definitely need to plan ahead.
Put simply, as an expat - your options are limited. There are, however, certain intricacies to be aware of before you arrive. Here’s some basic information on how you can open a bank account in Chile.
Banks won’t usually open an account for an expat, unless you’ve been a resident for two years or more. If you meet these qualifications, you’ll need:
- A Chilean ID card
- Your tax identification number, known as your Rol Unico Tributario (RUT)
- Proof of a Chilean income
- A minimum deposit
As an expat, you usually won’t be able to open a local Chilean account from outside the country. Business processes tend to move at a leisurely pace in Chile, so expect a delay in even simple processes. Don’t count on an active account after the first time you walk into a bank; it might take several visits.
Without Chilean residency, you can try to open an account with a stock brokerage. Although most will require a large minimum balance. And you might also be waiting months between the time you open an account and the time you actually gain access.
If you’re a temporary established resident of Chile, you can apply for a cuenta vista account with a local Chilean bank. These accounts have strict maximum monthly deposits, but can be a useful workarounds for paying bills. Banco Santander and BancoEstado both have cuenta vista account options.
Though it can be quite difficult to get an account as a non-resident, if you’re a foreign student, though, you might be in luck. Your university may have an agreement with a bank for specialised foreign student accounts. Of course, you’ll need extensive documentation and your student visa to prove your status. It may still take awhile for the complete account set up. It’s best to check with your university ahead of time.
If you can prove your income is steady and substantial, you may have one other option. If you’re in Chile on a temporary work visa, try talking to your local bank manager. They might allow you to set up an account if you pay a service fee of around £1500. The charge might be worth it if you plan to stick around for a while in Chile and want to use extensive bank services.
The best banking option for you as an expat is probably an international branch or partner of your home bank. Inform your bank ahead of time that you’re be going abroad, and arm yourself with debit and credit cards to avoid problems.
The following international banks have a presence in Chile:
Your options are limited, but let’s take a look at a handful of the best choices for banking and withdrawing money as an expat in Chile:
Scotiabank is the seventh largest bank in Chile and it has the bonus of maintaining a partnership with Bank of America. That means if you’re a Bank of America or Scotiabank customer, you can use your debit card at any Scotiabank ATM to avoid that nasty non-partner transaction fee of $5. Bank of America and Scotiabank customers also avoid the ATM operator fee. The bank is a member of the Global ATM Alliance - which means you should save a bit on international ATM fees if you use them.
- Offers basic current (checking) and savings accounts
- Overdraft lines of credit
Santander Chile has over 504 branches. And, counting by deposits, it’s the largest bank in Chile. If you’re from Europe, you’ll probably recognize the name. Indeed, it’s a subsidiary of Santander Group.
- Offers basic current (checking) and savings accounts
- You can accumulate airline miles for certain types of transactions
Banco Estado was recently named the safest bank in Latin America by the Global Finance Journal. It has 365 branches and lower ATM fees than many other banks.
Speaking of ATMs, they’ll even allow you to withdraw over 550,000 pesos for an approximate 4,000 peso fee. Not bad for a Chilean bank.
- Offers basic cuenta vista, RUT and current (checking) accounts
- No annual maintenance fees for some of their accounts
- An overdraft line of credit in case of emergencies
Luckily, even if you can’t open a bank account, at least ATMs are all over the place. Even in small, rural towns. ATMs operate on a 24-hour schedule and ATM fees themselves do vary. ATMs can charge you transaction fees, foreign exchange fees, and out-of-network service fees. Chile’s state-owned bank, Banco de Chile, may not charge any. At private banks like Santander and BBVA, you should expect a fee, unless you’re coming from a partner bank. It’s difficult to plan your ATM fees ahead of time, so before you go, check in with your home bank and your Chilean branch for specifics.
As an expat, you’re effectively barred from having a bank account, so expect frequent fees and charges. You’re much more likely to get a Chilean bank account through unofficial channels. If you know a Chilean bank employee, have them serve as a reference for you. However, expect to pay for such a service in the form of services charges. Even then, since the process is unofficial, you may likely expect unorthodox wait times and service offerings.
When it comes to international money transfers in Chile, many locals report one headache after another. Without an official Chilean bank account, you’re at the mercy of currency exchange services and kiosks. Check with your local bank to inquire about international fees.
Another option is to us TransferWise if you’re looking to send money there. You’ll first need to know someone with a Chilean bank account. But TransferWise uses the real exchange rate - the actual rate you find on Google. Also, they avoid nasty international fees by transferring everything locally. Meaning that way you’ll avoid surprise fees and markups.