Since we want to travel around for one year in South America a rental car was no option for us. It would be too expensive.
In many countries in South America, it’s just not possible to buy a car as a foreigner. In Argentina for example, you could buy a car but you would not be allowed to leave the country with it. In Chile, it is theoretically possible, but it’s not an easy process.
First, you need a Chilean tax and identification number to be able to buy a car, called RUT. As a foreigner, you need someone from Chile to support you in order to get one. Luckily there are two agencies in Santiago that offer this service:
Both are reliable and I can recommend both.
First, you have to go to a notary and sign some documents. Then, after 1-3 days you will get your RUT online.
Choosing the right vehicle
Next, we had to decide which kind of vehicle we need for our trip. These were some of our key requirements:
- reliable with low mileage
- good offroad capability (4×4, high ground clearance, low range, and rear differential lock)
- lots of space for our luggage (camping equipment, water, jerry cans, food, …)
- 4 doors and at least 3 comfortable seats
- good fuel efficiency and long-range capability
- comfortable to drive over long distances
- can be sold after one year with minimal loss
- AT tires
- not too expensive
- service network available throughout South America
Our first choice was a Toyota 4Runner. It fulfilled many of our requirements. Sadly, we came to the conclusion, that it hasn’t enough space for all our equipment. We would have to use a roof rack and/or would have to put a lot of stuff on the rear bench. Both are not optimal since our luggage would then always be very visible and if we would go for example on a hike, it could easily be stolen.
Next, we were looking into several pick-up truck options, both full-size and mid-size, like the Ford F150, Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota Tundra, Toyota Hilux, VW Amarok, and Nissan Navarra.
A full-size truck would have enough space but for many tight offroad tracks the size could be a problem. In addition, nearly all full-size trucks are only offered with large gasoline engines, mostly V8s. Fun to drive, but fuel efficiency and range would clearly not be great. Therefore our focus was on a mid-size pickup truck with a diesel engine.
We finally decided to buy a Ford Ranger FX4. It has an efficient 3.2 liter diesel engine, automatic transmission, low range, a rear differential lock, and Pirelli AT tires. In addition, it had run only 5000km and was only 3 months old.
Finding the right offer/seller
One of the best sites in Chile to look for used cars is www.chileautos.cl. But most of the offers are from private sellers. This can work well if you buy a cheaper car and pay with cash, but for all other payment options, a reliable dealer is clearly the better choice.
We bought our car at DOBLETRACCION Automotriz. These guys are awesome and can be highly recommended. They have lots of experience and supported us with every topic that you have to deal with if you buy a car as a foreigner in Chile.
Organizing the payment
That’s not an easy topic. If you plan to buy a cheap car just bring enough cash in US$ or € and exchange it at some of the exchange offices in Santiago. But if you plan to buy a nearly new car with low mileage this is not the best option. Running around with 30.000€ of cash through Santiago is not recommended.
There are three other payment options, but all three really only work well if you buy from a dealer and not from a private seller.
First, you can pay with a credit card. This requires that you have a credit card with a sufficient or at least adjustable limit. With my Barclays card I could for example transfer 30.000€ from my bank account to my credit card account and this will then automatically raise my payment limit by 30.000€. Next, you have to find a car dealer that accepts credit card payments. Not every dealer does this. And they all add an additional charge of about 3% if you pay with a credit card. If you buy a vehicle for 30.000€ this surcharge is a significant amount of money. But the big advantage is, that you normally get good exchange rates and the payment is immediately resolved. We haven’t used a credit card for our payment, but next time would probably do. The advantages are in my opinion bigger than the drawbacks.
Another option is an international bank transfer directly from your bank account at home to the bank account of the car dealer in Chile. This takes at least a couple of days and you often have to deal with both bad exchange rates and high fees, often much higher than the 3% credit card surcharge. Check with your home bank about the details. It often varies a lot between different banks.
The last option is to use some provider that is specialized in international money transfer like WISE. This is what we did and it has some advantages and disadvantages. The fee is only 1.75%, and therefore less than paying with a credit card or using a direct bank transfer. In addition, you can exchange from € (or whatever home currency you have) to CLP several days or weeks in advance whenever the exchange rate is best for you. This is what we did. We exchanged from € to CLP on our WISE account about one months before we arrived in Chile at a time when the exchange rate was rather good for us. This saved us a couple of 1000€ because at the time we had to pay for the car the exchange rate was much worse for us.
The big disadvantage of WISE is that the duration of the money transfer varies a lot. It can be as fast as 24 hours but it could also take up to three weeks. And until the money arrives it is absolutely unclear when this will happen which makes any planning impossible and can be quite frustrating. In our case, it took 10 days. If you send a higher amount of money there is often an additional compliance check (about the origin of the money) which further delays the process. In the end, it worked with WISE and we paid the least fee and got the best exchange rate but the price was that we had to stay much longer in the Santiago area as originally planned.
Finding an insurance
Finding car insurance for Chile is not a big problem. If you want to cross borders to other countries it gets a bit more complicated.
It’s possible to get coverage for any damage to your car in other South American countries. It is often included in your standard Chilean car insurance. In addition, you have to buy separate international liability insurance for border crossings. It’s also easy to get and not too expensive.
What’s not possible is to get any protection for the theft of your car in countries outside of Chile. We tried really hard, but nobody offers this.
Normally it takes just a few minutes to get your insurance policy online. But as a foreigner, this process can take some more time. We had to wait nearly one week before the final policy arrived.
We got our insurance from Marianna at:
Magnet y Varela Corredores de Seguros Ltda.
La Concepción 322 Piso 11, Providencia
Cel. +569 9534 3588
She speaks English and we can really recommend her.
We paid for one year of fully comprehensive insurance in Chile 973€ and for one year of international liability insurance 240€.
Modifying your vehicle
For a long overlanding trip including several demanding offroad tracks you normally need some modification for your car and also some additional equipment.
From Europe we brought a small Engel fridge, a Viair air compressor, a pressure gauge, a small shovel, a recovery rope, a complete set of camping equipment including some chairs and a small table and a couple of MSR water bags.
In Santiago we bought a small toolbox, three 20 liter jerry cans, some jumper cables, a lithium jump start power pack, a steering wheel claw (as an additional theft protection), an ARB tire repair kit, a hydraulic jack, a big roll of duct tape, plastic boxes for storage of food, gas cartridges for our camping stove and some motor oil.
The biggest disadvantage of our Ford Ranger was that it had an open truck bed and we needed something to protect our equipment from rain and theft. In Chile they normally just use flat covers and often only soft covers. This concept was clearly not the best choice for our needs because both space and protection are very limited. We needed a real hardtop/canopy for our truck. Luckily we found one for a good price in Santiago at Alessandrini. It only had to be painted in the color of our car before we could mount it, which took another week until everything was finished.
In and around Santiago there are a lot of toll roads. Normally you have an electronic device, called Tag, on your windscreen and the toll is then automatically collected. You have to rent the device and then connect it to some debit or credit card. It was not 100% clear, if a foreign card could also be used for this. We haven’t tried because there is another option if you don’t plan to spent a lot of time in and around Santiago. For 15 days per year you can buy a day pass at Pase Diario which offers a flat rate for all tolls on that day for about 10€. This is what we have done.
Preparing for border crossing
For a border crossing with your car to for example Argentiana or Bolivia you need the following paperwork:
- International liability policy
- Declaración Jurada, which you can get at any notary (it confirms, that you guarantee to return the car to Chile)
- A document that proves that the car is registered in your name (which takes about 4-6 weeks after starting the process of title transfer)
We currently have the liability policy but still wait for the final title transfer and have to organize the Declaración Jurada.
Ready to go
2.5 weeks after arriving in Santiago we had everything we needed and were ready to leave Santiago and start our expedition to Patagonia.
After a trip to the supermarket we had enough food for a few weeks. And we were able to easily store everything in our truck. The hardtop was clearly the right choice!