Top 10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Chile

Chile Travel Posted on 03/12/2019

Learn the 10 most important tips to travel to Chile an American from the Southeastern United States learn during a trip to Chile. Plus, cultural insights to mingle with locals and be seen less as a “gringo”! 

Updated to April 2024

1. First tip – Check if you need a visa!

You won’t need a visa

This is one of the most important things to know before visiting Chile. As a U.S. citizen (as well as citizens of the E.U.), you won’t need to acquire a visa or pay a fee to enter the country. 

You’re permitted to stay in Chile for 90 days (3 months) at a time on a tourist visa. Nonetheless, many people who want to stay in Chile for longer will either extend this visa for another 3 months or just leave the country and come back. Many times, expats will cross the border to Mendoza, Argentina for the weekend and come back.

Read here all the information about the entry and exit requirements for US citizens who want to travel to Chile.

Chilean Embassy

2. Tips to explore the city

Santiago de Chile has Multiple “Barrios”

The capital city has many different “barrios” (neighborhoods), all of which can be easily explored through the city’s extremely efficient metro system. The different barrios are scattered across a hill. The basic rule of thumb is: that the further up the hill you go, the richer and safer the neighborhoods become. 

The wealthier neighborhoods are often safer due to an increased police presence within the area. The safest comunas are Providencia, Vitacura and Las Condes. Some of the more popular tourist areas, like Plaza de Armas and Bellavista, are often safe during the day, however, travelers need to exercise extreme caution in these areas during the night, as in any cosmopolitan city.

Getting Around

To use public transportation, you must buy a card called BIP, and it’s sold at all Metro stations, at the Centros BIP, or Puntos Bip! With it, you can add multiples of 10 pesos with a minimum of 750 pesos, at the selling points or at any other associated stores that enable you to charge BIP cards. 

The card allows you to travel by bus (which are called micros in Chile) and by subway (also known as the metro). You can buy a single card and use it for you and your travel companions. 

You can use your credit card to recharge it. If you want to pay with your debit card you need to pick the “tarjeta de credito” option (It’s odd, I know… but true) and you can do it at Station Los Leones of the new Line 6 (next to Line 1).

3. Prepare for Chilean’s Nature

You didn’t imagine that…It was indeed an earthquake

Being from the Southeastern United States, I’m not used to them. To be honest, I don’t even remember having felt one before I moved to Chile. Nonetheless, I remember my first Chilean earthquake vividly. 

I was terrified upon feeling the movement under my feet, but the Chileans around me weren’t even reacting and told me it was just a “temblor”. When visiting Chile, know that the country is 100% equipped to deal with earthquakes (and temblors). 

Oftentimes, earthquakes that would be considered to be large-scale in other countries barely do any damage in Chile. So, if you happen to experience an earthquake in this country, my advice is to look to the locals and follow their reactions.

When it comes to weather – Expect the unexpected

All I need to explain here is that the northern part of Chile is a desert, while southern Chile is Patagonia. You know, the snow-covered mountains? If you were to check the weather for San Pedro de Atacama and then Puerto Natales (like I just did), you’d notice a huge difference in their highs for the day. When planning a trip to explore the whole of Chile, pack for extreme variations in weather.

One of the amazing landscapes of the Atacama Desert.

4. Culture & acting like a local

Not the Spanish You Learned in High School

Students traveling to Chile to learn Spanish tend to be frustrated that it’s not the same as the Spanish they were taught in high school. Yes, you’ll have to learn to use phrases like ¿cachai? and weon and maybe you’ll even start conjugating verbs differently. 

Nonetheless, I promise that the Chilean dialect is not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. Moreover, once you get the hang of it, it’s kind of fun.

group of youg people gathered in a living room enjoying of a conversation

Who is Lucas?’s not a person that everyone keeps mentioning. “Lucas” is not a very common name in Chile, but you’ll hear it used commonly. That’s because the word refers to money in multiples of thousands. If someone says, for example, “cuatro Lucas”, that person is not talking about “four people named Lucas”, but about “4000 pesos.”

It’s not as cheap as you might think

While I still think Chile is cheaper than Europe, I’ve also noticed that foreigners often have a misconception about all of South America being cheap. Among the top things to know before visiting Chile, is that this generalization is not always true, especially in the case of Argentina and Chile.

 Keep in mind that, especially in Santiago, it’s the capital of the country and it houses approximately 1/3 of the entire country’s population, so expect it to be expensive.

Pack a snack

Look, I’ve always known that Americans are supposed to eat larger quantities than other countries, but who knew that we eat our meals so much earlier than everyone else? In Chile, finding a place to eat lunch at 11:30 isn’t a thing. 

Most restaurants won’t open for lunch until about 1 P.M. Oh, and dinner? It’s not at 5 o’clock – more likely to have dinner around 10 or 11 p.m.

Be smart, observe your surroundings!

This one may seem obvious if you’ve traveled internationally, but it’s worth mentioning. When paying for something avoid pulling out your wallet in public and flashing large amounts of cash. 

Grab and runs are extremely popular in Santiago and if someone sees that you are carrying large amounts of cash on you, they will probably target you. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself.

5. Conclusion

Chile is an extremely exciting country with a storied past, a beautiful natural environment, world-class attractions, and exciting culture. Here at Say Hueque, we love arranging tours through Chile and introducing travelers to our next-door neighbor.
Be sure to check out our tailor-made trips to Chile to get inspired! To learn more about Chile, feel free to talk to one of our experts and begin living the Chilean Adventure.

Questions? Write to Us