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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to Chile

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  • Mathias Döringer

    Before moving to Santiago de Chile I joined the InterNations community and got useful hints regarding housing and business.

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Relocating to Chile

At a Glance:

  • Chile is a diverse country, with borders spanning three continents and a climate ranging from deserts in the north to icy and cold in the Patagonian south.
  • There are different visas depending on how long you plan to stay in Chile. Most expats will need a short-term visa or a work visa, depending on the purpose of their stay.
  • Prior to beginning your job in Chile, your work permit has to be signed by yourself and your employer, and then notarized at your Chilean consulate.
  • If you do not have a car, traveling by plane or bus are the most common ways of covering long distances within Chile.

Chile: Four Seasons, Three Continents

Chile is an incredibly diverse country, with deserts, islands, the Andes, and Antarctica to discover. Expats moving to Chile get to explore a country which stretches across three continents. While Chile’s main territory is located on the west coast of South America, Easter Island — its westernmost border — belongs to Oceania. In the south, its territory reaches all the way to Antarctica.

Much like its geography, Chile’s climate varies greatly. In the north, you are likely to experience desert weather, while the Patagonian south is often icy and cold, known for its strong winds. The central zone has a mild, warm climate, but rainfall is more frequent.

The Various Regions of Chile

As mentioned above, Chile has a lot to offer. It is not only the capital, Santiago, which is worth visiting. Other areas within this long and narrow country have their own unique and attractive characteristics. If you were ever to travel the length of the country from north to south, the extreme contrasts of the country would quickly become very noticeable.

Santiago de Chile

On a smog-free day, one of the first things you’ll notice about Chile’s capital is the dramatic scenery that surrounds the city. Rising to the east are the Andes Mountains and to the west the smaller Chilean Coastal Range. Despite the noise and air pollution, Santiago has so much for expats to discover. With varied, characterful districts, Santiago seems to have it all: Spanish-style arcades, beautiful palacios, countless museums, a buzzing art scene, charming cafes, and much more. In summer, the temperature is always around 30°C but may fall to 15°C at night. In winter, the proximity to the Andes is ideal for winter sports enthusiasts.

The Andes and Norte Grande

The Cordillera de Los Andes forms the backbone of Chile. The mountain range has an average height of 5,000 m, but begins to descend just past Santiago and vanishes once you get to the south of the continent. Outdoor enthusiasts will love exploring its peaks, including the volcanoes Llullaillaco, Tres Cruces, and Ojos del Salado.

Norte Grande, or Grand North, borders Peru and is home to the Atacama Desert, which is considered one of the driest areas in the world. Some areas of Norte Grande do not see any rainfall throughout the entire year, which is why most people settle on the coast.

Chile's Visa Requirements

Tourist Visas

Expats who decide to visit Chile before their move — perhaps for a fact-finding visit or to search for a job — can apply for a tourist visa.

Citizens of several countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and EU states, do not require a visa if their stay is less than 90 days. Instead they’ll be issued with a Tarjeta de Turismo (tourist card) upon arrival in Chile. It is important that you keep it for when you leave the country.

For those of you who do require a tourist visa, it is important to only submit original documents, otherwise your paperwork may be sent back to you and you’ll have to reapply. It can take up to four weeks for tourist visas to be approved, after which you have to collect it in person at the consulate. The following paperwork is required for a tourist visa application:

  • a completed visa application form
  • proof of a booked flight to Chile and back
  • a valid passport and a photocopy (and a copy of your residence permit, if applicable)
  • a certificate of employment or pay slips for the last three months
  • one passport-sized, biometric photograph with your full name on the back
  • an invitation from an individual or a company in Chile, or proof of hotel reservation

The visa fees depend very much on your country of origin. The consulate may ask you to provide additional documents or come in for a personal interview. If you decide to stay longer than originally planned, you may ask for an extension of your visa at the Extranjería in Chile.

Short-Term Visas

Short-term visas, also known as temporary resident visas, mostly apply to interns, students on a gap year doing volunteer work, individuals traveling to Chile for family visits, and, expats on a short-term assignment. A short-term visa is valid for a maximum of one year. As with the tourist visa, it may take up to four weeks for your short-term visa to be approved. You’ll need to submit the following paperwork with your application:

  • a completed application form
  • one passport-sized, biometric photograph with your full name written on the back
  • a valid passport and a photocopy
  • a police clearance certificate (not older than three months) detailing whether the applicant has a criminal record
  • a document supporting your reason for applying for this visa (e.g. a work contract)
  • a certificate of health (confirming that the applicant does not have any contagious diseases)
  • proof of sufficient funds to cover the duration of the stay (e.g. bank statement)

Work Visas for Chile

Are you being transferred abroad by your employer, or do you want to live and work in Chile for more than one year? Then you need to apply for a regular work visa. In order to apply, you need to submit the following documents:

  • a completed application form, including the telephone number of your contact person in Chile
  • one passport-sized photograph with your full name written on the back
  • a valid passport and a photocopy
  • a police clearance certificate (not older than three months) detailing whether the applicant has a criminal record
  • an official letter from your employer to the consul, explaining your role
  • a work contract (see below)
  • a certificate of health (confirming that the applicant does not have any contagious diseases)

The Work Contract

Before you send in your paperwork, there are a few details you should be aware of. Your employer has to visit the Chilean Department of Foreign Affairs in order to have his or her signature notarized. You will also have to visit the Chilean consulate to sign your work contract and have it notarized; make an appointment and pay the necessary fee in advance. Pre-signed work contracts are usually not accepted. Additionally, your work contract has to follow Chilean law and contain the following phrases:

  • obligación del empleador de responder al pago del impuesto a la renta correspondiente en relación a la remuneración pagada – The employer is obligated to reimburse the legally required income tax resulting from the employee’s paid remuneration.
  • obligación del empleador del pago de cotizaciones al Sistema Previsional y de Salud del trabajador en Chile o en el extranjero – The employer is obligated to reimburse the employee’s social security contributions in Chile or abroad.
  • – The employer is responsible for paying the employee and his family’s return tickets once the contract is terminated.

Transportation in Chile

Taking Flight

If you enjoy travelling by air, you will be happy to learn that traveling from northern Chile to the south via plane is actually quite easy. It also saves you time compared to traveling by car or bus. In order to reach isolated regions in Chile’s south, flying is often your only option. The drawback, however, is that flying isn’t cheap. You will also be charged a departure tax for domestic flights of between 6 USD and 8 USD.

After Aerolineas del Sur filed for bankruptcy in 2008, Chile was left with two domestic airlines: Lan and Sky. Both offer a large network of routes, with Lan even offering flights to Easter Island. In addition, you can use smaller, regional airlines and air taxis to reach secluded islands like the Juan Fernández archipelago.

Road or Rail?

However good the connection between your home and other parts of Chile, sometimes it is necessary, and easier, to get your own car. This makes sense if you want to visit towns and national parks, or wish to explore Easter Island. Even if you are only moving to Chile for a few months, having a car can make life a lot easier. However, you should keep in mind that not all cars can handle Chile’s unpaved roads; a 4×4 is possibly the best option if you’re planning on exploring off the beaten track.

Buying a car in Chile requires some paperwork. You will first need to obtain a RUT tax number (Rol Unico Tibutario) at the Servicio de Impuestos Internos de Chile (SII) office. Once you’ve purchased the vehicle, you have 30 days to transfer the padron (the vehicle title) into your name. As with most countries, it is mandatory that you purchase insurance for your vehicle.

Although the Chilean railway experienced a boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many train tracks are now abandoned. Apart from the commuter rail system connecting Santiago to 17 surrounding communes, here are very few rail connections throughout Chile and most people prefer to fly or travel by bus. However, there is a modernized train system, running from Santiago all the way south to Temuco. You can learn more about train connections, schedules, and reservations by checking out the (Spanish) website of Empresa de Ferrocarriles del Estado.

Traveling by Bus — A Comfortable Alternative

Long-distance buses are widely available in Chile and known for their comfort, efficiency, and punctuality. Many towns have big bus stations, where you can find information on schedules, destinations, and fares. Most major highways are paved, making for a comfortable journey. Unfortunately, smaller roads are usually gravel or dirt, meaning it takes longer to travel along them.

You may be surprised to find coffee, tea, and even meals being served on board on longer journeys. Every long-distance bus is also equipped with a toilet. In Santiago, there are four main bus terminals with connections to all corners of the country. There are big differences between the bus companies in terms of fares and standards, so make sure to shop around and keep your eyes open for ofertas, which may reduce the fare significantly.

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  • Mathias Döringer

    Before moving to Santiago de Chile I joined the InterNations community and got useful hints regarding housing and business.

  • Emma Willems

    When I first came to Santiago de Chile I didn´t know one anyone. On InterNations I found many expat friends in the same situation.

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