There are fair few outdated guides on the internet concerning the somewhat complicated process of buying a car in Chile if you are a foreigner. Whilst they are all generally on the mark, the majority of them are out of date and do not reflect the most recent changes in Chilean laws concerning foreigners obtaining a Rol Único Tributario (RUT), essentially a Chilean version of a tax file number.

As we have recently been through the process of buying and selling a car in Chile, we figured it would be good to provide the latest information for other independent travelers looking to do the same in Chile to explore South America.

A note before I go further:

First of all, this information is current as of September 2015 but may be subject to change in the future and the rules are always changing. If you have recently purchased a car in Chile, and have noted that the process has changed, please send us an email or leave a comment below with your experience.

Secondly, be careful with being told ‘no’ or ‘it’s impossible’ by Chilean government bureaucrats or even your local friends. Chilean’s are cautious people by nature, and will always respond to new or unknown things in a conservative manner.

Do you research and be firm. Yes it is 100% possible to buy and sell a car in Chile as a foreigner – even if they don’t believe it and say it’s impossible!

Basic things you will need:

  • An address in Chile. Your address needs to be in the same district as the Servicio de Impuestos Internos de Chile (SII) office that you will need to deal with to obtain your RUT number. A hostel/friend’s address is fine
  • Your passport and visa. The Chilean tourist visa a small piece of paper you must carry with you at all times once you are issued with it after arriving in Chile
  • A Chilean citizen friend to help with the RUT application
  • Patience and a basic grasp of the Spanish language.
    • Keep in mind ‘Chilean Castellano’ is a beast of its own, but thankfully the official documents are in standard Spanish
    • A smartphone with Google Translate downloaded will help immensely if you aren’t fluent
    • Be prepared to lose a few hours of your life waiting in queues.

Obtaining a RUT:

This is the first thing you need to obtain. Without a RUT you cannot buy/sell a car in Chile.

  1. Go to your local SII office (try a Google Map search)
  2. At the information desk (found on level 2 at the Providencia SII office) explain that you are going to buy a car and need the paperwork to obtain a RUT for foreigners aka ‘extrajeno RUT’. The form number is F4415.1.
  3. You will also need another form called ‘Poder Administrator Representante o Mandatario’ (PARM)
  4. They may tell you it’s impossible, but this is wrong. They are getting confused as the standard ‘RUT’ (actually a RUN number) is for citizens and permanent residents only. The RUT for investment is different. Don’t leave the office without the papers. Be firm and don’t let them send you away simply because they can’t be bothered helping you. Customer service is awful in Chile
  5. Go to a local notaria (notary) office with your Chilean friend and bring your passport. Because the process is new, the notaria clerk may try to tell you it’s not possible for you to obtain a RUT number. Be prepared to calmly insist that it’s is fine, and that you have been to the SII office and show them the forms
  6. At the notaria you will need to fill out the F4415.1 form with the details of you and your friend. You will also need your Chilean friend to fill, sign and thumbprint the PARM form. You need to sign and thumbprint the document afterwards
  7. The notaria clerk will then take copies of both your passport and also your Chilean friend’s identification card. They will take it to be stamped, dated and approved. Ensure everything is done correctly and there are no incorrect details (date, spelling of name etc). The notaria fee is about $3000CLP ($6AUD) from memory for this particular service
  8. Go back to the SII office (opening hours 9am to 2pm, Mon-Fri) and submit the forms. You don’t need your Chilean friend to come with you, but it does help if they can come to explain and translate to the SII officer what you are doing. They will try to tell you ‘no’ at any chance possible.
  9. The SII officer will print out the temporary RUT paper on the spot, no cost. The temporary paper is valid for three months from the issue date
  10. The SII will create a plastic, official RUT card for you in the meantime, but be aware it took two months for ours to be ready. Also note if you give them an address, they still may not send it if you are a foreigner as they’ll assume it’s a hotel. You’ll probably have to go back and collect it from the original office.

Buying a car:

In general, Chileans are pretty rough on their cars. Plus the stop/start traffic of Santiago creates a lot of wear and tear. Keep this in mind and be very thorough when inspecting and test driving.

Sending money to a Chilean or other foreigner is also somewhat complicated and expensive.

Although it’s not always possible, it is ideal if you can find someone with the same nationality who is selling their car as transferring the money between domestic bank accounts is much faster and easier.

Our favourite and most preferred resource to buy and sell cars to/from other travelers is the Drive the Americas buy/sell online forum. There are plenty of options to choose from, plus most cars are decked out already and ready to hit the road which saves you time and money. If you can, try to find someone from your own country to buy from/sell to because that makes transferring the money so much easier than having to make multiple cash withdrawals or an international wire transfer!

Alternatively www2.chileautos.cl and www.yapo.cl  are worth a look. Chileautos is by far the most ‘serious’ online sale option for locals.

Ensure that all papers are ‘to the day’. Essential papers include:

  • Certificado de inscription y anotaciones vigentes en el R. V. M. (aka ‘padron’ – vehicle title)
  • Revisión Técnica (roadworthy certificate, renewed annually)
  • Certificado de emisiones contaminantes (emissions certificate, attached to the RT)
  • Seguro obligatoro (mandatory 3rd party insurance for Chile)
  • Permiso de circulacion

The seller will need an up-to-date copy of the padron. Usually, the notaria office will be able to look it up online and print it out for you for a small fee. Otherwise, you can go to most print shops or the Registro Civil (RC) office and get it printed for a fee.

Once you have found, tested, negotiated and agreed on a car, you will need to do the following:

  1. Go to a notaria office with the seller and explain you are buying the car
  2. The notaria may try to tell you it’s impossible for a foreigner to buy a car in Chile. This is wrong. Just insist there’s no problem and that you have been to the SII and obtained a RUT to buy/sell property in Chile. Show them the paper copy
  3. The notaria may also try to tell you that the RUT paper copy is too new and isn’t on the system yet. This is partially true, but it doesn’t prevent you from buying the car. It just means there might be a slight delay before the padron is updated with your name
  4. Both you and the seller provide your information to the notaria clerk so they can fill out the ‘compraventa’ transfer form. You will both need your passport/ID cards, address and other contact details. The notaria will make several copies, you thoroughly check each one, then sign and thumbprint each copy
  5. You will then need to pay a number of fees, including a transfer fee, notaria fee and registro civil fee. All up it will cost around $110,000-120,000CLP ($240AUD). On some occasions you may need to pay the tax, around $60,000CLP, at a local bank branch, obtain a receipt and return to the notaria before they’ll submit it to the RC office. However most notaria offices will handle it for you as part of their service
  6. Ensure that ALL documents being submitted are been stamped, dated and that the details are 100% correct. Any errors will result in delays and additional submission fees; an extra $22,000CLP each time! Also ensure that they have a notarised copy of your RUT paper and passport with the transfer papers.

That’s it! The transfer process will take around 2-4 weeks to complete before the vehicle is officially in your name. To get an updated padron document, visit the local RC office, pay a small fee of $840CLP ($1.50AUD), and they will print it out on the spot.

Warning: It is very difficult to leave Chile without an updated padron in your name. We managed to get into Bolivia before the padron had updated as we had a special letter from the previous owner giving us permission to drive the car and leave the country. However, this letter doesn’t always work at all border crossing points, i.e. Bolivia to Peru. Be warned and prepare to wait a few weeks.

Also be warned that it is extremely difficult to cross into Peru from Chile with a Chilean car as a foreigner, even if you have the updated padron with your name on it. There are strange restrictions on foreigners taking Chilean plated cars into Peru from Chile. We were told that only Chilean owners of a Chilean vehicle could do it. So even if you have a Chilean friend driving the car, unless they are the vehicle owner and on the padron, it won’t work.

That said however, we have heard of other foreigners who managed to get across the border after a few hours of desperate persuasion. The best bet is to go directly to the aduana (customs) manager and explain that you are going to return to Chile and are only going to Peru temporarily. They may grant you special permission to pass then. It’s a long shot though, so don’t count on it.

Selling a car:

Selling is essentially the same process as above. Again it is much easier to sell the car to someone from the same country, as transferring the money will be much faster, easier and attract fewer fees.

Camper cars set up for travel and are in good condition will sell easily and for a fair price on www.drivetheamericas.com

Ensure the advertisement has a few nice photos and provides all the relevant information of the car and what’s included. I am constantly amazed by for sale ads that provide barely any details.

Most locals won’t be interested in the camping gear, so if you sell to a Chilean you will need to sell your gear separately or bring it home.

Other notes:

Compared to other South American countries, Chilean drivers are reasonably well behaved and courteous. They’re about the same as Australian drivers. Of course there are always exceptions, especially in busy peak hour traffic in Santiago where everyone goes a little crazy.

There are no speed cameras in Chile, so Chileans also have a habit of generally driving 20-30% faster than the signed speed limit.

Although it is uncommon, the Carabineros (police) sometimes will use a speed gun to identify and fine speeding drivers. We were pulled up once for doing 80km/h in a 50 zone; a genuine mistake as we weren’t familiar with the local roads. Thankfully the officer realised that we were just ignorant gringos, and sent us on our way with a warning after checking our papers were in order.

Always carry your vehicle papers, licence and passport with you. There are many police checkpoints, especially in the north, where you will need to show your documents.

Main roads are generally of high quality comparable to Australia. However, like anywhere else, when you go into rural, remote areas they do deteriorate rapidly, especially after heavy rains. Exercise caution, ask locals and always carry plenty of fuel, food and water in case you get stuck.

A 4WD vehicle is not essential to explore Chile, but it can be highly beneficial when exploring backcountry areas. Despite the downsides of fuel consumption and maintenance expenses, we loved having 4WD capabilities to get through sandy and muddy roads to reach beautiful and remote areas. A 2WD with high clearance is a minimum if you want to get off the main roads.

Car burglaries are reasonably common in Chile, especially in the cities. While it is uncommon for your car to be stolen, having someone pry open the door or smash a window to get inside is not unusual. Never leave any valuables, including the vehicle papers, inside the car when unattended.

Our car was broken into while we were parked at the beach in the far northern city of Arica. We were sitting on the beach only 20m away from the car and had left nothing of value inside. The cost for replacing the smashed window was 60,000 CLP ($120 AUD), plus a few hours of our precious holiday wasted.

Gasoline is fairly expensive in Chine compared to Australia or the USA. We spent around 680-800CLP ($1.20-1.60 AUD) per litre. Fuel is generally more expensive and more difficult to obtain in rural and remote areas away from the highway, so make sure you stock up before heading out.

Tolls are very common throughout Chile, especially in the middle part of the country around Santiago where most of the population is found. Toll fees do vary depending on the road and the operator. We paid anything from 600CLP ($1.20 AUD) to 7,000CLP ($14 AUD) for toll fees. When driving north on the Panamericana Norte you will hit unavoidable tolls the up until around Caldera. but there’s still a few other sneaky tolls north of Antofagasta, and also south of Iquique that you may need to pay depending on which road you take.