Ever dreamed about driving Ruta 40 across the vast and spectacular expanse of Argentine Patagonia? Perhaps you’re keen to test your fortune on Bolivia’s “Road of Death”, or maybe a scenic and relaxing drive through Chile’s Lake District is more your style.
Whatever your pick, travelling South America by car is an adventure for those bold enough to put their hand up. Having your own car gives you the freedom to explore less touristy areas, mix with the locals and take things at your own pace.
Experience suggests that Chile is the quickest, easiest and cheapest place for a foreigner to buy a car in South America. But please remember, when I say quickest, its quick for South America – you should still expect a bunch of paperwork, lots of waiting to file it, and at least 2-3 weeks for the official paperwork to arrive.
Buying a Chilean registered car will allow you to temporarily leave the country for a period of up to 6 months with no special permissions. So how do you do it?
Step One – Obtain your Rol Unico Tributario (RUT) Number
The RUT number is a number issued to foreigners that is basically a Tax Identification Number within the Chilean system. You will need this number to buy your car.
To obtain this number you need to visit Servicio de Impuestos Internos (SII) office with your passport and any relevant visa. Don’t worry – you can do this with a 90 day automatic tourist visa. Ask them to apply for a RUT and don’t take no for an answer, as the first person you talk to may tell you it can’t be done. Within 15 minutes you should have a temporary certificate with your RUT number on it. This is a free process. With this number you can buy your car. The finalized paperwork, and your Chilean RUT card can take 1-2 months to arrive, and should be collected from the SII office at a later date. The temporary paperwork is also sufficient for driving in Chile, and also for leaving the country with your car.
Step Two – Find your car
People will argue whether you should buy from a dealer or a private person, but it’s totally your call. A dealer might accept a bank transfer for payment, while a private seller might insist on cash. The most important thing is that you are happy with the car, and that you have a mechanic check it out for you before you decide to buy. I’ve also heard stories of bank transfers taking 2-3 weeks (!) for the funds to come through, so if you don’t mind several trips to the ATM, buying in cash can speed up the process. Also worth noting, in my experience you will have to pay for the car in Chilean Pesos, not USD or another foreign currency.
Step Three – Car Paperwork Required
When buying your car, you need to ensure that the seller can provide the following paperwork:
- Registro nacional de vehiculos motorizados – Known as the “Padron”. This small yellow document shows the cars details and the identification of the owner. This is your most important document for crossing borders.
- Certificado de Anotaciones para vehiculos motorizados. This certificate will show if there are any open charges on the vehicle. If you buy they car without this, or there are outstanding violations/restrictions on the car, it becomes your problem.
- Permiso de circulacion. This document shows that the Chilean street taxes for the vehicles have been paid. Check if the whole amount was paid because it is possible to pay it in 2 terms (March and September).
- Revision tecnica. Every Chilean car must complete a once yearly technical roadworthiness revision. The month this needs to be done will depend on the month of registration of the vehicle. If this expires while you are outside Chile, you won’t have any troubles in other countries, however once you get back to Chile you must complete this revision immediately.
- Seguro Obligatorio: Compulsory Third Party Insurance for your vehicle – valid for one year. You can purchase insurance in almost any city, just ask around for an insurance office. It is an easy and fairly quick process to get insured, and they don’t care that you are a foreigner.
Step Four – Transfer Process
This was the easiest part of the whole process. Find a Notary and explain that you are buying a car. The notary will tell you how much tax you need to pay on the vehicle (generally 1.5% of the market value). This tax will need to be paid at a bank. Once this is paid the Notary will issue the selling contract. Take this to the nearest Registro Civil (Motor Registration Office) along with your Passport, RUT certificate, and the “Padron” of the previous owner. Once all of these documents have been lodged you will be issued with a temporary ownership certificate. With this document you can drive within Chile with no problems. The official “Padron” should arrive within 2-3 weeks, and with that you will have no problems leaving the country.
Step Five -Enjoy Yourself
Having your own car is a truly liberating way to travel across South America. A few extra tips from travelers who have been there and done that:
- Foreigners without a permanent residence visa in Chile can not cross the border between Arica, Chile and Tacna, Peru, without a Chilean national in the car. If you are on your own you will have to drive via La Paz, Bolivia to get to Peru. Yes, its over 1000 miles out of your way, yes, its over the Andes through one of the highest border crossings on the planet, but yes, it’s also one of the most amazing drives you will ever do.
- You will need to obtain International/Mercosur insurance to cross to Argentina. This can be obtained in any insurance office (even major Shopping Malls) in Chile.
- Don’t be surprised if you are stopped by police outside of Chile for imaginary traffic infringements. How to deal with this is an article for another time, but the easiest tip is to not speak any Spanish to them, even if you do understand. Often they will get bored of harassing you pretty quickly if they think you have no idea what’s going on.
So if you are looking to purchase transportation to road trip in South America, Chile is one of the best places to start. Good luck and safe travels!