EFAM | Escape From America Magazine

The Lowdown on How to Buy a Car in Chile as a Foreigner

Argentina’s Route 40 is one of the most revered road trips on Earth, and should definitely be on any adventurer’s to-do list.

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.

A couple of good websites for buying a car in Chile include: www.chileautos.cl, http://www.vivastreet.cl, you can also check out Santiago’s newspaper “El Mercurio”.

Step Three – Car Paperwork Required

When buying your car, you need to ensure that the seller can provide the following paperwork:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

A two-way road in Bolivia – definitely not for the faint of heart – but definitely memorable!

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!

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9 Comments

  1. Fred Tover December 14, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Seems like a lot of hassle for someone that is only going to be in Chile for awhile. You should have mentioned how much it costs to rent a car, since most of these .excursions. one would only want to do once. In the larger cities public transportation is available. Since EFAM has never covered Chile to any degree it would be nice to know how long one can stay in Chile. Can you leave and re-enter after 90 days and get another 90? Like being a ‘perpetual tourist’? Without this sort of information your article is basically a waste of space in this magazine.
    EFAM you can do better than this!

  2. J. Edwards December 14, 2012 at 9:36 am

    We found buying a new car in Uruguay very easy. We emailed the dealer, he said he had what we wanted, we only had to show our foreign passport and give our name and address to buy a car.

    We moved the money as a bank transfer and then the dealer drove to our home, took us to get the car registered and plated. He had also lined up insurance and arranged to have daylight running lights installed before he delivered it.

    We also found switching our drivers license to a Uruguayan one quite simple although it takes a few hours. You have to have been in the country less than a year and have a valid overseas license and have a temporary cedula. You just follow the steps including a cursory eyesight and hearing check, present the asked for papers, pay and have a photo taken and walk away with your new license. You get to keep your other one too.

    • Paul December 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      Hi J.Edwards -

      Very interesting.
      How did you find the prices of cars and the other costs (registration, taxes, drivers license, import duties, etc.)? What type of car did you buy? I have heard they are VERY expensive there (WAY more than Chile) and basically double the prices in US or Canada.

  3. Dean December 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Interesting article. Do you have information on the sales tax and import duties on new an used cars as well as annual registration fees?

  4. Ana July 6, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Hi there. Interesting article indeed. We are thinking of buying a car in Chile and using it to tour South America for a year. I understand that the car can only be abroad for 6 months, so that means we would need to return to Chile after 6 months before reexiting.

    But are you sure that as a tourist you can take a purchased car out of the country. The info on this Chilean official website (http://www.chileatiende.cl/fichas/ver/106) about the Argentina border crossing is a little worrying : “El beneficio de salida temporal excluye a los extranjeros que no tienen residencia temporal o definitiva en el país.” Any insight ?

  5. Ana July 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Hi there. Interesting article indeed. We are thinking of buying a car in Chile and using it to tour South America for a year. I understand that the car can only be abroad for 6 months, so that means we would need to return to Chile after 6 months before reexiting.

    But are you sure that as a tourist you can take a purchased car out of the country. The info on this Chilean official website (http://www.chileatiende.cl/fichas/ver/106) about the Argentina border crossing is a little worrying : “El beneficio de salida temporal excluye a los extranjeros que no tienen residencia temporal o definitiva en el país.” Any insight ?

    • tina March 15, 2014 at 9:49 am

      Hi
      yes, you can travel abroad with your chilean car as a foreigner; you are just not allowed to sell it abroad; Chile is a good country to buy a car for a foreigner, it is fast and easy with the administration; the most difficult as usual is to get a good one. We do have one in good condition we want to sell it and it is a good deal for those who want to sleep inside, it is economic also. Please contact us for more information. We can wait till end of 2014 if necessary.

  6. Leo July 19, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Hello,

    I bought a moto in Chile without any problem.
    My question is to sell it… Does someone did it ? Is it posible to sell a vehicule as foreigner ? How it works ?
    Thanks !
    Léo

  7. lydia May 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Hey! i have a chilean car but i am a german citizen, why is it not possible to cross the border from chile to peru without a chilean? is it still that way? thanks for helping!
    lydia

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