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Transportation in Chile

Chile, the long and narrow country on South America’s west coast, often evokes images of rural life in Patagonia and the Andes. However, there is more to Chile than its breathtaking countryside. Learn all about moving to Chile, including location and climate, visas, and transportation.
If you explore Chile by car, remember that not all roads are easily accessible.

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 4x4 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.

 

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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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