Article Updated April 2016
Having local currency at the start of your trip always makes things easier but depending on where you live and where you’re going, that’s not always possible. Many people simply wait to exchange money at the airport when they arrive, which is an easy option. However, it can often be the most expensive as well. It’s always a good idea to know a little about the local economic situation and the check the bank currency exchange rates before you leave.
Check the current rates
Santiago is a very credit card friendly city so if you have a good international rate on your credit card you can use that at many places instead of cash, however if you’re planning on visiting small towns you will probably need to use cash. If you’re driving you will need cash for tolls, some rental car companies will have some toll road coverage in Santiago but very few do elsewhere.
There are also many ATM machines available throughout the city and country. Check with your bank to see what the international withdrawal charges are and if they have any agreements with Chilean banks on their fees. If they say they do try to get it in writing in case you get charged fees regardless. Keep in mind that while the name on the outside of the bank may be the same, they are usually different companies and as such you may still have to pay fees as a non-customer.
If you are using ATMs in Chile and you are traveling to a lot of remote locations it’s advisable to withdraw money in the bigger cities as small towns may not have multiple ATMs and some really small towns may not have any. Additionally if you’re traveling during a long weekend or the holiday season get cash early, the ATMs may run out and they won’t be refilled until after the holiday is over.
Sometimes your hotel will offer an exchange at favorable prices, it’s always good to ask. Also some hotels will offer a tax discount for tourists paying in USD cash, you need to show your passport and your tourist card in order to qualify. Hotels are also a potential source of information for the closest casa de cambio (exchange house) with the best rates. There are many casas de cambio around the city/country, and there is usually one located inside each shopping mall if you feel more comfortable not walking directly out onto the street after exchanging money.
Casa de Cambios
There are many other casas de cambio in Santiago and you often find multiple shops on the same block, they often post their rates out front so you can shop around for the best rate. They usually close by 7-8pm but the ones inside shopping malls stay open until the shops close, so plan accordingly, the ones in the malls are usually the ones that will be open on weekends and some holidays. Many of the casas de cambio, especially in the city center, are just counters inside of international calling shops so look inside for the counter with all the exchange rates listed.
If you’re only exchanging a small amount, a few hundred dollars or less, they usually won’t ask for ID, but large amounts might require your passport. They don’t charge any commission on top of the posted rate so you can change your money all at once or as you go, whatever you prefer. If you exchange too much there is no issue with changing it back into dollars or another common currency before you leave Chile. When you get to the counter tell them what currency you want to exchange and how much, they typically calculate the exchange rate and then show you the amount you’ll get. If you’re okay with it, hand over the cash and get your money and receipt. Do a quick count to confirm the amount at the counter and you’re out the door with your pesos.
If you’re already in Santiago and looking to buy or sell less common foreign currency, Guinazu Cambios lists the most currency exchange options I’ve seen in Santiago. If it’s not listed ask, as they may not all be available at all locations.
Note: This article was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.
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