Money and Costs
Chilean peso (CH$)
Budget: Less than CH$65,000
- Inexpensive hospedaje room/dorm bed: CH$10,000
- Budget-restaurant dinner main: CH$5000
- Three-course set lunch: CH$4000–7000
- Double room in midrange hotel or B&B: CH$50,000
- Midrange-restaurant dinner main: CH$8000
- Car rentals: start at CH$20,000 per day
Top End: More than CH$80,000
- Double room in top-end hotel: CH$80,000
- Fine-restaurant dinner main: CH$14,000
- All-day guided outdoor adventures: CH$30,000–65,000
Unlike some South American countries, bargaining is generally not the norm in Chile.
ATMs are widely available, except along the Carretera Austral. Credit cards are accepted at higher-end hotels, some restaurants and shops. Traveler's checks are not widely accepted.
The Chilean unit of currency is the peso (CH$). Bank notes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos. Coin values are one, five, 10, 50, 100 and 500 pesos, although one-peso coins are fast disappearing, and even fives and 10s are uncommon. Carry small bills with you. It can be difficult to change large bills in rural areas; try gas stations and liquor stores by asking, '¿Tiene suelto?'.
Exchange rates are usually best in Santiago. Chile's currency has been pretty stable in recent years. The value of the dollar seems to decline during peak tourist season and shoot back up again come March. Paying a bill with US cash is sometimes acceptable, especially at tour agencies (check their exchange rate carefully). Many top-end hotels publish rates in US dollars with a lower exchange rate than the daily one. It's best to pay all transactions in pesos.
Wire transfers should arrive in a few days. Chilean banks can give you money in US dollars on request. Western Union offices can be found throughout Chile, usually adjacent to the post office.
Chile's many ATMs, known as redbanc, are the easiest and most convenient way to access funds. Transaction fees can be as high as US$10, so withdraw larger sums to rack up fewer fees. Some travelers report that they cannot use Banco del Estado.
Most machines have instructions in Spanish and English. Choose the option tarjeta extranjera (foreign card) before starting the transaction. You cannot rely on ATMs in Pisco Elqui, Bahía Inglesa or in small Patagonian towns. Throughout Patagonia, many small villages only have one bank, Banco del Estado, whose ATMs only sometimes accept MasterCard affiliates.
Those crossing overland from El Chaltén, Argentina to Villa O'Higgins should bring plenty of Chilean pesos, as the nearest reliable banks are in Coyhaique.
Some foreign banks will reimburse ATM transaction fees; it's worth checking in advance. Also, withdrawals are limited to a sum of CH$200,000.
Some banks and casas de cambio (exchange houses) will exchange cash, usually US dollars only. Check the latter for commissions and poor rates. More costly purchases, such as tours and hotel bills, can sometimes be paid in US cash.
Plastic (especially Visa and MasterCard) is welcome in most established businesses; however, many businesses will charge up to 6% extra to cover the charge they have to pay for the transaction. Credit cards can also be useful to show 'sufficient funds' before entering another South American country.
- Restaurants It's customary to tip 10% of the bill in restaurants (the bill may include it under 'servicio').
- Taxis Drivers do not require tips, although you may round off the fare.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.