Buying a Car in Chile

Alright folks, after all of the hassle we went through to buy the lovely Camilla the Galloper, I would like to share with you step by step how it happened. Please note, that in all of my research beforehand, no one person had the exact same process – as with most things while traveling, expect the unexpected, and do what works best for yourself. Without further ado, here we go!

Step one: Get a Chilean RUT

The RUT is your tax ID. Unless you have a work visa, or are applying for residency, you will be looking to get the one designated for foreigners (extranjeros). We went to the nearest Servicios de Impuestos Internos (SII) office, and asked the help desk for the RUT application, and he handed us a packet of 4 sheets:

  • The half sheet of instructions
  • The “Poder Mandatario Administrador o Representante” – this is the form that you will need to have a local Chilean sign with you in front of a notary
  • Two copies of the application form, titled “Inscripción al role único tributario y/o declaración jurada de inicio de actividades para extranjeros sin residencia”  – This seemingly long form looks intimidating, but as far as we know it, only the top section actually mattered in the end. But to be safe, fill it out as much as possible.

Of course, you can’t do all of this in one step, that would just be too easy. After picking up this packet, find your Chilean “poder.” If you know a local Chilean that has an extra few hours to spare between the hours of 9:00 am – 2:00 pm on a weekday, you are in luck. Take this Chilean and your paperwork, along with your passport, photocopies of your passport, the Chilean’s carnet, and a photocopy of their carnet, and anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours of free time to the nearest notario. There are notaries all over Santiago, but especially in Centro – almost an entire street of them, just ask around.

The notary will probably not know what to do with all of your paperwork, as this is a fairly new process, but in the end you will need to be walking out of there with 4 sheets of paper notarized: The original and photocopy of the “Poder” sheet (wait to sign this until you are in front of the notary. They should also have you put a fingerprint next to your signature), and photocopies of both your passport and the Chilean carnet.

SII Paperwork_Fotor

Bring all of this, plus the two application sheets back to the SII office. If you happened to have an address that you are able to put down in Santiago, you will need to go to the SII office for that comuna. (Or you can do what we did, and wait for 40 minutes in one office only to be told to go to the other office on the other side of the city, where the wait was an extra hour and half long… whoops!)

If all goes well, you should walk out of the SII office with a stamped piece of paper with your RUT number on it. This number is what will allow you to buy a car, rent a house, buy property, and pay taxes on all of it! It is not, however, the official and final document. The paper lasts only 3 months (or in some bureaucratic offices, it means nothing to them…), and within a month and half or so, there should be a plastic card with your name and RUT on it, waiting for you in that same office. Either you, or your “poder” can pick that up, but it cannot be mailed to you.

Step two: Find your vehicle!

Okay, so you could be extra proactive and find this before you even get to Chile, but we looked online a ton, and just knew that the right one would show up when we needed it.Alex and Cami Day 1

There are a few different sites to check online, we mostly used yapo.cl and mercadolibre.cl. Yapo proved to be the one with the biggest selection and the best filters to narrow down our search.

Now, none of this searching online is going to be of any use to you if you don’t have a way to get ahold of the sellers. You have quite a few options on that – getting a cheapo cellphone from a local provider, buying a calling card, borrowing a friend’s phone, or relying on the messaging system of the website you’re looking on – but what we found that worked the best was:

  • Having a phone that actually works in South America – Alex bought a T-Mobile plan, which are now relatively cheap, and in most parts of S.A. you can get 3g service
  • WhatsApp. If you are a traveler and don’t use WhatsApp yet, I highly suggest downloading it. It’s a simple messaging app that allows you to text message other WhatsAppers for free, and I would say 90% of the population of Chile uses it over other forms of communication.

So you’ve narrowed down your list of vehicles you’re interested in, contacted the sellers to set up times to view them, and you’re getting stoked. Great! A few things that you must know before you meet up with any seller. There is a series of necessary paperwork that every vehicle must have up to date to be street legal. The common term for this is documentos al día, and they include:

  • Seguro obligatario – or Compulsory Third Party insurance. It should be paid in advance and valid for one year. It is transferable with the purchase of the vehicle, so in our case, there was 3 months left on the insurance, we will need to update it before the end of the 3rd month.
  • Permiso de circulación – A registration document that shows that Chilean road tax has been paid. Be sure that this is up to date before you purchase.
  • Revision técnica – A mandatory car inspection that needs to be completed once a year. If you would like to make your life easier, and get on the road faster, find a seller who has had this done recently. We did not, and we went with the seller to the revision técnica, and proceeded to endure 4 hours of idling in the hot sun without air conditioning. Did I mention Chileans really like to wait in lines?
  • Certificado de anotaciones para vehículos motorizados – this shows you if there are any violations or tickets on the car. Tickets of all kinds travel with the license plate, which stays with the car, so be sure that yours has a clear certificate before purchasing. You can verify this at the Registro Civil, and the document will need to be presented in order to get the padron
  • Padron, or Registro nacional de vehículos motorizados – The motor vehicle registration record, which shows the cars details and identification of the owner. Be sure that the seller has this in their name, and then proceed with them to the next step.

Step three: Purchase and Transfer the vehicle

Unlike in the U.S., where one can make a back alley car purchase by simply signing the back of the vehicle title, there is strict process in Chile to ensure that your name is connected to your vehicle. You will again need to go to a notary. The seller should go with you, with their vehicle registration document in hand. Here you will pay the sales tax, and the notary will give you a sales contract, hopefully multiple copies of it. We were told that the “padron” will then be sent to our address in Santiago (we are borrowing a friend’s, bless her) in about a month, but until then, the sales contract should serve as such. I have heard different ways to go about this, Poderincluding needing to send all of this to the Registro Civil, but the notary said that we were all set after she stamped our contract. (Yes, I’m crossing my fingers that she wasn’t lying to us… )

Just to note, we, along with the seller, had thought that this process was to be done at the Registro Civil, which is basically the Chilean DMV, but more of a nightmare. We had waited for over FOUR HOURS until our number was called, only to be told that because our RUT number was for extranjeros, it was not “in their system yet,” and therefore our request couldn’t be processed at the office, but must be done through a notary. Ooooh that poor woman had probably never seen a gringa turn so red with fury so quickly. Anyhow, despite what we had heard and had been told, we were not going to get anything done at the Registro that day, so notary it was. Save yourself some time and skip the register civil, the notary should be able to take care of everything.

And that is that. What I have come to realize through this process is that it is not common even in a city as big as Santiago for two very gringo extranjeros to be buying a vehicle, and people will give you strange looks, and they probably won’t know exactly how to process your request. We spent a lot of effort explaining our situation at each office, and laying out what we needed done, and it eventually got done. Again, we will forever be grateful for our seller, Gustavo, who held our hands like little children throughout the process.

While it was more of a hassle than we had hoped for, it was, after all, purchasing a vehicle in a foreign country, so we could only expect so much. And now we feel content to drive around Chile and cross border without some shady policeman trying to take the car because it wasn’t actually in our name.

Have a different experience? Did I miss anything? Any questions? Please, let me know in the comments! And to all of you looking to buy a car in Chile, buena suerte!

10 thoughts on “Buying a Car in Chile

  • Thank you very much for this good and complete post on the new car buying process in Chile.

    We will be arriving in Chile in a few days and we have the same idea of buying a car and drive about.

    How did you get/find a Chilean sponsor to sign the documents?

    Cheers,
    Marco

    • I’m glad you found it helpful!
      I hope this isn’t too late for you – I’ve been without wifi for a bit down here – but we actually asked our Airbnb host if she would be willing to be our sponsor. She was gracious enough to go through the process with us, but unfortunately not very many Chileans are comfortable enough/understand enough of the new process.

      I hope your have already been successful in that crazy process!
      Saludos!
      Carissa

  • Thanks so much for putting this together – it is very helpful. We are currently in the process of buying a car in Chile. I have read that a week after we execute the transfer with the seller we should return to Santiago to collect the “Impuesto Transferencias Vehiculos Particulares” which is a more official document to have if the police pull you over (see step 4 in the following blog http://practicingforretirement.com/index.php/buy-a-car-in-chile/) . I also assume that this is a consideration for border crossings. Did you do this step and if not did you have any issues? Thanks, Mike.

    • Hey Mike! Happy to hear you found this page, and I’m so excited for you! We did not do that step, nor have I heard of it before in my research. I do know that we payed the transfer of title taxes to the notary when we went with the seller to complete the purchase. The notary then had us and the seller sign 4-5 copies of a title document that she typed up and notarized, in it stating that yes indeed we did pay these taxes.

      We unfortunately did not have the opportunity to test out our documents in a border crossing, as we ended up staying in Chile, and selling the car in Chile, but as far as I was told, we would have been fine with just the “temporary” Padron, or title document. It was a pain to carry this whole legal sized paper document around for three months, but we managed.

      In the end, when we went to sell it, we did have to go to a notary to sell, versus going to the Registro Civil, which made it only slightly more time consuming, but all in all we were totally fine with the few documents they gave us – we never even went back to Santiago to pick up the small plastic official padron.

      I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions on that crazy process.

      Saludos!
      Carissa

  • Hey guys, your info helped a lot!
    Anyone whos reading this- ill recomend you to look for some more walkthroughs on how to get a car in chile to get the whole picture.
    Thank you for the post!

    • Thanks for reading! I always recommend folks to do plenty of research on these topics, as experiences always vary person to person. Cheers!

  • Did you guys cross into Argentina? HOW with the new regulation…

    • We ended up not crossing over to Argentina because we inherited a dog, and it was going to take too long to get her across the border, but I know that we would have been fine to take the car across as long as we had the “poder” paperwork handy, and with multiple copies. I’m not sure what new regulation you are referring to…

  • Hi there!
    Does anyone know about permanent export for chilean cars? We want to buy a VW van in Chile but do not want to re-sell it or bring it back after 180 days outside of the country – we want to drive it back and register it in north america (this would also maybe ease the border crossing process around Chile…) !
    Thanks ! You can contact us at : napito.en.america@gmail.com

  • great article!
    from my experience with travelling south america with a car i definitly recommend chile as a country to buy the car at.
    the most reliable cars and the easiest birocracy. there is an agency in santiago that sells cars for travellers and does all the process with the buyer including planning and suport along the way. its called “suzi santiago” you can find them on facebook . makes the whole process much easier .

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