The unit of currency in Chile is the peso. The value of the peso has held steady at around 620 pesos to the American dollar and 880 pesos to the British pound; prices in this book are listed in U.S. dollars and pounds. Note: In Chile, the peso is indicated with "$" while amounts in U.S. dollars are preceded by "US$" or "$US." In this book, rates are quoted in U.S. dollars with just the "$," and pesos are quoted only rarely because of the high conversion rate. Bills come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 pesos. There are currently six coins in circulation, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 pesos; however, it's unusual to be issued 1 peso or even 5. In colloquial Spanish, Chileans frequently call 1,000 pesos a luca, as in "It cost cinco lucas" (5,000).
Chile levies a steep 19% VAT tax, called IVA (Impuesto al Valor Agregado) on all goods and services. Foreigners are exempt from the IVA tax when paying in dollars for hotel rooms and vacation packages; however, you might find this is not the case with low-budget hotels and hostels. Do a little math when offered a price in dollars as the peso rate might be cheaper due to a proprietor's improper or inflated exchange rate.
Carry small peso bills and coins with you when traveling around Chile, as corner shops, taxis, kiosks, and other small businesses rarely have change for anything over 5,000 pesos. Consider keeping the change separate from your larger bills, so that it's readily accessible and you'll be less of a target for theft.
A Chilean ATM is known as a cajero automático, or more commonly as a Redbanc, which is advertised on a maroon-and-white sticker. Redbancs are compatible with a variety of networks, including Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/PLUS. Before you travel, be sure your ATM can be used overseas and that you know your daily withdrawal limit. Note: Chilean banks do not charge a fee to use their ATMs, but your bank may impose a fee that can be higher for international transactions (up to $5/£3.30 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2/£1.30). For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank. You'll find ATM Redbancs in banks, grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies.
Traveler's checks are accepted at larger hotels but few other places, though they can be changed in most cities and towns. Some travelers feel safer carrying a few traveler's checks just in case, and they can be bought at most banks in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%. Try American Express (tel. 800/807-6233, or 800/221-7282 for cardholders; the latter number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322 or 866/339-3378, where AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee for checks up to $1,500); and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920). Keep a record of the serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
Traveler's checks, dollars, and euros can be exchanged at a casa de cambio (money-exchange house) for a small charge; casas de cambio are generally open Monday through Friday from 9am to 6pm (closed 1-3pm for lunch), and Saturday until 1pm.
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are widely accepted throughout Chile, and Diner's Club isn't far behind. Many Chilean businesses are charged a 2% to 4% service fee and will pass that cost on to you, so expect cheaper deals with cash. Smaller hostels and hotels often do not accept credit cards at all.
You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs (provided you know your PIN), but this is an expensive option considering that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.