“ Sanity is not statistical.” – George Orwell, 1984.
As many overlanders will have experienced, crossing borders in Central and South America is a wildcard. Sometimes you get the impression the officials just do not want you to leave or are just not interested in supporting the flow of tourism into their country. Sometimes, it is a breeze. Sometimes, the same border you had many issues with is the same border where somebody else had none. And sometimes, there are just well known and reported hard or easy borders.
Either way, you need to be organised, prepared and come ready for reasonable and crazy conversations. This article specifically looks at the law affecting foreigners who own a Chilean vehicle. It is written from our first-hand experience combined with some post-travel research. If you are a foreigner with a Chilean car, I hope you find this helpful as you plan your road trip around South America.
Chilean Aduana and the Temporary Vehicle Exit Title
There was a Chilean Aduana (Customs) policy ‘enforcement’ a couple of years ago on the Temporary Vehicle Exit Title (Section 17). This started off a siren of alarms around foreigners being able to cross Chilean borders with a Chilean-owned car. It’s actually still not very clear if the law received an actual amendment or if Aduana were just advised to start enforcing an existing policy. Regardless, it has resulted in foreigners with Chilean-plated vehicles being blocked by some borders.
Officials on some borders are like sheriffs in the wild west. They are provided with the guidelines of the law but interpret and enforce the law as they see appropriate. This is not saying they are corrupt or in any way unlawful, their interpretation is fair because there is no regulation or framework applied to how they work. This is also seen in how they respond to digital-based documents. The apps and websites the central government develops, are not always trusted or accepted on the frontline.
What is the law on temporary vehicle exits in Chile?
So to be clear, below is my interpretation of the impacting parts of Section 17 including a playback of what is happening on the ground at the different country borders. I have never received any legal training (contrary to my surname) but I have done my best to decode the impacts for foreigners who own a Chilean-plated vehicle. You can see the complete wording of the law on the Aduana website. I recommend using the Google Chrome browser to get the translation in your own language. If you think I have missed any key points or misinterpreted anything, I do welcome the conversation in the comments. The purpose of this article is to help travellers navigate the borders as easily as possible, so accuracy is important.
Sub-section 17.1 basically says that the temporary departure of a Chilean plated vehicle is approved with proper documentation if they meet the relevant clauses. Clause 17.1.a says this is dependant on the driver being a Chilean resident (RUN holder) who is travelling to countries except Argentina and Bolivia.
This sub-section ultimately relates to Peru as it is the only country not mentioned that shares a land border with Chile. Based on clause 17.1.a and the strong “no-go” message sent by overlanders across the Pan-American highway, it would seem clear that a foreigner cannot drive a Chilean vehicle into Peru.
Well maybe and maybe not. It was recently reported on the Facebook PanAmerican Travelers Association that a couple of foreign nationals have successfully crossed from Chile to Peru at Arica. Go figure! If a couple guinea pigs are not enough for you to try yourself, the general recommendation is to travel up through Bolivia and come back to Chile via Peru.
If you are feeling brave, other notable sub-sections are:
Remember according to clause a of sub-section 17.1, the ‘driver’ needs to be a resident, not the owner (so no loopholes here). See more information on the Autorizacion.
17.1.4. The extension of the title must be requested by the interested party directly before the nearest Customs, and must accompany the temporary exit document.
You can actually request an extension online. A wonderful world-travelling wedding photographer Ivan Buštor has written an article on how do this based on his personal experience. Whether you are crossing via Peru or not, if you want to travel out of Chile for longer than the period authorised on your Temporary Import Title (TIP), you should check out Extending the temporary export of your Chilean car.
Sub-section 17.2.3. allows the passage of a foreigner with a Chilean plated car as long as they have a notarised Declaracion Jurada and 17.2.4. a notarised Autorizacion if they are not the owner (or do not have the Padron in hand).
So this one is easy, si? Well, not always. We had first-hand experience at the forbidden Chile Chico crossing from Chile to Argentina.
This border had received a communication from head office by what can only be referred to as a memo. This memo stated that foreigners (Extranjero RUT holders) are not allowed to take a Chilean vehicle out of Chile, irrelevant of whether they own the car or not. The official we dealt with was very firm about this ‘law’. We presented all of our documents including our Declaracion Jurada alongside the law from the Aduana website and started to highlight the sub-sections of that law. Very weirdly he did not trust our reference (the most up to date version of the law on the official website). Instead, he kept pointing to his memo?
Long story short we were there for two hours in what I politely refer to as negotiating. We held firm, were respectful and consistent with facts. I think he could tell we were not going to give up and he eventually phoned someone. A short while later, they phoned back and success! We could not believe it but we were so happy and more happy that he did not take the side of pride and power by withholding the truth that had just been shared with him. At this point, there was a small crowd of officials around him, so it was confirmed to the group. He also printed out and replaced the memo with a copy of the section of the actual law. I like to think this has now paved the way for easy access to overlanders from Chile Chico. If you are planning to take that route, or have travelled there since the 9th December 2017, please let me know how it went!
On the other hand another Chile to Argentina crossing, Los libertadores was a breeze. I actually loved the guys at this mixed border (well, at least on the Chile to Argentina route). They were amazing! So friendly, helpful, passionate and seemed to totally get we were just touring their beautiful countries. I say this because we did have an unrelated problem with the system not being properly updated with our details but the way they handled it was totally commendable.
And finally, before we leave this section I should highlight that it also states ‘return the vehicle to the country within the authorized period.’ I was told 180 days was the maximum but I can’t see where this is stipulated other than in sub-section 17.1 which doesn’t relate to travel into Argentina. Our Declaracion Jurada states we will ‘return the vehicle to Chile according to the deadline of the Aduana’. I guess it could be possible for someone to request a specific period is noted on their Declaracion Jurada (like 360 days) and see if Aduana use this period on the TIP? If so, this is a potential loop hole for 6 month+ travellers. However, it is just as likely the Aduana will only approve the TIP at 180 days, as this seems to be the standard period used at the border crossings. Anyway, it’s a shame I have only picked up on this now, otherwise I definitely would have tested it myself! I would love to know if someone gives this a go?
Hmmm, say what now? This one makes me laugh! So Chile to Bolivia is known as the “big easy” (well I just called it that but I am sure it will catch on). You go here because you can’t go through Peru. It is easier than Argentina. So what’s going on here? This is where I stand at a loss. Maybe the ‘excludes Bolivia’ cancels out the clause in its entirety, including the requirement for the driver to have Chilean residency? I just do not know. What I do know, is that provided you have all of your vehicle documentation in check, you can cross from Chile into Bolivia relatively pain-free.
So what happens at the border crossing?
It is different at different border crossings depending on the popularity, size and location – plus some of Chiles borders are combined with the bordering country. You can be parking up and going into a small office, or driving parallel to multiple lanes of vehicles all trying to cross the border on a factory line.
Essentially you hit passport control first and at some point are provided a Temporary Import Permit (TIP), which has a different name depending on the country agreement but essentially it’s the form that allows you to take the vehicle across the border for personal use. Once you are cleared by passport control, you go through customs (Aduana). These are the guys that effectively shake you down, go through your car and belongings, and want to know what your evil plans are for leaving and entering the countries. Of course, in most cases this happens when you are just entering a country but in the ‘foreigner leaving Chile with the Chilean car plight’, some of it happens in the leaving too.
- Passport (with visa receipt)
- Padron (or autorizacion)
- Declaration Jurada
If you are at the beginning of your research journey, you can find out what these are on How to buy and sell a car in Chile. And as always, if you have any comments or questions just shout out in the comments section below.
Be connected with the overlanding community
Blogs are great for planning and research, so I hope you love this one but you can’t put a price on real-time information from overlanders who are currently or have most recently been on the road. Make sure you are connected with the following groups. You will be to get (and share) the most up to date status on borders across the Americas. Also, always remember to use the search function first, the answers could be there for you straight away.