Foreigners must have a visa to enter Chile, and any foreigner applying for temporary or permanent residency must show a valid visa to the Departmento de Extranjeria y Migracion.
There are several kinds of visa that foreigners can obtain from Chilean consulates abroad, including:
- Tourist visa
- Work visa
- Student visa
- Temporary residency visa
As we noted in the introduction, foreigners traveling to Chile for tourism or business can enter on a tourist visa, which can (for citizens of most countries) be obtained at a port of entry into Chile.
If you intend to start or invest in a company, or make some other kind of investment in Chile, you can obtain your temporary residency visa at your local Chilean Consulate, but we believe it is best to avoid the added bureaucracy and costs of obtaining that visa while abroad, and to simply obtain a tourist card instead. Then, once you’ve entered the country with your tourist card, you can go to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration as soon as possible to obtain your residency permit.
As this book is oriented toward businessmen, investors, and tourists, we will only discuss tourist visas here. If, for whatever reason, you must obtain one of the other kinds of visa from the Chilean consulate in the country where you currently reside, the website of that consulate should have all the information you need. We also recommend calling and speaking to an immigration official in person to ask about requirements, just in case the website isn’t entirely up-to-date. You may also want to read the following chapters here on residency permits for some helpful advice.
Please remember: If you intend to apply for permanent or temporary residency at some point, it is absolutely essential that you obtain and prepare the right paperwork properly before leaving. It is particularly important that you legalize all your foreign documents. We discuss legalization, among other important aspects of the visa and residency procedures, in the following two chapters.
Obtaining Your Tourist Visa
The procedure for acquiring a tourist visa to enter Chile depends on what country your passport is from. There are three possibilities:
- If you are from another South American country, your passport or another kind of national identity card from that country will suffice; you do not need to receive a tourist card.
- For residents of countries outside South America, it is most likely enough to show your passport at any point of entry into Chile and pay an entry fee if necessary. You will then receive a tourist card inside your passport, which is good for 90 days.
- Residents of some countries, however, must obtain a tourist visa in advance of entering Chile, through the Chilean consulate.
Check the website of the Chilean consulate in your country for information on visa requirements. Currently, U.S. citizens may enter with a passport, obtaining a tourist card at the port of entry.
Tourists with U.S., Canadian, Australian, Mexican, or Albanian passports must pay entry fees; the fee (currently of US$160 for U.S. passport holders) is a “reciprocity fee,” meant to be equivalent to what Chileans pay for visas to enter those countries. Passport holders from all countries that do not ask Chileans for visas to enter their country do not pay any fee.
Entry fees must be paid directly to the immigration officer in cash (U.S. dollars) or by credit card. Once paid, it is good for the life of your passport.
The tourist card is valid for 90 days. You can extend it to 180 days at the Departamento de Extranjeria y Migracion, but you must pay an extension fee of US$100. If you apply for an extension, you must do so no less than 2 weeks prior to the expiration of the tourist card.
Renewing Your Tourist Visa
If you do not extend your tourist card, you must leave the country before it expires. You can, however, re-enter Chile more or less immediately after leaving, and will usually be given a new tourist card, again valid for 90 days.
The Eternal Tourist
It is very common for visitors to renew their tourist visas multiple times this way, sometimes for years on end. Usually they simply cross the border into Argentina and return that day or a few days later. Bear in mind, however, that there is a not-insignificant risk that the border authorities will arbitrarily refuse your re-entry. For that reason, as well as reasons discussed in the introduction, we recommend applying for temporary residency if you plan to stay in Chile for longer than a few months
If you fail to leave the country before your tourist visa expires, you will have to pay a fine of between $25,000 and $1,350,000 (Chilean pesos) the next time you attempt to leave.
Some extended-stay expats have noticed that the penalty is a lower price to pay than what it costs to leave Chile, even for a day; so they simply skip the ritual of renewal and pay the fine when it’s time to leave. We at LegalFácil recommend abiding by the law and extending or renewing your visa before it expires – and not only because Mendoza is a great place for a short trip. Regardless of how lenient a penalty is, you never know when breaking the law will come back to haunt you.
If you intend to stay in Chile as a tourist but travel back to your home country periodically, we recommend that you time your return trips with the expiration dates of your tourist card – in order to avoid, for instance, having to take a pricey if pleasant trip to Argentina a few days before you fly to New York.