Chile is fundamentally a country of immigrants. In the five centuries since its founding by the Spanish, it has been a haven for people from around the world, and garnered a well-deserved reputation for having an “open door” policy. This openness is evident in everything from Santiago’s eclectic culture to the country’s welcoming immigration laws, and it remains one of the most attractive qualities of Chile as a whole and its Capital in particular.
Chile is largely Spanish by descent, having welcomed several generations of Spanish immigrants dating back to the 16th century, including an important wave fleeing the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. But Chile has welcomed significant immigrant populations from elsewhere, too. There was a large, planned migration of Germans to Chile in the late 19th century, who established a colony in Chile’s 10th region in the South. There was likewise a planned migration from the former Yugoslavia, particularly Croatia, who settled largely in Antofagasta in the North and Punta Arenas in the South. Recently, significant waves of immigrants have arrived from Haiti, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, and there is a noteworthy Palestinian population, as well. Recently, Chile’s business-friendly environment has attracted entrepreneurs from around the globe, many of whom have remained in Chile as long-term residents.
Chile’s constitution protects all persons regardless of nationality, ensuring that foreigners will be treated fairly according to Chilean law as equals of the Chileans themselves, and that they will be allowed to own property, cultivate land, and do business in Chile.
Consequently, there are very few barriers preventing foreigners from visiting, working in, doing business in, and becoming legal residents or citizens of Chile. In fact, the only real barriers are the bureaucratic procedures themselves, which can be paperwork-heavy and difficult to navigate. Yet even those should not be a problem, if you are organized well prepared.
The main purpose of this book is to help you prepare for and complete those procedures, ensuring that your Chilean experience gets off on the right foot. In the chapters that follow, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about
- Visas: What do you need in order to enter Chile?
- Temporary residency: What are the different kinds of temporary residency? Which type is right for you? And how do you apply for it?
- Permanent residency: Under what circumstances can you apply for permanent residency, and how do you do it?
- Citizenship: Should you consider applying for citizenship? How do you do so?
We pay particular attention to preparing the necessary paperwork correctly and in a timely manner, as we’ve found that the failure to do so is the single biggest pitfall for foreigners immigrating to Chile, especially for those who are applying for residency.
This book is oriented specifically toward foreigners coming to Chile to do business, for tourism, or to work or study, and we’ll focus on procedures and documentation requirements for them. If you’re coming to Chile for other reasons, you’ll still find valuable information here, and we’ll point you to the best resources for finding the rest of the information you need.
Do You Need a Lawyer for Immigration Procedures?
The short answer is: not necessarily, though a lawyer can be very helpful for immigration procedures, and we recommend hiring one if it’s within your budget. It is particularly helpful if you are coming to Chile to invest or do business.
LegalFacil’s mission is to provide you with enough helpful information to allow you to live and do business in Chile without having to pay expensive legal fees every step of the way. Accordingly, the information and advice in this book should help you complete your immigration procedures on your own. But immigration laws and the relevant procedures are not without their complications in Chile, and hiring a lawyer who specializes in immigration can help ensure that you avoid every possible pitfall.
Also, in many cases, it’s simply easier to hire a lawyer to complete the immigration procedures for you, by granting him or her a power of attorney (poder).
Going for Residency
This book’s most basic recommendation is that, if you intend to be in Chile for more than a few months – and certainly if you intend to do business here – you should apply for residency instead of maintaining tourist status, and you should do so as soon as possible upon arrival.
We say this not only because we believe that “staying on the radar” is the best way to avoid legal problems in Chile (there is much less “extra-legal” activity in Chile than elsewhere in Latin America), but because becoming a resident of Chile, either temporary or permanent, confers certain substantial benefits that make living here easier, cheaper, and more enjoyable.
The Cedula, the RUN & Why You Want Them
For instance, foreigners who obtain residency status in Chile, whether temporary or permanent, are given a national identity card (cedula de identidad) and a national identity number (rol unico nacional, or RUN). Basically equivalent to the social security number in the U.S., the RUN will be your identity number for all civil purposes; it is also numerically identical to your tax identification number (rol unico tributorio, or RUT). (Non-residents may obtain a RUT, but only residents are given a RUN and a cedula de identidad).
Your RUN/RUT number will be extremely important for everyday life and for all things fiscal. For instance, you can’t purchase property, sign a lease, sign any monetary contract, or open a bank account without one. With one, you become eligible for Chilean healthcare and other benefits given only to Chilean citizens.
Chilean Immigration Authority
The Departamento de Extranajeria y Migracion (Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration) is the central institution governing the country’s immigration policies and procedures. It is part of the Ministerio del Interior.
Residency applications and renewals must be done in person, with or without a lawyer, at the Department’s central office or at one of its branches.
The central office is in Santiago, at San Antonio 580, 2nd floor. The English version of the website for the Department, which includes helpful information regarding visas and residency permits, is at
Once you receive your residency permit, you will need to have it registered at the Policia Internacional (International Police), whose offices are at Morande 672, right in Santiago Centro. The Policia Internacional is also where you must go to replace a lost or stolen visa, including your tourist card.
From there, you will need to apply for your cedula de identidad at the Servicio de Registro Civil e Identificación (Civil Registry), at Huerfanos 1570, also in Santiago Centro.
Chile’s Immigration Law
The relevant law for our discussion is Immigration Law No. 1094, which spells out Chile’s immigration policies. It is published in English translation on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.
All in the Paperwork
There is one thing we can’t recommend highly enough when it comes to applying for residency or citizenship in Chile: paying extra special attention to preparing your documents correctly; even the slightest mistake or omission can lead to your application’s being delayed or denied. The chapters that follow will give you all the information and warnings you need to ensure that you have the right documents properly prepared. Nevertheless, it is impossible to tell when a slight change in the law will change the documentation requirements, so our advice is to err on the side of over-preparedness.
The website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration has a lot of helpful and accurate information that is updated regularly, as does the Government’s website devoted to bureaucratic procedures and other government-related issues:
You’ll also find information at the website of the Chilean consulate in your country and the website of your country’s Embassy in Chile.
A Note on Visas & Residency Permits
There are several different kinds of visas that Chile offers via its consulates abroad, including the simple tourist visa, which, for citizens of certain countries, including the U.S., may also be issued on the spot at airport immigration posts and other ports of entry into Chile. Tourists with passports from any South American country can enter Chile with their passport or any other national I.D. card, without having to receive a tourist visa.
Then there are residency permits, which can be obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, once you have entered the country with a visa.
As residency permits are relatively easy to obtain once you’ve arrived in Chile, and as the tourist visa is by far the easiest and cheapest visa to obtain, in general, we recommend that you obtain a tourist visa to enter Chile and ignore the other kinds of visas offered by Chilean consulates abroad. (There are, however, some cases when it may be better to obtain your visa at a foreign consulate abroad before coming to Chile, such as when you need to start working or studying immediately upon arrival.)
Chile has long been attractive to foreigners, including businessmen and entrepreneurs, who have constituted a large portion of the millions of immigrants who have come here. Should you wish to follow in their footsteps, we hope this book can clarify the processes and help you reap the most from your time on Chilean soil.