Chilean president Sebastian Piñera, during his career as a businessman, helped bring credit cards to Chile in the 1970’s. Since that time, their use has grown extensively throughout the country.
As a foreigner, there are some things you should note about using your credit card in Chile.
Notify Your Bank
Before you leave for Chile, call your credit card company and tell them you’ll be traveling. Many credit card providers will let you put a travel notice on your account through their website or automatic phone system.
Make sure you take this initial step so that when charges start appearing from Chile, the credit card company doesn’t think they are fraudulent.
Look for Credit Card Acceptance
When entering a store or approaching the cashier, look for a “Red Compra” sign or electronic keypad where you can swipe your card. The “Red Compra” logo looks like this:
“Red Compra” loosely translates to “Buyer’s Network.” Even though the sign does use the color red, that isn’t what it is referring to.
Don’t assume that you’ll be able to use your credit card everywhere. Many places, particularly smaller stores and vendors, only take cash. Carry credit card alternatives, principally Chilean pesos or your ATM card to access pesos.
When paying for a purchase, the cashier may ask you “¿cuántas cuotas?” They want to know how many payments/installments you want your charge split into. You should say “una sola” (just one) or “sin cuotas” (no installments).
Debit Cards vs. Credit Cards
Many Chileans use their debit cards for purchases. This means they swipe their card and then enter their PIN number. Since you’ll be using a credit card, this may confuse the cashier who is used to debit cards. So be patient if they have to swipe your card a few times. They may have to enter the last several numbers printed on the card or it will be denied by the bank. Stores and gas stations accustomed to credit cards won’t have any trouble.
When the cashier hands you the receipt to sign, you’ll see a line for firma (your signature) and C.I. which is short for cedula de identidad or identity card. Chileans have their ID number memorized and would be able to write it here without trouble. You’ll need to enter your passport number if asked or can probably just sign the paper and hand it back. You’re more likely to get asked for the ID number if you have a higher purchase price.
Oddly enough, when you use your credit card and the cashier asks for ID, they don’t necessarily want to see the ID, they just want the number.
A Secret Advantage of Foreign Credit Cards
Remember that you can use your foreign credit card to pay your hotel bill in foreign currency and avoid the IVA tax.