Before coming to Chile I thought about buying a car so I could easily travel to various ski resorts in Chile and Argentina. I never bought a car, but my research was helpful when I decided to buy a motorcycle and take it from Chile to Texas. I found few resources but nothing overly complex, so that’s why I decided to write this guide.
Buying a vehicle in Chile is easier than anywhere else in Latin America. It is also cheaper, you don’t need local resident to do it for you and there is no corruption or other shady business involved in the process. You can take the vehicle outside of the country much faster than you would be in other countries.
This is how it’s done: (for quick scan of the process go to the table with clear steps at the end of the article)
First you need to look for a vehicle you want. I wanted to buy Honda or Yamaha motorcycle, so the Chilean websites of these companies were a good start. Later I went to see the bike in department stores because they were closer than the dealers that are typically in Santiago’s suburbs. After a brief research I figured that buying in the department stores was more hassle than going directly to the dealer.
Buying a vehicle
So to the dealers I went. I soon found out that if I paid in cash I was able to get better than advertised price or had extra things (helmet for example) thrown in . The bike had the price advertised of 699.000 pesos, but The Honda’s dealer Pro Circuit on Vitacura Avenue gave me the offer of 650.000 pesos (about 1200-1300 USD) and they had the color I liked. So I paid the money, got my invoice (5 copies, one more than I was told I need) and waited for the bike to be inspected.
The inspection was going to last a few hours so in the mean time I looked in nearby stores for a decent helmet. I realized while I spent a lot of time thinking and researching bikes I devoted no time at all to learning about helmets. I tried a lot of cheaper helmets on and bought a Portuguese made NAU helmet. I figured unlike many Chinese makers these guys probably have some basic safety standards they follow. The helmet cost me about 50.000 pesos ($100).
Couple hours later I came back to the store. This time I was given Honda owners manual and warranty (1 year, 10000km with road side assistance in Chile). My bike also came with free maintenance at 1000 and 3000 km. I was given a very short demo of the bike. At the end the sales guy asked me if I knew how to ride a bike. Good question that I did not answer because I was not sure myself.
After 15 years of not ridding a motorbike I dove into Santiago’s heavy afternoon traffic trying to find way back to my hostel and re-learn how to ride… Not the best decision, but somehow I made it to my provisional home safely that night.
During the buy I was explained by the salesman that the first week I can ride the bike without plates; with an invoice only. Later I learned that technically you can only ride without plates from the dealer to your home. But there is a bit of confusion about this and your success of ridding without the plates will depend on the policeman that will stop you. Without plates you are certainly more likely to be stopped than with them, so I decided to proceed as quickly as I could to get the plates on. After all my newbie ridding technique was probably suspicious enough.
Next day I took my invoices, passport, my chilean tax ID called RUT (I obtained it earlier) and went to register the bike at Registro Civil. Here the process was smooth and quick. I got my provisional registration (Solicitud de Primera Inscripcion) and my plates. I even got to see folk performance of Cueca national dance here.
Once I had the registration, I went online and bought obligatory insurance known as SOA. There were couple companies and I decided to go with Megallanes. I paid 36000 pesos, which was not the cheapest but it was easy enough to get online and I knew Megallanes is a real company.
I did not have a drill or any necessary tools so later that afternoon I found a mechanic shop full of drunken guys in one of the poorer neighborhoods. Here I had my plates installed for less than few thousand pesos. I speak decent Spanish but half the time I had no idea what these guys were talking about :).
Next day, I thought, I was going to complete the last piece of the bureaucratic process and get my bike completely legal on Chilean roads.
Homologation papers missing
On Thursday I was going to get the Circulation Permit (Permiso de Circulacion). However I found out, I was missing essential piece of paperwork from the dealer know as Homologacion. Turns out I did not understand the dealer needs to get this from the importer and it was gonna take a few days. Since this was the last day before a long weekend in Chile, it was clear I was not gonna get this before my planned trip to the Chilean coast.
I decided to ignore this piece of paper and ride the bike the whole weekend. If I was gonna get pulled over, I planned to pretend I spoke no Spanish and did not know what Permiso de Circulación was. After all my bike was registered and insured, so I did not feel that bad.
To be honest I am not sure if I could talk myself out of a bad situation if I got pulled over. Fortunately police did not stop me and I happily logged a few hundred kilometers around Viña and Valparaíso.
Finally Homologation Papers Arrive
Tuesday 28.9.2010 (yes, 2 weeks after I bought the bike)
It turns out getting the homologation took much longer than I ever imagined. The dealer kept saying Honda importer had too much work and was not able to deliver it to them. After bunch of angry phone calls the guy from the dealership finally delivered the green piece of paper. He was nice to bring it at 10pm to my hostel.
In the future I would not buy the bike without getting the homologation at the time of buying or with a clear promise I was gonna get it next day or day after.
Getting Permission to Circulate
With the homologation in my hand I was finally able to complete the last step in the process. In the morning I rode to Providencia municipality office and got my Permission to Circulate (Permiso de Circulación). To get that I had to show my passport, rut, insurance and temporary registration. So two weeks after the sale my bike was finally allowed to ride in Chile. At this time I logged about 1000 km already, so it was time for the first free checkup at the dealer.
Some people might tell you you don’t have to wait for the permanent certificate of inscription and that it is possible to leave with the temporary one. An employee at Registro Civil tried to convince me about this but I do not believe this to be true.
If you are crossing to Argentina they check your vehicle in the computer. If you have not received permanent certificate you are not in that database and I don’t see how they would let you leave Chile and enter Argentina.
Better way to speed up the process would be requesting special processing which I was told might be possible. You need to ask for it during initial registration or later email special request to the director of Registro Civil. If you plan to stay or travel in Chile for a few weeks you don’t have to worry about processing times too much because in 2-4 weeks you should either get the certificate in your mail or be able to get a printout at any of many Registro Civil offices.
If you are trying to insure a car you should not have any problems. Insurance companies, many of them in big department stores, offer international insurance for neighboring and Mercosur countries for period up to 1 year. This insurance is not cheap but you can get it.
However the longest motorcycle insurance I was able to find was for maximum of 30 days and was fairly expansive. In order to cross to Argentina you need this insurance. It’s checked at the border but if you decide to overstay validity of your insurance that’s your problem. Once in Mercosur nobody ever examined my insurance while crossing borders. First place I was forced to buy insurance was in Venezuela.
Following this process I made it to Colombia so far. I logged over 25000km. From here it’s about 5000 km to my final destination Texas. I will be happy to answer any questions in the discussion.
Some useful links:
- Hubb: Buying or swapping bike in Chile
- E-How: How to buy a car in Chile
- Lonely Planet Forum on buying car in South America
- How to avoid Santiago tolls (TAG) (If you don’t want to get one)
Simple guide to buying a vehicle in Chile:
(If anything is out of date, please speak up in the discussion and I will be happy to fix it)
[table id=1 /]