The currency of Chile is the Chilean peso (CLP). Other currencies are not widely accepted, but most cities have exchange offices with reasonable rates for euros and US dollars. Rates should be posted on prominent signs.
As of mid-July 2012, 1 € ≡ CLP600, 1 GBP ≡ CLP763, 1 AUD1 = CLP501, and 1 USD ≡ CLP490.
Never exchange money on the street, especially if an “assistant” asks you to follow him/her.
It is not advisable to change money at the hotel or airport as the rates are terrible. Just be patient. Banco Santander has a monopoly on airport ATMs and charges an extra 2,500 CLP to withdraw money – but it’s still better than the exchange offices.
The network of ATMs in Chile has respectable coverage – they are all linked to the same service and allow standard transactions. Be aware that cash withdrawal fees vary from bank to bank – you will be informed of the surcharge on the screen. The normal fee is CLP 2 500. Banco Estado does not charge extra (verified for MasterCard, not verified for VISA – please check and process).
When using ATMs in Chile, be aware that criminals sometimes install skimmers and microcams that are difficult to detect in some of the less guarded establishments. These devices are designed to read your card information to create a clone. Several international criminal gangs have been arrested because of this. Always check whether the card slot looks suspicious or is easy to move or remove, and always cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN code.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in most independent shops in major cities and in all chain shops, wherever they are located. The PIN security system has been introduced for credit cards, so you usually only need your personal PIN (four-digit code), as is the case in other parts of the world. Some cards do not ask for your PIN, but use the last four digits of the credit card, which are entered manually, and you have to show a valid ID.
In Chile there is no obligation to tip. This was not the case until 1981, when Law 7.388 was amended. It states that tipping is obligatory in places such as restaurants and that the amount of the tip should be between 10 and 20% of the bill. Since then, it is generally considered that customers leave a 10% tip if the service is considered satisfactory.
For basic groceries, there are many mini-markets and local shops. Large supermarkets such as Lider, Jumbo, Tottus and Santa Isabel are often present both as independent shops and as anchors in shopping centres. Lider will be somewhat familiar to North Americans, as it is owned by Walmart and has redesigned its shop signage to look somewhat like Walmart shops. However, Chile’s strong consumer economy is dominated by local brands, which means that almost all of the brands on the shelves will be new to most visitors from outside South America.
The dominant pharmacy chains in Chile are Cruz Verde, Ahumada and Salcobrand. Only cosmetics are kept in the public area. All medicines and supplements are kept behind the counter and must be requested by name, which can be tricky if you don’t speak Spanish.