Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Santiago does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SANTIAGO AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Chile-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
The security environment as a whole is moderately safe, with comparatively less violent crime than in other Latin American countries. Pickpocketing, telephone scams, vehicle thefts, and residential break-ins are the most common crimes against Americans. Violent crime also occurs, particularly in metropolitan Santiago, most often in the form of carjackings, home invasions, and muggings; express and traditional kidnappings and random shootings are almost non-existent.
The National Index of Victimization 2016 was published by Fundación Paz Ciudadana and GFK Adimark. This index measures the crime impact in 52 Chilean cities. The report indicates a 7.8% increase in the amount of people affected by theft and attempted theft. This kind of crime rose from 31.6% in 2015 to 39.4% in 2016. Street crime rose from 82.5% to 85.3%. Conversely, residential burglaries reduced from 17.5% to 14.7%, and violent crimes reduced from 29.5% to 23.9%. The above statistics are for the east side of Santiago, which include the boroughs of Lo Barnechea, Las Condes, La Reina, Providencia, and Vitacura, where many expatriates live due to the proximity to the international schools. Two other communities where both expatriates live and tourists temporarily stay are Vitacura and Las Condes. These boroughs saw a drop in ¨robbery with intimidation” (assaults) from 2,497 to 2,285 cases, signifying an 8% reduction.
The burglary of residential homes went down from 2,595 to 1,792 cases (a 31% reduction), and the burglary of uninhabited residential homes went down from 2,387 to 1,856 (a 22% change). The use of violence in residential break-ins also decreased in 2016. However, when residents are home, bats, homemade knives, and increasingly firearms are being used by burglars to intimidate. One tactic involves binding the feet/hands of residents and placing them in a closet while the burglars take valuables. Apartments with 24-hour concierges are less likely to be burgled. It is common for Chileans to return home from work after 2000hrs and to leave Santiago on the weekends, so most break-ins occur when residences are empty. Summer vacation for students and Chilean employees commence around December 18, often lasting through early March, contributing to the peak season for residential break-ins.
A scam involves individuals who disguise themselves as employees of gas/electric companies that solicit information from homeowners to gain entry or to engage in identity theft. Never allow strangers into your home if you cannot verify their identity, never give any information over the telephone, and do not disclose that the residents are not at home.
Non-violent pickpocketing is more common in Santiago than in other areas of the country. In downtown Santiago, the risk of being a victim of pickpocketing increases on weekends and after dark. Purse-snatching and pickpocketing are more prevalent in crowded tourist locations, pedestrian shopping areas, subway stations, bus terminals, and on crowded buses and the metro. Criminals often work in pairs, as one distracts the victim with a motion or sound, while the other steals the victim’s property. Be aware of groups of youths, who frequently work together to distract people and then rob them. It is common for thieves to dress in a suit and tie to blend in with people around them.
Restaurants, pubs, food courts, and major hotel chains are also popular locations for theft of purses, backpacks, briefcases and laptops. Do not hang bags/purses on backs of chairs or place them on the floor. Maintaining close personal control of your possessions will reduce your chances of being a victim of theft.
In 2016, reports continued of ATMs blown up to steal money by the so-called gas-saturation method, which entails filling the ATM vestibule with gas fumes and exploding the machine. Often, the money is destroyed during these attempts. These incidents commonly occur in the very late evening hours, and on some occasions, criminals have warned people away from the ATMs before exploding them. At the beginning of 2016, ATMs were exploded at supermarkets (four ATMs at a single supermarket in August 2016), and in July 2016 an ATM at the Airport Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez was exploded, as well as machines at petrol stations and in two malls. The apparent motive was crime.
Phone scams are popular. In most cases, someone will telephone and state that a prize has been won, a family member has been in an accident or was kidnapped, or that they are working in your bank and calling for your banking/credit card information. Do not give out your financial information to anyone you do not know over the phone.
Credit card fraud remains a concern. Police have uncovered various networks engaged in cloning credit cards and producing fraudulent blank credit cards. Some restaurants have been caught skimming clients credit cards.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions throughout most of Chile are outstanding by South American standards and comparable to U.S. roads. Roads are well-marked on city streets and highways. Traffic lights and pedestrian signals work well but are not always obeyed.
The local media coined a new crime trend in 2015, Portonazo, which refers to a carjacking or robbery attempt while a car is pulling into/out of a porton (car gate). There were so many high-profile stories of portonazos in 2015 that the government created a task force within Carabineros to address the problem.
Carjackings dramatically increased between January to June 2016, with 851 portonazos reported by the Prosecutors Office in 2016. The majority of these occurred in La Florida, Las Condes, and Vitacura; with most happening between 2100 and 0200 hours. Usually, the attackers were in groups of three, commonly including at least one minor.
Other vehicle-related crime includes thieves reaching through open windows to steal valuables and incidents of smash-and-grabs. Cars that are parked unattended on the street have been broken into, even in affluent areas. Particularly at risk are valuables or items perceived to be valuable that are left in plain view.
Vehicle theft (nonviolent) occurs most often in the Santiago metropolitan area and in northern Chile (from Iquique to Arica), where a yearly average of 1,000 vehicles are stolen. The stolen vehicles are reportedly driven into neighboring countries where the likelihood of recovery is extremely low. In the case of the east side of Santiago, the number of stolen vehicles went down from 1,966 to 1,274 cases (a 35% reduction) in 2016. Since vehicles parked on the streets in Santiago are vulnerable to break-ins in just about any neighborhood, it is advised that the vehicles be parked in illuminated areas or in off-street parking facilities.
Public Transportation Conditions
Be particularly alert when using the subway and buses, as pickpocketing and muggings occur.
Generally, taxis are safe means of transportation, and meters are used. However, travelers should be alert when exchanging money. Some taxi drivers have passed counterfeit money, intentionally short-changed, over-charged, or stolen from unsuspecting passengers.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SANTIAGO AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Ongoing, small-scale domestic terrorist activity attributed to anarchists includes improvised explosive device (IED) detonations at government institutions (police stations, prisons), banks, churches, and in public areas. Since 2005, over 200 IEDs, to include homemade IEDs, have been placed to garner publicity. These incidents typically intend to cause damage to a building and make a political statement, while minimizing injury or death to a passerby. Most of the IEDs were comprised of black powder and placed inside fire extinguishers with a time-activated detonation trigger, and most were left between 2400-0400 hours.
- In January 2017, Santiago witnessed the first incident of a homemade IED being sent to an individual’s house by a supposed anarchist-eco terrorist group. The group’s objective was to target the President of National Copper Corporation and intended to cause physical damage. The IED was made of a galvanized tube, handcrafted for its detonation, filled with a dozen screws and match stick heads. It is believed that the IED was intended to send a message about the perceived damages to the environment caused by the actions of large-scale mining companies.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SANTIAGO AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Freedoms of speech and assembly are important rights in Chile. Marches and demonstrations are relatively common and generally occur with permission from the government who authorize designated routes. In addition, there are a few traditional days for demonstrations: September 11 (the anniversary of the 1973 overthrow of the Allende government) and March 29 (the Day of the Young Combatant). Although marches and protests usually commence peacefully, they can turn violent, with participants throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, and acid at the police, who resort to tear gas and water cannon. These have resulted in several millions of dollars of damage to surrounding businesses, knocked-down street signs, and broken street lights.
- In May 2016, fishermen from Quillon in Chiloe protested against toxic red tide blooms, which ruined produce. They demanded that produce be subsidized substantially by the government. They cut off the southern route, Ruta 5, with barricades to demand that the state respond. This blocked access to the rest of the country for a number of days, trapping tourists and workers.
- In 2016, predominately in Santiago and then expanding to the rest of the country, there were several protests for no more Administration of Retirement Funds – “NO + AFP” (Administration de Fondo de Pensiones), arguing that the government should put an end to this system, which was implemented at the beginning of the 1980s. The system allows members to receive very low pensions, and they do not correspond to the percentage stipulated when the private pension system began. On average, individuals receive 185,000 pesos per month. In July 2016, protests were held in 40 cities uniting a total of 90,000 people. In November 2016, a national strike was called, and 600,000 people were mobilized in 50 cities and 250 boroughs. On several occasions, these large scale demonstrations ended in violent acts.
- Several student protests took place in 2016 against the profit that is made by private universities, calling for universities to be free for all. Generally, these protests began peacefully and turned violent, due to the involvement of several anarchist groups that provoked unrest.
During of the student protests of June 2016, hooded protestors stole a religious statue of a crucified Jesus Christ from a church in central Santiago, taking it out onto the street and destroying it in front of crowds. This was a one-time occurrence that has not been seen in Chile before; as such, this does not pose a serious threat.
Chile is located in a highly seismic active zone for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
- On December 25, 2016, there was a 7.6 earthquake in Chiloe. There were no injuries, but there was damage to newly constructed highways, and electricity went down for hours.
- On September 16, 2015, an 8.4 earthquake struck off the coast of central Chile, the largest one worldwide that year. While metropolitan Santiago was unscathed, there was significant damage to the Coquimbo port, but minimal loss of life and damage elsewhere due to Chile’s earthquake and tsunami preparedness. Chiloe experienced hundreds of aftershocks.
Travelers should be prepared for earthquakes. Building legislation has high earthquake standards that are well followed, so modern buildings should withstand an earthquake up to 9.0 (this is only an estimate). Adobe edifices (primarily in northern Chile) should be evacuated immediately.
Before hiking on volcanic mountains, be alert to signs of volcanic activity and advisories from authorities. It is advisable to travel with a flashlight, a portable AM/FM or short wave radio, spare batteries, packaged snacks, and bottled water.
Crime Victim Assistance
American citizens victimized by criminals can expect the Carabineros (Chilean uniformed police) to be cooperative and professional; however, most officers do not speak English. In rare instances, Americans citizens have been advised by the Carabineros to not file a police report. Any victim of a crime should always ensure an official police report is filed.
Emergency telephone numbers are 133 for police, 132 for fire, and 131 for ambulance.
The Carabineros are the uniformed national police force and have primary responsibility for crime prevention, order and traffic control. They are considered to be one of the most professional, well-trained, and least corrupt police forces in Latin America.
The Policía de Investigaciones (PDI) is a plain-clothed investigative police agency similar to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. The PDI deals primarily with criminal investigations and immigration. The PDI responds to residential burglary investigations, cybercrime, narcotics investigations, counter-terrorism, and immigration issues.
Medical services are modern and similar to what one would find in the U.S. However, outside of metropolitan Santiago, the level of medical care can vary greatly. Hospitals with ambulance services and pharmacies exist in great numbers in Santiago. A doctor’s prescription is needed to obtain certain medicines, such as antibiotics.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Tel: +(56) 22210 1111
Available Air Ambulance Services
Air Ambulance Service ‘Rescate Alemana’: Tel: +(56) 22910 9911
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Chile.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Santiago Country Council currently meets quarterly during the year and has approximately 30 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact information:
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
Av. Andres Bello 2800, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile
Embassy Hours: 0830-1700
Embassy Contact Numbers
Operator: +56 (2) 2330-3000
Post 1: +56 (2) 2330-3321
Security Regional Office (RSO) Michael Limpantsis: +56 (2) 2330-3324
Consular Affairs (CA) Mathew Gillen, Consular General: +56 (2) 2330-3364
Political/Economic Section (E/POL) Patrick Ventrell: +56 (2) 2330-3364
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chad Whitman, Country Attaché +56 (2) 2330-3401
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Ben Perez, Country Attaché (Chile, Peru and Bolivia): +56 (2) 2330-3396
Chile Country Information Sheet