According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Chile has been assessed as Level 1: exercise normal precautions.
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 American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) 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 page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The security environment in Chile 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 tourists and resident Americans. Violent crime also occurs, most often in the form of carjackings, home invasions, and muggings; express and traditional kidnappings and random shootings are almost non-existent.
The Public Safety Report 2017, published by the Ministry of the Interior and Public Safety, indicates that in relation to home invasions specifically: for inhabited homes that were broken into in 2017, there were 56,799 cases registered at a national level, a reduction of 1.9% in comparison to 2016. This index analyzes statistics from both police agencies: Carabineros de Chile and the Policía de Investigaciones de Chile (PDI) in 52 Chilean cities.
Crimes regarding property in general at a national level includes theft of vehicles, vehicle accessories, of inhabited houses, uninhabited houses, other robberies involving assaults. In 2016, the total number of cases reached 126,794 in comparison to 126,209, in 2017, decreasing 0.5%.
The northeast side of the capital includes the boroughs of Lo Barnechea, Vitacura, Las Condes, La Reina, Providencia and Nuñoa. Lo Barnechea in particular, is where many expatriates live due to the proximity to the international schools. Two other communities where many expatriates live and tourists stay are in Vitacura and Las Condes. Thee last three boroughs saw a drop in home invasions from 912 to 716 cases, from January to August according to Carabineros’ statistics, indicating a 21.5% fall in the boroughs.
The use of violence in residential break-ins also decreased in 2017. When residents are home, bats, knives, and firearms are being used by burglars to intimidate. One tactic involves binding the feet and 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 2000 and to leave Santiago on the weekends; most break-ins occur when residences are empty. Summer vacation for students and many Chilean employees commence around December 18 and last through early March, so this is the peak residential break-in season.
The Monthly Statistics Report that Carabineros published at the end of 2017 analyzes statistics from 2016 to 2017. Violent crimes, including robbery with violence, robbery with intimidation, robbery with surprise or assault, homicide, and rape reached a total of 72,812 cases in 2016. In 2017, the total number of cases reached 75,698, indicating a 4% increase of cases.
Non-violent pickpocketing is more common in Santiago than in other areas of the country, although it may happen anywhere. 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 with one distracting the victim with a motion or sound while the other criminal steals the victim’s property. Restaurants, pubs, food courts, and major hotel chains are also popular locations for theft of purses, backpacks, briefcases, and laptops. 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.
The “Mustard Trick” scam happens in airports, public buildings, and on the streets. Someone “accidentally” spills a substance or notices a foreign substance on your clothes. While you are occupied dealing with the problem, an accomplice steals your valuables.
"Motoclock" is a new type of crime mainly characterized by subjects assaulting their victims, specifically snatching watches of great value and fleeing on a motorcycle. In practice, criminals enter as customers to various places, such as bars and restaurants in the eastern sector of the Metropolitan Region; they observe their potential victims, identifying people who wear expensive watches. Once the victims are identified, the criminals wait for them in the vicinity, usually in places with few people. In some cases, they move on motorcycles without a license plate, wearing helmets and carrying firearms, proceeding to intimidate the victim and snatch only the watch that they carry.
“Maletazos” (name also labelled by the media) is a new criminal trend. Criminals, usually armed, stand outside of hotel entrances. Once taxis or vans pull up to drop off tourists, criminals wait for luggage (maleta) to be unloaded and grab the bags, throwing them into a get-away car.
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 scanning clients credit cards through skimmers. The Public Security Report 2017 stipulates that credit card cloning has gone down from 48,670 cases in 2016 to 42,574 in 2017, but since 2014, the number of these types of crimes has risen 208.7%. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”
In 2017, reports continued of ATMs blown up by so-called “gas-saturation” in order to steal money. 2017 had 33 cases. This method entails filling the ATM vestibule with gas fumes and exploding the machine. Often, the money is destroyed during these attempts, but sometimes it is not. Usually, these attempts occur in the very late evening hours, and on some occasions, criminals have warned people away from the ATMs before exploding them. According to the Public Security Report 2017, there has been a reduction in 79.1% in the stealing of ATMs between 2014 and 2017.
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 or out of a ‘porton’ (car gate). There were so many high-profile stories of portonazos throughout the year, the government created a task force within the Carabineros to address the problem. The majority of portonazos, which were reported by the East Prosecutors Office during 2017, took place in Vitacura and Nuñoa and generally occurring between 2100 and 0200 in the morning.
Carjackings increased between January to August 2017 to 1,075. Usually, attackers are armed with either guns or knives, in groups of three with at least one minor involved. In 2017, the age group was predominantly between 14 and 29.
Other vehicle-related crimes include 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.
In 2017, vehicle theft at a national level reached 27,314 cases. The number of cases of theft of accessories or objects stolen from vehicles was 55,421 for 2017. In the Metropolitan area, 1,629 vehicles were stolen. Many of these stolen vehicles were reportedly driven into neighboring countries where the likelihood of recovery is extremely low.
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 kidnapped, or that they are working in your bank, calling you as they need your banking/credit card information. Do not give out your financial information to anyone you do not know over the phone. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions throughout most of Chile are outstanding by South American standards and are 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. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Caution should be used when driving or walking in/around Santiago. Since vehicles parked on the streets are vulnerable to break-ins in just about any neighborhood, day or night, it is recommended 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 maintain alert whenever 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.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Ongoing, small-scale domestic terrorist activity attributed to anarchists includes improvised explosive device (IED) detonations at government institutions, banks, churches, and in public areas. Since 2005, over 214 IEDs have been placed. This included homemade IEDs attempting to garner publicity. These incidents typically intend to cause damage to a building and to make a political statement, while minimizing the possibility of injury or death to passersby. Most of the IEDs were comprised of black powder and placed inside a fire extinguisher with a time-activated detonation trigger set between 2400-0400 hours.
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.
During campaign season and until November 19, 2017, the first round of the presidential elections, four bombs were placed outside different political party headquarters, including the Socialist, Radical, Christian Democrats, and Party for Democracy headquarters. These were pipe bombs consisting of a timer and gunpowder.
Freedoms of speech and assembly are important rights in Chile. Marches and demonstrations are relatively common and generally occur with permission from the authorities on designated routes. In addition, there are a few traditional days for demonstrations such as September 11 (the anniversary of the 1973 overthrow of the Allende Government) and the 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 and also the knocking down of street signs and breaking of street lights.
In 2017, predominately in Santiago, but 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. Protests were carried out throughout the year, however, in March, 350,000 people protested in Santiago, 10,000 in Valparaiso, and smaller numbers in other major cities throughout the country. On several occasions, these large-scale demonstrations ended in violent acts.
Several student protests took place in 2017, continuing to protest against the profit that is made by private universities and calling for universities to be free for all. Generally, they would begin peacefully and then turn violent, due to several anarchist groups getting involved and provoking unrest.
Pope Francisco visited Chile on January 15-18, 2018. As Chile was the center of global attention for the Pontificate’s visit, the country also became an easy site for national anarchist groups to take advantage of the media. A call by anarchist groups was made via pamphlets that were distributed at churches to boycott, write graffiti, and burn churches nationwide. Days before the visit, five incendiary explosives were placed and ignited by these groups at five churches around Santiago.
Chile is located in a highly active seismic zone both for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Travelers should be prepared for earthquakes while visiting Chile. Building legislation has high earthquake standards that are well followed, so if you are in a modern building it should withstand an earthquake up to 9.0 (this is only an estimate, however). If you are in an adobe edifice (primarily in northern Chile), exit the building immediately.
On December 25, 2016, there was a 7.6 earthquake in Chile. There were no injuries or real structural damage to houses, 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 worldwide in 2015. 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 excellent earthquake and tsunami preparedness. Chile experienced hundreds of aftershocks in the subsequent months.
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.
Forest fires have been common in the last couple of years in Chile. In January and February (peak summer months) of 2017, there were massive fires between Valparaiso and the region of La Araucanía, a distance of 9,060km, and where many holiday destinations are found. One should pay special attention to the monitoring of these risk areas by the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior (ONEMI) for possible fire warnings, http://www.onemi.cl/.
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 is in charge of 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
For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
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 Country Council in Santiago is active, meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere Team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
Av. Andrés Bello 2800, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile
Embassy Hours: 0830 - 1700
Embassy Contact Numbers
Operator: 56 (2) 2330-3000
Post 1: 56 (2) 2330-3321
Web site: http://chile.usembassy.gov/
U.S. citizens traveling to Chile should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.
Chile Country Information Sheet