I’ve yet to develop beyond a basic understanding of commerce are made in Santiago. Of course cash and credit cards are accepted, but there are methods of payment and transaction here that I’m still coming to understand or downright avoid.
I’ve not gone online to thoroughly research the mysteries in the Chilean payment systems. I admit I’ve chosen to remain ignorant on the matter. I’ve just figured out to avoid the complexities as long as businesses let me buy goods and services and keep moving.
Here are some of the terms and process I’ve started to figure out or avoid:
Sin Cuotas / Con Cuotas: This is an option in many purchases at the point of sale. A consumer can opt to split a payment into multiple payments with their credit card. This is not available to foreign credit card holders, and so we always choose Sin (“without”) Cuotas. It baffled me in the early days, and I finally had to look it up.
Boleta o Factura: This means do you want a receipt or an invoice. I think an invoice would only be for someone with a company, and so most consumers need a receipt. However, I’ve created confusion when requesting a boleta, so not sure on this one.
Propina: The tip. Didn’t learn about this one until I got some eye rolls from servers when I pushed the button to exclude propina. I denied it automatically in the same way I would choose Sin (“without”) Cuotas. I figured if i didn’t understand it I didn’t need it. Tipping isn’t a big part of the service industry here, and I’ve learned it’s mostly practiced by leaving a handful of spare change. But in nicer restaurants and tourist-oriented places, I’ve come to realize propina of about 10% seems to keep everyone happy.
Random Credit Card surcharges: Haven’t figured out why some stores and restaurants hit me with an occasional 1-2% charge. It’s been explained to me that it’s a charge from my bank while others explained that the stores are capturing some of the credit card company’s fee. It’s a couple dollars every once in a while. I’ve just decided to let it slide.
RUT / Loyalty Programs: I’m always asked my RUT at grocery stores. The RUT is a unique identifier in the Chile economy. I had to get one to purchase a car, and I believe the same number is often tied to loyalty programs in stores. I opt to just say I don’t have one, as I’m still allowed to check out anyway. The cashiers often show some surprise, “No quieres puntos?” No, I don’t want the points.
Parking: There’s still a mystery to me around parking. We have to pay to park at our grocery stores, and I pay with spare change at the machine. But I see people come and go who don’t pay, and I get the sense they are somehow bundling parking with their order when they purchase their groceries. I’ve also noticed some people carry rechargeable cards that appear to be used for entering and exiting certain parking lots. I’ve decided to have fun with this one, as I’ve turned it into a 1980s currency game of spare change optimization. I’m religious about collecting our spare change, organizing it in a plastic bag, and using it to pay for parking. Reminds me of our obsession with quarters for showers on our 2016 RV trip.
Bank Transfers: It seems bank transfers are very common here in everyday transactions, and it seems a RUT ID number tied to a bank account is as good as credit in Chile. RUTs seem to give a lot of ability for a person to make transactions. Personal banking in Chile seems just about impossible for anyone who isn’t a resident, so I haven’t dug too much into this.
Paying Tolls: I’ve managed to rack up about $14,000 pesos ($15 USD) of tolls on a highway that somehow exists outside of the normal toll network. I got lost on a trip and ended up on a highway I never expected to enter. Typical. I’ve tried to pay it multiple times, but I’ve been foiled again and again, unable to pay through multiple different online methods. At some point I’ll have to clear this charge, hopefully before Cabineros (police) nab me.
Credit Card Rejection: This is an annoyance I’ve yet to understand. Our Delta Airlines AmEx and Chase Platinum Visa card are rejected 100% of the time when we attempt to use contactless payment. Also, on occasion, the card is rejected at point of sale when we insert the chip. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason, but one out of ten times a card is rejected when we insert the chip. It’s never a major problem as if one card is rejected the other almost always works or we have cash, but it’s mildly anxiety inducing when you insert the card and worry about sorting out confusion with the Spanish-speaking cashier.