Chile is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Visiting and living in Chile is generally safe. Most visitors or expatriates who live there do not encounter any major problems.
Nevertheless, street crimes and scams are common, particularly in Santiago, Valparaiso, Antofagasta, Calama and Iquique. Be aware of your environment at all times, as in any large city. Criminals tend to work in groups and will use multiple tricks to distract travellers.
Below we detail different techniques used by thieves or scammers.
Most crimes and scams against foreigners are crimes of opportunity that target tourists in particular.
Pickpocketing is common in high-traffic areas such as shops, restaurants and public transport. Make sure you carry your bag in front of you, not on your back or on your shoulder and preferably always close to you. Although Las Condes, Providencia and Vitacura in Santiago are known to be hot spots for petty crime, pickpocketing and assaults are common in many cities in Chile.
Some techniques used:
- Someone sprays you with a smelly liquid, to make you believe that a bird has targeted you. Two or three people rush to you to clean you up. One of them will take the opportunity to pick your pockets.
- Mobile phone theft in the subway: you are sitting near the door. Someone rips your phone off just when the doors close.
- Pickpocketing by bike: you are on the sidewalk checking your mobile phone. A cyclist passes at full speed and tears your phone off as he passes. By the time we react, it’s already far away.
Violent crime is rare in Chile, but daylight attacks have been reported in some areas of Santiago, such as Cerro San Cristobal Park, Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro Manquehue. It is recommended to always travel in groups and avoid isolated areas and parks at night.
Breaking and entering
Due to the great social differences between the well-to-do and the underprivileged, the rich districts of Santiago (Vitacura, Lo Barnechea), or the wealthy holiday homes, are often the target of organized gangs. Businesses are also often targeted.
- The thief stands near your car when you drop your children off at school. It has a jammer that disrupts the operation of the car’s central locking system. So your car remains open when you think you have closed it.
- You get out of your car to open the access portal to your home. The thief takes the opportunity to rob you and drive away with your vehicle.
- To enter the most exclusive condominiums, the gangs will first steal a luxury car. This will allow them to pretend to be a condominium resident, and thus to pass through the security barrier.
Two types of profiles should be noted:
Older, very experienced thieves, who only target material goods. If you follow their instructions, they will leave with what they came for without hurting you. Much younger thieves, stealing to pay for drugs. They are much more unstable, often under the influence of drugs, and can suddenly become aggressive.
If you take a bus or train, do not put valuables in the storage compartment as they could be stolen. At night, it is advisable to book taxis in advance rather than stopping one on the street. You can book them on EasyTaxi, and thus have the contact details and the name of the driver in case of problem.
Vehicle theft has increased, so always keep your windows closed and doors locked. Do not leave bags or valuables in sight in your car.
Theft by trickery / Cuento del Tio
This type of theft, or rather scam, takes many forms. It consists in making the person you want to swindle believe a story, hence his name: “Uncle’s account”.
It has little to do with foreigners, as thieves will mainly target the elderly, who are more vulnerable to this type of scam. However, thieves can target you if you employ a gullible household staff.
The thief imitates the voice of a family member, and makes you believe that it has been kidnapped, and that it will be returned to you only if you pay a ransom, or transmit your bank details. If you live in a house, this pretext can also be used to get you out of your home, to make it easier to get into your home when you open the portal.
The thief calls the housekeeper posing as the owner. He indicated that a bailiff seizure was scheduled for the afternoon, and that he would send someone to pick up the valuables before the bailiff came. He or she orders the household employee to collect the valuables and give them to the person who will be passing through.
The thief (young) comes to the house when only your domestic worker is there, and says he has an appointment with his friend (one of your children). He indicates that his friend is not there, but that he has told him that he will be coming soon, and asks if he can wait for him inside. 30 minutes later, he leaves on the pretext that he no longer has time to wait for his friend. By the way, he made his hands on a computer, mobile phone and jewellery….
Recently, this kind of scam has migrated to Facebook and WhatsApp. The latest case consists for thieves to pretend to be a pretty young woman, and to converse with a man, then to send him naked pictures. A few days later, a person calls the victim and poses as a police officer. It tells the victim that the young woman is a minor, that her father has filed a complaint, and that the victim will be tried for possession of paedophile images if she does not make a transfer.
Chile is a country exposed to many natural disasters. Earthquakes are a possibility and floods are frequent in autumn and winter. In summer, large forest fires occur throughout the country. There is volcanic activity in the Puyehue and Los Lagos regions. The other active volcanoes are as follows: Chaiten, Llaima, Lascar and the Copahue volcano on the Argentina / Chile border.
In winter, pollution in Santiago (smog) can become a health risk in winter.
Nationwide demonstrations usually take place on the anniversary of the coup d’état, September 11, and on Workers’ Day, May 1. It is strongly recommended to stay away from any demonstration, as it could turn violent. Police tend to use tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators. The largest demonstrations usually take place in Santiago. The Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous group, are engaged in conflict over land and indigenous peoples’ rights issues. Attacks on multinational logging companies and Chilean private landowners therefore sometimes occur.