The biggest problem about being a foreigner in Chile is getting a bank account. Chilean banks are conservative and deny services to people without proof of high income from local companies.
From the immigration point of view, you could either be a visitor, a temporary resident, a permanent resident, or a citizen. No bank would work with a visitor because they don't have RUT numbers. The only bank that consistently works with temporary residents is the public bank of the Chilean government — BancoEstado. In some cases you can open an account in other banks with the help of your Chilean employer, but this is not an option for immigrants on self-employed or retirement visas.
The best workaround is to not rely on Chilean banks for the first years, but to have bank accounts in your home country and manage them remotely. It is especially important if you are getting money from abroad — receiving international transfers to Chilean banks isn't easy either (see below).
The reason behind banks being so suspicious towards foreigners and international transfers are the strict central bank's regulations that are in place to prevent money laundering. The biggest Chilean banks are BancoEstado, Banco de Chile, Santander, and BCI, and they are the safest banks in Latin America. The financial crisis of 2008 barely touched Chile because the country's financial system is somewhat isolated from the rest of the world.
According to Chilean consumer reports, Santander, Banco de Chile, BancoEstado, and BBVA are also ranked the worst in customer service. While BancoEstado is somewhat unavoidable, it's better to not deal with others if you have this opportunity. Santander is also infamous for not being able to handle international transfers without problems.
The best banks for a foreigner would be BICE that offers USD and EUR accounts (but only for "cuenta corriente", see below). Other decent banks are Scotiabank and Itaú. There are also smaller banks focused on investments (Corpbanca, Consorcio) and on consumer credits (owned by retail companies Ripley and Falabella), but they are not recommended either because of the low general utility.
A "cuenta vista" is a checking account without interest or access to credit. Only Chilean Transbank RedCompra and Visa debit cards are available. Most of the banks don't open Cuenta Vista separately because it's not profitable for them, but Banco de Chile and BCI have subsidiary "banks for the poor" — BancoCrediChile and BCI Nova. Still you will need a permanent residency to qualify for an account there.
The easiest option would be becoming a client of BancoEstado — the public Chilean bank that doesn't discriminate clients by income. As soon as you get your national ID after a visa, you can apply for CuentaRUT online. CuentaRUT is a special kind of "cuenta vista" that is available to all residents and foreigners. The number of the account is your RUT number without the last digit. It is limited to CL$3,000,000 maximum, CL$2,000,000 monthly transfers, and CL$200,000 daily payments or ATM withdrawals (you can get more from the bank's cash desk).
You will receive a RedCompra card and a table with codes for online payments. Before using the card, you will need to change the PIN code in one of the BancoEstado's ATMs. To use the card for online payments, you will need to confirm your data in the BancoEstado's online banking service (Transferencias → Datos de Seguridad).
A savings account is great for storing money in Chilean peso for a long term without losing it to inflation. While it's available in other banks, it's much easier to obtain one in BancoEstado — especially if you've already opened CuentaRUT there. Currently, the interest rate is 3.2–3.4% yearly but withdrawing money is relatively expensive — around CL$3,000 (though transfers to CuentaRUT are free). For better interest rates, look for the term deposits (depósitos a plazo) in other banks.
Note than you can't withdraw or transfer more than CL$800,000 per day from Cuenta Ahorros. If you need to withdraw a larger amount or issue a check (vale vista), you have to request it 30 days in advance.
This is the "full" account with access to credit cards from Visa and MasterCard. On average, the requirement for a standard tier of "cuenta corriente" is proof of a minimum of CL$450,000 monthly income for the last year. Some banks also have premium and student tiers. The easiest way to get a "cuenta corriente" is to have a Chilean employer, bigger companies can also assist in negotiating an account in a bank. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to open one before getting a permanent residency in the country.
Also, banks generally do not trust foreign work contracts and especially "Internet money" from online businesses or freelancing. Even though you don't need to pay taxes on foreign income for the first three years in the country, it might still be useful to declare them to the tax service (SII) to have a proof of income for banks.
Overall, think twice if you really need this kind of account. In case you are not using credit lines, a "cuenta corriente" will do what CuentaRUT does but also charge higher fees for maintenance and credit cards.
BCI offers a virtual Visa card via an app called MACH. You don't need to have a bank account to use the app, the only requierement is holding a national ID. The card's limit is CL$500,000 but unfortunately it can be used only for international payments.
This service was added in Chile in 2017, and it instantly became the very best option for getting money into the country. Transferwise optimizes international transfers routing, so it charges a 1.5% fee and uses market exchange rates. Money arrive as a local transfer from another Chilean bank, so you don't need to provide documents to proof the source of funds to your bank.
The downside is the US$3,000 monthly limit for transfers to Chile. Also not all countries are supported for sending money (mostly EU and English-speaking ones) but you can also open a Transferwise borderless account and receive money directly into it.
Chilean PayPal doesn't have withdrawal limits but withdrawal to Chilean banks is done via MultiCaja.cl. It's an exchange service that charges a US$10 or 0.5% fee, but their USD/CLP exchange rates actually make it 2.5-4% in total. For some reason it also allows you to connect US credit cards and bank accounts. Keep in mind that PayPal doesn't allow for multiple accounts in different countries for a single person. While they don't enforce it seriously, it's still dangerous for your funds.
In case you use a Payoneer prepaid card to receive money from US companies, there's an option to withdraw up to US$10,000 monthly to your Chilean bank account for a 2% fee.
2018 update: Chilean banks closed accounts of cryptocurrency exchanges in May, so it's hard to convert Bitcoin into Chilean peso right now.
If you are familiar with Bitcoin transfers and comfortable with its exchange rate's volatility, there's a startup company Buda.com funded by Chilean government's economic development organization (CORFO). Similar to Transferwise, you receive money as a local transfer to your Chilean bank account and don't need to provide any documents. The limit is US$10,000 monthly.
BancoEstado is the only bank that allows you to work with international transfers on accounts like CuentaRUT and "cuenta ahorros". Other banks require you to have a "full" account — "cuenta corriente." Either way, be prepared to show detailed documents that explain the source of your incoming funds. While not publicly stated by the banks, it is not recommended to receive money from any countries that can be associated with money laundering (i.e. most of countries that are not in OECD).
In 2018, most of the Chilean banks started to charge foreign cards a fee between CL$4,000–5,500 for withdrawals. The only banks who still don't charge some foreign cards in ATMs are Scotiabank, Banco Security, and Banco Internacional but that can change at any moment.
This is especially costly because ATMs in Chile limit withdrawals to CL$200,000 which makes it a 2-3% fee for each. The best approach to avoid these fees is to open a CuentaRUT and use Transferwise to top it up, then you can use a Chilean Transbank RedCompra card to get cash. The second best approach is to withdraw from BancoEstado ATMs that charge fees for foreign cards too but allow for CL$400,000 withdrawals.
Most of the local banks have high trading rates and do not offer anything but Chilean company shares and mutual funds. If you want to trade frequently or get ETFs for long-term investment, look at Interactive Brokers or Saxo Bank. Saxo Bank opens accounts for Chilean residents via their local partner — MBI Trading, which also gives you access to the domestic Chilean market. MBI Trading works with any type of bank accounts, so it is a good choice for foreigners who can't obtain a "cuenta corriente".
Watch out for the companies and funds that are domiciled in the US — you will need to pay 30% tax on their dividends because the tax treaty for Chile has been hanging in the US congress since 2012. In case of ETFs, you can often avoid it by buying similar ones that are domiciled in other countries (for example: VWRD instead of VT).
If you would like to invest into Chilean market, we can recommend Renta4. It's the most hassle-free broker that works even with CuentaRUT bank accounts. For easy investing, there's ETF IPSA available on Bolsa de Santiago.