Chile is a safe country compared to other places in the Americas: for example, the intentional homicide rates are lower than in the United States. But as a foreigner, you are often a target of theft, burglary and scams. In this article, we'll discuss the common dangers facing expats in Chile and how to avoid them.
While all of these precautions may sound like a lot when listed together, these are the worst-case scenarios, and you don't need to be stressed about them all the time. After a few months, you will learn enough of Chile to avoid the possible dangers just by following common sense.
A special note on con artists: most Chileans are very friendly to foreigners, and it's easy to get your shields down. You may spend a week or more with some person only to find your belongings missing or fall victim to some scam (for example, split rent not being paid). Be especially careful if buying property: get your own lawyer, and don't trust the seller's lawyer or any verbal agreements.
No matter where you are going to live in Chile, you will still land in and occasionally need to do some business in the capital. Technically, Santiago is not a single city but a conglomeration of communes, each of which has its own municipality, so the quality of life and level of safety may differ significantly between neighboring communes — the richest ones even have private security companies.
Be careful when visiting downtown or other busy communes like Providencia because crowded areas have the highest levels of theft and occasional mugging. But don't wander about unfamiliar parts of the city either, and try to stay in safer eastern communes like Las Condes and Vitacura if your budget allows it. As in other big cities, avoid walking in parks late at night.
It's advisable to get a credit card with a chip before arriving because card-skimming attempts are frequent enough to be of concern. Also, the best option is to use official ATMs inside bank branches; try to avoid those in public places like malls.
There are also some "creative" crimes involving cars, like someone grabbing your phone from an open window when you're talking during a stop (at a red light or in a traffic jam) or assaulting you and stealing your car when you enter or exit it near your house. These are not frequent, but watching your surroundings is recommended, especially if you drive an expensive vehicle.
Similarly to the capital, other Chilean regions can significantly differ between neighboring communes. For example, Valparaiso is a mismanaged and a crime-ridden city, comparable to the worst parts of Santiago, while its neighbor Viña del Mar is relatively safe and well-maintained.
Some northern regions like Antofagasta are experiencing higher crime due to drug trafficking and high labor migration. Southern regions are quite safe, but you should still research the commune where you are planning to live. The best resource for this is the Fundacion Paz Ciudadana, where you can find detailed crime data for each commune and overall rankings.
In all parts of Chile, you will encounter large numbers of street dogs. Usually the dogs are not aggressive toward people, but they like to chase cars and can be hostile to cyclists. Other than that, beware of the Chilean recluse spider — the only dangerously venomous animal in the country.
In Chile there are no mosquito-borne or tropical diseases (it's not a tropical country after all), but Hantavirus is present in the rural parts of the country. This virus is primarily found in mouse feces and saliva, so don't enter abandoned buildings and be careful during camping.
Chilean emergency services don't use a unified phone number. In case of emergency, you'll need to call one of these instead:
Two police forces may seem slightly confusing, but generally you should call Carabineros or find them in the street if you got robbed, but contact PDI for more convoluted cases that require investigation. Both police branches are trustworthy and will not tolerate bribing attempts.
While some people may be worried about earthquakes, Chile is actually better prepared for them than many richer countries because regular small "temblors" keep everybody ready for the serious ones. In case of a strong earthquake — drop, cover and hold on (see the guide). Don't run out of a building and keep away from things that could fall on you. Keep in mind that tsunamis are usually the most dangerous part of an earthquake. All phones bought in Chile can receive tsunami alerts. If you are near the coast, run to the evacuation route as soon as you receive an alert because the water arrives very fast.
Sometimes U.S. citizens ask if Chile is safe for them considering the CIA involvement in overthrowing the country's government in 1973. The answer is yes — nobody here will deny you service or go violent just because you are from the United States. But it's definitely not a good idea to discuss politics in your first years in the country while you are still not aware of many cultural nuances.