The Local Currency
The following are the Coins and Notes / Bills in Chile:
Chilean Coins: $1 - $5 - $10 - $50 - $100 - $500
Chilean Notes / Bills: $1,000 - $2,000 - $5,000 - $10,000 - $20,000 - ($500*)
* There is a very rare $500 note floating around which is still legal tender but you will almost always see the coin version. If you find one, keep it as a souvenir.
In local Chilean slang (especially with the young people), the $100 peso coin is called 'una gamba' and $1000 is called 'una luca'. You can use multiples of Luca e.g. $8000 = 8 luca(s) The final 's' is not often pronounced. When you have one million pesos, it is usually called 'un palo' or 'un guatón'.
By the way, in the regions (outside of Santiago) don't pay the bus drivers with anything less than a $10 coin as they will often throw them out the window while looking at you in disgust. Also, don't pay the bus driver with anything larger than a $2000 note unless you are paying for more than a couple of people. There is now a special prepaid card for buses called the BIP card which is used in the local buses in Santiago.
The $1 and $5 peso coins are quite worthless in Chile. The only use they have is to fill up a jar or a bottle for decoration.
Changing Money in Chile
You will have no problem changing US dollars into Chilean Pesos here in Chile. (Currently the exchange rate in Chile is US$1 = CH$499 - 18 July 2013)
You will probably get a better deal changing US dollars here in Chile instead of finding a place that actually has Chilean pesos in the States or other countries. Bring most of your money in Traveler's checks for safety as they can be replaced in no time if they 'disappear'. Also bring some US bills (in fairly good condition) just in case.
Cash does get a better exchange rate than traveler's checks but shop around. Most Money Exchange Houses (known in Chile as 'Casa de Cambios') are found together in the same area. In Santiago there are many Casa de Cambios side by side on Agustinas (street) between Bandera and Ahumada. The exchange rates are not so good in the Shopping malls but they are handy on the weekend in an emergency. We have found that the AFEX branches have been the most reliable Money Exchange Offices in our experience.
NEVER change money on the street. Most of these so called Street Exchangers WILL rip you off either by a rigged calculator, giving you false notes, just running off with the money or will have a friend that will 'relieve' you off your cash once you go around the corner. You will see some signs on Agustinas in a variety of languages saying pretty much the same thing.
There are some Touristy places that will accept US dollars though the exchange rate is never good and try not to change money at the airport except in an emergency since it's at a really bad exchange rate.
There are many ATM money machines throughout Chile and most of them can be used to take out money from back home but please verify with your bank first.
Most major credit cards are excepted in Chile. No more worrying about falsified signatures, As of 14th July 2009 a system came into place regarding the use of credit cards in Chile. Now, if you want to buy something with a credit card you must have a 4-digit secret code called a PinPass. The reason for this change is to help prevent credit card fraud which is good both for the card holder and businesses.... in theory! Some international credit cards will still need a signature instead.
Make sure the credit card never leaves your sight. There have been many reports of Credit cards being cloned, especially at restaurants. Digital chips are about to be included in local credit cards to stop this problem.
For more information about giving tips in Restaurants, Supermarkets, to taxi drivers, to tour guides and more, visit our Tipping in Chile post.
Buying things in Chile
For my personal experience about buying things in Chile, visit my article about Buying things in Chile.
The local tax in Chile is called I.V.A (Impuesto al Valor Agregado - Value Added Tax). The I.V.A tax rose to 19% in October 2003. The prices that appear in the stores almost always have the tax included.
U.F. (Unidad de Fomento)
Sometimes you will see prices in newspapers or on billboards selling houses and apartments in U.F. (Unidad de Fomento). This is a unit of money used mainly in business and formal financial transactions that involve large sums and was created at a time when inflation was high. It is frequently used with rental contracts and buying and selling homes or businesses. The rate of the UF varies daily according to the monthly inflation rate and the exact figure can be found in the newspapers. There are no physical coins or notes. It is only a value.
You can find today's U.F. value on the Central Bank's website Chilean U.F. Value
(1 U.F. = $22,896.81 as at 19th July 2013).
Photo of Chilean bills and notes
Photo of the older bills / notes that are still used and valid (though slowly disappearing):
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