How to get around by taxi, Uber and Beat in Santiago, Chile

I’ve been too scared to drive since I arrived in Chile. Perhaps it’s dumb, but the traffic rules are soooo confusing for us newcomers. More to the point, I’m pregnant and rather sick, and I don’t fancy throwing up on the steering wheel.

Besides, getting by taxi in Santiago is easy and cheap.

I live centrally and I have been surviving without a car.  Although we do have a car at home which my husband uses to get to work, for weekend trips and bulk grocery shopping.

With kids

First up, is it safe to travel by taxi with kids? Well, it’s relative. Taxis do not have car seats and some do drive awfully fast. On the plus side, registered taxis can zip through the taxi / bus lanes and avoid the hours of traffic queues and resulting screams ‘Mummy are we there yet?!’ 

Uber Kids is well used by my friends here in Santiago. Availability of cars is not great, so be prepared to wait or change your plans as you may not always get a car when you need one, let alone one with the correct car seats. If you’re looking to book, do so directly through the Uber app, as Google Maps won’t always show up to date availability.

I use an app called Beat a lot, but not all their drivers will accept children, especially young preschoolers.

Booking process

If you’re like me and new in town, then you might not yet have a local mobile plan and instead be at the mercy of Wi-Fi in your home and public hotspots. Be aware that you may book a ride, expect it to be coming within in a minute, then find your ride cancelled, by which time you’re waiting out in the street for a car that never shows up. A new ride will be booked automatically, but if you haven’t got connection you won’t know the license plate. By the time you figure this out, you’ll want to cancel your ride, but beware, you may be penalised.

I’d urge you to always book to pay in cash as the currency conversion can get rather messy. My husband was charged over $10,000 USD for a 20 minute trip. Luckily he paid by American Express who rejected the fee after I spotted it, but there were many chaotic emails back and forth with Uber. They initially agreed we had been overcharged and offered us a $7,000 USD refund, but hey, $3,000 USD for a 20 minute ride is still rather a lot, don’t you think? A few months later it was finally sorted, but to be on the safe side, stick to cash (‘effectivo’ in Spanish).

Cancelling an order

I’ve been more of a fan of Beat, whereas my husband still uses Uber now and again. With Uber, you need to be careful for drivers cancelling on you and causing you fees. This mostly seems to happen late at night, when there are less drivers available. You book your ride, wait for it to show up and then nothing… It cancels on you. Then the same thing happens again and again. If you’re not careful and your settings are not updated correctly, you’ll end up shouldering the cancellation fees.

I’ve only had a ride cancelled by Beat once. Generally if there is no driver available then you’ll know at the time of booking. When I did receive a cancellation and my alternative driver was 15 minutes away, I decided to cancel. There was no cost to me, but apparently if you cancel three times without reason you may be barred from using the service.

Enjoy the ride

Don’t automatically assume registered taxis know where they’re going. One  taxi I hailed gladly accepted me, then realised he didn’t know the destination so dumped me at the roadside. ‘No idea where that is’, he shouted as he zoomed off.

Driver share app drivers will generally use GPS or their phone to navigate the pre booked journey – a blessing for all those who struggle to explain directions in Spanish.

On my first trip, the driver asked me to sit up front. He then started asking me some personal questions – where I was from, was I married, how many kids I had… At first I was a little freaked out then I realised that it’s normal for drivers to want you to sit up front. Apparently some drivers sit in a legal grey area, while others are wary of registered taxi drivers who, I am told, can get very aggressive to the likes of Uber drivers. And as a friend put it ‘Nina, not everyone wants to hit on you’.

For this same reason, if you’ve booked through a ride sharing app and are being dropped in an area with lots of taxis, be prepared to pay in advance on the way. An ride sharing app driver might not be happy to be paid in full view of registered taxi drivers.

I’ve never felt threatened on a ride and most reports of violence I hear are exactly when people are out walking late at night when taking a taxi would be far more advisable. For safety, I’d always recommend taking a taxi or door to door ride rather than walking anywhere at night. Even upmarket areas such as Las Condes, Vitacura and El Golf are no go after dark.

Cost and convenience

For me, there is little to differentiate between regional taxis and ride shares.

I like the convenience of being able to book via Beat, but if there are any issues I know that generally speaking it’s very easy to hail a taxi on the go. I live in the Las Condes / El Golf area and there is always a steady stream of taxi drivers.

While London black cabs would eat into my wardrobe allowance, here in Chile getting around by taxis is incredibly cheap. The cost of a registered cab will set you back perhaps double that of an Uber ride, but you’ll still rarely need to spend over $10 USD to get wherever you need. Most of my journeys to the mall, hospital, shops and admin offices cost me the equivalent of about $3 USD.

Getting around with kids, messing around with strollers that just won’t collapse when you want them to, shrieking at the driver to ‘please put the car locks on’ before my kid escapes on a busy motorway and apologising for having to stop midway so I can throw up (morning sickness is not just in the morning), can make riding by taxi rather inconvenient.

I know I need to take the plunge and get behind the wheel myself, however for the time being, at least until my pregnancy nausea settles, I’ll be sticking to cabs. Taxi!


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