I use Uber in Santiago de Chile a lot. I also get around with another ride sharing service called Beat and with standard official taxis too. I’ve always been safe, and I wrote another post a while ago all about taxis and ride shares here.
Nevertheless, since then I’ve had a few near misses so I thought to explain a little more. This is based on my personal experiences only, it’s not intended as official or legal advice!
Is Uber legal in Chile?
Yes, it’s legal. Although as this media report shows, it’s a rather grey area.
Sometimes Uber and other ride share drivers aren’t made very welcome by official taxi drivers. Consequently some ride share drivers might be unwilling to drop you off at an official taxi rank area. A driver told me he’d been harassed by some taxi drivers outside Parque Arauco Mall taxi area so he’d have to drop me quite a bit further down the street.
Of course, I understand that a taxi rank is for taxis, not Uber, and I don’t know the exact circumstances… I’m just saying it’s quite common for your driver to refuse to drop you off at a place with lots of taxis. For the same reason your driver may ask you to sit up front, rather than in the back seat.
What about when your ride share driver cancels on you?
Drivers who work with Uber don’t know the end destination you’ve selected – apparently this is to stop drivers from cancelling all the time and keeping a ready flow of Uber drivers at the ready.
This also means that on a busy night in a quieter part of town you might have more luck hailing an Uber than a Beat. However I’ve also experienced more Uber drivers cancelling on me as soon as they arrive. Or driving around for ages to force me to cancel the ride.
If this happens to you, I’ve been advised to message the driver and take screen shots of the messages and their location. You can use these screenshots to dispute a claim afterwards.
What are the alternatives to Uber in Santiago de Chile?
As of August 2019 there’s a new ride share service coming to Santiago called DiDi. It’s being dubbed the ‘Chinese Uber’. I’ve asked some drivers if they’re going to use it and what’s the difference with other companies. Apparently DiDi offers a better rate for drivers. A few drivers told me that DiDi are setting up lots of promotions and may snuff out the competition. Watch this space…
There is also another relatively new service called Pink Car. It’s a taxi service for women with women drivers only. An Uber driver told me she used it as well as Uber and it worked well. I did try to book it on a couple of occasions but I couldn’t find a driver straight away. Pink Car lets you book taxis well in advance so perhaps this is more one for pre booking.
A few friends of mine also use Cabify, and I’m told the cars are generally good quality and clean. However, one driver said it was too complicated for him to use. The focus is on a better customer experience, so apparently when using Cabify he has to check the rider’s profile, how they like the temperature, radio settings etc. So much time wasted he said that he felt it wasn’t worth using it. He affectionately dubbed it ‘Uber for Cuicos’ (Uber for snobs!). Snob or no snob, it’s not always easy to find a Cabify ride.
And of course there’s Beat. The service is very similar to Uber, but generally it costs a little less. Unlike Uber, drivers also know the final destination. Also, you can’t make random stops or changes as easily as with Uber.
Are official taxis in Santiago safe?
I’ve never had a serious issue in any taxi. The yellow and black coloured taxis have worked out fine for me and relatively speaking they’re still cheap for short trips.
My only experience was a taxi driver who didn’t know my destination and threw me out in the street after dark which was really annoying. Thankfully it wasn’t too late, I made it to a place with lots of people around and managed to hail a taxi driver who knew the area better. Apparently he was just too cool to use GPS on his phone. *sigh*
What scams should I be aware of?
On the whole Chile is a very, very safe country by Latino standards. If you’re hanging out in the expat bubbles of Las Condes, Vitacura, El Golf, La Dehesa or Lo Barnechea chances are you’ll be just fine. I use Beat and Uber in Santiago Chile a lot and I’ve never had a serious issue. I’m also cautious…
A couple of months back I booked a Beat in Las Condes going to Vitacura. When I checked the number plates it turned out one digit wasn’t right. I actually thought it was a little odd as the driver was waiting for me, he’d opened the door and was beckoning me in, ‘Nina? Get in…’
When I asked him about the plate he replied, ‘Oh it’s just one number that’s wrong… Get in.’ I explained that I preferred to go with another driver and he got quite annoyed, ‘Look, it’s just an admin thing… Get in’. The more he pressed the more I decided it wasn’t wise to get in.
I’ve asked a few drivers about this and apparently there are some drivers here that don’t have the necessary paperwork. I’m told that desperate immigrants are being taken advantage of by less scrupulous guys who hold the license and paperwork and ‘rent out’ their ride share membership. The actual driver gets a fraction of the taxi fare. It’s not legal and it’s not fair. I’m told that the companies and authorities are cracking down on this as much as possible, but it’s not easy to control.
Check the driver, check the plates
Another driver told me it’s really important to check the driver as well as the plates. Sometimes the plates are legit, but the driver isn’t. Even if it’s not unsafe for you, it’s not ethical.
I did try to tell Beat about my experience (several times). Unfortunately as I didn’t take the ride, I had to cancel it and I was told by Beat that there was consequently no way to know which car I was referring to. It seems ludicrous that the only way to report a dodgy driver is to ride with him first! If it happens to you, I’d say try to get the license plate number. But don’t get in.
Pay by cash, in small notes
I also pay by credit card but several drivers have warned me against doing so. I like the freedom of paying by card in case I don’t have cash on me. Apparently some ride shares charge a deposit which they often ‘forget’ to compensate in full. It’s not a lot of money, but if you’re making a lot of trips it can add up.
The sneaky switch
Other scams include tricking foreigners who might not be as savvy with local currency. This applies to supposed official taxis. You hand over a $20,000 CLP bill expecting the relevant change and the driver offers you change for $10,000. He even shows you the $10,000 bill you supposedly offered. When you hand over the money, tell the driver how much you’re handing over. Even broken Spanish will do, just to acknowledge how much you’re handing over. When paying with a $10.000 bill or larger, tell the taxi driver the bill that you are paying with when you hand it to them (“Pagando con diez mil pesos” or “pagando con veinte mil pesos”).
Otherwise you can hold on to the note until the driver has your change ready. You can also ask for a receipt if you’re unsure. And if that doesn’t work, take a photo of the driver’s taxi number and car license plates. If you’re like me, chances are you won’t have the time or the energy to go to the police (carabineros), but sometimes the threat is enough to get things settled. On a side note, the carabineros are generally very helpful and are not corrupt.
Not all taxis are real
If the taxi driver very kindly offers to help you get money from the ATM, walk away. It’s a scam.
Another one I’ve heard of is cars waiting outside malls and touristy places to pick up suspecting tourists and then rob them. This fake taxi scam has never happened to me personally. If you’re unsure, hail a taxi actually moving in the street (not one bogus parked) or order a pre-paid one.
And no official taxi, Uber or ride share service should have more than one driver.
Health hazard rides
I’ve had a few friends complain about really gross car rides. As in broken glass on stained seats dirty. Eurgh! Now, I’ve been very lucky, or rather my friends have been very unlucky as all the cars I’ve ridden in have been great.
If you do get a yucky car, give an appropriate rating at the end of the ride. Report it. Chances are you’ll be refunded for your trip and be paired with better rides from then on.
What’s the cost of a taxi from Santiago airport to the city?
If you’re paying by a foreign card, about $10,000 USD. Yes dollars! At least that’s what Uber tried to charge my husband’s credit card! Yes, there was a mix up with currency conversions. Thankfully my husband paid with American Express and they sorted out the whole mess for us. My advice? If you can, pay with (Chilean Pesos) cash.
It’s very unlikely that a regular taxi will accept US dollars. And let’s face it, why should they?!
A regular taxi should cost around $15,000 CLP in quiet traffic and around $30,000 in normal traffic. A ride share service like Uber in Santiago Chile will charge a little less.
If you’re unsure and you don’t like the hassle of the drivers when you leave the airport, you can book a prepaid taxi from an official counter inside the airport. One such company some of my expat buddies swear by is Transvip.
How much do Santiago taxis cost?
Last time I checked an official taxi starts with a 300 peso fee and from there an additional 130 pesos for every 200 metres. If you don’t know the route some drivers might send you down a longer route. It is true though that traffic in Santiago can be horrendous, so sometimes a longer route will get you to your destination quicker. You can always check Waze for the best route.
As mentioned before, if possible pay with cash. Try to have the exact change. It’s stupidly common for people in Chile to have very little change on hand. I once tried to pay a $3,500 CLP ride with a $5,000 note and the driver looked at me in disgust! Some less scrupulous drivers might not bother to offer change if they think they can get away with it.
As I say, I’ve never had any serious issues. Nevertheless I hope the above post helps for the very rare occasions when things don’t go as smoothly as planned.
Top ten tips (again, I’m not a lawyer folks, this is just personal!)
- If you’re in a touristy area or outside a mall, walk a few blocks away first. Hail a taxi moving in the street (i.e. avoid a fake taxi!) or book a service like Uber etc.
- If you’re using Beat, Uber, DiDi or a similar platform check the plates and the driver before you get in.
- You don’t need to tip taxis or ride shares. You can round up to the closest denomination in cash if you like, but it’s not necessary.
- Pay with cash, and in notes of small denominations.
- When paying, state the value of the bill you’re handing over. “Pagando con diez mil pesos,” for example.
- Never take a taxi or car ride if the driver is accompanied by someone else.
- You don’t need help getting cash from an ATM. The instructions are in English too.
- If your car ride is dirty, report it. Give an appropriate rating. If you report it chances are you’ll be refunded.
- If your car ride cancels on you (or drives around for ages forcing you to cancel on them) send the driver a message to check what’s up. Take screenshots of your messages and the driver’s location.
- Trust your instinct. If something isn’t right, don’t get in. If possible, take a photo of the car license plates or note them down.