Guide to Taxis in Santiago & Chile: How NOT to Get Scammed

Anyone who has lived in Chile in general or Santiago in particular has probably had a few… colorful taxi experiences here. Today, I am here to help you avoid getting scammed when taking a cab in Chile.

While nowhere near as bad as some other countries in South America (Bolivia, I’m looking at you…), Chile does have its fair share of problems.

Sure, I have shared my top 10 reasons why Chile is a perfect expat destination and fortunately taxi scams are not a deal breaker, but it is something you should have in mind and be prepared for.

Taxis in Chile & Santiago: Local Insights

Today I want to share with you some local insights into the taxis that a new foreigner might not be aware of.

calling a taxi in Chile

I might not know everything, as I’ve only been here for half an year now, but it still makes me a veteran compared to a newcomer.

While nowhere near as expensive as taxis in the western world, taxi drivers in Santiago do have some tricks up their sleeve to make an extra buck, especially on the backs of unsuspecting foreigners.

On the whole, Santiago taxis offer a pleasant and inexpensive service, but it helps to be informed in case you stumble across a bad apple.

So let’s get this started and talk about some of the most common pitfalls gringos encounter when taking a taxi in Santiago, and how to avoid them, saving valuable time and money.

Taxi culture

Like most Latin America countries, drivers will often charge gringos a flat rate that is several times the normal cost of the regular rate, especially at night.

Often you are faced with choosing between accepting to pay the higher rate taxi drivers are asking or walking home. There is very little you can do about this because taxi drivers know they have the market sewn up.

Additionally, taxi drivers will often take advantage of a foreigner’s perceived lack of knowledge of Santiago’s (or any other city in Chile) streets to take a very roundabout route.

I’ve taken taxis to the same places once or twice and know how much it ‘should’ cost more or less, but instead find myself paying a few dollars more than I should.

map driving

Using your own map on the phone (like Google maps) will help you keep track of the route you should follow – but sometimes, even if you mention that to the taxi driver, they will find an excuse like bad roads, the fact that they know the better route and such.

It’s not all bad though, I have personally had experiences with several very helpful taxi drivers that were all honest. But there are bad apples out there.

Usually, cab drivers in Chile are quite chatty and willing to share their knowledge about the city, even if your Spanish isn’t that great (they rarely speak English).

I’ve also had a driver be extremely accommodating one time when I was moving a desk, office chairs and some other furniture, even going so far as to help me carry it up the stairs to my apartment!

So, the bottom line is, don’t expect taxis in Santiago or Chile in general to be automatically a living hell.

Safety

I’ve heard two horror stories when it comes to taxis here from friends visiting Santiago.

One friend paid for his taxi from outside the passenger door with his phone in his hand. The taxi driver snatched the phone and the cash, slammed the door and shot away, tires squealing.

Another friend was jumped by a stranger while in a taxi and his wallet and phone were stolen from him. We both believe that the driver was in it also, but it was impossible to prove anything.

Either way, it seems like taxis might be an appealing target in Santiago for opportunistic petty thieves.

I do have to admit, though, that I didn’t go through anything like this during my stay in Chile and I did take a fair number of rides with taxis from different companies.

But the bottom line is to be prepared and always take safety precautions. Learn from these experiences, keep your valuables close by and only pay once you have arrived safely at your destination.

Old taxis vs. New taxis

taxi driver in Santiago Chile

There are two main types of taxis around Santiago – and most likely throughout Chile.

They have the 1990’s smaller size taxi which generally has around 300,000 kms or more on the meter. These taxis are a struggle to fit more than 3 people into at a time and generally are operated by a grumpy Chilean man.

Compare that to the later model Hyundai taxis which are popping up these days. The newer models tend to have a little more room, and are usually very clean.

Also, the rise in popularity of ride sharing apps where the drivers must be polite and the car in a decent condition has resulted in a better overall experience when it comes to riding a taxi here.

But still, if you have an option to choose, always go for the newer taxis instead of the old, beaten up ones, as it’s the newer cars that offer a better experience overall and less chances of the driver trying to scam you.

Dealing with change when paying for your ride

Chilean Peso coins

When paying a taxi driver with a 10.000 peso note, for example, expect for the driver to reject it and ask for smaller change.

They usually have a stack of change hidden somewhere though, so if you are really persistent, usually they will grumblingly accept it.

It’s better to try to pay with smaller denomination bills if you can, though, or at least have them around it.

It’s not uncommon for drivers to tell you that they don’t have any change for your bill. Instead of accepting that, tell them that they should go and exchange the bill into smaller notes – they will magically find some in a hidden pocket and all will be fine.

A safer alternative to Taxis in Santiago (and Chile)

One great option in Santiago and throughout Chile is opting for ride-sharing services, like Uber. This is my favorite alternative, since it’s well known globally.

Another interesting option that is available is called Pink Car. This is made for women only, with women drivers only. An interesting approach that I am sure would make ladies feel safer in the cab.

Pink Taxi Chile

While I wasn’t able to try it personally for obvious reasons, a few of my female friends used it and were pleased.

Finally, we have another option called DiDi, which is gaining more and more popularity in Santiago, as it pays a bigger share to the riders, so it makes more sense for them to go this route.

But when you go for these types of ride sharing apps, you will generally have a much better experience than with taxis: you will know how much you should pay beforehand, you will be able to pay through the app (so no problems with not enough change for your bill) and all routes will be recorded on your phone.

Conclusion

It’s easy not to get scammed in Chile or Santiago when taking a taxi if you follow the rules that I have shared above. Always be prepared for a bad experience, but know that in most cases, everything will go flawlessly.

But if you want to reduce your risks to a minimum, I recommend taking an Uber or any similar ride sharing alternative. Just like Showaround, going the app way is better.

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2 thoughts on “Guide to Taxis in Santiago & Chile: How NOT to Get Scammed”

  1. I was just scammed in Santiago by a taxi driver.

    I tried to pay with a Visas and was told twice that the charge did not go through.
    I paid cash for the taxi.
    I later got two charges on my Visa for 5, 000,000,000 pesos each. About $8000.
    Pay cash only to taxis in Santiago.

    Reply

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