Of all the things that attract people from across the world to Chile each year, banking is usually not one of them. It’s not that interest rates on savings accounts are unattractive or that service is poor. The reason Chile has never been popular for its banking industry is because it’s nearly impossible for foreigners to open an account here if they don’t already have Chilean residency. (See here for an article about obtaining residency in Chile.)
There are a few completely legitimate exceptions, though, and that’s what I’ll be addressing today.
First, let’s assume you are non-Chilean and do not have Chilean residency but would like to either open a bank account in Chile or make an investment in the country.
If you’re more interested in making an investment in Chile and don’t necessarily need a bank account in the country afterward, the easiest route is normally to have a trusted Chilean attorney help you with the transaction.
If you don’t have Chilean residency but really would like to maintain an account in the country, another option is to approach one of the stock brokerage firms in Santiago. Most will require a large minimum balance for nonresident foreigners; don’t be surprised to receive conflicting information about their policies in regard to opening accounts for foreigners, or for the time period between applying for and having the account ready to use to (sometimes a month or more).
Larrain Vial is a broker that operates in Chile, as well as in Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and the US. Funds kept on deposit with it currently yield about 4.8% annually; and if you’re in the US, you can actually send non-international wires to the New York office, and they end up in your account in Chile the same day.
Foreigners with Temporary Residency
Even after obtaining temporary residency, most banks are still very reluctant to open an account for foreigners unless the individual is a large investor or already has a relationship with the bank.
If you’ve established temporary residency in Chile already, one thing you can do to start a relationship at a bank is apply for a type of account called a “Cuenta Vista” with one of the local Chilean banks. These accounts aren’t always helpful because they have maximum monthly and total deposits well under the US$10,000 threshold; however, they can be very useful for paying bills and sending wires within Chile. Banco Santander, Bci (Banco de Crédito e Inversiones), and BancoEstado all offer Cuenta Vistas, although BancoEstado calls its Cuenta Vistas by a different name—CuentaRUT.
Foreigners with Permanent Residency
Once you have permanent residency in Chile, opening an account becomes much more straightforward, and the banking industry in general here starts to have a lot more appeal. Opening a brokerage account which pays an attractive interest rate becomes a lot easier, you’re eligible for local financing, and if you can provide proof of income of $4,000-$8,000/month or can start an account with $400,000 or more, you also have the option of starting a premium account at one of the more exclusive departments of the major banks.
The customer service at these special branches is usually absolutely spectacular, so if you meet the requirements, it makes a lot of sense to look into these. Banco de Chile and CorpBanca’s more elite departments are called Banca Privada; Santander’s is called Prime.
If you already own property in Chile, it’s usually possible to take out a loan against the property. One of the banks that usually offers the best rates for these kinds of loans is Banco Security.
If you receive a pension in the US and establish residency in Chile, it’s possible to set up direct deposits for the pension funds at some of the local banks. If you’re interested in setting this up, you can get in touch with Camilo Prats at BCI or Juan Lucero at BancoEstado.
If you’re just looking to make an investment in Chile but don’t have residency in the country and don’t need to use a local account regularly, trying to get an account opened probably isn’t worth the hassle.
If you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time in the country each year or need an account in order to make transactions on a regular basis, here are a couple of things to always remember about opening an account in Chile: don’t expect success on your first visit to the bank; and try as many options as possible. Having an introduction from a bank employee or someone with good standing at a local bank can go a long way.
Editor’s Note: Naturally, things can change quickly. New options emerge, while others disappear. This is why it’s so important to have the most up-to-date and accurate information possible. That’s where International Man comes in. Be sure to check out the IM Communiqué to keep up with the latest on the best offshore banking strategies.
The information in this article is based on the author’s personal experiences and has not been independently verified. As always, do your own due diligence.
Darren Kaiser is an American expatriate and current resident of Chile. He is a small-business owner, journalist, and investor. You can find more at his website, http://www.darrenkaiser.com.