How to Move a Car to Chile

Because of the nature of our work, we needed to have a vehicle in Chile. This vehicle would need to be off-road ready, able to tow a trailer, have decent mileage, and be 100% reliable.

We already had such a car in the U.S.  – our trustworthy 2007 Subaru Tribeca. But getting it to Chile would prove to be very challenging. Here’s a run-down of what we had to go through to make this happen…

FIRSTLY, anyone will ask, Why not sell your Subaru and buy a new one in Chile? Well, because shipping our car would be less expensive than buying a new one. With only $5k left on our auto loan and shipping costs of around $8-10K, we would end up spending around $13-15K in bringing our car to Chile. Plus, we’d have room in the shipping container for a lot of our personal stuff as well. Buying a similar used car in Chile could cost $18-22K, and if we wanted any of our stuff (beyond what could fit in a suitcase), we’d have to pay to ship it.

ONE. Begin by researching just how exactly one sends a large shipment internationally.

TWO. Look up Chilean import regulations. Turns out that only Chilean citizens can bring used cars into the country. If you’re a foreigner, you can only bring a brand spanking new car. Why, you may ask? Because Chilean customs will tax you 40% the value of the car when you retrieve your car from port and they want to make lots of money off of foreigners.

THREE. Book a shipping firm in the U.S. and reserve a container. Set a date to have the container dropped off for loading.

FOUR. Book a shipping firm in Chile and receive a 1,000 forms to complete.

FIVE. The shipping firm tells you that you must have your car fumigated prior to shipment. You call every exterminator in the phone book and no one has ever heard of this. You begin to call industrial import specialists. Still, no one has ever heard of this.

SIX. Downsize and compress your stuff as much as possible. Then do it again.

Our stuff, packed tightly into a storage unit, waiting for moving day. Putting everything into storage in advance allowed us to accurately judge the amount of space we would have in our shipping container.

SIX-AND-A-HALF. Overnight your auto title to a import/export firm in Denver. They will certify that your title is real. You won’t get this back until you are in Chile when they overnight it back to you three days before your shipping container is supposed to arrive. Try not to sweat silver bullets about what would happen if it gets lost.

SEVEN. Pack everything into sturdy boxes with detailed labels. Number each label and keep a master list. Notate every item made of wood (because Chile is very strict about wood imports). Also, make notes of everything that is new. You will be taxed on all new items. The taxes will likely be high.

EIGHT. Ask your sister-in-law to do some reconnaissance in Chile. Is fumigation really required for a car to enter Chile? You discover that a car can be accepted at port without fumigation, but if upon opening there are pests, your car will be quarantined for who knows how long. Because you really have no other option, you decide to ship your car as is and hope for the best.

NINE. Send your packing list to the shipping firms for review. Apply for cargo insurance that will cover total or partial loss – like if your shipping container slips off the side of the boat or if a storm causes the contents to ricochet off your windshield. Apparently, both are very common.

TEN. Hire a tow truck to lift your car into the shipping container which will arrive on a chassis 4 feet off the ground. This was the most painless step of the process.

ELEVEN. You drive around on a nearly empty tank of gas for days before you must load it into the container. When you do so, the tank must be mostly empty and the battery disconnected.

TWELVE. The big day comes and you are ready early. The shipping container arrives and you begin to load like mad. You have only two hours to put all your possessions and your car inside. Remember that the chassis is 4 feet off the ground and you don’t have a ramp. You will be incredibly horribly sore at the end of the day. In fact, your muscles will feel like day-old Jello.

To get everything in the container with as little trouble as possible, we began with a back row of big boxes and plastic crates. Then the tow truck arrived and we lifted the car and drove it inside. That left a narrow aisle to the left of the car which we filled with the rest of our stuff.
Bye bye, stuff!

THIRTEEN. Now you wait to receive confirmation that the truck has delivered your container to port.  When it arrives at port, three days later, you receive an email from the shipping firm with a scan of your “Bill of Lading,” otherwise known as “The Most Important Document.” You won’t get the actual one until you pick it up from the shipping office in Chile the day after your shipment arrives in port.

FOURTEEN. Your account is charged $5k for the U.S. shipment firm.

FIFTEEN. Your shipping container will wait in port until the ship arrives about a week after you loaded it. Then it will accompany the ship on several stops south of California and north of Chile. Meanwhile, you can live out of a suitcase while you say goodbye to friends and family and then hop aboard your plane to the other side of the world.

SIXTEEN. You arrive in Chile and meet with the Chilean shipping firm. Everything they tell you is wrong – as you discover upon relating your conversation to your sister-in-law, who used to work in imports/exports. You decide to fire your Chilean shipping firm and do everything on your own.

SEVENTEEN. You make a ton of phone calls to clarify the shipment acceptance process.

EIGHTEEN. You receive word that the boat with your ship will be arriving in a week, however you are warned that customs is about ready to go on strike which could last for a month or more, in which case you would have to pay extra port fees for the extra days your shipment would have to sit in port.

NINETEEN. The strike comes and goes after one day. Your ship arrives in port and you are told they will be offloading the cargo in a few days.

TWENTY. You pick up your Bill of Lading from the shipping office.

TWENTY-ONE. You go to the Port and stand in at least four lines for most of the day while you pay port fees and taxes in advance. When exchanging money at port, none of the banks will accept bills that look used. The car ends up costing $2,500 in import taxes.

TWENTY-TWO. You research rental storage options for your stuff until you find a more permanent place to stay. There simply isn’t enough room for everything at your sister-in-law’s house.

TWENTY-THREE. Today is the big day. You go back to Port in a rented truck. Just as you arrive at your appointed time, the time they told you the day before, the port closes for lunch and you are stuck outside the gates. It takes time, but eventually you find a way inside.

TWENTY-FOUR. You are allowed to watch them unload your shipping container from a distance. When they come to the car, you are allowed to come inside to drive it out of the container. The windshield is cracked. Damn.

Everything we own in the world, unloaded at port in San Antonio, Chile.

TWENTY-FIVE. The customs agents review your packing list with the piles of your belongings sitting on the asphalt. They inspect for vermin and find none. You breathe a sigh of relief. At last, your car and cargo is released to your custody. You drive home triumphant.

TWENTY-SIX. It takes two hours to drive home from port to Santiago where you are staying. The storage facility is closed so you must wait until the following day to unload all your stuff into another storage unit.

TWENTY-SEVEN. After you unload your stuff, you take a few days to recover from the process. After all, at port you are given a 30-day driving pass until you must officially register your vehicle for legal driving in Chile.

TWENTY-EIGHT. Meanwhile, you need to find a place to repair the dents and scratches on the body of your car and another that will replace your windshield. You go to the local Subaru dealership for quotes. They say they will email them but you need to call a few times first to remind them about it.

TWENTY-NINE. Prior to registration, you must outfit your car appropriately. This means you need to purchase the mandatory neon yellow safety vest and auto emergency kit.

The required safety equipment, from top: reflector triangles, carry case, first aid kit, reflective vest, and fire extinguisher.
The required automobile accident first aid kit. This is what is inside. Uh….
For comparison, here is our first aid kit.

THIRTY. On the day you go to register your car, you discover that the department of motor vehicles (0r whatever it is called in Chile) is closed because the workers on on strike. You return home empty-handed.

THIRTY-ONE. 35 days after you picked up your car at port, the strike finally ends and you can register your car. Now you must wait 10 days before the official registration paperwork arrives in the mail.


THIRTY-TWO. Before you can have your car inspected, you need to fix the broken windshield so you schedule an appointment.

THIRTY-THREE. When the paperwork arrives, you must always keep it in your car. You can now go and have your car inspected. And you must wait 10 days before the official inspection paperwork arrives in the mail.

THIRTY-FOUR. When the paperwork arrives, you must always keep it in your car. You can now go and purchase the required state insurance which only covers physical harm to a person. If you want insurance to cover any damages to your car or another person’s car, you’ll need a separate insurance and another piece of paperwork to add to the file-box you now must carry around in the back of your car.

THIRTY-FIVE. Congratulations! You are now ready and able to drive your car legally in Chile!





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