Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Banking in Chile

With the current banking and financial maelstrom afoot, it seems only fair to talk a little bit about banking in Chile. Perhaps you've fallen in love with Chile from a well-placed National Geographic article. Maybe you know someone who lives or has lived here. Maybe you're just looking for a way out of wherever you are. Maybe it's none of the above but you have a healthy curious streak and you'd like to know how easy it is to get a bank account here.

In a word: not.

You can get a bank account, sure. If you go to a giant international bank like Citibank (now Citi/Banco Edwards here in Chile), and offer to open a bank account to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, they might just let you open an account. This we call cuico (yuppie) privilege. It's the same bend-the-rules mentality that allow you to get permanent residency without jumping through a lot of hoops if you buy a spendy piece of property.

But Chile makes it very hard for foreigners to get bank accounts, fueling rumors that fleites (thugs, hooligans) target foreigners' apartments for break-ins, since they're likely to have cash on hand. And don't think of hiding it in the sugarbowl, they look there, too, and make a giant mess in the process. Or so say my Peruvian friends who had it happen to them.

So, banking. You'd like to have a bank account because you don't have a place to put the giant sums of cash that you're making working in Chile (please insert laughtrack). You need a vale vista, also called a cuenta vista, which is similar to a savings account. Similar in that it offers no checking privileges, no internet banking priveliges and no line of credit. Dissimilar in that it does not offer any interest on your measly deposit. This you should be able to get at one of the major banks (BCI, BBVA, Santander, Banco de Estado, Itaú) without a giant amount of trouble, provided you're in the country legally and have applied for and received a carnet. Many employers will help you to get this, because they prefer to direct deposit your paycheck.

But if you want a cuenta corriente, the gold standard of bank accounts, which is like a checking account in that it comes with a chequera (checkbook), tarjetas de crédito (credit cards) and a linea de crédito (credit line), the requirements are much more stringent.

The best thing that you can do is have a pituto, (connection). This is essentially the best way to do anything in Chile; get a landline, get a job, win a scholarship or be awarded a grant, find an apartment, backdate your notary stamp for fraudulent purposes. You know, just regular stuff. Remember this word, it's very important. Pituto (say: pee TOO to) plus, it's fun to say.

Barring the pituto, be ready to show you make about twice the average Chilean wage, and have done so for three months consecutively, which you do by bringing your liquidaciones de sueldo (roughly correlating to your check stubs). Then add to that the carnet requirement and maybe, just maybe you can get a cuenta corriente. It will take a while, and you will have to visit the bank a number of times, as well as receive and sign for your bank cards while at your place of work (run over by a courier who makes significantly less than the average Chilean wage), but in the end, you will be able to do what the rich and famous in Chile can do; pay bills online (avoiding the hell that is Servipag and Sencillito) (details to follow) and stand on the line for titulares (account holders) at the bank (though if you are a gringo, your right to do this may be questioned). You can also pay by check, which if you were born before 1965, might actually appeal to you. Some apartment owners ask for you to write cheques a la fecha (postdated checks) for the first six months of the lease, but this is not that common.

I personally bank with Santander, which is a choice made for me by my former employer. If I had it all to do again, first of all, I'd try to find a pituto somewhere, so much of an unholy hassle was it to get the cuenta corriente. I'd probably also choose BBVA, simply because of how it's said. Bvay Bvay Oobvay Ah. See? So much fun. And so ends our vocabulary/banking/pronunciation lesson for today.

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