Everyone should ship a car to Chile
Updated: Nov 29, 2018
Like most people, we hadn’t shipped a car internationally before so we didn’t really know what to expect. Up to this point it had been a very simple and easy process apart from accidentally forgetting the dimensions of a 20ft sea container and having to slightly dismantle our camper to be able to shut the doors. All that was needed was to send a few documents here, a few documents there and all with a very helpful and cheery person on the other end of the phone or email. I guess the amount you pay for the privilege gets you that kind of service. However I think that perhaps we just got lucky. We were warned by an online overlanding forum a few days before shipping that shipping a right hand drive vehicle into Chile was a bad idea, that they don’t allow it. We had everything booked and the container had already arrived so we didn’t really have a lot of. Our shipping agent had done his best to check at the Chile end that it was ok but with a lot of these things. It’s the luck of who you get on the day and what kind of mood they are in.
We were quite enjoying Santiago, walking through bohemian suburbs, eating fresh seafood every day at the central fish market and just spending time relaxing in their hundreds of well-maintained public spaces. We liked it so much in fact that we decided that we would spend another week or so there before heading to Patagonia. You see our original plan was always to spend a few days in Santiago and the surrounds and then make our way down to the glacial fjords, the crystal clear lakes, and the towering volcanoes. But after the first few days of jet-lag where we would wake up at 3am and walk the city streets we realised we didn’t much like the cold. After talking to a few locals, we decided it would be wise to spend three to four weeks wandering around the wine regions slightly north of Santiago and perhaps cross the big hill to Mendoza, Argentina for a steak and give Patagonia a bit of time to dry and warm up. Also a few days crossing the mountains would give us a bit more of an idea how we will manage in the cold before we head to the heart of it.
But before we could do any of that, we of course needed to first pick up the car. Our fantastic shipping agent, Ronald had organised to pick us up at 7.00am. A little late for us as our usual waking time was around 3.00am. But we were finally able to get a sleep-in that morning and woke at 5.00am. It was a pretty relaxing drive down to Valparaiso. Enough time to stop for a coffee and still make it by 9am when customs opened.
Our first problem, which customs office did you bring vehicles in with a temporary import permit. No one seemed to know, apparently it’s not done very often. We were sent to another building about four blocks away. Only to be then sent straight back. We were then sent in the opposite direction three blocks down to the pink building. OK then so off we went. Problem number two, every second building was pink. Finally after two wrong attempts we made it.
We were greeted by more smiling faces willing to help, to which Ronald soon assured us was not common practice in Chilean customs offices. But then of course problem number three arose. We were missing a document, or at least that was what we gathered was being said in Chilean Spanish.
As we literally have years. Time was not overly valuable to us on day one, so we didn’t really bother much, it would just take a little longer. Ronald on the other hand had started pacing the hallways. As it seemed it would take a while to get the required document and with Ronald stressing we decided to go for a little walk and some sight seeing to check out this Valparaiso place we’ve been hearing so much about.
Valparaiso was once a major port with world importance. Pre-Panama canal, it was a major shipping hub as many ships that needed to pass the America would stop at Valparaiso before or after navigating the wild waters between South America and Antarctica. With that brought with is a huge amount of wealth which is evident in the beautiful colonial buildings that still remain. However after the build of the panama Canal the ships dried up, and with it the money turning the wealthy city into a seedy run down port town. That combination along with a bit of a resurgence of wealth and tourism makes it a pretty fascinating and fun city. It’s a city that stimulates your senses. From the colourful graffiti glad streets that wind their way up the steep hills to surround you, to the constant drum beat of student bands practicing in the parks or the smell of the students weed. It’s very easy to ask yourself if you are in the same country as the relaxed, clean and organised Santiago.
Walking out of the customs office we didn’t have to go too far to find ourselves back 150 years on the original vernacular that still takes locals up the steep hills to their suburb. There are still the original 11 of these working throughout the city. A quick walk around the hilltop suburb through colourfully painted houses was enough to relax poor old Ronald again and by the time we got back, the documents had arrived and we were on our way to the container yard to get our car.
This was where the fun began and we were pretty excited at this stage. But when we arrived were told that in fact the person we needed to see was on his lunch break. Seriously? We were now beginning to feel like kids who were just told they couldn’t have their Christmas presents yet as Santa was having a coffee break. Fortunately we didn't wait long before we were given our hard hats and high visibility vests. Shit was getting real. A few more documents to sign and stamp and we found ourselves standing in front of our container. Doors open, with our beautiful Land Cruiser waiting for us. There was of course another 8 Chilean workers standing there already taking photos, ready to help us get it out.
It didn’t really start too well, with a couple of geniuses undoing the straps holding on the roof top tent. But after that little accident it was all smooth sailing, Reattach the battery, drive it out of the container, put the tent back on the roof and pump up the tyres. All with the help of 6 smiling Chilean workers. We were the centre of attention, everyone wanted to help and expected nothing in return except the pleasure of having a different experience from their normal day of unloading containers. It was this point when I said a very first world thing “everyone should ship a car to Chile once in their lives”.
From start to finish the whole process took about 6 hours and were on the road….in Chile….in South America…. AND on the right side of the road….. and the right side of the road in Chile is the right side of the road. Which; when the steering wheel is also on the right side takes a little bit of getting used to. It took only 3 hours before I forgot and pulled out of a carpark and onto the wrong (left) side of the road.