Santiago, Chile is a safe place. In general, you are very unlikely to have a violent altercation during your stay here. I have lived and traveled to many cities in the Americas, and Santiago is definitley on the safer side of the equation.
That being said, Santiago has more than its fair share of lanzas, or pickpockets, people who make money by sticking their hand into your pocket or backpack while you’re not looking, and making off with some of your pretty (and pretty expensive) technology. Part of this is due to the division of wealth, and the perception that if you’ve got it to flaunt, you’ve got it to lose. Another issue is that there is a very healthy black market of fencing stolen items around Santiago, and it won’t take long for your item to make it out of your posession and into a third party’s hands.
So common is pickpocketing (and specially among somewhat uncareful travelers), that the Municipality of Santiago, along with the local police have set up a place for foreigners to come in case they have been the victim of a crime. The office will be installed in the beautiful, historic tourism office on the north side of the Plaza de Armas and will provide bilingual guides to help tourists to figure out what do to in case of theft, including how to file a police report necessary in so many cases to recover costs through travel insurance, as well as the steps people should take to obtain a new passport should theirs be stolen. In addition, the new office will help torusists to cancel documents and credit cards, as well as providing a 5-minute VOIP (such as skype) phone call to ehir home country to talk to family.
The program called “Visita Segura” will also include a public service announcement campaign in English, Spanish and Portuguese about likely scams. To read more about the program view this site (in Spanish).
But your goal is to never need this office, and as such, I’ve put together a list of how to avoid pickpocketing. If you look closely, you’ll see that the locals do the same.
Staying safe in Santiago (and any large city)
Carry few/small bags and carry them on your front.
If you must carry a backpack, swing it around to the front in crowds.
Do not put anything important in any small, outside pouch.
Never set your camera on top of your table.
Do not use your camera without a wrist strap.
Do not walk down the street using your phone. Step into a doorway or a bank.
Always hook your bag over your arm or leg while sitting at a restaurant. Do not hang it on a chair or leave it on the floor.
Take extra caution in transit, especially in bus stations and the crowded metro.
Do not come home from anywhere stumbling drunk.
Don’t buy stolen goods. Parcicipating in the black market keeps it healthy.
Most people living in and visiting Santiago will have a theft-free experience. Follow the above steps and you probably will, too. After all, we’d way rather see you spend your time and money eating at fine restaurants and going on fun outings than telling your story to the people back home in a five-minute phone call.