Taxi Scams and How to Avoid them in Chile

Travel Tips — By Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith) on August 24, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Photo by aimhelix on Flickr.

There are few things more nerve-wracking re: travel than having to get around a city you don’t know. Ideally, the city has a grid, a metro and really nice people to help you get around. And while that is true for most of Santiago (see post on the fabulous Santiago metro here), nighttime, exhaustion, or general tired-of-walking-and-lost can end you up in a taxi before you know it.

There are a number of taxi scams you need to be aware of so that you can avoid them. Below, find the Spanish of what to do if you think one is being perpetrated against you.

Taking you for a ride

Though you would think that a taxi driver would drive a giant loop around Santiago if you don’t know where you’re going, this is generally not the case. It’s never a bad idea to ask someone where you are to guess how much the taxi ride should be. For example, from Ñuñoa to Santiago Centro, $4,000 to $4500 is about right, and from Providencia right down to Bellavista shouldn’t cost more than $2,500 CLP (470 to the dollar at the time this was written). If you know what street you want to go down, you can tell them, by saying “Vamos por X” (where X is the name of the street).

Not using the meter

As soon as you get into a taxi, look to the right of the rear view mirror, and check to see that the taxímetro (meter) is at 250. This is the minimum price for all taxi rides. If it’s not, or if the taxi driver is not using it, you can say “El taxímetro, por favor” (tacks-EE-m’tro).

The old switcheroo

The 10,000 CLP notes are blue, and the 1,000 CLP notes are green. It is easy to mistake them in the dark of the taxi, and it is an old scam that you hand them a 10,000 bill and are told, that’s a 1,000 bill. The easiest way to avoid this is to have smaller change on hand, trying to pay as close to the actual price as possible. Barring that, if I hand over a 10,000 bill, I always say “Son diez” (it’s a ten).

Where to be on special guard

The bus stations are a particularly good place to find someone who is looking to rip you off. Consider walking to the perimeter of the bus station and taking a taxi that is not part of the crew of taxis waiting in the bus station. However, the opposite is true in the airport, where you should take one of the official taxis, unless your Spanish is particularly good, and you feel like trying to bargain (which will probably fail, regardless).

Call for a taxi

There is a system of taxis that will come for you whereever you are and take you home. Ask the restaurant, establishment or your host to call a radio taxi. There tend to be fewer problems with these.

In case of conflict

If you get into any kind of argument with a taxi driver, you are always in your rights to insist that they take you to a comisaría (police sub station), or simply carabineros (police). This threat should not be necessary, but if it is, use it, and don’t be surprised when your problem suddenly disappears. The police in Chile are known for being the least bribe-able in all of South America, so don’t worry about them being in collusion with the taxi driver, but don’t expect them to speak a whole lot of English, either.

Don’t panic

Serious problems seldom arise with the taxis in Santiago. You just need to be aware, not neurotic. Happy traveling!

Tags: emergency, rip off, Santiago, taxi, taxi scam

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