With a public transport system consisting of a metro, metro-train, buses and taxis, getting around in Santiago is relatively easy. The city has a public transport system with standardised routes and an integrated fare system, allowing for transfers from one form of transport to another.
The city is also equipped with taxis, and cycling and walking are popular modes of transport among locals and expats alike.
Public transport in Santiago
Ticketing for public transport in Santiago is done through the bip! card, a contactless smart card. It allows free transfers between the different modes of public transport, including the bus, metro and MetroTren. Bip! cards can be purchased at metro stations, banks, some shops and Punto Bip! centres throughout Santiago. For more information about Bip! cards and centres, as well as maps and timetables, the website Red is very useful.
Santiago’s metro system is the easiest and fastest way of getting around the city. The trains are clean and reliable, but the metro can become extremely congested during rush hour and expats should keep a close eye on their belongings as pickpockets are known to operate on metro trains and at stations.
Find out more on the Santiago Metro website.
Santiago has a developed bus system, which underwent a complete overhaul with its integration with other means of transport. Old yellow buses have been replaced with modern green-and-white buses which run around the clock on the main lines. Different-coloured feeder buses operate in each area of the city, connecting with the green-and-white buses on major routes and at metro stations. Payment for buses is through the Bip! card.
This is a subsidiary of EFE, Chile's state-owned railway services. Again, the Metrotren is part of the integrated services, allowing use of the bip! card, and offering alternative routes to buses and metros. It's a light rail system consisting of two lines, the MetroTren Nos and the MetroTren Rancagua, and over 25 stations.
Find out more on the EFE website.
Taxis in Santiago
Taxis are plentiful in Santiago and are identified by their black exterior and yellow roof. They can be hailed on the street, or they can be called ahead, although this option sometimes costs more.
Expats should always keep an eye on what route the driver is taking, as they have been known to take passengers on unnecessarily long and winding routes to run up the meter. Drivers have also been known to quickly palm notes when being paid and then insist that they've been underpaid. Expats can avoid this by concentrating when paying drivers and being careful not to be distracted.
Colectivos are another common transport option in Santiago. These are normal sedan-type vehicles that offer shared taxi services. Colectivos normally offer set prices and run regular fixed routes that are displayed on signs on their roofs, although, at night, for an extra fee, they may drive to a specific location.
Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are readily available throughout the city. These can be a viable option for expats who cannot speak the local language, as they lower the risk of miscommunication with drivers and allow passengers to track the vehicle's route.
- Uber is a popular ridesharing app in Santiago, offering a convenient way to book rides and pay either in cash or with a credit card.
- DiDi is also available in Santiago, offering an efficient and user-friendly platform for hailing taxis.
- Other apps like Safertaxi provide services for hailing real taxis in the city, ensuring a safe and reliable experience for users.
Driving in Santiago
Driving in Santiago can be quite a stressful experience but, with the city’s extensive public transport options, it may be possible, and even preferable, for expats to get by without using a car.
Traffic congestion is a constant plague and parking is expensive. Another concern is crime – car theft and car break-ins are common in Santiago. Expats should never leave any valuables visible in their cars when parking on the street.
Expats staying short-term may prefer to rent a car, while others may buy a used car to sell afterwards. When buying a car, expats should always ensure it's in good condition and think about investing in car insurance.
Foreigners must have an international driver's permit and a valid driving licence from their home country. After obtaining residency, expats are required to apply for a Chilean driving licence.
Cycling in Santiago
In recent years, Santiago has made leaps and bounds in becoming easier and safer for cyclists to navigate. A gradual increase in cycle lanes throughout the city has assisted in this, but there are two main initiatives responsible for the biggest advancements: the Mapocho 42K cycle path and CicloRecreoVía.
The Mapocho 42K cycle path is still expanding. It's a 26-mile (42km) cycle path running alongside the Mapocho river in Santiago, which flows through all the city's major neighbourhoods. It's a continually evolving project that already provides an opportunity for avid cyclists, families and anyone wanting to get out and about on two wheels.
The second major force behind the cycling boom in Santiago is CicloRecreoVía. Every Sunday, certain streets in the city are closed to all motor vehicles. Anyone intending to use these roads must go on foot or another form of non-motorised transport. Anyone cycling can join in the fun, with tens of thousands of cyclists attending weekly. The open streets also create a joyful and safe atmosphere for pedestrians, skaters, runners, children and dog walkers.
Despite the overall progress, the cycle paths in the city remain poorly connected and expats should keep their eyes open while cycling for sudden changes or obstructions in their path.
Walking in Santiago
As a relatively flat city, Santiago is ideal for walking short distances. The roads don't follow a grid structure as such but are still relatively easy to navigate. Walking the streets is a great way for new arrivals to get familiar with their surroundings and to explore attractions, shops, facilities, restaurants and amenities.
As with cycling, walking alongside the Mapocho River is an ideal way to travel from suburb to suburb on foot without being subject to the dangers of traffic.
That being said, Santiago is like any other major city and pedestrians should be vigilant, and it's best not to walk alone at night.
What do expats say about public transport in Santiago?
"Depending on where you live, you may or may not need a car. In expat areas like Vitacura, La Dehesa and Chicureo, you definitely need a car, as there is no metro line." Read our interview with Jérémie for tips on transport options for different areas in Santiago.
"There is an underground system and one of the best bus networks in South America, both of which are quite affordable. There are also taxis and bike sharing schemes dotted around which are also affordable." Karim's interview shares some useful info on getting around in Santiago.
►See Areas and Suburbs in Santiago to learn about the different regions of the city
Image credits: Bus in Las Condes by Jaime Sainte Marie, Wet Santiago Street by Raúl Escobar, No Left Turn by Diego Marín, Cycle Lane in Santiago by Zsófia Vera, Busy Crosswalk in Santiago by mauro mora, all on Unsplash
Are you an expat living in Santiago?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Santiago. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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