Vanlife Chile: Buying a vehicle in South America

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Article updated on 05.17.24

You want to buy a van in South America for the roadtrip of a lifetime, but don’t know if it’s possible? Spoiler alert: Yes it is, BUT there are a few things you need to be aware of before embarking on this adventure.

The first thing to know is that you can buy a vehicle almost anywhere in South America, but not necessarily legally.

We’ll explain: In America, it’s possible to cross borders with a vehicle that isn’t in your name if you have a notarized document (a Poder) stating that you have the right to travel with a van that isn’t in your name. But… some customs officers may hassle you at the border, and this is unfortunately becoming increasingly frequent.

So we strongly advise you to start your trip in Chile and legally purchase a vehicle with Chilean plates. It’s one of the easiest countries in the world, administratively speaking, to buy a van as a foreigner.

Before going into further detail, it’s the same for resale: you have to resell the car in Chile if you want to do things simply, quickly and legally. So plan your travel itinerary with full knowledge of the facts, arriving and departing from Chile. (After all, like everything else in Latin America, it is still possible to resell your vehicle outside Chile, but it will be more complicated, and unfortunately we don’t know the steps very well).

Step 1: Find a car

You can find a vehicle through travel groups on Facebook (for example this group : or through agencies that help travelers buy a van. We strongly advise you to contact Jupa of OverAndes ( or directly on his instagram profile)

which sells a lot of traveler’s vans.

You can either look for the perfect van before you leave, or you can go and look directly in Chile. There’s no better solution – both options have their advantages and disadvantages.

Tip: use Revolut to send the money. There are no fees. You can choose the currency in which you want to send the money. If the seller also has Revolut, the transaction is instantaneous.

Step 2: Get an RUT

A RUT is a tax number held by all Chileans. This RUT number will enable you to buy a vehicle legally in Chile.

To obtain a RUT, you need a Chilean “sponsor” who will vouch for you in Chile. You must therefore have a Chilean friend who agrees to accompany you to the notary’s office to obtain an RUT OR to hire a company. Jupa of OverAndes will be happy to help you. He can even help you do it remotely. He’ll take care of all the paperwork for the RUT. All you have to do is go to a notary’s office (they’re all over Chile) and have the documents notarized.

You’ll need to pay around 100 USD to OverAndes and USD 10 to be paid to the notary. You will then need to wait 3-5 working days to receive your RUT.

Step 3: Officialize the purchase at the notary's office

Once you’ve received your RUT, you can go to the notary’s office with the seller of your future vehicle. Once again, you can either do the paperwork yourself, or ask OverAndes to assist you in the purchase of the vehicle (about 250 USD including the RUT).

At the notary’s office, you’ll need to draw up the following documents:

  • The sales contract
  • The new circulation permit in your name (padrón)
    • You won’t receive it right away. You’ll have to wait about 4 weeks to get it. (Bear in mind when crossing the border into Bolivia. Customs officials may not let you through).
  • A notarized letter stating that the previous owner will let you drive his vehicle. It’s important to do this, as the new driving license (padrón) takes around 4 weeks to arrive. If you don’t have it and you have a check-up, you could be in trouble.
  • The Jurada declaration
    • This is a notarized letter that you’ll need at every border crossing when you leave Chile. It states that you will be returning to Chile within 6 months. Customs are concerned that you may not return to the country with the vehicle.

You’ll also have to pay the notary around 80 USD + 1.5% of the vehicle’s value (note that it’s not the final price you pay that’s binding. It depends on the age, chassis, make, etc., and the notary will tell you how much your vehicle should cost, which is always a very low amount. So expect to pay between 10-100 USD).

Before going to the notary, make sure you have these documents:

  • The circulation permit, title (padrón)
  • Your passport
  • The seller’s passport
  • Your RUT
  • The seller’s RUT
  • Cash to pay the notary (as it’s not always possible to pay by credit card)

We advise you to make notarized copies of the documents you receive. In other words:

  • The sales contract
  • Authorization to drive the vehicle
  • The Jurada declaration

With these copies, you need to go to a local customs office to have them “Apostilled”. This means that all documents are approved by the authorities and customs officers, and you’ll have no problems when you go through customs. It’s possible that these documents will be taken from you at customs and not returned to you. That’s why it’s important to have copies. (5 at least, as there are many border crossings between Chile and Argentina).

Please note: unfortunately, there are still customs posts in the north of the country where it is almost impossible to pass through as a foreigner with a Chilean vehicle. Find out more directly on the iOverlander app.

Step 4: Waiting for your title (padrón)

As mentioned above, you will have to wait several weeks before you receive your circulation permit in your name. It will take about 3-4 weeks. After this time, you can go to the Civil Registry office in any city and request your padrón.

Don’t hesitate if you have any questions. We know that at first, all these steps can be a little intimidating. But we promise that with the right guidance, everything will go perfectly smoothly.

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