Student Experience | Living Abroad | Chile | Programs | Prospective Students | International Programs | CSU
International Programs
Exchange Rates
As of 08/09/2010
Chile (Pesos)
1 USD = 511.50 CLP
1 CLP = 0.00195 USD

Chile: Student Experience

Chile has a total population of about fourteen million inhabitants of whom 5 million live in the capital city, Santiago. Santiago is located 543 meters above sea level, in Chile's central zone, 2,051 km south of Arica, the country's northernmost city and 3,141 km. north of Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world. The Pacific Ocean is located a hundred kilometers away and the Andean Mountain Range, 40 km.

Customs & Traditions

As one might expect, customs in one country differ in many small but surprising ways from customs in another. For instance, in Chile, when meeting someone for the first time, or greeting someone already known, it is customary for two women or a woman and a man to kiss on the right cheek, sometimes shaking hands simultaneously. Those older than you should be addressed by their last name, preceded by Señor or Señora; a highly respected older person whom you already know may be called by his first name, preceded by Don or Señora. It may take you some time to become accustomed to using formal and informal forms of address, but most Chileans appreciate the difficulty of learning another language, and will be understanding.

Lunch is the major meal of the day, and usually takes place around 1-2 PM (13:00-14:00 on the 24-hour clock), while a small dinner is generally eaten rather late. Teatime (onces) takes place around 6-7 PM (18:00-19:00). It is common to drop in for a visit without calling beforehand. Rules of promptness are less rigid in Chile than in the United States.

Businesses open at about 8:00 am and close at about 3:00 or 4:00 PM. Then, some open again at about 9:00 PM. Restaurants usually close around 3-4pm and then reopen around 8pm for the dinner hour and this schedule is usually Monday thru Saturday. Hours on Sunday are always different, many restaurants will only be open from 10am-4pm or are closed all day. This is the case for many businesses as well, almost everything is closed on Sundays except for the large supermarkets, and many businesses also have short hour days on Saturdays as well – open from 10am to 1 or 2pm.

Climate (Top)

As Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, its seasons are the reverse of those in the United States. Santiago does not generally experience extremes of temperature, but your travels throughout Chile may require you to dress for the desert or the Antarctic, so pack accordingly. As most buildings in Chile do not have central heating, it is wise to dress in layers; for instance, many people here wear long-sleeved cotton undershirts beneath their work or casual clothes. (Many women also wear tights or anything spandex or nylon beneath their clothes to help insulate. The material works a little better than cotton to keep the heat in. I suggest spandex work-out pants or leggings, I used mine and they worked great.) It is also hot during the summer months, the weather is very similar to San Diego and the majority of buildings don’t have air conditioning.

In Chile, temperature is measured in Celsius. In the Winter (June through September), daytime temperatures may drop to around 0°C. The rainy season in Santiago is from May to August with intermittent showers also common in Fall and Spring, with annual average rainfall of 346 mm. In the summer (December to March), temperatures may soar to 34°C. The annual average temperature is 14.5 °C (21 °C in January, summer and 8.5 °C in July, winter).

Academics (Top)

The Católica is a very challenging university. I would compare it to our Ivy League schools. In addition to the time you spend in class, you will also spend a lot of time studying outside of class in study groups. At first, this can be intimidating because you'll quickly learn that your classmates at the Católica are amongst the best and brightest in Chile. But don't worry; it's an exciting challenge. Talk to the professors if you're having a hard time in one of your classes. Most are very helpful. The professors do not have office hours, it pretty much doesn’t exist. It is always best to talk to them right after class, or often times the have an ayudante (teacher assistant) that can help as well.

Libraries & Computers (Top)

You may use any of the ten libraries located throughout the four campuses that include thousands of books, magazines, newspapers, maps, etc. In addition, you will have access to Crisol computer clusters on each campus; there they can use about eleven computer rooms with twenty-five computers in each room, and will also have access to Internet and e-mail. Keep in mind though that libraries are usually not open during weekends or late in the evening, and when they are open, they are often crowded, with a radio blasting sappy music. Note that not all the terminals are connected to both Internet and the printer, and that users must bring their own paper in order to print.

Extracurricular Activities (Top)

The University recognizes that education takes place outside the classroom as well as within it. For this reason, a number of extra-curricular activities have been developed at the PUC. Foreign students are eligible to take advantage of all these activities.

A variety of sports activities are open to visiting exchange students including: Aerobics, Basketball, Gymnastics (artistic and rhythmic), Judo, Mountain Climbing, Physical Training, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis, Track, Volleyball, and Weight Training. You will enjoy the athletic facilities including 6 soccer fields, 6 mini-soccer fields, 12 tennis courts, 10 lighted all-purpose fields, 2 tracks, 1 heated pool, 1 lighted field hockey field, 13 locker rooms, 1 physical therapy clinic, and a 2-story gym.

You can also participate, through FEUC (Federación Estudiantil de la Universidad Católica) and the Student Center, in various cultural, social, and recreational activities, both within the university or out in the community. Among the opportunities are: Summer and Winter jobs, University Week, New Students' Week, and the Paid Projects Center.

Within the framework of a well-rounded education, students are encouraged to optimize their free time by participating in the following fine and performing arts. You can participate in the following student activities: "Young Art" student concerts, student art exhibits, puppet theater, and local cultural events.

Don't feel bad if you aren't making really good friends quickly. Chileans are very easy to get to know as acquaintances, but to make true friends where you talk about more than just small talk, you need to be patient. It has taken me almost an entire semester. You really have to make an effort here to make Chilean friends. So, work at it. Just try striking up a conversation. If you don't work at it, you will still make friends with other foreign students, but it is valuable to make Chilean friends too. Exchange students flock together and go to parties together, it is not hard to meet people in your same situation, especially because they speak English too.

Housing & Meals (Top)

During your first few days in Santiago you will be staying at the Hotel Posada del Salvador while you are looking for housing. Costs for these five days are included in your prepaid program costs.

The International Programs Office can provide information for students interested in living with Chilean families, and recommends an independent free-lance service to make such arrangements. You have several housing alternatives:

Living with a Chilean family
Renting an apartment
Renting a room

Housing cost estimates are as follows: There is a US$65 finder's fee if you use a service to assist you. Rent is approximately US$450/month in a home stay. This includes room and board (3 meals daily + laundry).

Take your time at the beginning looking for a place. Think about what kind of living situation you want to be in before you come to Chile, and once you arrive look carefully. I basically knew before I arrived that I wanted to live in a dorm, with a lot of independence. However, when I actually got here, I was so lonely that I decided to go meet families first and then maybe go live in the dorms during the second semester. It felt so good to be in a nurturing environment that I didn't even go look at the dorms.

Be careful though because the host families might "baby" you. If you have lived on your own for two years, it can be shocking to have someone cleaning and cooking for you and even rearranging your room for you. I am sure all families aren't like mine, but quite a few are. After a month and a half I moved to a Residencia. Fifty students live here. I really like it. It is a good fit for me, but I also know some people who moved out of the Residencia to go live with a family. It really just depends on what you want and need.

Prices for renting a room are a lot less expensive than in the States. Living with a family is more expensive than renting a room in an apartment or living in the Residencia, but you'll have to buy groceries and cook your own meals. Note: it is worth paying a little extra rent to live in a nice neighborhood in Santiago. Keep your eyes open. There are ads posted around the university on bulletin boards for roommates. It is not hard to find a room in an apartment in Providencia, a good neighborhood, for a minimum of US $200 a month. But, remember, you'll have to buy groceries too. Budget about $150/month for food.

Money & Banking (Top)

Although the exchange rate is not quite as good as it is for hard currency, it is wise to bring traveler's checks because they can be replaced if lost or stolen.

You should note that the $ sign is used in Chile to denote Chilean Pesos (CLP); prices are sometimes listed in US$ or USD, which refers to United States dollars. Decimal points and commas in expressing money are used oppositely in Chile. Decimals are expressed in commas (13,5% = thirteen point five percent, for example), and points are used to express thousands (10.000 pesos = ten thousand pesos, for example).

Banks are open Monday-Friday from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Money Exchange Houses are open the same hours as shops. You can exchange money at a bank or a Casa de Cambio. Beware of people offering to change money for you on the street, as some are experienced at cheating unsuspecting foreigners. When exchanging money, you may be asked to show your passport. By changing a large sum of money at once, you avoid having to pay frequent commissions; on the other hand, because the exchange rate varies somewhat over time, you may get a better rate at a later date, and consequently may prefer to change smaller sums more frequently. To get the best rate when exchanging money, I suggest going to any one of the exchange houses on Agustinas, in downtown Santiago. They are more competitive than the banks.

By US standards, Chile is fairly inexpensive, with ski-resort prices being a notable exception. By Latin American standards, however, it is not, so please remember that you are in a different economic atmosphere before discussing prices with new friends. The cost of taxis and food will probably seem low to you. For instance, a 10-minute/5-km taxi ride may only cost US$ 2, while a medium-priced meal, including wine and dessert, will only cost about US$ 10.00 per person. But the majority of restaurants have prices similar to restaurants in the U.S and this goes for grocery stores as well. Dairy products and eggs are expensive, meat and bread prices are about the same. Produce you can get for very cheap, especially if one goes to La Vega.

Major credit cards, such as Visa or MasterCard, are widely accepted throughout Chile, although many restaurants and shops do not accept any credit cards at all. Before leaving the U.S. check with your credit card company to be certain that your card can be used internationally. Also, be aware that the credit card company will determine the exchange rate for your purchases. You should arrange to have your bill paid by someone at home. We don't advise you to have your credit card bills mailed to you in Chile, as the postal services are too slow. You can get a cash advance on most credit cards, but you should note that interest charges would begin to accrue immediately. Finally, if you plan to rent a car while in Chile, you will need both a major credit card and an international driver's license.

We estimate that students will spend about US$150 per month on school supplies, entertainment, and personal items. Students wishing to travel on weekends should budget accordingly.

Telephones (Top)

The multi-carrier telecommunications system has existed in Chile since November 1994. To date there are some ten independent companies that offer different rates for calling the U.S. and Europe from Chile. Prices vary daily according to supply-demand and there are constantly promotional rates that appear on local television commercials, as well as in newspaper ads. Average rates for calling the U.S. in 1997 have ranged from $531 CLP (cheap rate) and $354 CLP (expensive rate) (approximately US $1.3 and US $0.9 respectively) per minute.

Depending on your housing situation, you will probably not be permitted to make direct long-distance telephone calls to your home country; in this case, you should go to public telephone offices which permit long-distance access.

To make an international call from Chile you must dial the multi-carrier code of your choice, a three-digit number (171, 123, 120, or 188 for instance), then a zero (0) for international calls, then the country code (1 for the US, 49 for Germany, for instance), then the city code or area code (415 for San Francisco, for example), and then the telephone number. Advise friends and family at home that all phone calls in Chile have a repeated four-tone beep before connecting. This is not a busy signal! They should hold the line until they hear either a ring or a busy signal.

Calling cards can be purchased at kiosks in Santiago and these cards work in many of the public telephone booths in most major cities in Chile. You can also dial 103 for more general information on multi-carrier rates. An international operator can help you to make a collect call (cobro revertido). Area code for Chile is 56; City code for Santiago is 2.

Skype is a popular means of calling home. Students only have to download it, purchase a headset – you can buy them in the U.S. for about $5.00 at any electronics store - , and the calls only cost 2 cents a minute. It’s the cheapest way to call home and as long as you have a good internet connection (and Santiago has good high-speed internet connections) then you’re fine. Plus you don’t have to deal with knowing country codes or anything, Skype does it all for you.

Transportation (Top)

Buses: Bus fares cost $380 pesos (US$ 0.70). The buses are numbered and their routes/destinations are listed at each bus stop.Warning: you will see that the Chileans may run into the street to wave down the bus they want to board. Be very careful, watch for traffic, and if necessary, wait for the next bus if you can't get the one that's passing by.

Metro: A new public transportation system, Transantiago, was inaugurated on the second week of February. An electronic pass card will be required to use both buses and Metro. There are now five Metro lines: 1, 2, 4, 4A, and 5. Prices are $380 and $420 pesos (non-peak and peak hours, respectively).

Taxis: Taxis are more expensive but offer another alternative. The taxis in Santiago are painted black and yellow. Taxis charge an initial fee of $200 pesos, plus about $100 pesos every 200 meters.

Health (Top)

Most North Americans do not require vaccinations for entry into Chile. It is wise, however, to check with your family doctor or campus health center. In addition, you may want to read the Centers for Disease Control web page:
Although Santiago has an excellent water system, as does Chile in general, be careful about drinking the water at first. It is common for travelers going almost anywhere to develop stomach problems or diarrhea during a short period of adjustment. You are advised to drink bottled water during your first weeks in Chile. Raw fruits and vegetables should be washed with a mixture of water and a non-toxic chemical (i.e. Zonalin, sold in supermarkets) to kill bacteria and remove pesticides. Cooked produce is safe to eat without any special treatment.

Bring a supply of any medications you are currently taking with you, as it may be difficult to obtain the same medication in Chile without visiting a doctor. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, bring an extra pair. You may also want to bring over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or Pepto-Bismol, although similar remedies are available in Chile.

Safety Issues (Top)

Street crime can be a problem in metropolitan Santiago. Be particularly alert while walking in the downtown area, especially in the late afternoon, after dark, or on weekends, even in well-traveled areas. In Santiago and other large Chilean cities, thieves thrive on rush hour crowding on the street and aboard public transportation.

Crime is prevalent at crowded tourist locations, at Metro (subway) stations, on trains and buses, and occasionally in taxis. Persons wearing expensive-looking jewelry or carrying luggage or cameras are favorite targets for pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Bags and briefcases are stolen from chairs in restaurants and outdoor cafes. Outside Santiago, robberies and assaults have occurred most frequently in the Vina del Mar and Valparaiso area, which becomes increasingly crowded during the height of the Chilean summer (December-February).

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. This publication and others, such as Tips for Travelers to Central and South America are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402; via the Internet at; or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

Vacation Travel (Top)

Chile is over 2,500 miles long, but is seldom wider than 120 miles. Santiago, the capital, is located in the middle of the country. It is also the country's cultural, educational, and financial center. It is home to many museums and parks. Be sure to explore all of Santiago!

Remember that you will have a rather long (10 week) summer break during your year abroad (December 15 - March 1). Of course, you will want to explore the rest of Chile, and this might be a great time to do so. Because distances between cities are so great, air travel will allow you to see more. You will want to buy a guidebook to take with you. Be sure you purchase one that includes destinations in Chile as well as other countries in South America. Reminder: Whenever you leave the country, bring the cedula with you. You need it, along with your passport, whenever you travel outside of Chile.

Stop by the Oficina de Turismo (Merced 860, Casa Colorada & Avenida Providencia, 2088) to pick up travel information. To give you an idea of the price range for adventure outings around Chile, check out the following websites:,

Additional web sites we've found that provide interesting travel information include:


Año Nuevo

January 1

Pascua de Resurrección

March/April (variable)

Día del Trabajo

May 1

Combate Naval de Iquique

May 21

Corpus Christi

June 15

Día de San Pedro y San Pablo

June 29

Día de la Asunción de la Virgen

August 15

Pronunciamiento Militar

September 11

Fiestas Patrias

September 18

Día del Ejército

September 19

Día de la Raza

October 12

Día de Todos los Santos

November 1

Día de la Inmaculada Concepción

December 8

Navidad (often called Pascua)

December 25

Before You Go (Top)

Pesos: The money used in Chile is the Peso ($ CLP = Chilean Peso). You should get some Pesos before you go to familiarize yourself with the currency and to have a little bit of local currency with you before you arrive.

Spanish Language: Be sure to brush up on your Spanish before you go, especially your writing skills if you have not taken a formal composition class in awhile. Realize that if you are a native Spanish speaker the Spanish spoken in Chile may sound slightly different from what you are used to hearing. For example, they say “como estai” instead of “como estas”. Slight differences like this will only take you a short while to adjust to, and the Chileans will definitely understand your Spanish, so don't worry about this.

Local Phrases/Slang (Top)

Al tiro

Right away



Mino/a, Gallo/a



Nerd, silly one


1000 pesos








Get it? Do you understand?



Es penca

It sucks

Qué lata!

What a drag!

No estoy ni ahí

I am not into that

De repente

Suddenly or sometimes

Nunca tanto

It is not so bad as that

Legal Affairs (Top)

You may want to assign "Power of Attorney" to give a member of your family permission to act on your behalf in California while you are gone in the following kinds of situations: requesting W-2 forms, bank statements, university mail/business, and driver's license renewal.

Things to Pack (Top)

This is a list of recommended items to bring. It is by no means a complete list, but is intended to give you a few ideas about what to pack. Remember you have to be able to carry your entire luggage by yourself. We recommend that you use two suitcases with wheels. That plus one carry on is all that you should take. Put a change of underwear and a toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry on to hold you over just in case your luggage does not arrive.

The Chilean students dress very casually, jeans and t-shirts for both male and female. You can definitely wear jeans to school, but, for example, guys shouldn't wear loose tank tops and girls shouldn't wear tight, short skirts. During warmer weather many women at the university wear skirts, long and short, as well as dresses. They wear capris and tank tops. Guys will wear shorts, and oftentimes women will too. Many women wear knee-length shorts. However, if you (females) are accustomed to wearing shorts during the summer, be prepared to have men stare, whistle and make catcalls. Women in Chile don't wear shorts as much as they do in California.

  • Thermal Underwear
  • Fold-up umbrella
  • A warm winter coat and several sweaters for winter (June-September)
  • Cotton clothes for the summer (December-March)
  • Good comfortable walking shoes
  • Make two photocopies of your passport and bring them with you (keep them in a safe place, but NOT with your passport)
  • Portable clothesline
  • A good Spanish grammar book
  • Sewing kit
  • Contact lenses/glasses prescriptions and supplies
  • Sports water bottle for traveling/hiking