Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Desolate Market: Selling - Not Buying - a Car in Argentina or Chile

Last Thurday’s post on purchasing a car in Argentina or Chile drew a couple comments, from Chuck Goolsbee (who came to a talk of mine in Seattle a few months ago) and Bruce Lakin (whom I met recently in Malalcahuello), that deserve a little more elaboration. I’ll deal with Bruce’s questions first, and Chuck’s in the coming days.

Bruce’s question dealt with selling a foreign vehicle - in his case a Subaru registered in Ecuador - in either Argentina or Chile. This is extremely difficult because of customs issues and taxes. I’d go so far as to say it’s almost impossible in Argentina, legally at least, and doing it illegally is risky: he could either lose the vehicle for evasion of taxes and other regulations, or by getting involved in the black market for vehicles. I have no doubt Bruce could sell the vehicle in Paraguay, where just about anything goes, and so-called mau cars, stolen in neighboring countries, are everywhere. This, though, would be even riskier.

I once disposed of a California-licensed vehicle in Santiago, and I mean disposed of it - I literally gave away my 1979 Toyota pickup to the non-profit Ecole environmental cooperative in the town of Pucón, as it would have cost me more to ship it back to the States than it was worth. Nevertheless, it was a laborious process, not for me, but for the recipient - it took them months to work through the Chilean bureaucracy. Selling it would have been impossible.

In Chile, selling a used foreign vehicle can only be done in Region I (Tarapacá, capital Iquique, pictured above) and Region XII (Magallanes, capital Punta Arenas), both of which enjoy zona franca (duty-free zone) status. This means, though, that the purchaser cannot take the vehicle out of the region for more than 60 or 90 days per year (I can’t recall which). This limits the number of potential purchasers and, consequently, depresses the price. Should Bruce decide to sell his vehicle in either city, he’s not likely to get anything close to its worth on the open market in Ecuador, where he bought it.


  1. I enjoyed reading your articles and experiences. Good luck with the car issue!

  2. I'm keeping the car and driving it back to Ecuador. Or maybe Peru?
    Loved the picture of the beach.

  3. I have a car from the US I shipped to Argentina for the winter. Selling it, legally anyway, seems pretty difficult to impossible. Do you know anything about the ability to leave the car in Argentina for (within the limits of its 8 months temporary visa) and leave the country, ie, fly back to the states for a few months and return to continue travelling? Haven´t been able to find anything definitive and don´t want to ask at the border and get flagged for problems later.

  4. I have on occasion left my Chilean-registered car in Argentina while I made excursions to Uruguay, and have also left a U.S.-registered car there while I went to Paraguay. That said, I don't feel confident enough to guarantee you that you'd get away with it, and I would suggest consulting a private customs broker (not the government customs, which can be a nightmare to deal with). I can give you a reference to a reliable one in Buenos Aires if you contact me privately.

  5. That´s good to hear you´ve done it before. Are you suggesting I contact a customs broker to see what they have to say about the legality of leaving without my car? Also, having a hard time with my blogger ID, feel free to email me at camcham5@hotmail as the broker info might come in handy. Thanks for the info. This has been a slightly stressful issue for me.

  6. Quick question about driving from Chile into Argentina as a tourist - you don´t have to pay import fees? You can buy in Chile as a tourist, and then cross into Argentina to travel for a certain amount of months? What do they charge you at the border? I thought there were outrageous import costs... but maybe am misunderstanding!

  7. Idea for your next blog post - car insurance in S.America! If we buy a car in Chile - as tourists - drive to Argentina for six months - as tourists, then out of Argentina to Chile or whereever... how can we be insured? Through the U.S. or through some international company? As wouldn´t qualify for Chilean insurance - correct? or Agentinian - didn´t buy in Argentina but in Chile...

    A bit confused! Looking for your advice and much appreciated for all your help.

  8. I have driven from Chile into Argentina many times, with both California and Chilean vehicles, and the procedure is routine (presuming the vehicle is in your name; if not, you will need notarial permission to cross the border). It is now easy to purchase Argentine liability insurance, for up to a year, on the Chilean side of the border - in fact, it is obligatory, or the Argentines will not let your vehicle in. Collision and theft insurance, however, are a separate issue. Chilean insurance companies can provide this at an additional cost, but you'll probably have to arrange it in Santiago or another large city, and it's considerably more expensive than liability alone. In fact, they may not insure for theft at all, though I think the risk is minimal for anyone who is cautious.

  9. Excellent info, thank you. A friend who lives in San Rafael, Arg. suggested these companies for insurance - Caja & Mapfre (I think that´s correct). Do you recommend either? I am researching now before we buy.

    Here´s her experience via email:

    "Well, we insure with is one of the bigger ones here...and we insure that's everything.....including hail damage...there is awesome hail in this part of the world.Also includes breakdown pick up etc. We pay 300 pesos per month for three vehicles...two cars and a motorbike. There is another company called Mapfre ..."

    Excellent blog and appreciate the prompt reply.


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