Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Update: Chilean ATMs, Patagonian Ferries

Not so long ago, the least painful way of changing money for visitors to the Southern Cone countries was the ATM at the corner bank. It’s still the simplest but, as banks began to impose transaction fees about two years ago, it’s no longer painless--in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, charges of US$3--7.50 per withdrawal have become commonplace.

In fact, in Argentina and Uruguay, they’ve been universal for some time, but in Chile a handful of banks have held out against the trend. Recently, though, Corpbanca and Scotiabank have joined the stampede, leaving only two banks in the country that do not collect the fees: Banco Security, which has only five branches outside Santiago, and BancoEstado, the state-run bank that is often the only bank in small communities that otherwise would have no banking services whatsoever. Fortunately, that means BancoEstado has probably the widest network of ATMs in the country.

BancoEstado is now my default option when I need to withdraw money from my accounts in the US, but some expats have complained that Chilean banks have recently reduced the maximum withdrawal per transaction from 390,000 pesos (about US$830) to 200,000 pesos (about US$425). My feeling is that this is more significant for those resident foreigners, who may make large household purchases or other payments, than it is to short-term visitors, who will pay many of their expenses by credit card. Still, the fewer transactions you have to make, the lower your transaction fees will be.

Ferry Update: the Carretera Austral

Meanwhile, according to my friend Hans Liechti of Travelaid in Pucón, Navimag has backed off its plan to withdraw service between Puerto Montt and Puerto Chacabuco, and will continue to operate the passenger and cargo ferry Puerto Edén (pictured above) until at least mid-February. At the same, Naviera Austral’s connections to the northern Carretera Austral port of Chaitén continue to be in flux or even disorder - in January, for instance, the ferry Don Baldo will sail weekly from the insular Chiloé port of Castro to Chaitén, but modifications underway on the ferry dock have meant that only passengers and bicycles - not automobiles or even motorcycles - have been able to use it. Fortunately, those works appear to have been completed and Naviera (whose abandoned Chaitén office appears below) is once again accepting vehicle reservations for the Don Baldo.

On the other hand, Naviera’s other ferry Pincoya has been able to use the dock as it exists now, and will still sail from Puerto Montt to Chaitén at least twice weekly, carrying both automobiles and passengers - I’m scheduled to go on the evening of the 28th, arriving in Chaitén early the next morning. Space is limited, though, and I managed to snag one of the last vehicle spots on board.

The best way to approach the Carretera Austral has been Naviera’s summer service from Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo, the gateway to Parque Pumalín. After the 2008 eruption of Volcán Chaitén damaged the road south of Caleta Gonzalo, though, that service has not operated for the last two seasons. After sending an email to Naviera about this season’s service, I received an ambiguous reply: “We are waiting for approval from the Ministry of Transportation to see if we will be able to operate this route and, whenever we have information, we will let you know.” Given that this service normally runs only in January and February, and the holidays are a major distraction, time is growing short.

6 comments:

  1. Note that Canadian Scotiabank customers can use Scotiabank ATMs in Chile and elsewhere for free. This would also seem to apply for clients of Bank of America, Barclays and some other major banks.

    http://www.scotiabank.com/cda/content/0,1608,CID8040_LIDen,00.html

    On my recent trip in Chile, I wasn't notified of any extra fee by the Scotiabank ATM, although I'll have to examine my statements carefully.

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  2. A point well-taken. However, I have my doubts about the other banks - for many years, when I withdrew money at Citibank ATMs in Argentina and Chile, I would always get a service charge with the notation that I had withdrawn "from a non-Citibank ATM" - even though the statement said the money had come from Citibank. I had to go to my home branch to resolve the issue, which always resulted in a refund of the charges until a couple years ago, when Citi instituted charges for any overseas withdrawal. As for B of A and Barclays, they have no branches in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay of which I am aware.

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  3. I think a B of A, DB or Barclays customer should be able to use a Scotiabank ATM without charge, since it's presumably a multilateral arrangement between these various banks. They should keep the ATM slip and check their statements carefully, though.

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  4. Again, a worthwhile comment. For my part, I will continue to use BancoEstado, since I know that, at least for the time being, it collects no service charge.

    For what it's worth, a Citibank manager recently told my wife that there would be no charge at Citi's overseas ATMs if we maintained at least US$250,000 in Citibank accounts. Big help that is.

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  5. In todays's (25th Dec) El Mercurio there is a map and article in the national section about the new road and ferry routes on the Carretera Austral. Email it to yourself to keep.
    www.mer.cl

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  6. FYI, I received my December bank statement from Scotiabank in Canada, and I wasn't charged an ATM fee for using a Chilean Scotiabank. I lost 3% on the exchange.

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