One of the few government enterprises that works fairly well in Chile is the Metro (subway) system, which is used by millions of people every day. There are presently five Metro lines in Santiago, with two others being built, one line from Valparaíso through Viña del Mar and inland to Limache, and the two lines of Biotrén in Concepción (a train, not a subway, that serves a similar purpose as a subway).

These places also have extensive local bus service, just like every other significantly-populated part of Chile does, not to mention a grand array of inter-urban coaches (some with business class accommodations) that have terminals in or close to Metro stations. The local bus lines and Metro are fully integrated in Santiago, in a system called Transantiago (which is also well-integrated with Google maps so one can easily plan his trip).

In Valparaíso/Viña del Mar, the Metro line is only integrated from the (inland) Limache station by Metro-buses that connect to smaller cities of Olmué, La Cruz, La Calera and Quillota. The ticket cost for this Metro depends on how far one travels and is called a boleto único when it is incorporated with a bus ride out of the Limache station.

In Concepción it is called a boleto integrado and the ticket is good for designated bus connections–perhaps more than in Valparaíso/Viña del Mar–but these Metro-micros are often not near the Biotrén stations and locals say that using them end up being more trouble than they are worth by the time one has to walk 4 or 5 long blocks to make the connection. In both of these metropolitan areas, the Metro and bus (micro) cost is a little less than in Santiago. For instance, in Concepción, a combination ticket is 490 pesos, which is up to 18% less. Footnote: that Metro is the worst of the three in Chile since it is really just a converted older train line.

The Santiago Metro is clean and the rubber wheels on the train make the ride relatively smooth and quiet. The biggest hassle with the Santiago Metro is the sardine-style travel during weekday rush hour (8:00a.m.-9:30a.m. and 6:00p.m.-7:30p.m.), which should be avoided if possible. While Metro tickets can be bought for single rides within the Metro stations, there are no single-ride tickets for buses. Within Santiago, bus conductors do not accept cash to pay the fare. Local bus lines outside of Santiago are paid in cash to the conductor.

The regional bus (micro) prices can be as low as US$0.40 per ride, around 250 pesos, up to around US$0.75, around 400 pesos. If one goes by colectivo in the regions, a shared taxi with up to 4 passengers that runs on a fixed route, the fare can be up to US$1, about 500 to 600 pesos typically. (These colectivos can cost double, triple or quadruple in Santiago.)

Regional micros and colectivos will stop anywhere along a route, not just in designated bus stops. The micros are color-coded in Valparaíso/Viña del Mar according to the route’s main service area. In Santiago micros only stop at designated bus stops. Be sure to look for the number of your bus on the sign at the bus stop.

Within the Santiago metropolitan area one must purchase a Bip! card (pronounced “beep”) to use the buses, and it is worthwhile doing since significant savings can be obtained. The cost per ride depends on the time of day, presently raging from 520 pesos to 580 pesos (US$0.95 to US$1.05), with transfers costing 0 pesos up to 20 pesos more (US$0.04).

Bip! card can be purchased in any Metro station in Santiago for around 1,650 pesos (US$3) and can be reused until it is lost or stolen. For the Merval system card used in Valparaíso/Viña del Mar the cost is 1,350 pesos (US$2.45) or 5,000 pesos (US$9.10) if you prefer a personalized card. The Biotrén card is 1,600 pesos (US$2.90) but includes 900 pesos of recharge value.

Recharging the Santiago Bíp! card is done in any Metro station or in designated centers throughout the city, as are the cards for the two other Chilean Metro systems in their stations and designated points in their metropolitan areas. The maps below shows the Santiago Metro system (with both present lines and those under construction), Concepción’s Biotrén system and the Merval Metro system for Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and inland 5th Region communities.

In Santiago, a Bip! fare is good for three rides within 2 hours, however one may only ride the Metro once, and there may be small transfer fees charged (up to 20 pesos, US$0.04) when going from bus to Metro. Upon entering each bus or Metro platform the Bip! card must be passed over the designated sensor and the fare due is charged automatically against the card’s balance.

One may not ride a bus with the same route number more than once without being charged an additional fare. However, the system does not take into account the direction of travel. Thus, if one plans well, and can do his errands quickly, he can take, for instance, the Metro downtown and ride back aboard a bus without paying an additional fare. Or, one can ride bus number X one way and return on bus number Y if the two bus routes coincide for one’s planned travel. Once inside the Metro, one can ride for many hours if desired, moving from line to line. So long as he does not exit the turn-style (gates) he is never charged another fare.

Students and elderly residents pay a dramatically reduced rate, especially on the Metro. They should inquire locally about how to obtain the reduced fare. In Chile, there is a a strong cultural preference to allow elderly, disabled and women use the seats. Men under 60 and especially young people usually stand except during times of low usage.

Public transportation is somewhat of a class issue in Chile. I know many people in the upper classes (ABC1) who have never been on a city bus. Some of them will however take the Metro and perhaps a colectivo, especially to avoid parking cost and problems downtown. And certainly they have no problem on the inter-urban bus services, which can be both convenient and even slightly luxurious.

Most people coming down from countries north of the Tropic of Cancer are not going to be very class-conscious and will enjoy using public transportation from time to time. The main concern for anyone, especially on crowded Metro cars or buses, is to beware of pickpockets.

     Chile is a freer place than most countries and looks better and better all the time. You might consider investing in the country and even moving to Chile. Chile has a new sustainable community starting called Freedom Orchard. Check it out. Buy your “Plan B” lot in it, and diversify out of the decaying assets in “First World” nations.
Also, be sure to tune in to Dr. Cobin’s radio program: “Red Hot Chile” at noon (ET) on Fridays on the Overseas Radio Network (ORN). You can also join the thousands of other people who download the shows each month via the archive link on our Red Hot Chile page (recorded show updated every Monday morning).
Be sure, too, to visit for discussion and forums about the country and what’s going on with Freedom Orchard.
Dr. Cobin’s book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost every topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service – Chile Consulting – where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $49.
Dr. Cobin’s sequel book, Expatriates to Chile: Topics for Living, adds even further depth on important topics to expatriates who either live in Chile already or who have Chile on the short list of countries where they hope to immigrate. The book deals with crucial issues pertaining to urban and rural real estate transactions, natural disasters, issues pertaining to emigration and its urgency, money and the quality of life, medical care and insurance, business opportunities, social manifestations (including welfare state and divorce policy concerns), Chile in the freedom indices, social maladies (lying, cheating, stealing and murder), as well as discussion of a few places worth visiting and some further comments about Santiago.
For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights found in the two larger books.
Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at
Christian Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience (2006)
Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective (2003)
A Primer on Modern Themes in Free Market Economics and Policy (2009)These and other resources can be found on the Escape America Now resource page.