For many years now, Chile’s economy has been the continent’s most productive, and its institutional stability and low corruption levels have made it an investors’ favorite—in 2006, according to the Latin Business Index, Chile was the region’s best country; at the same time, The Economist named Santiago second best in its survey of regional cities. Chile and the United States have a bilateral free trade agreement that has eliminated tariffs on nearly all imported goods, and their trade has more than doubled since 2003 (rising copper prices account for much of this statistic).
That, however, does not eliminate the need to understand the cultural and legal context of business or investment here; before signing any deal, consult a local lawyer recommended by your embassy, consulate, or a truly trusted friend.
Good background sources on business, for those who read Spanish, are financial dailies such as Estrategia (www.estrategia.cl). Exporters should look at the U.S. Commercial Service’s Chile page (www.buyusa.gov/chile/en) for suggestions.
Conducting business is as much a personal and social activity as an economic one. Initial contacts may be formal, with appointments arranged well in advance, but topics such as family and sports are often part of the conversation. Formality in dress and appearance is less rigid than it once was, but in sectors like banking it’s still the rule.
Spanish-language skills are a plus, though many Chilean business figures speak English well (and more than a few have been educated in English-speaking countries). The best months for business travel are April–November; in January and February, when school lets out and Chilean take their summer vacations, Santiago can seem almost deserted. Many people also leave for winter holidays, the last two weeks of July.
Nearly all important business-oriented organizations are in Santiago. One critically important contact is the national customs headquarters, the Servicio Nacional de Aduanas (Plaza Sotomayor 60, Valparaíso, tel. 0322/200513, www.aduana.cl). If importing equipment for permanent use, it’s essential to deal with them through an agente de aduanas (private customs broker).
U.S. citizens can get advice at the Cámara Chileno Norteamericana de Comercio (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Av. Presidente Kennedy 5735, Oficina 201, Torre Poniente, Las Condes, tel. 02/2909700, www.amchamchile.cl). Its Chilean counterpart is the Cámara de Comercio de Santiago (Santiago Chamber of Commerce, Monjitas 392, tel. 02/3607049, www.ccs.cl).
Chile’s stock exchange is the Bolsa de Comercio de Santiago (La Bolsa 64, tel. 02/3993000, www.bolsadesantiago.com).
For agricultural contacts, visit the Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura (National Agricultural Society, Tenderini 187, Santiago, tel. 02/5853300, www.sna.cl).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition