In our home country the government had been very strict with Covid regulations over the past two years. Recently, however Covid was declared no longer a threat to national health so we regained our freedom, visit restaurants without restrictions, go to museums and concerts and do away with mouth masks. In other words, back to normal. Maybe a bit ignorant but we felt that this was the time to visit Chile, home country of Carolina. It had been 2 years since she had been with her old mother.
Prior to flying we had our first encounter with Chilean health bureaucracy. Bureaucracy in Chile has always been a bit of a pain but now it included all kind of Covid restrictions. Not only did we need to present a recent PCR test prior to flying, which makes total sense but we also had to supply forms that we had been vaccinated and that our health care insurance would cover any Covid related cost. On top of that our vaccinations had to be certified by the Chilean Health Ministry which was hiding behind a website called “Me Vacuno”. For a while I thought that Vacuno had exclusively to do with cows but that was incorrect, a cow is a “vacuno” in Spanish as well as a vaccine.
Although the website was in English, all correspondence was in Spanish. A few days after uploading all the necessary information, I was approved to travel. Great. However, Carolina kept on getting information that her application was pending. Not a good sign and the first alarm bells started to go off in our heads. Nevertheless, as we were otherwise fully prepared to travel and our Chilean family was eager to meet us (as were we) after two years of not seeing each other, we decided to go ahead with the trip.
Carolina and I were traveling the same day but not on the same flight. Carolina traveled via Atlanta and I had a direct flight from Amsterdam to Santiago. We were to meet at the airport in Santiago where we would arrive only 30 minutes apart. We had 3 1/2 transfer time to take our final flight to Temuco, in the south of Chile. More than enough time to travel comfortably, so we thought.
A direct flight from Amsterdam to Santiago sounds very comfortable but it means that you have to sit in your seat for 14 1/2 hours which is long and tiring. The important thing however, my plane arrived on time. Carolina had some delay but we still arrived more or less at the same time and we both started our process through Chilean bureaucracy. Each in a different terminal, Carolina in the old terminal and I had the pleasure to be processed in the brand new international terminal that had opened one hour prior to the arrival of the plane from Amsterdam. The new terminal was advertised by the Chilean president as a big step forward. Pfff, big words.
Unsurprisingly both in the old terminal and in the new terminal the immigration process proved to be horrific. Sorry, there is no other word for it. Chilean authorities call the process “Paso a Paso” (step by step) but a better name would have been “Paso Lento” (slow step) or ” Muchos Pasos” (a lot of steps). Let me go through the different steps we had to take and the different lines we had to endure before we could take our next flight.
i) the first step after arrival was to go through health immigration. As I arrived at the new terminal it included a 20 minute walk prior to the first waiting line. We arrived in a plane with around 230 passengers and there were only 6 officials available to check medical documents. Each processed person took around 5 minutes so you can calculated the waiting time. Thanks God I was at the front of the plane so my waiting time was only 15 minutes. The processing itself was even faster, I got declined entree right away because the approval of my documents (which I had obtained prior to flying) were a few hours older than the maximum time of 48 hours. What the hell, who came up with this rule? Why was it not mentioned on the website?
Carolina of course was declined as well as her certification process was still pending. It appeared to be a governmental/system mistake as her vaccinations were fine and up to date but she was anyhow told to go in to a seven days quarantine. What the logic behind this decision is nobody could tell her. The rule is that if the health bureaucracy makes a mistake, you need to pay the price and go in to quarantine.
ii) Together with 25% of all passengers, I was referred to a special room in order to re-do the health immigration documents. This could only be done on a phone. Can you imagine downloading documents in a hardly to read “Me Vacuno” website. What a disaster. The staff at the airport was very friendly though and with their kind assistance I managed to get the right documents uploaded and was referred to line number two to again have my “certification of vaccination” approved. Please note that the information that needs to be approved was exactly the same as when I was in line one. The only change was that the hour / date of preparation was different. This time I got approved!!!! Hoorah, one step closer to the pisco sours, churrascos and the best seafood in the world.
iii) After a brisk walk I lined up for registration for a new PCR Covid test although I had already a recent negative PCR test. I needed to be registered prior to testing which added another 15 minutes to the process.
iv) Another walk and in line to get a PCR test. At this moment I started to be nervous if we would make our connection at all. I already suffer from high blood pressure and all this waiting and lining up did not make it any better. Moreover Carolina’s plane had landed 15 minutes after my arrival and so she was behind me in the process. PCR test itself was quick so the process continued.
v) Next line was immigration: control of passport. The new terminal was clearly built with a view of growth. At least 40 immigration desks were available for only a handful of passengers. Good for me, only a short line and the process continued.
vi) Picking up luggage was fast because by this time I had already been almost two hours at the airport so the luggage was waiting for me at the belt. Chile has a special process called SAG. These are the people who check at the airport if you don’t bring fresh fruits or seeds into the country. This process has always been slow and it still is despite the terminal being brand new.
Now it was time to move to the domestic terminal to catch the flight to Temuco and to meet Carolina. It was not so obvious where to go and I had to ask. Probably had to do with the fact that the international terminal was new and that the person who was responsible for the signs informing how to go from the international to the domestic terminal just forgot about it.
Another brisk walk of 15 minutes, this time with luggage. It was going to be close if we were going to make our flight. As I was ahead of Carolina I decided to already check in and get the labels for our luggage. This is all automated through machines but anyhow these machines needed to be sternly talked to before they spit out the necessary papers. In the meantime Carolina had arrived. No time for hugs and kisses as by this time we were running late.
vii) we moved to the line to drop off our luggage. Unfortunately we were too late, we had missed the cut off time by 5 minutes.
viii) So we had to stand in line to get new tickets for our domestic flight. We were able to transfer to a flight in the afternoon.
ix) final line, security check before entering the national terminal. Nobody in line, nobody. We could not believe our luck.
The conclusion of this day is that Chilean bureaucracy is taking full benefit of the Covid pandemic. It has always been somewhat cumbersome to get into Chile but now they have perfected the system in such a way that it gets your blood pressure hitting dangerous levels.
A second conclusion is that you need at least 4 hours between an international flight and a domestic flight. Probably better to stay overnight in Santiago and travel onwards the next day. It is much less stressful.
The next few days the Chilean government institutions kept on sending us all kind of emails on our whereabouts but we chose to ignore these. Maybe this will bite us in the a** in a few days but so be it. There is only so much bureaucracy one can and wants to handle. Carolina’s quarantine ended after one day when her PCR test turned out negative and her vaccines were finally validated. A very nice lady from the Health Ministry came to check on her making sure that she was doing the quarantine properly… case of miss communication..
One thought on “Travel to Southern Chile in Covid times”
I’m happy you could get back to Chile,Wow…. My blood pressure was rising and I don’t even speak Spanish I would be there all week!😳 looking forward to the next chapter of your trip