SANTIAGO Dec 16 Shopping bags in hand, Silvia
Lopez enthusiastically surveys the racks of children's clothes
in the Costanera Center, Chile's largest mall, seeking Christmas
presents for her grandchildren.
Like thousands of her compatriots, the pensioner from
Argentina has traveled to Santiago's well-stocked shopping
centers to search for bargains.
In the year to October, some 2.3 million Argentines entered
Chile, up 55 percent from the same period last year, according
to statistics from the tourist board. Many come to shop.
In the first nine months of 2016, they spent $651 million in
Chile, representing about a third of the country's total tourist
The influx reflects an advantageous exchange rate but also
how the economies of the two South American neighbors have
diverged in recent years.
While Chile has one of the most open economies in the world,
with well-known retailers from the United States and Europe
filling its malls, Argentina saw international companies leave
under tough protectionist measures in recent years.
A year ago, business-friendly President Mauricio Macri was
elected, promising change in Argentina. One immediate effect has
been an often less stringent enforcement of strict customs rules
at airports, which makes it easier for shoppers re-entering the
country to bring in goods purchased abroad.
The phenomenon recalls the 1990s, when Argentine shoppers to
Florida were known as the "deme dos" - Spanish for "I'll take
"It's like a second Miami, that's what we're saying," Lopez
said. "Among friends and family we are sharing information about
An LED television that costs some 12,000 Argentine pesos
($750) in Buenos Aires retails in Santiago for as little as
"The Argentines buy in quantity, some of them arrive with
enormous empty suitcases at the mall before it opens," said
Maria Jose Martinez, marketing head at the Costanera Center,
owned by Chilean retailer Cencosud.
More than 70 percent of visitors who sign up for the mall's
tourist discount plan are from Argentina, she said.
Chile's natural attractions are a big draw for many people,
such as law student Viviana Bianco, who came to see the Atacama
Desert. But still she found it hard to resist the bargains.
"If it's half the price, we're going to end up shopping,"
($1 = 16.0000 Argentine pesos)
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero in Santiago; Additional reporting
by Nicolas Misculin in Buenos Aires; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien;
Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Shumaker)