American, Australian, and Canadian travelers to Buenos Aires: Keep your cash in your pocket, and take out your credit card instead.

A NEW WRINKLE in the reciprocity fees charged to tourists and business travelers visiting Argentina has surfaced. Now, instead of folding your hard-earned $160 (for Americans) into your passport (which, quite honestly, feels a little like a bribe) upon entering the country, you’ve got to arrange the whole shebang online, before you even get in the air.

I was pretty disgruntled to learn that Argentina had instituted a reciprocity fee in late 2009, charging passport holders from the US, Canada, and Australia a fee to enter Argentina through either of Buenos Aires’ airports. For someone like me, who lives in Santiago, carries an American passport, and likes to travel, that meant a sure-thing lightening of my wallet the next time I visited.

Requirements affecting US, Canadian, and Australian citizens

But at least my payment gets me unlimited entries to Argentina for ten years for a sum of $160 (raised in April, as predicted). Canadians, on the other hand, pay $75 per visit (unless they’re coming and going from bordering countries, in which case it covers multiple entries), and Australians pay $100 for unlimited visits for one year.

The newest innovation — an online payment system — eradicates the old pay-cash-at-the-airport regine, and means if you don’t pony up online, you’re not getting into Argentina. The system goes into effect as of October 31st, 2012 for flights to Aeroparque, and December 28th, 2012 for flights to Ezeiza.

How to pay the fee

To pay, go to the website, register, make your payment, print the receipt. and bring it with you to the airport in Buenos Aires, where it will be scanned and you can enter the country. Since the system is not yet in effect, it’s too early to say whether or not it works smoothly.

Benefits

One thing the online payment system should do is speed up the immigration process for the non-MERCOSUR lines at the airport. Ezeiza’s continued expansion, including the opening of terminal C in December 2011, have stressed the already overwhelmed facilities, often leading to long lines to enter the country. When I paid the fee in early March of 2010, it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to clear immigration…though part of that was my failed argument that as a permanent resident of a MERCOSUR country, I shouldn’t have to pay the fee.

Workarounds

Workarounds to paying the reciprocity fee include taking international flights into other points in Argentina, such as Mendoza, Córdoba, Rosario, or Salta, or coming in overland from a bordering country (Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, or Uruguay). One popular option is to fly into Montevideo and take the Buquebus ferry (or a bus and ferry combo) into Argentina’s capital.

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