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Image by chrisstreeter.

$700 on visas, and I’m not done yet.

IF COUNTRIES COULD all just get along, I would be almost $700 richer. That $700 I would promptly spend on visiting one of my last remaining countries in South America, Paraguay.

But as it stands, I don’t have that $700, because I spent it on visas and reciprocity fees, and visiting Paraguay will set me back yet another visa fee. If I go I will have paid the reciprocity or visa fees for every country in South America that charges them to US passport holders.

To be clear: reciprocity is not a visa. It involves passports and cash (or credit card) but no photos, no paperwork, just cold hard cash at the airport. Visas are handled usually through the consulate, though in some but not all cases, they can be obtained at the border. There you have to hand over your color glossy photo of your beautiful self and do some seriously small writing in undersized boxes, and possibly provide other information such as hotel reservations, vaccinations, proof of solvency, etc.

Below is every country in South America that charges visa or reciprocity to US-passport holders. In the cases of reciprocity, clever travel options (overland, lesser airports) may mean you can avoid them. It is also theoretically (and practically) possible to walk past immigration without showing your passport, like on the bridge from Foz de Iguazu, Brazil, over the Puente de la Amistad which spans the Paraná River into Paraguay, a relatively uncontrolled border. But I cannot recommend this.

South American visas and reciprocity fees

It's up to $140 now, though in 2004 it was just $100.

Chile, oh beautiful Chile with your skiing in the winter and long Patagonian hikes in summer, and your $140 reciprocity fee charged to Americans at SCL airport. Australians and Canadians will be set back $61, and $132, respectively, and Albanians and Mexican nationals also have to pay. This reciprocity fee is charged only at the SCL in Santiago, and is good for the life of your passport. If you’re flying into, say, Arica in the north, Punta Arenas in the south, or even Easter Island via Lima or Papeete, the reciprocity fee is not charged. You can also come in overland (or by boat), and the fee is not charged. In summary: Chile= $140.

Argentine reciprocity, $140 and an entire passport page.

Argentina, (disputed) home of the tango, land of gauchos, and another $140 reciprocity fee for Americans. Despite signs in the airport that indicate “Mercosur residents,” I learned the hard way that unless you hold multiple passports, Americans, Australians and Canadians will get dinged, in Argentina, residency in Mercosur countries notwithstanding. Aussies pay $100, and like Americans, the reciprocity fee is good for ten years (not the life of your passport). Canadians pay only $70, but their reciprocity fee is good for only a single entry. This fee is collected at both Buenos Aires airports, but no where else for now. Short story: Argentina= $140.

Another page, another visa, another $140.

Brazil was high on my list. I wanted to eat açaí on the beach, and see good friends in Sao Paulo. I did not want to pay $140 in visa fees to do it, but barring running afoul of the law in Brazil, I had no choice. Visas must be obtained at the consulate with the usual rigamarole, paperwork, passport-sized photo and are good for five years. Sadly, my Brazilian visa is now lapsed, so I’ll have to get it again if I want to go again (and of course I do). Point: Brazil= $140

Bolivian visa sets you back $140.

Bolivia, with altiplano, jungle and more kinds of potatoes than there are colors of M and Ms and skittles combined, wanted me to have a visa, too. This I dutifully applied for in Santiago, proof of yellow fever vaccination, paperwork, hotel reservations, and a letter explaining my plans in Bolivia handed over, along with the receipt showing I’d deposited the $140 into the consulate bank account. If you get your visa at the border, some of these requirements are more flexible, such as the letter with your plans, and the hotel reservation, but you don’t want to mess around with a yellow fever vax at the border. Sumando: Bolivia: $140

Suriname's handwritten visa, $100, plus $10 "processing fee."

Suriname, the hugely multicultural yet geographically-small country presented the biggest problem for me, since Suriname has no diplomatic relations with Chile, where I live. I could have paid a service to ferry my passport hither and yon, but in the end, it seemed simplest, and safest (though not cheapest) to go to Trinidad, where for $110 ($100 plus a $10 processing fee charged by the consulate), I was given this hand-written beauty in my clunker of a passport. For a single entry, US citizens can get a tourist card at a Surinamese embassy ahead of time for $25, as can of many other countries. Dutch citizens flying into Paramaribo from the Netherlands can buy a tourist card at the airport. Suriname full access: $100. (Frozen coffee drink consumed while waiting, $4.)

Paraguay, oh Paraguay, where I will drink tereré (cold mate, an herbal drink) and visit the former missions, will be the last in my expensive fill-in-the-passport for South America visa game. I’ll get to choose between a $65 one-time visa, and $100 for multiple entries. It’s only good for 90 days, so it will depend on how I plan on using it (overland, crossing in and out of Argentina/Brazil/Bolivia, or just busing/flying in and out). Paraguay permission: $65/$100. For more information on taking this trip from Buenos Aires, see this piece.

I really do wish that countries could all just play well together, you let my people in, I let your people in, without all these visas and fees. Countries are clearly charging more than it costs them to process the paperwork, and my country of birth (the US) is no exception. And as more than one person on travel forums I visit has pointed out, the citizens always come up short. Country A charges citizens of Country B reciprocity and visa fees in part (they say) to compensate for monies their citizens pay to visit (or apply for a visa for) in Country A. But the money I paid to Argentina (for example) as reciprocity because the US charges Argentines to apply for a visa will never end up in the pocket of an Argentine kid angling to meet Mickey Mouse.

At least visas make our passports pretty.

About The Author

Eileen Smith

Eileen Smith is the editor of Matador Abroad. She's an ex-Brooklynite who's made a life in Santiago, Chile. She's a fluent Spanish speaker who can be found biking, hiking, writing, photographing and/or seeking good coffee and nibbles at most hours of the day. She blogs here.

  • Ryan

    Went to Brazil, Uruaguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. Spent money on the visa to get into Brazil, and payed for a visa at the Bolivian border (it definitely wasn’t 140 bucks). If you seriously spent 700$ in visas, you aren’t a savy traveler. Use the bus system down there and you will spend about a 6th of that. If you can afford to fly in to all of these places, then 700$ is nothing to you.

    • Eileen

      When did you go to Bolivia? It’s $140 now, and was less when I applied (not at the border), but that’s what it’s saying now. And yes, you’re right, Uruguay, Peru and Colombia don’t charge visas or reciprocity, and Argentina does only if you fly in through BA, which was, unfortunately, where a flight of mine was booked through when the Chilean earthquake hit and I couldn’t go home. Also, they instituted the fee between when I bought the ticket and when I landed there. Bad luck on my part.

      And yeah, I’ve been living in Latin America for almost 8 years. So $700 over all that time is not that much money. But it could still buy me a nice trip to Paraguay.

  • braden18

    Best way to get to Argentina is fly into Uruguay (the tickets are usually as cheap or cheaper than Buenos Aires), explore that country for a few days (it’s great!) &/or go straight to Buenos Aires via a number of ferry or bus + ferry options. All overland travel into Argentina avoids the reciprocity fees (unlike many of the other South American countries), and the Montevideo airport being just a short distance from Argentina makes this a great option to add another country to your trip & still save money :)

    • Eileen

      agreed, definitely! I would be willing to bet Uruguay has seen an uptick in visitors since the Argentina fee went into place. Not a bad deal, as Uruguay has some lovely places to visit, including Montevideo.

  • KarinMarijke

    Wow, I didn’t realise South America is so expensive for Americans. And we (Dutch) complain we have to pay for Suriname – the only country we have to pay for on this continent :-)

    So, European readers (and future travellers to SA): we get a tourist visa on the border (or airport) of all countries except Suriname (as Eileen explained above). Free or charge. Depending of the country this may be for 1 or 3 months. Some are extendable at immigration offices, others not. Since these rules changes constantly, make sure you get the latest instructions.

    Eileen, when you get to Paraguay and want some tips, email me. We spent about 3 months there, discovered some very interesting places and enjoyed it greatly.

  • thetravelchica

    Don’t forget the fact that many of the visas and reciprocity fee stickers (or whatever you call them) take up an entire page of your passport (in addition to the entry/ exit stamps) … meaning we have to pay to get more passport pages!  And it ain’t cheap for US passport-holders!

  • Rafael

    That´s reciprocity Eileen. Most southamericans do need US visa, and it´s not easy to get. On top of that many countries wave visas to a US visa holder.  Reciprocity,  sorry, but I don´t feel a little bad for you.
    But I can tell you, “talk to your congressperson”…

    • rafael

      oh, I like your blog a lot

      • Eileen

        yep, reciprocity, that’s just how it goes. And thanks for the blog props!

  • Peterbest13

    Ok, I know it’s annoying that we as Americans have to pay to go to so many of these countries but the reason that we have to pay is because we charged them first, and people coming from most of these countries that want to get into the US have to pay the $140 or more just for the opportunity to apply for the visa, and they don’t get it back if the visa gets denied (which from what I hear it usually does), so we really can’t complain about it being unfair.

    • Graham

      Hello Peter,

      The figures listed here are incorrect (except for the Brazilian one, and the Bolivian one if you choose to pay for it). International VISA prices are actually less expensive with a US passport than it is as most other nationalities.

      Graham

  • Graham

    A majority of these figures apply for arriving by air only. I’ve previously traveled to 20 countries in South America (by land all of them), and paid less than $250 for all combined. My significant other (from South America) also concurs.

    Graham

    • Graham

      Oh, and don’t pay for the Bolivian entry VISA fee, as it’s corrupt and doesn’t go back to the government. Wait until 10PM and walk across the border. Do the same to exit. 

      Graham

      • Steven

        Yeah, Bolivia’s borders are generally very nice places to take a stroll, especially with luggage. Not.

        I hope being condescending makes you feel better about yourself.

    • Steven

      Graham – Which country did you break into many small pieces in order to visit 20 countries on a continent with only 13?

  • Steven

    Bolivia $100 at La Paz airport.

  • mandita

    Sheesh.
    For Australians it’s now $US95 when entering Chile via Santiago airport, valid for 90 days.
    And $US100 to enter Argentina, at Ezeiza, valid for 1 year.

  • http://www.travellingcorner.com/2012/02/las-lajas-cathedral-colombia/ Las Lajas

    and i come from a contry that most of you probably never heard of – whole of central and south america visa free enty up to 90 days:) 

  • argie

    Little secret… you pay this fee if you use EZE (Ezeiza Airport). If you enter to Argentina using another international airport such COR (Cordoba City International Airport) or MDZ (Mendoza City International Airport) you don’t pay that fee.

    I know that is sound wear, but it’s true.

  • Alexander0528

    I love this article! My collegues and I have traveled to Latin and South America numerous times, (I’ve personally been to Bs As 11 times), and the amounts that you quoted are accurate according to our very recent travels. Well done!

  • Hd143

    If Argentina wants to charge US citizens $140 to enter their country.  Fine.  Word will get around and they’ll have fewer US tourists.  They’re only hurting themselves for charging so much.  US citizens will go to other countries that don’t require visas.
     Does the US charge too much for Visas?  That depends on the country.  A lot of people come to the US from poor countries like Bolivia, overstay their visa and then have to be deported by the US government at US taxpayer expense.   So, I don’t think $140 is too much money for the US government to charge Bolivians for a visa.
    I suspect that the US should lower visa fees for countries like Brazil whose economy is doing quite well and there isn’t as much reason for Brazilians to overstay their visit as their was in the past.

  • Shirley

    To be clear, is the reciprocity fee payable by credit card or cash (US $)? 

  • Pierre Hsieh

    I personally think that all you AMericans complaining about the fees here on this website are just self-conceited and egocentric. All you say is how much a country, say Argentina, charges you without ever giving how much you are charging them a second thought. If you do not start changing your attitude, then you will only see more and more countries introducing the fee against you in the name of reciprocity.

    • Erik Taylor

      I don’t charge them anything. I just get charged,

  • Tina Nole

    I just paid $160! It’s $160 for US Citizens now for Beunos Aires. They let me do it departing in Houston but I got lucky if the computer was down or unable to print I would have been out of luck!

  • Tina Nole

    Point is – do it ahead of time :)

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