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Understanding South American Visa and Reciprocity Fees

by on November 12, 2011 · 59 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Travel Industry

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Due to the comments on my master British Airways award clinic post, I know many of you are booking amazing South American awards with your British Airways miles before those redemptions become less valuable on Wednesday.

However, before you book you should understand the visa and fees associated with visiting South American countries. If you plan a multi-country trip, these fees can add up – especially if you are traveling with your family.

The reason why these fees exist is because the US government charges high fees to people who visit the US, so many countries retaliated with “reciprocity fees.” Whether you agree with them or not, you should be prepared to pay them:

$$$
Argentina- $140 paid upon entry and it is good for 10 years. I recently flew from Punta del Este, Uruguay to the regional airport in Buenos Aires (AEP) and thought I might escape that fee, but they still charged me (at least I was able to use a points earning credit card!)
Bolivia- $135 upon arrival.
Brazil- $140 paid in advance by money order with your visa application. You need to apply for a visa in advance, which is a pain. I highlighted my experience and gave tips in this post.
Chile- $131 paid upon arrival and good for the validity of the passport.
Uruguay- No visa/reciprocity fee, but a $31 departure tax.

No fee:
Colombia
Ecuador
Peru
Venezuela

In general you don’t have to pay the fee if you are just transiting a country. Even though these fees can add up, they are just a small price to pay for being able to visit some incredible destinations.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jetstream

    What matters is your passport (not where the flight originates): if you are a US citizen, you’ll be hit with these fees. If you have almost any other nationality (say EU) you don’t have to pay any of them (since the EU has no fees for SA nationals like the US). So if you have two nationalities, use the right one for travel!

    Also make sure you have them before you go: otherwise you might be refused or have to visit an embassy first…that depends.

  • Maury

    From your wording I am assuming that they accept credit cards to pay that fee.

  • Samuel

    Ecuador has a departure tax of but now it is included in price of the ticket. Used to have to pay it at the airport and it was $44. Maybe its the same deal with the other countries listed with no fee.

  • Catherine Morrison

    Did you get the yellow fever vaccine before traveling to Brazil?

  • Alanc2k2

    Just FYI, Peru does charge an airport departure tax but now it is folded into the ticket price (or at least it was on the Delta, Continental, and LAN flights I took this year). So it may seem “invisible” but it is there. It’s somewhere in the vicinity of $30-$32 per person. And it applies to everyone, not just US citizens. I actually prefer it folded into the ticket price, as you used to have to wait on long lines to pay it and it had to be in cash.

    The REALLY important thing to keep in mind with South American countries is their customs rules — they will limit what you can bring in, even if it is your own personal stuff. In Peru, at least, it’s kinda insane. One laptop. One tablet. Kindle and an iPad – well, maybe that’s two tablets. So, duty. And so on. If you’re bags get checked (and figure you’ve got a 50-50 chance), they will hit you with duties on anything that doesn’t fit with the rules — even if it’s your own stuff and you’re just using it on the trip and taking it back home. Plus, they will use the list price of a new item to calculate the duty — I brought a five-year-old portable DVD that was worth about $50. They found a list price of $799 in their database (granted, what it retailed for five years earlier before prices dropped) and wanted a fee near $100. I wouldn’t pay it, so they held the DVD player for the duration of my trip and I picked it up when I departed (after waiting an hour on line and paying $18 for the privilege of letting them hand me back my player). Now I just use my computer.

  • steve

    Are these reciprocity fees in addition to the plane ticket taxes that people talk about avoiding by flying LIM-IPC vs LIM-SCL-IPC?

    Thanks for the post. I was not aware of these fees.

  • Snshahmd

    I just made a booking for 4 persons, going from JFK-LIM-IPC-SCL-MDZ-AEP-IGR-EZE-LIM-JFK. I am hoping that we would avoid the Reciprocity Fees….Any idea?

  • Benthelefty

    You only need that if you’re going to be in the amazon region; at least that was the case with me.

    If you’ll be in Buenos Aires you can get the shot for free (it costs $150 in the US) by visiting the govt health clinic)

  • Jacks140

    Argentina has NO VISA requirements. Went there this summer and didn’t pay a dime (US Citizen)

  • Anonymous

    You got lucky. Did you fly there?

  • http://twitter.com/LizzyDragon84 Elizabeth

    Which airport did you go into? Argentina has no visa requirements for US citizens, but they will ding you with the reciprocity fee if you go into AEP or EZE. I flew into EZE in April and had to pay the fee.

  • http://twitter.com/LizzyDragon84 Elizabeth

    You’ll avoid the Argentina and Chile fees because you’re entering the countries via MDZ and IPC first.

  • http://twitter.com/LizzyDragon84 Elizabeth

    Actually, where you enter the country does make a difference. For Chile, I avoided the reciprocal fee by flying into IPC first because they only collect it at SCL. Same goes with Argentina- the fee is only collected at AEP and EZE. If you can enter the country somewhere else, you can avoid the fee.

  • http://twitter.com/andreadbc Andrea B

    the “reciprocity fee” is charged when entering at EZE or AEP (it used to be only at EZE).

  • http://twitter.com/andreadbc Andrea B

    It looks like you’ll avoid all of the fees (by entering Chile at IPC and Argentina at MDZ, where the fees aren’t charged)!

  • http://twitter.com/LizzyDragon84 Elizabeth

    The plane ticket taxes that people avoid by flying that route is the reciprocity fee discussed here. The fee isn’t collected at every airport.

  • http://twitter.com/andreadbc Andrea B

    If you declare the items (like a second laptop) then I think that you can get the fee back once you exit the country with the item… If you don’t declare the item, then I think I heard that they keep the fee as a fine of sorts.

  • KB

    Is a connecting flight via non-fee-charging airport enough to avoid the reciprocity fee, or do you have to actually stop there?

  • Jason

    I’m not sure if it is just from quito or any international flights out of Ecuador. But earlier this year I was required to pay a 40 dollar dearture tax while flying back to the states. We thought it was rolled up into our flight ticket price but American told us at check in that wasn’t the case.

  • Catherine Morrison

    Vaccines take time to work – a shot immediately before going into a risky area won’t do you any good.

  • Steve

    Doesn’t Argentina have an exit fee too?

  • KB

    Ok, need clarification on what counts as an “entry” in Chile and Argentine.

    If I fly to MDZ (Argentina) from NYC via Santiago, am I hit with the entry fee for Santiago?
    Related but different question: if I fly from NYC to EZE (Buenos Aires) via connection through another non-fee charging city in Argentina do I avoid or pay the fee?

    In general terms, I’m asking about 1) flying into a no-fee city vis connection in another country’s fee paying city, and 2) flying into a fee paying city vis connection in no-fee city in the same country.
    In both cases just brief connection, no stay over nor leaving the airport.

    KB

  • Gpapadop

    I knew about the fee at EZE but no to SCL. My 4 free tickets to SA are costing me: 570 plus 560 (EZE) plus 524 (SCL)….ouch. Who said in Chicago that this is becoming a giant ponzi scheme? :-(

  • Kathy K

    curiously, was this booking all done for a single award fee (i.e. 40,000 miles) or did it require additional fees?

  • Snshahmd

    It was done in J class (80K per person). The $20 booking was waived due to inability of BA website. Total charge was $929 for all. I did have to make 4 calls prior to finding the right person to help me construct the above itinerary. The BA.com availability did not match with one over the phone calls. So there is probably some blocking. I had checked Qantas and Lan also for seats availability.

  • http://twitter.com/LizzyDragon84 Elizabeth

    No.

  • http://twitter.com/LizzyDragon84 Elizabeth

    If you’re transiting through a fee airport, you will not be charged so long as you do not leave the airport. The fees are charged when you go through immigration, which you don’t have to go through just to change planes. You can also avoid the fee in some countries by avoid the points of entry where they charge the fee. In the case of Argentina, the fee is only charged at AEP and EZE. So if you connect through MDZ first, which becomes your point of entry into the country, you don’t get hit with the fee. For Chile, only SCL charges a fee.

  • Anonymous

    You also don’t pay the Argentina fee if you’re transiting for less than 24 hours — http://boardingarea.com/blogs/thewanderingaramean/2011/11/avoiding-the-reciprocity-fee-in-argentina/

  • BunMama

    Bogota, Colombia has an airport exit fee of about $35, but you can apply for an exemption at the airport. Just one extra line that moves quickly, which saves us $140 for our family of four.

  • Alanc2k2

    Getting a fee back in a Latin American country? Ah, many thanks, that’s the best laugh I had all day. Money, alas, travels in one direction only. If you declare the second laptop, you pay the duty, and they keep the duty. If you don’t declare the second laptop and they spot it, you pay the duty and you pay the fine. The best strategy is to watch what you bring in, or distribute your stuff to travel partners who aren’t bringing in the same things. It’s also wise to bring receipts — so when they tell you your laptop costs $1200 you can show them that you paid $800. It’s annoying because we’re not talking brand new items you are bringing into the country and leaving in the country, but your own, older, used items that often have vastly lower value than the new item they will base the duty on.

  • Anonymous

    We are flying into MVD to avoid the the reciprocity fee in Argentina. The ferry to BA is considerably less than the $140 pp and we get to visit Uruguay!

  • Radiot56

    What about Paraguay???

  • Lizcaskey

    To avoid the reciprocity fee entering Argentina, as an fyi, this is NOT charged in any other airports than Buenos Aires Ezeiza & Aeroparque. If you’re doing Chile & Argentina, start in Chile and then move through Mendoza/Cordoba/Salta, etc. first. If you have the bite the bullet and pay, it’s good for 10 years.

  • abuelo

    Last time I departed from Lima the departure tax was around $50 US – payable in cash in dollars or soles. That was 2008. Has it been reduced since? We had plastic totes of stuff, but the three of us got waved through anyway after getting the green light. Good luck with that! We didn’t have more than one laptop per person though :)

  • Anonymous

    It’s actually not full reciprocity. It’s a nuisance to pay the fees when entering a country, but then you know you’re in. For people from these countries visiting the U.S., it is an application fee and is non refundable. If the entry is denied, the person is still out the money. I think this is unfair. A person should get a first chance at a refundable application fee. If the person is denied, then reapplies later, it would be fairer to make it nonrefundable then.

  • Tequila Tim

    You need to have a visa to enter Paraguay BEFORE arriving. The visa was $60US and good for the life of the passport. You will not be able to board a flight to Paraguay without a valid visa, a friend of mine found out abvout this the hard way (denied boarding).

  • David

    You also need it to enter Bolivia and to get a Bolivian Visa

  • David

    TPG – your information on Bolivia is wrong.
    You have to apply for a Bolivian Visa in advance, and you also have to have the yellow fever vaccination certificate to send in with your application, passport, pictures, bank statement, fee, travel itin, etc..
    I did this in 2009, and I just looked up the information, and it’s still the same.

  • Josinei

    Is Buenos Aires in Brazil?? ;p

  • Josinei

    Is Buenos Aires in Brazil??

  • http://www.rapidtravelchai.com Rapid Travel Chai

    Visa on arrival at the La Paz Airport works fine, I did it last month precisely because getting a visa in advance was going to be such a hassle. The NY consulate even wanted a police statement. At the airport they did not care about anything, no picture, no yellow fever certificate, just fill out the form and hand over the cash. Other ports of entry you will need the visa in advance.

  • http://www.rapidtravelchai.com Rapid Travel Chai

    Might as well be comprehensive:
    Guyana: no fee
    Suriname: visa $100/5 years for US citizens, sliding scale for other nationalities, apply in advance, same-day service in Georgetown, Guyana is a good option if passing through.
    French Guiana: no fee, but those who need a Shengen visa for France will need a visa and the process for French overseas departments is different than for Shengen.

  • Mdd185

    Has anyone entered Bolivia from Puno overland to LaPaz . What was your experience with Visa and fee.

    Mike185

  • Ab

    Two years ago, I was paying $70 each time I flew out of Quito.

  • Yako777

    SnShahmd, according to your travel plans “JFK-LIM-IPC-SCL-MDZ-AEP-IGR-EZE-LIM-JFK”.
    Which locations are you planning on STOPPING at?

  • Hkjh

    Just tried to book a similar trip
    MIA-LIM-IPC-SCL-MDZ-AEP-EZE-LIM-MIA

    and BA wouldn’t let me. They wanted to split it into two award trips:
    first award: MIA-LIM-IPC-SCL-(second award)-MIA (40k in coach)
    second award: SCL-MDZ-AEP-SCL (25k in coach)

  • Anonimouse

    Add the fact that applicants for US visas have to travel to a nearby consulate at their own expense (also non-refundable) for a face-to-face interview.

  • Benthelefty

    Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina. And I’m pretty sure it has you covered within a few days Catherine…either way it’s a $150 savings for the shot alone…

  • Benthelefty

    Easy q for google…and here i guess. Capital of Argentina

  • Benthelefty

    I did do that crossing but reverse (La Paz to Puno)…as for the visa sometimes you can at the border but other times no. They usually have the stamp and everything there, so you can pay your $135 and get the visa stamp.

  • Latin Girl

    Buenos Aires is the capital of Argntina. Brazil is a different country…and with a different language also :)

  • Catherine

    Vaccines typically need between a week and a month to build up the antigens necessary to protect you from future infection. Free is a deal, but not protective.

  • Snshahmd

    Stopping at all the above locations. Absolutely.

  • Snshahmd

    I did have to make 4-5 phone calls before finding the right person to help me construct the above itinerary. The most helpful one was Peter as well as Robin (guy) in Jacksonville, FL call center. I was told can not be done a few times under one itinerary.

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  • Anonymous

    Historically, isn’t it these S.A. countries that first started charging fees,
    & the US reciprocated. And reciprocated each time they raised fees?
    Let’s not change history…

  • Justin

    As an American, I just entered to Bolivia via Puno and didn’t have to show yellow fever, bank statement, lodging proof, etc. I only showed my passport and a photocopy of my passport (which they asked for) and pay the $135 entry fee.

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  • radar12817

    The USA started it. Let’s not change history. The South American countries DON’T charge reciprocal tax to Europeans or others from countries that don’t charge visa fees. The South American taxes are in direct retribution, often in the SAME amounts that the USA, Canada, New Zealand charge.

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