Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Practical Potpourri: Reciprocity and ATM Fees

At irregular intervals, I write about Southern Cone topics, such as visas and money, that change from time to time and affect the traveler’s experience. In fact, I wrote recently about Argentina’s imposition of a “reciprocity fee” for United States, Australian, and Canadian citizens, but it wasn’t until last week, when I flew from Santiago de Chile to Buenos Aires, that I experienced it personally.

In another post, I’ve detailed my objections to the reciprocity fee, which I won’t repeat in any detail here other than to say that I think it’s a foolish measure. Suffice it to say that, on arrival at Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini (popularly known as Ezeiza), the only airport where the fee is collected, Americans, Australians and Canadians pass through a separate line where they pay their fees: US$131, US$100, and US$70 respectively. Payable in cash or by credit card, the fee (as depicted in the receipt above) is valid for ten years for Americans, but only for a single entry for Australians and Canadians (apparently, lobbying by US ambassador Vilma Martínez managed to obtain this concession from the Argentines, but her Australian and Canadian counterparts have neglected their duties in this matter).

The Argentines have done a poor job of explaining the details - no information whatsoever about the fee appears on the immigration department's website - and one of my concerns was that it would only be valid until the expiration of my passport in November. The cashier, however, confirmed that it was valid for ten years no matter what, and suggested that I carry my expired passport along with the new one just in case; although I would be in their database, my new passport will have a different number.

This was a relief to me, of course, since I travel frequently to Argentina, but it does not deal with the real issue. Amortized over a decade, the fee is a minor inconvenience to me; to a one-time visitor, especially with a family, it may be a deterrent to visiting the country. For instance, a family of four visiting Argentina and Chile (which collects a similar fee at its international airport) would incur more than US$1000 in “reciprocity fees,” and might well decide to vacation elsewhere--especially since the airfare to get here is so much higher than, say, Mexico or Costa Rica. Chile, which hopes to jump start its tourism industry after the recent earthquake, would do especially well to rescind its “reciprocity fee.” A contact in the Chilean sector recently wrote me that they hope the new government will be receptive to the idea.

There is at least one exception to the Argentine measure, by the way: my Argentine wife, a naturalized US citizen, was not required to pay when she used her US passport on arrival at Ezeiza in January: "I was told twice upon arrival that if you got US citizenship before 1981 Argentina considered you American, and thus you would pay. Since I got mine in 1985 I am exempt. However, they have to take your word for it, because nowhere in your US passport does it say what year you became nationalized."

On another issue: Argentine ATMs, in both the Banelco and Link systems, have raised their charges on overseas transactions to 15.50 pesos (as indicated in the photo here), the equivalent of US$4; the former charge was US$3. The maximum daily withdrawal per account is 1000 pesos, but in reality it’s a bit less because they add the fee on top of the withdrawal.

One way to minimize these charges is to take the maximum out per day - in the case of Banelco ATMs, it’s possible to take out in multiples of ten pesos, up to 980 pesos which, with the charge, comes to just under the maximum. In the case of Link ATMs, it’s multiples of 50, so the real maximum is 950 pesos. Still, one relatively large transaction is always better than several smaller ones. Banks in Uruguay, where I recently spent ten days while updating my Buenos Aires book, charge US$3 per transaction.

In Chile, meanwhile, the state-run Banco del Estado still does not collect an overseas transaction charge at its ATMs. This is a huge improvement over a few years ago, when only its own plastic worked at its many branches - in smaller Chilean towns, it is often the only bank. During my brief stay in Santiago, I was unable to verify whether the handful of private banks, such as Banco Desarollo and Corpbanca, are still not collecting the fee. Other Chilean banks impose a fee of US$3 or US$4.

1 comment:

  1. US$4 ATM fees and US$131 entry fees are not wise for a country in dire need of tourism, period!


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