Several times I’ve written about the so-called “reciprocity fees” that Argentina and Chile collect from travelers with passports from countries that charge visa fees for Argentines and Chileans – most notably the United States, Canada, and Australia, but also Mexico in the case of Chile. In the case of US citizens, both countries now charge US$160 for the privilege of entering their territory. For Argentina, Australians pay US$100 (single entry), while Canadians pay US$75 (single entry, valid for multiple visits over three months) or US$150 (valid for five years).
Chile has done this for quite some time, and it’s a simple process – arriving passengers at Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez line up on arrival, where authorities collect the fee and affix a receipt that’s valid for the life of the passport (the “tourist card” is a separate document, usually valid 90 days and renewable for another 90). Santiago’s airport is the only border point where Chile requires “reciprocity;” arrivals at other airports, or land or maritime border crossings, pay nothing.
“Reciprocity” is a relatively recent measure for Argentina and, initially, it only applied to air arrivals at Buenos Aires. Late last year, though, the government announced a broader measure for which I had only second-hand information and, for some weeks, I’ve been trying to clarify the rules, which are singularly opaque on the Migraciones website. After getting shuttled from one anonymous functionary to another, I finally received the following summary (my translation) from the Area de Coordinación Operativa, Direccion General de Movimiento Migratorio, Dirección Nacional de Migraciones: “We are pleased to inform you that the reciprocity fee should be paid if you enter by any border crossing (whether by air, land, or sea/river). The only means that remains exempt from payment is entry by cruise ship until June 30th, 2013.”
Probably the best available summary is now on the US State Department website, which explains that US citizens (and others, presumably) must pay the fee by credit card through the Provincia Pagos website. This requires setting up an account that, I expect, most visitors will use just once in a lifetime. I haven’t had to do so yet, because I paid mine in Buenos Aires when Migraciones still accepted cash, and it’s valid for another seven years or so (though I now have to carry two passports, as the Argentines pasted my receipt in one that is now expired).
My friend Álvaro Jaramillo, who is leading a wine-and-birding tour to Chile and Argentina next month, is the first person I know to have gone through the process of paying the reciprocity fee online. Álvaro, who is Chilean-born but carries US and Canadian passports, found the process relatively straightforward, but with some glitches.
According to Álvaro, the process was “cumbersome but doable, it was not always clear what the next step was but I got through it. Largely I succeeded because I have done a lot of payments online, but this one had its slight oddities. I am not sure a little old lady from the Midwest who does not get on the computer a lot will be able to adequately manage this.” One issue appears to be that Migraciones could not be bothered to hire a professional translator: “The oddities are mainly some of language, where you have to know to ‘add form’ and ‘print ticket’ instead of ‘upload data’ and ‘print receipt’ or something that makes more sense.”
Having printed the receipt, Álvaro recommends making more than a single copy, which is scanned when entering Argentina, because “I have no idea exactly how to login again and print a new receipt in case I lose the first. What I did is print one to PDF, so that I can have a copy that I can print in the future and I would suggest that others do this if they know how to print to PDF.”
Personally, I consider “reciprocity fees” to be foolishly counterproductive measures that might more accurately be called “retaliation fees.” As a US citizen, I would prefer that my own country make it easier for foreign visitors, and it’s understandable that a discriminatory visa process – Argentines and Chileans must jump through multiple hoops to get one – would upset someone who might have to fly four hours, at great expense, for a ten-minute interview at the US consulate in Buenos Aires or Santiago. Visa reform in the US (as well as Canada and Australia) may be the only hope for ending “reciprocity” as we’re unfortunately getting to know it.
In Argentina’s case, “reciprocity” may have contributed to the fact that foreign tourism fell by more than four percent in 2012. The obligatory bureaucratic obstacle of applying online, rather than even having the option of paying on arrival as in Chile, is another disincentive. Coupled with inflation upwards of 20 percent, the fee has made Argentina a more expensive country to visit, and it may discourage budget travelers – the prosperous professionals of the future - in particular.
In all likelihood, “reciprocity” simply redistributes some tourism income directly to the government – in both Argentina and Chile, that US$160 goes to the treasury instead of hotels, restaurants and other services. Eliminating it unilaterally would require long-term thinking, but that sort of thinking is hard to come by, especially in Argentina.