Saturday, June 1, 2013

The End of "Reciprocity?" Chile's Pending Visa Waiver


With some frequency in this blog, I have criticized both the Argentine and Chilean governments for their so-called “reciprocity fees,” which are a deterrent to tourism in both countries (the image below is a receipt from Santiago's international airport). It’s clearly worse in Argentina, where the government has decided to collect the fees for US citizens, Canadians and Australians at overland and maritime/fluvial crossings as well as airports. There, it appears to be primarily a government revenue-raising measure, in addition to its political symbolism.
There’s another side to this, of course, and that’s the fact the United States, Australia and Canada impose comparable fees on Argentine and Chilean citizens (To their credit, Uruguay has refrained from retaliating as Argentina and Chile have). Matters are looking up in one regard, though, as Chile’s ambassador to Washington, Felipe Bulnes has announced that the US and his country are close to an agreement that would permit Chilean visitors to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program as early as next year.

Inclusion in the program would save Chilean tourists both money and effort, as they would instead register online through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), avoiding the cost of a visa application (US$160) and a personal interview at the US consulate (not such a big deal if you live in Santiago, but expensive and time-consuming if you live in, say, Punta Arenas, which is three hours away by air).

Letting more Chileans into the United States is a win-win. An increasingly prosperous Chilean middle class will contribute to job creation and maintenance in the US tourism industry and, presumably, Chile will respond by eliminating or reducing the “reciprocity fee.” Since ESTA currently requires an online payment of US$14 per visitor, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Chileans continue to collect that amount – they currently charge Mexican tourists the same US$30 that Chilean visitors incur for a “tourist card” at the Mexican border.

That would eliminate a major disincentive for US visitors to Chile – whether it was fair or not, adding more than US$600 to the cost of a family vacation for four was never a wise policy. Its elimination will free up additional money for US tourists to spend on good and services, rather than going directly into the Chilean treasury. With the luck, the same will happen in Argentina, but it does not seem imminent.

Moon Handbooks Chile, in Saratoga
In just over two weeks – Monday, June 17, at 7 p.m., to be precise – I will offer a digital slide presentation on travel in Chile at Santa Clara Country’s Saratoga Library (13650 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga CA 95070, tel. 408-867-6126, ext. 3817). Coverage will also include the Chilean Pacific Islands of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Juan Fernández (Robinson Crusoe), as well as southernmost Argentina (Tierra del Fuego and the vicinity of El Calafate) that appear in the book. I will also be available to answer questions about Argentina and Buenos Aires. The presentation is free of charge, but books will be available for purchase.

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