Sunday, December 3, 2017

Would You Like the Good News First? Money & Visa Updates

In the context of southern South America, two topics about which I often write are money and visas, and on both I have good news and bad news. Here, today, I’ll deal with the two topics separately.

Less than two weeks ago, I dealt with the issue of Argentina’s ATMs and the fact that they’re such a quilombo (a slang term, meaning a mess, that derives from an earlier usage that meant a brothel). I haven’t used an ATM in that time but good news is that, according to The Wall Street Journal’s local correspondent Taos Turner, Argentine banks have raised the limit for individual transactions to A$3,300 (about US$192; when I made my last withdrawal, I could only obtain A$2,000, about US$143). This is a step forward, though it still doesn’t come close to the permitted amounts from Chilean and Uruguayan ATMs.
For foreign account-holders, the cost of an Argentine ATM transaction rose by 67 percent in November.
The bad news is that the banks have raised their transaction charge to A$175 (almost exactly US$10), as opposed to the previous charge of A$106.20 (about US$6). That sounds bad, and it is, but with the new withdrawal limit that amounts to only 5.3 percent as opposed the earlier 5.31 percent. In Argentine banking, that appears to count as progress…

In visa matters, the news is better, especially for Australians and Canadians. Early last year, Argentina suspended its so-called “reciprocity fee” for US visitors, in hopes that Argentines would gain access to the United States’ Visa Waiver Program, which permits cheaper and more expeditious travel to the Colossus of the North. That, however, occurred before a far more xenophobic administration took over the US government, and Chile remains the only South American country eligible for the Visa Waiver (unless you want to count Guyane, which is an overseas département of France). In principle, if the US refuses to reciprocate, Argentina could reinstate the fee for US visitors.
Soon, both Australian and Canadian visitors will be exempt from Argentina's "reciprocity" fee.
Recently, however, it’s taken steps in the other direction. The previous Argentine administration had also inflicted “reciprocity” fees on Australians and Canadians, but the current government eliminated the fee for Aussies last July, and has taken steps to to do so for Canadians by the first of the year. Nationals of both countries will find one less obstacle if they desire to visit Buenos Aires and beyond.

Brazil is also making it a bit easier to visit that country although, in my opinion, it still has a long way to go. I’ve not crossed the Brazilian border in some time, but applying for a Brazilian visa has always been inconvenient. It used to involve going in person but, when I tried to do so in Buenos Aires, the consulate there informed me that they could not issue a visa because my intended visit was too far in the future (to the best of my memory, it was two or three months before). I was able to get one-day service at the Puerto Iguazú consulate, to cross to the Brazilian side of the falls, but they would only accept payment in Argentine pesos, even though the visa fee was advertised in US dollars.
For US passport holders, the pleasure of a day-trip from Argentina to Brazil's side of Iguazú Falls will still cost US$160.
Now, though, intending visitors can apply for the visa online, but the Brazilians are still missing an opportunity that the Argentines are taking advantage of—eliminating the visa entirely would do much more to encourage travel to South America’s largest country. In fact, the Brazilians did so briefly last year, when they suspended all tourist visa requirements during the Olympics.

The argument, of course, is that as long as the US and other countries oblige Brazilians to obtain advance visas, it’s only fair Brazil should require the same for citizens of those countries. To some degree I sympathize with that argument and, as an advocate of open borders, I think US visa requirements are far too restrictive. That said, from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Brazil gains nothing from subjecting potential visitors to bureaucratic obstacles. Argentina appears to have learned that lesson.

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