Friday, February 23, 2018

And Then There Was One...

In a Eurocentric travel industry, South America often gets short shrift. It’s quite a distance for most Northern Hemisphere visitors, airfares are relatively high, and the continent’s stereotyped reputation for crime and disorder is a deterrent for some—even though, at present, Venezuela is the only real basket case in that regard.
On arrival at Santiago's international airport, Australians may feel singled out.
That said, some countries have also made it harder for themselves because of arbitrary visa rules, but there are fewer holdouts now. Argentina has eliminated the onerous “reciprocity fee” instituted by its previous government and Chile’s similar measure now applies only to Australians—as Aussie arrivals to Santiago’s international airport quickly learn (Chile does not inflict this fee at other airports and land borders, however).
Visiting the Cataratas do Iguaçu (the Brazilian side) has become less expensive for several nationalities.
The big news, though, is the breakthrough in Brazil. Every time I’ve visited the country—only infrequently—entering has been a hassle. That’s because Brazil has taken the “reciprocity” issue a step farther, requiring an advance visa from US citizens even for a day trip from the Argentine side of Iguazú Falls. The last time I did it, the Brazilian consulate in Buenos Aires told me to get the visa in Puerto Iguazú, where that consulate required me to change my US cash into Argentine pesos (in a local exchange house, at a disadvantageous rate).

The worst is over, though. Last month, the country announced that citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States may now apply for their visas online, at a cost of US$40, rather than in person or by mail at a cost of US$160. The idea, apparently, is to encourage tourism and, if so, it’s a good start—but even better would be eliminating visas entirely. That said, the United States will probably continue to require Brazilians to pay that same US$160 fee simply for a privilege of applying for a visa, with no guarantee (and no refund if no visa is granted). Still, it’s an encouraging measure on Brazil’s part (Brazil, by the way, will return your fee if it refuses you a visa).

Bolivia is now the outlier. Following the example of Argentina’s previous government, it instituted a visa requirement that requires any US citizen to pay US$160 at any Bolivian consulate (that’s even more restrictive than Venezuela, despite that country’s notoriously contentious relations with the US). Again, in fairness, Bolivians must go through the same process to enter the United States, with no guarantee that the request will be successful.

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