Friday, October 19, 2012

"Reciprocity" Online? Argentina Makes Things Worse

In a couple weeks, I’m flying to Buenos Aires for a month and a half, and I’m looking forward to it – earlier this year, I was there only briefly and spent most of the time in bed with bronchitis. While searching for a flight – I was fortunate enough to have sufficient miles for a free one – I learned an important new fact about Argentina’s so-called “reciprocity fee,” the visa charge that’s really an opportunistic retaliation against countries that require Argentines to pay for a visa application.
This fee, which applies to Australian, Canadian and US citizens, is not inherently unfair, but anything that discourages foreigners from visiting the country is bad business. In effect, it takes money that a visitor is likely to spend in Argentina and diverts it directly to the government, which is not known for transparency in either raising or spending revenue.

The new twist is that, instead of paying the fee on arrival, visitors from these countries will now have to register and pay the fee online, in advance of traveling to Argentina. According to LAN Airlines’ web site, “The new system will work parallel to the regular collection service at Ezeiza Airport until December 28th, 2012, and at Jorge Newbery Airport [commonly known as “Aeroparque”] until October 31st, 2012. After the dates mentioned, the only method of collection would be online.” Visitors arriving without evidence of payment could be immediately deported.

This arbitrary measure could a major nuisance - Chile has had a similar requirement for decades, but arrivals at Santiago are still able to pay the fee on the spot. Travel agents are particularly annoyed – an Argentine friend in Southern California tells me that it undercuts them because “it doesn’t let the travel agent handle it directly for the client, because it’s a personal transaction.” The government’s own immigration page is pretty vague on details, but it will apparently require every visitor to create an account that he or she may only use once in a lifetime. That could put personal information at risk.

In a sense, this rule change mirrors the hoops through which Argentines themselves must jump in order to buy dollars or any other foreign currency to travel abroad. Fortunately, from my own point of view, I last paid my fee about two years ago, so I won’t have to deal with the issue until early 2020.

Without spending much more time on this, I will note that LAN’s description says the fee has risen to US$160, but I cannot find any confirmation of that on the government website. Until now, it’s been US$140 for US citizens, but less for Australians and Canadians because those governments require a lower fee for Argentine visa applicants.

App News: Argentina Travel Adventures is an Android!
Until now, my Argentina Travel Adventures app has only been available for the iPhone, iPad Touch, and iPad, as the upper-right advertisement indicates. A few days ago, though, ATA went live for Android-based phone and tablets. At only US$2.99, it’s a bargain for planning for your trip to Buenos Aires and beyond.

In related news, my Chile Travel Adventures app should be released soon on both iTunes and Android.

Tango by the River
As announced recently, there’s been a postponement of my digital slide lecture on Buenos Aires at Tango by the River in Sacramento, which will now take place Friday, October 26th, at 6 p.m. The date’s getting close, though – just a shade over two weeks.
Limited to a maximum of 50 people, the event will also include tango performances; admission costs $10 at the door, or $8 in advance. I have spoken here several times before, and we always sell out, so plan in advance. Signed copies of my Moon Handbooks on Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia will be available at discount prices.


SaltShaker said...

It's been $160 since, I think, January of this year. And, while Canadians and Australians pay a little less ($150 and $140, if I remember right), they only get five years whereas US citizens get ten.

Deportation shouldn't (he says hopefully) be an issue, assuming the airlines do their job - officially they're not going to be allowed to let you get on the plane at your point of origin without showing proof that you've paid, much like a few years back when you had to show that you had a return ticket or a ticket on to another destination, or they're responsible for your return - my guess is that we'll see some computer terminals setup at check-in counters for folk who haven't yet paid their fee to handle it.

Much as I agree with you on the "anything that lowers tourism" isn't a good move on Argentina's part, the real problem is, and has been, the lack of attention to this whole thing by both airlines and travel agents. Given that I see a few dozen tourists a week, I'm in a pretty good position to get a sense of how it's been going. I have yet to meet a single person who was informed by either their travel agent or an airline that they'd have to pay the fee. It's always turned out to be a complete surprise for them unless a friend had told them or they'd done their research. Travel agents and airlines don't seem to want to disclose it because it adds to the cost of the trip and someone might opt not to take the trip.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I agree, Dan, that everybody needs to be more transparent about this. My main objection, though, is that it seems like madness for Argentina to require foreign visitors to jump through more hoops just to visit the country, in a similar manner to what Argentines now have to do just to get foreign currency to travel abroad. It's utterly counter-productive.

jennifer rose said...

Ouch! One more reason to have a second passport. I'm glad I'm Mexican, so I would only have to pay about $20 USD to enter Argentina. Aren't you eligible for Argentine citizenship by now?

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I can agree with you, Jennifer, that a second passport is often desirable. As it happens, though, I am not eligible for an Argentine passport because I have never lived long enough at a time in the country, nor have I even considered applying for residency. In reality, I'd rather not do so - for a variety of reasons I won't go into now, it's actually easier to enter and leave Argentina on a US passport. My Argentine wife, a naturalized US citizen, no longer has an Argentine passport for that reason.

For what it's worth, I understand it's very easy to establish residency in Uruguay, though I'm not sure about the issue of citizenship there.

Anonymous said...

This is HILARIOUS! In order to come to a US a TOURIST from Argentina has to tell the American Embassy ALL they owned, how, when, and how much money you have how many kids you have everything!
And now you are complaining about $160 dollars fee? It doesn't make sense to me at all!

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I don't disagree with you about the hassles of getting a US visa for Argentines (or any other foreigners), and I would like to see major changes in that. What I am suggesting is that it's economically counter-productive to make it more difficult to visit Argentina, and then add additional bureaucratic hassles on top of that. In the short term, it discourages people from visiting the country; there are many other countries that do not collect such a fee. From a longer term perspective, it keeps potential visitors from discovering a country they might wish to return to, but few Argentine governments think beyond next week.

Anonymous said...

Well, it's happening the same here. People from Argentina are choosing EU or any other countries rather tha the US for the same reason!

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Again, I agree with you, and more than a few US citizens - especially those in the tourism sector - are worried that difficult immigration rules makes the country uncompetitive. Both Argentina and the US would do better to simplify matters, but Argentina can do so unilaterally by returning to a system that worked well for many years. The so-called "reciprocity fee," which applies to some other countries as well, is one reason why Argentine tourism is hurting.

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