American visitors to Chile have already plunked down a chunk of change to fly to Chile from their closest gateway city. In mid 2010, the very cheapest flights still cost more than $700 (from Texas or Florida), and many people think that’s just plenty for getting to try amazing Chilean wines or ski the mountains or head to the driest desert in the world or the stunning Lakes Region in the south.
Photo courtesy of chris.corwin on flickr.
Not so fast. Right before you go through immigration at the Santiago airport, there’s a booth set up on the left hand side of the hallway, with a little sign that says “Reciprocidad.” And if you happen to hold a US, Mexican, Australian, Canadian or Albanian passport, you’ll need to pop in and make your deposit to Chile’s coffers. The reciprocity fees are based on how much your home country charges nationals of Chile to apply for a visa, and you’re charged the same amount when you enter, which is good for the life of your passport, and comes in the form of a sticker or stapled piece of paper in the addendum section of your passport.
The fee is not a visa, and need not be applied for ahead of time, but rather can be paid in US cash or by credit card upon entering the country.
So what’s a budget traveler to do? The fee is only collected at the SCL, or Santiago’s airport, so if you enter by land, you don’t pay. It used to be true that you could fly to Buenos Aires, take an internal flight and then take the bus across from Mendoza (which is only six hours, many nauseauting hairpin turns and a couple of dramamine away). But earlier in 2010, Argentina, too instituted a reciprocity fee for Americans, so this option is no longer free for US passport holders. Chile also borders with Bolivia to the north east, but Bolivia requires a visa for Americans, and the crossing takes four days from Uyuni (through the salt flats, which is gorgeous, but time consuming for your average traveler), and costs $100 on top of the visa fee, so this is also not a good money-saving tactic. Easter Island would seem a possible route, but flying from LA to Papeete to Easter Island is going to burn through way more than $131 as you make your way around the globe.
It would seem that now the only way to avoid paying anybody anything to get to Chile or a bordering country would be to fly to Lima, Peru and travel either overland or by plane to Tacna, which is Peru’s border crossing with Chile, and take the bus or taxi across to the tune of about six dollars. And then you’re still 36 hours by bus from Santiago, which will probably cost you nearly $100 to traverse, but at least you won’t have paid the entrance fee. And every time you come back to Chile (and you will want to come back), you can follow the same strange, laborious and time-consuming path.