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Latin America Travel Advice

January 5, 2016 by Michael Eiseman divider image
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Here at VIP Tour Group, we agree with author Helen Keller that “life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” That’s why we make it our business to plan distinctive one-of-a-kind journeys to Central and South America for a wide variety of travel styles and personal interests.

Whether you want to hit the wine trails of Chile or Argentina, explore ancient archeological sites in Peru or Belize, don some fins and get up close to the marine life of Galapagos or Panama or check out glaciers at the End of the World, we’ve got you covered from start to finish— and everywhere in between.

As experts in Latin American travel, we certainly know the allure of immersive and experiential trips to this sometimes remote and always exciting part of the world. We also know keeping track of requirements, planning for contingencies and ensuring a fun, safe and memorable trip shouldn’t qualify as part of the daring adventure, so we’re always here to lead this process.

Although we walk our clients through the entry requirements and health and safety tips for each destination, we thought it would be helpful to share the most recent country specific information we have here. Please keep in mind these requirements and regulations can change without notice, so this should be considered a guide rather than a bible.

Unless otherwise noted, these guidelines are for U.S. citizens traveling as tourists and not on official government or diplomatic business. Keep in mind, most countries have different regulations for their country’s natives who are now naturalized U.S. citizens, and that children under 18 traveling with only one parent or separate of their parents often require additional documentation.

A few general tips before we break down information by country:

  • Most tourist visas can be extended prior to their expiration for a fee, but failure to extend prior to expiration or attempting to leave a country after expiration could result in fines and possibly jail time.
  • All destinations in the below list require a valid U.S. passport in good condition with at least one blank page to enter. Some countries, as noted below, take “good condition” more seriously than others.
  • We prefer to book private cars for our clients, but if you must hail a cab, do so from a marked stand or through a reputable hotel or restaurant. Never hail a taxi on the street or take a ride with “rogue drivers.”
  • Many Latin American countries only require your passport be valid at time of entry. This does not mean U.S. customs will allow you back home with an expired passport. Always renew your passport before travel when necessary.
  • All monies below are in USD$ except where otherwise noted.

Just as here at home, some parts of Central and South America are more safe than others. We take our clients’ safety very seriously and stay informed about any travel alerts— whether from the elements (weather, volcanoes, etc.) or manmade threats. We’ll never send a client somewhere we wouldn’t go ourselves and know that staying alert and educated is the best way to thoroughly enjoy your trip. Leave the details (and the planning stress) to us, and get ready for your own daring adventure!

And now, without further adieu, our best logistical travel advice by country:

ARGENTINA

Passport: Valid at time of entry

Vaccines: None

Currency Restrictions: None

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays of 90 days or less

VIP Tips: There is a $160 reciprocity fee you must pay before arriving in Argentina. Proof must be printed and presented upon request at arrival. You can not pay this fee when you arrive in Argentina.

Don’t pack valuables in your checked bags.

BELIZE

Passport: Valid for length of stay beyond planned departure date

Vaccines: Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria are recommended but not required

Currency Restrictions: More than $5,000 must be declared at entry and exit

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays of 30 days or less

VIP Tips:
Proof of onward or return ticket and sufficient funds to cover your stay in Belize are technically required but not often checked at arrival. You should be prepared to produce these if asked.

Belize City (especially in its southern neighborhoods) is recognized as a high crime area. You should be aware. Additionally, Belize is not PCI compliant, and credit card fraud is common. We recommend not using debit cards and keeping an eye on your accounts while traveling.

BRAZIL

Passport: Valid 6 months from return date and requiring 2 blank pages instead of the normal 1

Vaccines: None

Currency Restrictions: More than 10,000BR must be declared at entry and exit

Tourist Visa: Required

VIP Tips: You must obtain your tourist visa before you travel and will fill out an immigration form when you arrive. You must keep both through the duration of your stay and show airport officials at departure. There are exceptions to the visa requirement around the 2016 Rio Summer Games.

Brazil takes the entry and exit of minors very seriously. If traveling with only one parent or without parents, be prepared to show notarized letters of permission, custody papers, etc.

Crime rates can be high in Brazil. Use the same common sense you would in any major U.S. city. There is no 911. Instead, it’s divided into 190 for police, 192 for ambulance and 193 for fire.

CHILE

Passport: Valid for length of stay

Vaccines: None

Currency Restrictions: None

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays of 90 days or less

VIP Tips: If you plan to travel into Argentina from Chile, you must pay your Argentine reciprocity fee before crossing. Border patrol will turn you away if you have not.

Like Brazil, Chile takes the entry and exit of minors very seriously. The same documentation may be requested for children traveling with only one or neither parent.

Chile is generally very safe but you should keep an eye out for suspicious activity and unattended packages while in Santiago.

COLOMBIA

Passport: Valid at time of entry

Vaccines: None

Currency Restrictions: You may not carry more than $10,000 into or out of Colombia

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays of 90 days or less

VIP Tips: Proof of onward or return travel is sometimes asked for upon arrival into Colombia.

There is an airport exit tax that is payable only in cash. Most airlines include this but you should be ensure whether it is included by your airline and be prepared with cash if it is not.

Although Colombia is one of the most popular destinations in South America right now, there is an active U.S. government travel alert. Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and do not take take mass transit (such as busses), especially at night.

COSTA RICA

Passport: Valid for length of stay

Vaccines: None

Currency Restrictions: More than $10,000 must declared on entry and exit

Tourist Visa: Not required but you must present an onward or return ticket

VIP Tips: Officials take damaged passports very seriously and may turn you away if your passport is not on good condition.

You must have at least $100 for every 30 days you plan to stay in Costa Rica. You will most likely be asked to show this.

There is a $29 departure tax payable at the airport.

Exercise the same caution you would in any major U.S. city.

Beaches can have swift currents, strong rip tides and are often unmarked as such. It is advisable to check with local guides before swimming when there is no lifeguard on duty or signage present.

ECUADOR

Passport: Valid for 6 months beyond stay

Vaccines: Recommended all routine vaccinations are up to date and yellow fever is recommended. Authorities may require the yellow fever certificate when traveling to and from the Amazon River Basin region.

Currency Restrictions: None

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays under 90 days in a calendar year

VIP Tips: Authorities may ask for proof or onward or return ticket at their discretion. Play ahead for this. Better safe than sorry.

U.S. citizens are required to carry proof of citizenship at all times while in Ecuador. Make a copy of your passport to carry with you.

Avoid the northern border region with Colombia, and use common sense even in heavily tourist areas.

GUATEMALA

Passport: Valid for length of stay

Vaccines: Highly recommend Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Yellow Fever and Typhoid, as well as routine vaccinations up to date

Currency Restrictions: More than $10,000 must declared on entry and exit

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays of 90 days or less

VIP Tips: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua enjoy a border agreement and both residents and visitors can travel freely between them for the duration of stay.

There is a $30 departure tax that typically is included in airfare, but be sure to confirm that and be prepared with cash just in case.

Passport theft is common here, so carry a copy with you instead of the real thing.

Pacific coast beaches can have strong currents, rip tides and undertows with no posted warnings or lifeguards. As in Costa Rica, check with local guides before swimming if unsure.

Rugged and wild, Guatemala is perhaps the newest of our destinations to foray into tourism. As such, travelers should stay with guides and groups and be aware of their surroundings.

PANAMA

Passport: Valid for 3 months after entry

Vaccines: Recommend Hepatitis A and B, Rabies and Typhoid, and make sure routine vaccinations are up to date

Currency Restrictions: More than $10,000 must declared on entry and exit

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays of 180 days or less

VIP Tips: Although Panama has a long duration of stay, proof of exit via onward or return ticket must be presented at arrival. Panama also requires the completion of an international boarding card, as well as proof of $500 in cash, credit card (with statement), traveler’s checks or bank reference letter. This is also true when crossing into Panama at the Costa Rican land border.

Those with criminal convictions are not admitted into Panama, and traveler’s are subject to HIV/AIDS restrictions, including (though visitors are unlikely to be asked) deportation.

Parts of Darien and the Mosquito Coast can be dangerous. Stay with reputable guides.

Use caution of potentially dangerous currents in Bocos del Toro and the Pacific Coast. As in Costa Rica and Guatemala, ask local guides when in doubt or unsure.

PERU

Passport: Valid at time of entry

Vaccines: Recommend Yellow Fever

Currency Restrictions: None

Tourist Visa: Required, but free and issued at port of entry

VIP Tips: Evidence of onward or return travel is required upon arrival, and Peru is one of only a few countries that does NOT offer extensions beyond the approved length of stay as outlined on your visa (usually up to 90 days). Be sure to get an entry stamp or you will not be able to leave the country. Officials usually make travelers go back to the point of entry to get the stamp even if exiting from another place.

Peru has strict rules about the export of archeological and natural artifacts, as well as Colonial art. Although these are protected items, you may encounter dealers who will sell illegal goods (often without your knowledge). These goods will be confiscated, and you may be prosecuted. Reproductions are available but you must have National Institute of Culture documents proving reproduction or these too may be confiscated. It is also illegal to remove certain plants and animals from their place of origin. You can be arrested for this.

Be sure to declare all electronics, including personal laptops and smart phones, upon entry or these can be seized.

Peru is generally a safe place but we recommend avoiding road travel at night, and staying out of restricted areas (some of which are restricted due to land mines). There are often local community defense groups in remote areas that are designed to keep the community safe. The U.S. government recommends that travelers cooperate with these groups if given specific instructions.

URUGUAY

Passport: Valid at time of entry

Vaccines: None

Currency Restrictions: None

Tourist Visa: Not required for stays of 90 days or less

VIP Tips: There is a departure tax. This is usually rolled into airfare, but plan ahead.

Uruguay is probably the most democratic and safe of all Central and South American countries, but travelers should still exercise common sense.

Ready to leave the planning up to us? Call us today to begin your dream vacation to Central or South America.


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