South America Living

Border Etiquette Tips For South American Travelers

Waiting in Line at Chuy, Uruguay Immigrations

The golden rule when crossing any border in South America or having a chat with one of those ‘folks in uniform’ immigration officers?

The immigration representative of the country you are visiting or leaving is king; or queen (if female).

Keep that in mind while following the advice below and you should experience next to nil problems skipping from one country to the next.     Map of South America

Tips to help you make your way through South America:

  1. Know if you need to pay a visa fee (click on ‘reciprocity fees’ link below & view the chart) in advance and if so, have the correct amount ready – in U.S. dollars or the local currency (easy when leaving a country, not so easy when entering a new country with new currency).   Chart of Reciprocity Fees
  2. If you were issued a Tourist Card upon entering a country (small slip of paper in addition to the stamp in your passport), be prepared to show it when exiting. If you have lost it, contact your embassy or consulate (or ask any fellow traveler on the road traveling similar paths) about requirements for replacement. You may have to pay a small fee when exiting or you may not. Many countries, such as Argentina, are doing away with Tourist Cards. You only need to show the entry stamp in your passport that was given upon entering the country when leaving.
  3. Stay calm and friendly, no matter how stressed-out you may feel. Getting a barage of questions directed at you in Spanish and hardly speak ‘Spanglish’ (mix of English & very poor, basic Spanish)? Do the best you can to answer, without showing your distress. Saying “mas despacio por favor” (‘more slowly please’ in English) sometimes gets the immigration interrogator to talk more legibly and understand you really don’t understand – are not being yet one more ‘rude tourist’ they have to deal with.
  4. Upset at being treated unfairly or subjected to mistreatment (verbal abuse, forced to pay a bribe)? There is not much you can do. Get your business completed and make a complaint afterwards to your embassy or consulate. These are the folks who deal with these issues at the top level, not us lowly travelers traipsing through South America.

Keep the “Golden Rule” for border crossings in mind, and follow the tips outlined above to make your border crossings, and travels, as enjoyable and trouble-free as possible.

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Photograph by Molly McHugh, all rights reserved.




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