I was in South America the last two weeks on vacation. My girlfriend Devon and I had a wedding to attend in Montevideo, Uruguay and we decided to make it a three-part trip that included Buenose Aires, Argentina; Uruguay; and Rio de Jeneiro, Brazil.
We had good times in both Argentina and Uruguay leading up to the wedding. The day after the wedding we were scheduled to fly to Rio and had booked a hotel for three nights so we could attend the final days of Carnival. We were both a bit leery about Rio and Carnival but figured the timing and location were perfect to add this extension.
Unfortunately, things went downhill immediately after the wedding.
Schedules are late in this part of the world and we were getting quite used to dinners scheduled at 11:00 PM! Uruguayan weddings are festive affairs and this one went until 5:00 in the morning, only four hours before we needed to be packed, checked out, and on the road to the airport.
Unfortunately, we both ate something bad at the wedding and had a severe case of the runs. I started my problems early and was feeling better by the morning but Devon’s were in full swing when we were supposed to wake up a few hours after going to bed. There was no way we were going to make our flight, so I quickly jumped on the computer, paid a hefty fee, and changed our flights to an evening departure.
At the same time, I decided to check into the best way to get from the Rio airport to our hotel. As I was searching, I happened to see a page about Brazilian visas. Upon further searching, I realized that US travelers need to have a visa to Brazil and this must be purchased in advance. Uh oh.
Now, you might think that a couple of world travelers would know to check visa requirements. However, it is exactly because I travel yearly to South America that I didn’t even consider this. On recent trips to Argentina, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Uruguay I have always simply showed up at the airport and got a visa (or entrance stamp) on the spot. This is the same as all of Europe and I just assumed Brazil would be no different.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Brazil apparently instituted a mandatory in-advance visa for US citizens in “reciprocity” for the same requirement we placed on Brazilians after the attacks of September 11. This is similar to the “reciprocity fee” that Chile, Argentina, and probably other countries now charge US citizens, in the same dollar amount we charge theirs.
Now, I can understand charging visitors a fee to visit a country, since handling visas does cost money. And I can understand countries requiring a visa for people to visit, especially if a) there is any sort of terrorist threat or b) there is a tendency of those nationals to overstay and simply migrate to the country they are visiting. For example, I remember when living in Poland that Poles had a tendency to get a tourist visa to the US and simply never return – the girlfriend of one of my American friends did just that while he was dating her!
Countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Peru (all places we run tours) have decided it doesn’t make sense to require US citizens to apply in advance for a visa. The truth is, US citizens are not likely to overstay their visa and are less likely to visit the country if such a visa is required. Had we done the research, we would never have even planned to visit Brazil – there are other places we wanted to visit and the extra work of shipping our passports to some Brazilian embassy would have nixed the deal.
As it was, we didn’t make it to Brazil anyway. We called the Brazil consulate in Uruguay only to find it was closed for three days – Carnival. We scrambled to extend our car rental, change our return flight back to the US, and book a few more nights in Uruguay. We loved Uruguay and enjoyed the additional time. Brazil is back on the “maybe later” list.