If you are looking for a different vacation from your usual places, Central and South America offer many of the best travel destinations from modern, urban locales, to more exotic locations and resorts. Perhaps you are interested in backpacking in South America or going on one of the social vacations offered by companies like Contiki Tours. In any event, there are some basics you need to know before embarking.
In order to leave and enter another country, you will need a US passport of course, but there are some other items you need to prepare for particularly if you are traveling across multiple countries like Argentina or Brazil.
Here are the basics to get you started on your South American vacation.
Get a Passport
This seems like a no-brainer but you would be surprised by how many people in the United States either do not have passport or do not understand you need one to get into and out of a foreign country.
It is not like going to the Caribbean or Canada where a simple passport card will do, international travel to other locations requires a full passport.
Your passport is more just a record of your travel, it is a security device used by immigration control. The newer passports obtained roughly in the last ten years contain an RFID chip that can be read as you walk-thru immigration services or virtually anywhere inside the airport. You might not realize it, but you are being tracked. However, rather than being scared off by that knowledge, understand it is a security precaution before they allow anyone on an international flight.
Your USA passport will also serve as your primary method of identification while you are abroad so you should take very good care of it while you are traveling internationally, whether in South America or anywhere else in the world.
Once you arrive at your destination, place it in the hotel safe and leave it there. Never carry your passport with you when you are out and about. For identification purposes, make a copy of your main photo ID and information page in your passport and carry that with you.
Take Care of Your Passport
If you are worried about it becoming frayed or torn, here is a little trick I use while traveling throughout Brazil. After making a copy of the main ID page of your passport, look into having it laminated at a local mail services store. Simply cut it into a small square or rectangle and have that part of the copy laminated.
Global Entry Program
While you are obtaining your passport, you might want to consider applying for the Global Entry Program if you are going to be a frequent international traveler. This program allows you to bypass the long immigration lines when you return from a foreign country and self-process through a kiosk at most major airport entry points.
Lost or Stolen Passport
Steps to Take if You Lose Your Passport
Inevitably, you may find yourself in a situation where you either misplace or lose your passport in some manner. Hopefully you were not carrying it around with you and had it stolen. Again, make a copy and carry it in your pocket.
However, if you lose your passport, all is not lost. It will require some effort on your part to get temporary passage from the American consulate. The effort is not in the process, but actually finding an American consulate to help you out.
If you are in Rio de Janeiro when you lose it, it won’t be an issue as there is a large American consulate downtown. However, if you are in parts unknown in Brazil, you will need to travel to Rio to take care of it. It really is your only option because you cannot show up at the airport to return home and try to explain the situation. Any countries’ immigration services will require your passport as well as the airline you are traveling.
You must take care of this issue before attempting to return home. Yes, it may turn into a hassle, so for that reason, I strongly recommend you follow my advice in the previous section. Make a copy of your passport ID page and carry that around with you. Keep your original passport in the hotel or room safe if possible.
If you are backpacking around various countries, I understand this might be impossible, but do whatever you can to guard your US passport. It is not difficult to get help from an American consulate, the problem is finding one when abroad.
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Buy Your Airline Ticket
I am placing this step before the next one because most foreign consulates require proof of air travel before they will issue you a visa. I am not sure why this is the case, but that is the way they operate. Typically when you apply in-person or via mail, you will need to show or send a copy of your airline ticket.
As for buying airline tickets to any location in South America, you know the drill. The major sites like Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia will give you a comparison of flights, but before you book anything, check the airline sites such as Delta, American or United. Often times, they have the same fares available, but slightly cheaper, at least by $5 which is the usual Expedia or Travelocity add-on fee.
Do not overlook the South American airlines such a TAM and LAN. They have a lot of direct flights out of Miami and Atlanta to many cities in South and Central America.
Get a Visa
Do Americans need a visa for Brazil or any country in South America?
Yes, most countries have a reciprocal agreement with the United States. That means whatever the United States requires for their citizens to enter the USA, they will require the same of US citizens. They also charge roughly the same fees.
The application process is relatively painless, especially if you have foreign consulates in your home city. If you live around New York City, you are in luck because all South American countries have offices there. You can apply in person and typically have your visa in your passport the same day.
For others, you may need to send your visa application and passport in the mail to the foreign consulate that serves your state. This can be somewhat unnerving especially if you just spent hundreds of dollars for a brand new passport. The first time I obtained a Brazilian Visa, I had to send all of my information to the Miami Consulate because it was the closest one that served my area.
If that is the case for you be sure to send it certified by FedEx with a signature required for delivery. Be sure to follow all of the requirements to obtain the foreign visa. Those requirements can be found on any countries’ consulate websites in the USA. While requirements will vary, you typically must provide the following:
- Money Order for the Appropriate Amount
- 2 Passport regulation head shots
- Completed Visa Application
- Proof of Travel such as airline tickets
There may be additional requirements so research each individual country you may be entering. Once you send your information off you should have your passport with new visa returned to you in about a week.
Lastly, if you plan on traveling through multiple countries in South American, you will need a Visa for all of them.
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Now that you have done all of the pre-planning, the only thing in the way of enjoying some time off is to survive the long flight in coach to your destination. I am not going to lie, a 10 hour flight in coach is not pleasant, but it is manageable if you prepare the right way.
If you are planning any big events during your stay or visiting any landmarks like Cristo in Rio, be sure to verify any Latin American holidays as they may affect your plans. Countries like Brazil have a holiday or two just about every month of the year and during most of them, just about everything shuts down.
Yes, international travel is a bit more expensive, and if you are traveling to multiple countries, the air fare and visa requirement can get pricey, however, do not forget that your US dollar will go a lot further in most South American countries.
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