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The Ultimate Backpacker Visa Guide to South America

The Ultimate Backpacker Visa Guide to South America

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru. Dancing the tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Soaking up the sunshine on a beach in Brazil. Taking a slow boat down the Amazon river. Watching the sunrise mirrored on the surreal salt flats of Bolivia. Marvelling at Angel Falls, Venezuela, the tallest waterfall in the world. Checking out the hip cafes, cars, museums and restaurants of Santiago, Chile… and so much more!

Travelling around South America offers so many opportunities for unforgettable experiences. This continent offers a lot for the adventurous traveller to see and it is relatively simple to make most of the border crossings. There are plenty of options for bus travel, including night buses that are comfortable enough to sleep on so that you can save on a night of accommodation.

In order to make your travels around South America a little bit easier, I have put together a guide to the travel visa requirements for every country on the continent. This is just an introduction, to give you an idea of what to expect when you visit each of these countries. Of course, this visa information is subject to change so I recommend you double check the requirements before for each specific country before coming face to face with immigration officials.

Now strap on your backpack, grab your passport and go for it!

*All Visa Fee Amounts are in US Dollars*

The Global Goose Backpacker Visa Guide to South America

Argentina

From the laid back vibe of Buenos Aires to the gorgeous rugged landscapes of Patagonia – Argentina is not to be missed. This country offers great value for money and a lot of excellent attractions, with a great bus system making it easy to get around. It’s a great place to indulge in the finer things in life, so why not treat yourself to a fantastic Argentinian steak and wash it down with a glass of superb local red wine?

A cowboy in Argentina

A cowboy in Argentina – photo credit: Eduardo Amorim via photopin cc

If you are from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the European Union and many other countries, you will not need a visa to travel to Argentina. However, as of 2009 citizens of Canada, the USA and Australia are required to pay a “Reciprocity Fee” to enter the country. This fee is different for each nationality and it is similar to how much an Argentinian would need to pay to enter your country. The fee must be paid in advance online at the website of the Argentinian Department of Immigration. You will need to show your proof of payment to the immigration officials when you cross the border.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons - Twofortnights

Photo credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons – Twofortnights

Here is a breakdown of the reciprocal fees:

Americans: You must pay a $160 fee. This allows you multiple entries to Argentina over a period of 10 years.

Australians: You must pay a $100 fee. This allows you multiple entries for one year.

Canadians: You have a choice between a $75 fee which allows multiple entries over a 90 day period from neighbouring countries (Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil) or a $150 fee which allows multiple entries from any point of origin for five years.

If you are from Taiwan, Kosovo, Taiwan, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, you will need to use a Travel Certificate issued by Argentina instead of a passport to enter the country.

Bolivia

If you are a citizen of one of the following countries, you will not need a visa for a 90 day tourist stay in Bolivia:

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany,Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vatican City, and Venezuela.

Copacabana, Bolivia - on Lake Titicaca

Copacabana, Bolivia – on Lake Titicaca

Americans will need to obtain a visa at the border and are required to pay a $135 fee. You will need to submit a visa application form, a copy of your passport, a copy of your yellow fever vaccination certificate, a copy of your ongoing tickets leaving Bolivia, evidence of having enough funds to support yourself, proof of a hotel reservation or written invitation and a 4cmX4cm passport photo of yourself.

The fee must be paid in pristine American bills – any old or torn bills are likely to not be accepted.

If you are from Canada, you will not need a visa to enter Bolivia but you will only be granted a 30 day stay when you first enter the country. You will need to visit the Immigration Office in Bolivia to request an extension.

For more information, click here.

Brazil

Brazil is absolutely massive – the largest country in South America and the fifth largest in the world – so make sure that you leave plenty of time to get across it! It is known for it’s passionate love of football, it’s bright and colourful Carnival and it’s laid back and energetic culture. It is also home to the amazing wilderness of the Amazon rainforest and the famous Iguacu Falls.

When it comes to visas, Brazil plays it tit-for-tat. That is, whatever fees and restrictions a Brazilian person is faced with when visiting your country, you will have to pay the same.

If you are are from one of the following countries, you will not need a visa in order to stay for up to 90 days:

Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Rep., Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong SAR passport, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, South Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Singapore (30 days), Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom (Including British National (Overseas) passport holders), Uruguay , Venezuela (60 days) and Vatican City.

Citizens from all other countries do require a visa to enter Brazil. You may have to pay a fee to enter the country. For example, Canadians must pay a fee of at least $81.25 plus processing and handling fees to enter the country, which is valid for 5 years. Citizens of the USA must pay $160 for a tourist visa and it is valid for up to 10 years.

If you need to extend your visa in Brazil, you can do so at the office of the Policia Federal. You can only extend the tourist visa once, for a maximum of 90 days.

You are required to produce your outbound ticket upon entry by law. However, most of the time you will not be asked for it and if you don’t have one, it is usually acceptable to explain that you will be taking the bus to Argentina and couldn’t buy the ticket before you arrived.

Chile

Chile, the long and narrow country that stretches along the West Coast of South America between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, has a European feel to it and relatively high standards of living. It is far from a budget destination, however it offers the excellent culture, museums, art galleries and restaurants of Santiago and the world-famous wild terrain of Patagonia.

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

If you are a resident of the following countries, you will not need a visa to enter Chile for up to 90 days:

Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mauricio, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela

If you are from Peru, Indonesia, Greece or Grenada, you can enter for up to 60 days without a visa. Citizens of Bolivia, Belize, Jamaica, Malaysia and Singapore can enter for 30 days without a visa and citizens of Dominica can enter for up to 21 days. If you are from India, you will need to apply for a tourist visa in advance at your Chilean consulate and you will be required to provide proof of solvency and hotel reservations.

However, if you are from the USA, Canada, Australia or Mexico you must pay the “Reciprocity Fee”when you first enter Chile. Similar to the other fees, it is equal to the amount that a Chilean would need to pay when visiting your country.

Americans: Must pay a fee of $160.

Canadians: Must pay a fee of $132.

Australians: Must pay a free of $95.

Mexicans: Must pay a fee of $23.

These fees are payable in US dollars or via credit card at the counters just before you pass through immigration. For more information, visit the website of the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Here is some detailed info about crossing the border from Argentina to Chile.

Colombia

Colombia is quickly becoming one of the hottest current backpacker destinations – and for good reason. It offers an amazing diversity of landscapes including plains, snow-capped volcanoes, lush forests, beaches and alpine lakes. Bogota is a beautiful, intellectual, cultural and historic capital city, with plenty of book stores, salsa bars and a lively Carnival.

Many people associate Colombia with drug cartels and political violence, but this perception is out of date. The violence and danger has subsided and now many travellers are coming to Colombia from all over the world. Sweep your old stereotypes aside and discover this great travel destination – before everyone else does!

If you are a citizen of the following countries, you will be able to enter Colombia without a visa and stay between 30-90 days:

Most European countries, all South American nations, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Bhutan, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

The Colombian immigration officials will stam

Irish citizens used to have to apply for a visa at a Colombian embassy, but they no longer need to do this and now have the same process and treatment as the other visa-free countries above.

Here is a great post to read if you want to stay longer in Colombia and a walk through of extending your tourist visa in Medellin.

Ecuador

Ecuador is home to the world’s highest active volcano, the historic capital of Quito, the beautiful wetlands and lakes of Yasuni and a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so there is plenty here for the curious backpacker to explore.

photo credit: sara y tzunky via photopin cc

photo credit: sara y tzunky via photopin cc

As of 2008, citizens of any nationality can enter Ecuador without a visa and can stay for a period of 90 days. This initiative was designed to strengthen relations between Ecuador and other countries and to promote tourism.

That makes it easy, doesn’t it?

Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are located 300 miles off the coast of southern South America and they are a popular destination in the summer months between October and March, when visitors come to enjoy the abundant wildlife and rare birds and marine species – including many different varieties of penguin, seal, duck, hawk and albatross.

The Falkland Islands are a United Kingdom Overseas Territory and an associated territory of the European Union. They have been claimed by Argentina (called the Islas Malvinas) for more than 180 years and they were the subject of a major conflict between the UK and Argentina in 1982.

Unless you are entering on a cruise and will not be spending the night on the land, you must show that you have a return ticket, accommodation and sufficient funds to cover your expenses while on the islands. You can use your credit card as a proof of funds.

A visa is usually required to enter the Falkland Islands. However, if you have a passport from one of the following countries you will not need a visa:

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (Republic), Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan (Republic of China), United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City.

French Guiana

This tropical hot and humid country is a French department in the Amazonia region of South America, located between Brazil and Suriname. There are plenty of great travel experiences to discover here, from canoeing along the calm rivers to checking out the museums of the capital city Cayenne and visiting the Amerindian villages in Haut-Maroni and Haut-Oyapoc.

Citizens of Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the EU, and the USA can enter French Guiana without a visa, as long as they have a passport that is valid for at least three months after the period of stay. All other nationalities are recommended to contact their embassy to check the visa requirements. You must show a yellow fever vaccination certificate when entering French Guiana.

photo credit: larryhalff via photopin cc

photo credit: larryhalff via photopin cc

Nationalities who do require a visa must enter on a Schengen visa which is marked “Department D’Outre Mer” and is specific to French Guiana. The cost of the short stay visa for 90 days is €60 and the long say visa for more than 90 days is €99.

Guyana

This small country between Venezuela and Suriname with an Atlantic Coastline has a name that means “Land of Many Waters” in Arawak Wayana. Its culture is more similar to the English-speaking Caribbean than South America and its blend of East Indian and African cultures makes it feel more like Trinidad. The food, festivities, music and sports here are similar to the islands in the West Indies, more than other parts of the Americas.

If you are a citizen of the following countries, you will not need a visa to visit Guyana:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Luxembourg, Montserrat, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States.

If you do need to apply for a visa, you will need to have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months, three passport sized photos and proof that you have enough funds to cover your trip to Guyana. The tourist visa costs $30 and a multiple entry three month visa costs $50. If you need to extend your visa, you can do that at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Georgetown.

Paraguay

This landlocked county can be found between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia and is one of the poorest countries in South America. It is very cheap to travel in and offers many great attractions, including water sports on Lago Ypacarai, the art galleries of Aregua and the ruins and churches of Encarnacion.

When entering Paraguay, most citizens of the EU will not need a visa to visit for up to 90 days. However, citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Taiwan and the USA will need visas. You can apply for this visa when you arrive, but only at the International Airport in the city of Asunción. The fee will be between $100 and $160, depending on your nationality. This visa will allow you to stay in the country for up to 90 days.

Peru

Peru has a lot to discover, from Colca Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) to the wonders of Machu Picchu to the fascinating Sacred Valley of the Incas and much more. We’ve just spent 7 weeks there and it’s quickly become one of my favourite places in the world.

peru

If you are from North America, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, the European Union and many other, you will receive a visa when you enter the country for up to 183 days. When you pass through the immigration office, you will get a stamp in your passport stating the number of says that you are allowed to stay- which is usually 183. If you want to stay longer, it’s easy to cross the border to a neighbouring country and then return the next day to obtain another 183 days.

After you enter, don’t lose the little slip of paper that is to be kept in your passport, you will need to show it when you get your exit stamp upon leaving the country.

Suriname

This small country in Northern South America is the smallest independent nation on the continent, with a tropical climate, rolling hills, lush rainforest and so much more. You can visit the stunning Galibi Nature Reserve, the bustling city of Paramaribo, and the ruins of the first Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere in Joden Savanne.

If you are a citizen of one of the following countries, you will not need to have a visa to enter Suriname:

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only), Colombia (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only), Cuba (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only), Dominica, Philippines, Gambia, Guyana, Grenada, Hong Kong, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only).

If you are not a citizen of one of these countries, you will need to apply for a visa by contacting the Suriname Consulate in your home country. In most cases, you will need a single-entry visa although you might want to have a multiple entry visa if you will be going back and forth between other neighbouring countries. The fee for a single entry visa is $45 and a multiple entry is $50 for EU citizens.

Citizens of Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, France, Germany, Paraguay, Peru, USA, UK, Venezuela and Uruguay can obtain a single entry tourist card for $25 at the Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport.

After you arrive in Suriname you are required to go to the foreigner’s registration office in the “Nieuwe Haven” within a week after you arrive.

Uruguay

The name “Uruguay” means “River of the Colourful Birds” and this beautiful country with a South Atlantic coastline is known for being a summer beach destination for Argentinians and Brazilians. Uruguayans are passionate about great steak and watching football, so make sure that you enjoy both while you are in the country.

If you are from one of the following countries, you will be able to enter Uruguay without a visa:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, South Korea, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal , Dominican Republic, Czech Republic, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Seychelles, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela.

If you are from any other country, you should check with the local consular section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If you are from India you must apply for a tourist visa, which is free of charge. However, from all accounts the border of Uruguay is relatively easy to cross.

Venezuela

Venezuela is located along the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, bordering Columbia to the West, Guyana to the East and Brazil to the South. It is home to the majestic Angel Falls – the highest waterfall in the world.

photo credit: ENT108 via photopin cc

photo credit: ENT108 via photopin cc

If you are a citizen of the following countries, you will not require a visa to visit Venezuela for up to 90 days as a tourist:

Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Iceland, Iran (max. 15 days), Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Nevis, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Spain, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad & Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Uruguay.

When you arrive on a flight to Caracas, you will pass through immigration before going to baggage claim. An officer will check your passport and ask you questions – if they ask the purpose of your visit you should say “tourism”. You will then go to baggage claim and will be required to match the baggage sticker to the bar code before you hand over your tax form to customs officials.

This has been our ultimate guide to travel visas in South America. If you have any questions or extra information that you feel would be valuable to travellers, or if you want to share your stories about crossing South American borders – please feel free to leave a comment!

About Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

4 comments

  1. ColOmbia. Jeez. Do your research. Columbia is a city in South Carolina.

  2. Venezuela is my one of the favorite one… now come here, if you are looking for the Golden triangle tour in India, then we are the best and Approved tour operator in India for wildlife and all historical places in India…. I promise you to all guys if you visit once in india you never forget this tour memories…….

  3. Thanks for the article! Very helpful for my upcoming trip to South America.

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