Attention South America Backpackers! Something nobody warns you about!
If you happen to have the fortunate status of being American, Australian, or Canadian, it’s time to pay your dues. The South American reciprocity fee is not a made up tax to screw tourists, and it is nonnegotiable. Before you complain, realize this tax exists because your government charges the same amount for inhabitants of these countries to enter yours! Hence “reciprocity.” So rest assured, it’s not a hoax, and it is something you must incorporate into your travel budget! Once upon a time, you could avoid these fees by traveling by land in lieu of air, but that is no longer the case. Amendments to the original tax law make it so that no matter how you arrive into the country, you will have to pay the fine and show proof of that payment. The fine is usually an average of about $140 for Americans and differs for other nationalities (as of 2014). The only good news is that the payment is valid for a ten year period, so you will be able to reuse your tax receipt for future trips! I have only gone through the process for Argentina and Brazil, and both were relatively straightforward. Remember to do some googling to see if there are updates to methods for paying the reciprocity fee and prices.
Argentina: the reciprocity tax is now payable online (link on the Argentinian embassy site) and must be done so before entering the country or you will not be allowed on the plane! For any flights to Argentina, the airline will want to see a printed receipt of your tax payment, a ticket of departure from the country, and an address of where you will be staying. If you do not have the egress ticket, they will ask for a valid credit card to put in their database to cover the cost if you face deportation. The best way to avoid this is to book a cheap bus out of the country beforehand.
Brazil: the reciprocity fee is built into the fees required for a travel visa, which can be obtained at the Argentinian/Brasil border or at the Brazilian embassy at home. I was able to obtain mine at the port of Iguazú in 24 hours, which was perfect as it gave me time to go see the falls!
Bolivia: you need an entry visa which can be obtained at the Peru/Bolivia border.
Chile: from what I’ve heard down the backpacker grapevine, the fee is only collected from arriving flights to Chile, thus if you travel by bus over the border you can avoid the expense!