You’ve packed your bags, planned your excursions, bought your ticket, but have you considered how to enter the country? Depending on you stay, visa requirements can be simple, or very complex. Most countries have a 90 day tourist visa, which allow you to enter the country for that time period. However, you can’t work for a foreign employer, as these countries don’t want their natives excluded from the job market. Some countries, like Brazil, charge up to $160 per visa and require itinerary details. Others, like Mexico, are less stringent for tourists making border towns like Tijuana, easy to visit. This list will cover common visa requirements for Latin America, specifically Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, and Brazil.
For Americans, Mexico is only a stone’s throw away. It’s very easy to day trip to border towns like Tijuana, Mexicali, Los Algodones, Nuevo Laredo, among others. In fact, many Americans are attracted to some of these towns for affordable, quality medical and dental care. Luckily, it’s easy and free to enter Mexico through these border towns. Driving into Mexico can take just 5 minutes, while it can take waiting 2-3 hours in line to return to the US. When driving in Mexico, be sure to get top notch auto insurance and consider purchasing a Sentri pass. Dual citizens and frequent travelers hold Sentri passes to avoid long border lines and TSA travel checks (learn more about how to get one here).
If you want to stay longer and go deeper into the country, you must pay a fee of roughly $22, fill out a FMM (Forma Migratoria Multiple) which is valid for 6 months. Mexico has more relaxed visa laws, because it’s trying to promote foreign tourism and business to stimulate their economy. If you over stay your six months without trying to get a formal temporary or permanent resident visa, you could be fined up to $6,000 MXN. Therefore, it’s wise to be organized with your travel intentions and documents.
Colombia, once a drug war zone terrorized by Pablo Escobar, has greatly recovered into a thriving tourist destination. In fact, Medellin’s tourist reputation is growing, which has earned it the title of “South America’s Silicon Valley.”
Like most visa requirements for Latin America, Colombia allows tourists to enjoy a 90 day visa free period. If you want to stay more than 90 days, you should file an extension of up to 90 days from the Colombian immigration authority (Migración Colombia). Also, if you choose not to extend, then you could face a fine up to $300,000 COP and will not be able to leave the country until it’s paid. Luckily, Colombia has plenty of Migración Colombia offices throughout the country, making it easy to register. Also, you can register the visa online within 15 days of your arrival.
Lastly, exercise caution when traveling in remote, forest areas of Colombia as mosquito borne disease like Yellow Fever and Malaria are prevalent. Thus, you should get vaccinations for these diseases prior to traveling to these areas. Also, travelers coming from Brazil, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, or Uganda must get yellow fever vaccination prior to entering Colombia.
Ah Cuba, this list of visa requirements for Latin America wouldn’t be complete without this eccentric country. Prior to the Castro Regime, Cuba was seen as a Cheap Las Vegas alternative, with fancy casinos, hotels, prostitution and was even infamous for Mafia activity. During the 1960’s, the cold war was in full swing and Cuba was an ally of the USSR. Thus, the USA placed a trade and tourism embargo against Cuba in the 1960’s. Fast forward to 2016 and then President Barack Obama eased tensions with Cuba. While the embargo is technically in place (especially for businesses), US Citizens can purchase rum, cigars, as well as travel to the island. In the past, Americans would have needed to travel to Mexico, or Canada to see the country.
Cuba has stricter requirements than most countries on this list. For example, Cuban tourist visas are only good for 30 days per single entry. In addition, you must provide proof of accommodation as well as your return flight information. Fortunately, you can extend the tourist visa for another 30 days through your hotel reception. The tourist visa costs 17€, and a business visa costs 69€.
Brazil is a diverse, unique Latin country with Portuguese as it’s official language and strict visa requirements. This country, charges visitors more than most countries with visas costing roughly $160 per person. Also, visitors have reported it taking up to two months to receive their visas. Also, Brazil requires tourists to provide their itineraries including their departure ticket prior to entering the country. Luckily, you can complete this process online.
Like Colombia, some Brazilian areas are susceptible to mosquito viruses like Yellow Fever, Zika and others. Thus, Brazil requires travelers that have traveled to countries like Colombia, many African nations, and Peru to demonstrate they’ve had a yellow fever vaccine. Similar to other countries, Brazil requires retirees and self employed individuals to show proof of income. This can be done by showing bank, brokerage and/or pension statements to prove you won’t be a drain on their economy. Some countries like Ecuador have similar standards by requiring a $800/mo. income and Belize insisting on a $2,000/mo. income.
After planning and anticipating your trip, don’t forget to be aware of visa customs. It can vary per country, but most have a 90 day grace period for tourists. Some countries like Mexico, have lax standards for entry at border towns like Tijuana and Mexicali. On the other hand, places like Cuba and Brazil have tougher entry requirements. These requirements are due to many reasons like international trade agreements (embargoes) and tense relationships. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and it’s brief overview of visa requirements for Latin America, especially Mexico, Colombia, Cuba and Brazil.