I began planning for this trip so far out that I have had plenty of time to research and plan and plot before getting out there on the road and have landed on a budget of $50 USD a day. $50 a day should be more than enough for the majority of the countries I plan to visit. In fact, if only considering regular daily costs (lodging, food, activities, transportation), $25 or $30 a day would be possible to maintain in many countries. However, there are additional costs, some that I just learned about and some I always forget to count, that can really cause your budget to take a hit. Today, which marks exactly 10 months left to go until my journey begins, I have compiled a few of these other costs to consider:
1. Visa fees: This is a routine cost of travel that most people know to take into account when planning a trip. BUT, for those who have mostly travelled to countries where U.S. citizens either don’t require a visa, or can buy a visa upon arrival in the airport for the likes of $20 USD, the South American countries that require U.S. citizens to get visas are in a whole other league: We are talking $135 for a 5 year Bolivian visa, $160 for a 5-10 year Brazilian visa and $160 for a Paraguayan visa. With the exception of Bolivia, where a visa can be obtained at the border (I have done this), Brazil and Paraguay require visa’s to be secured prior to arrival and usually don’t accept credit card payments. Buying these three visas alone eats up 9 whole days’ budget! But the fun doesn’t stop there, because there are also…
2. Reciprocity Fees: Just because you don’t have to secure a “visa” to enter the popular South American destinations of Argentina and Chile, does not mean you are off the hook when it comes to paying insanely high fees to get past immigration. These countries charge reciprocity fees: so-called because they are literally a push back against the fees of the same dollar amounts charged to Argentine and Chilean citizens looking to secure U.S. tourist visas. You can thank American paranoia and foreign policy for the $160 fee (good for 10 years) it costs to enter Argentina and the similar $140 fee to enter Chile (and also for the ridiculously high visa fees mentioned above)! Similar, though slightly lower fees apply to Canadian and Australian visitors as well.
While my research leads me to believe it may be possible to avoid these reciprocity fees by arriving via land borders rather than via airport, I am not yet confident that this is invariably true and will have to take these amounts into consideration to be safe. After all, between visas and reciprocity fees I have now lost 15 days worth of budget!
3. Departure Taxes: In lots of Central and South American countries (and other places around the world), there is no fee to enter, but there are fees to leave! In the case of Bolivia, and possibly others, there are both! These departure taxes cost much less than the visa fees and reciprocity fees mentioned above, but are still one more way you end up having to fork over your hard saved money. In some cases, these fees are folded into the cost of your plane ticket, in others, such as Bolivia and Costa Rica, you have to pay separately at a window in the airport and present the receipt to immigration to be allowed to board your flight home or leave the country. If you exit via a land border, you may still have to pay a departure tax but it will usually be less. In some cases, such as Belize, there is even a departure tax for leaving the country via sea, but it is nominal compared to the others (Belize: Air tax- $35 USD, land tax- $18.75 USD, sea tax- $3.75 USD).
4. The Cost of Accessing Your Money (ATM fees): Yes, you know how much money you have to spend, but do you take the cost of actually accessing your money into account? Your bank is almost certainly not going to be represented abroad, and so with each withdrawal you pay the dispensing ATM’s fee, your bank’s international withdrawal fee, plus sometimes the cost of converting your home currency into local currency. The result is being charged up to 3 separate times to get at what is already yours! You could use credit cards instead, but most cards will still charge at least 3% to convert currency (Capital One cards are an exception), and credit cards are not accepted in many places. You could also carry cash with you and get it converted all at once, but the rates you get are crap and they also charge you a fee to do this. My personal bank charges $5!! every time I withdraw money while abroad. Assuming I did this even just 1 time a week for 50 weeks, that is at least $250 spent just for having money to spend! Ouch.
5. Travel Vaccinations: Most vaccinations that are recommended for foreign travel are elective and therefore NOT covered by insurance. While you can get your primary physician to give you Tetanus and MAYBE Hepatitis A, you will definitely have to pay out-of-pocket for Typhoid Fever, Malaria pills, Yellow Fever etc. While none are required for entry into Central or South America, with the exception of yellow fever in some cases, if you plan extended travel to rural or jungle areas it’s a good idea to get at least some of the above stated. I also like to get a prescription for Ciprofloxacin, a strong antibacterial drug, for stomach upsets that are a little more serious than average, and these you will usually pay out-of-pocket for too. And none of this is cheap!
The Typhoid vaccine can be $60, Hep A can cost a similar amount and Yellow Fever can run $160! This doesn’t include the administering fee that travel clinics often charge just for performing the act of injecting you. I have similarly been charged $40-$60 just for having the appointment to talk to someone about which shots I should consider getting and $8 for EACH Malaria pill I needed. Since staying healthy can easily run you $300-$400 dollars, you have to remember to plan for it!
In the end, these 5 costs alone will run me 1 whole month’s budget! So, all things considered, I am still hard at work saving up enough money to pay for everything mentioned in this post, plus some actual fun!