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Note: Some of this information may no longer be valid. Before making any trip decisions, refer to the latest U.S. State Department information for the country of interest.
(Countries covered: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.)
Getting In and Out
Safety Tips - Civil Unrest
U.S. Wildlife Regulations
Shopping for Antiques
Additional Country Information
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Travelers to Central and South America are usually welcomed with courtesy and warmth. There is great diversity in the region - you can visit some of the largest cities in the world as well as some of the most unspoiled primitive environments. You can have a wonderful trip; however, there are some precautions to take.
The Department of State issues travel advisories concerning serious health or security conditions that may affect U.S. citizens. Current advisories are available at the 13 regional passport agencies in the United States and from the Citizens Emergency Center, Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520, (202) 647-5225. Advisories are also available at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Some of the dangers covered in these advisories are guerrilla or terrorist activity, banditry, and areas under control of narcotics producers.
As you travel, keep abreast of local news coverage. If you plan more than a short stay in one place, expect to travel to an area where communications are poor, or if you are in an area experiencing civil unrest or natural disaster, you are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration takes only a few moments, and it may be invaluable in case of an emergency. Remember also to leave a detailed itinerary and the number of your passport with a friend or relative in the United States.
U.S. citizens must have a valid U.S. passport to travel to all countries in Central or South America, except for Costa Rica. (Costa Rica requires proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate, and proof of identity.) Visa requirements for U.S. citizens vary from country to country: some countries do not require a visa for a tourist stay of 9O days or less; for some you need to obtain a tourist card from the airline office or the destination airport; for other countries you must obtain a visa in advance from the country's embassy or consulate. Some countries have additional entry requirements such as proof of sufficient funds or proof of onward or return tickets.
In addition, all South American countries and most Central American countries require a departure tax. If you are departing to a neighboring country, the tax may be small, but, if you are returning to the U.S., the tax could be as high as $50 per person. Be sure to have enough money at the end of your trip to be able to get on the plane.
For authoritative information on a country's entry and exit requirements, contact its embassy or consulate When you make your inquiries, ask about;
Where to obtain a tourist card or visa.
Visa price, length of validity, and
number of entries.
Financial requirements - proof of sufficient funds, proof of onward or return ticket.
Special requirements for children traveling alone or with only one parent.
Yellow fever immunization or other health requirements.
Currency regulations-how much local or dollar currency can be brought in or out.
Review your health insurance policy. If it does not cover you abroad, consider purchasing insurance that does. Also consider obtaining insurance to cover the very high cost of medical evacuation in event of accident or serious illness.
Depending on your destination, immunization may be recommended against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis, polio, rabies, typhoid, and yellow fever.
Malaria is found in rural areas of every country in the region, except Chile and Uruguay. Malaria prophylaxis and mosquito avoidance measures are recommended. When possible, avoid contact with mosquitoes from dusk to dawn by wearing long clothing and using insect repellent on exposed skin. Use a flying insect spray and a bed net in living quarters. Prophylaxis should begin 2 weeks before going to an area where malaria is endemic and should continue for at least 4 weeks after leaving. Chloroquine is the malaria prophylaxis most easily tolerated by the body. However, malaria resistant to chloroquine has been reported in an area beginning east of the Panama Canal and extending through northern South America as far south as the Amazon Basin. If you plan to visit this area, consult a medical expert to work out an additional prophylaxis. At times, however, malaria may break through any drug or drug combination.
If you develop chills, fever, and headaches while taking a malaria prophylaxis, seek medical attention promptly. Early treatment of malaria can be effective, but delaying therapy could have serious consequences.
Mosquito avoidance measures, if used day and night, may also help prevent other less prevalent insect-borne diseases found in parts of Central and South America such as Chagas' disease, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, and yellow fever.
Throughout most of Central and South America, fruits and vegetables should be washed with care and meats and fish thoroughly cooked. Problems of food contamination are less prevalent in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, and tap water is potable in those countries. Elsewhere water is generally not potable and should be boiled or chemically treated. Diarrhea caused by contaminated food is potentially serious. If it persists, seek medical attention.
Certain beaches in the region, including some at or near Lima, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, and Valparaiso are dangerously polluted. Avoid swimming at beaches that might be contaminated with human sewage or dog feces. Avoid swimming in fresh water in areas where schistosomiasis is found: Brazil, Suriname, and north-central Venezuela.
Visitors in the Andes may experience symptoms of altitude sickness such as insomnia, headache, and nausea. If you become sick, wait until your symptoms disappear before you attempt to go higher. Mountaineers should learn about the symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema, a condition that is fatal unless remedied by immediate descent.
Another hazard of high altitudes is sunburn. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases not only as you approach the equator, but also as you ascend in altitude. Sunscreens may help prevent this.
Like many large cities throughout the world, major cities in Central and South America experience assaults, robberies, and thefts. Visitors should take common sense precautions:
Safety begins when you pack. Leave expensive jewelry behind. Dress conservatively; a flashy wardrobe or one that is too casual can mark you as a tourist. Use travelers checks, not cash. Leave photocopies of your passport personal information page and of your airline tickets with someone at home and carry an extra set of copies with you.
Use a money belt or a concealed money pouch for passports, cash, and other valuables. In a car, keep doors locked, windows rolled up, and valuables out of sight. A common trick is for a thief to reach through a car window and grab a watch from a person's wrist or a purse or package from the seat while you are driving slowly or stopped in traffic.
When you leave your car, try to find a guarded parking lot, lock the car, and keep valuables out of sight.
When walking, avoid dark alleys, crowds, and marginal areas of cities. Do not stop if you are approached on the street by strangers, including street vendors and beggars. Be aware that women and small children, as well as men, can be pickpockets or purse snatchers. Keep your billfold in an inner front pocket, carry your purse tucked securely under your arm, and wear the shoulder strap of your camera or bag across your chest. To guard against thieves on motorcycles, walk away from the curb, carrying your purse away from the street.
Whenever possible, do not travel alone. If you travel in isolated areas, go with a group or a reputable guide.
Avoid travel at night.
Do not take valuables to the beach.
Any U.S. citizen who is criminally assaulted should report the incident to the local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Several countries in Central and South America have areas of instability or war zones that are off-limits to visitors without special permits. Others have similar areas that are open but surrounded by security check points where travelers must show their passport or tourist card. Always carry your papers with you, and do not overstay the validity of your visa or tourist card.
Avoid public demonstrations. American citizens have been arrested when local authorities have thought they were participating in civil demonstrations. If you are detained or arrested for this or any reason, ask to speak with a U. S. consular officer.
Most Central and South American countries strictly enforce laws against the use, possession, and sale of narcotics. Foreigners arrested for possession of even small amounts of narcotics are generally charged and tried as inter-national traffickers. There is no bail, judicial delays are lengthy, and you can spend 2 to 4 years in prison awaiting trial and sentencing. If you carry prescription drugs, keep them in their original container, clearly labeled with the doctor's name, pharmacy, and contents. You may wish to check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit for specific customs requirements for prescription drugs.
Be cautious when taking pictures. Local authorities in Central and South American countries consider all airports, police stations, military locations, oil installations, harbors, mines, and bridges to be security-related. Photography of demonstrations or civil disturbances is also usually prohibited. Tourists have had their film confiscated and have been detained for trying to take these types of pictures. When in doubt about whether you can take a picture, ask first.
Endangered species and products made from them may not be brought into the United States. The penalty is confiscation and a possible fine. These items are prohibited from import: virtually all birds originating in Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Venezuela; furs from spotted cats; most lizard-skin products from Brazil and Paraguay; many snakeskin products from Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay; skins from the Orinoco crocodile; and all sea turtle products.
Most countries in Central and South America control the export of objects from their pre-Columbian and colonial heritage. Some countries claim ownership of all such material and consider the export of antiques, without the permission of the government, to be an act of theft. In addition, under U.S. law, importers of all pre-Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture, murals, and certain archaeological and ethnological materials are required to provide proof to the U.S. Customs Service that these artifacts are legally exported from the country of origin. Beware of purchasing artifacts unless they are accompanied by an export permit issued by the government of origin.
Belize enforces a strict policy of refusing admittance to persons who an immigration officer suspects of drug use.
Obtain your visa in advance. Brazilian immigration authorities do not hesitate to require a traveler without a visa to leave on the next available flight. Street crime can be a major problem in large cities in Brazil. In Sao Paulo, if you encounter difficulties or need emergency assistance, dial 190, radio police patrol, from any public telephone. No coin or token is needed for the call.
Anyone considering scientific, technical, or mountaineering expeditions to regions in Chile classified as frontier areas or to Antarctica must apply for authorization to a Chilean embassy or consulate a minimum of 90 days prior to the beginning of the expedition. The application will be forwarded to the Chilean government for decision. Chilean authorities reserve the right to request Chilean participation in foreign expeditions and require the submission of a post-expedition report on the activities undertaken and the results obtained.
Although U.S. citizens do not need a passport to enter Costa Rica, it is a good idea that you have one, particularly if you plan to stay more than 30 days. Some Americans have experienced difficulties in cashing travelers checks without a passport. Costa Rica strictly enforces immigration rules. If you need to extend your visa, do so promptly with local authorities.
Travelers to the Galapagos islands should be aware that there are few medical facilities on the islands and cruise ships may also offer only limited medical care. Moving about the islands in the equatorial heat requires physical exertion and may be debilitating to someone in poor health. Before traveling, you may wish to consult the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil for more information.
To travel to the Galapagos by private yacht, you must have a license from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Defense. You may apply through an Ecuadorian embassy or consulate, but do so well in advance because approval can take from 1 to 3 months.
Pre-Hispanic artifacts from the Cara Sucia archaeological region are prohibited entry into the United States unless accompanied by proof that they were exported with the permission of the government of El Salvador.
Upon entry, tourists may need to show $200 as proof of sufficient funds for their stay. They must exchange $60 upon arrival at the airport.
U.S. citizen are encouraged to obtain a U.S. passport before travelling to Panama. Although (in an emergency, A.W.) entry into Panama is permitted with any proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a certified birth certificate or a naturalization certificate) and official photo identification (such as a driver's licence), some travelers have experienced difficulties returning to the U.S. when not in possession of a valid U.S. passport. Travelers must either purchase a tourist card from the airline serving Panama ($5.00) or obtain a visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before traveling to Panama. Further information may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama, 2862 McGill Terrace, N.W., Washington D.C. 20008, telephone (202)483-1407. [Panama - Consular Information Sheet, October 20, 1995]
Visitors must buy 500 Suriname guilders (approximately $283) at the port of entry.
Source:Excerpted in part fromU. S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. Department of State Publication 9199. May, 1989. (Updates as of April 1996 noted in text).
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