Sep 24, 7 years ago

Hidden Costs in South America

Hidden Costs in South America

For anyone traveling for the first time in South America, there can be many small, unexpected costs. Here are a few observations and tips from my personal travel experience that I hope you find helpful.

The Small Stuff

The first thing that comes to mind is paying to use the bathroom. A foreign concept for most North Americans and Europeans, expect to part with some change (often more if you want toilet paper) each time you use a bathroom where you are not a patron. If you’re on a tight budget, also factor in the surprisingly high cost of buying 3 or 4 liters of bottled water per day. Lastly, bus stations often charge a departure tax (usually only about $1-2 USD) for each outgoing passenger, which is commonly paid to an attendant in the terminal.

Air Travel

Many airports charge a steep departure tax, which can often be paid only in cash at the airport. Definitely research this before your trip, especially considering that some fees are as high as $50 USD per person. In many cases, this fee can be one more reason to take a bus instead a flight.


Although it is not the norm, a few South American countries require tourists to pay for their visa to enter the country. It is impossible to generalize because laws can change at any time and your nationality plays a significant role in the matter. Most countries don’t want to charge tourists to enter and spend their money, but often a ‘reciprocity fee’ is levied as a diplomatic jab. For example, an American citizen must pay a steep $135 USD in cash at the border of Bolivia because that is what Bolivians must pay to enter the U.S. Keep in mind, $135 could last me nearly a week in Bolivia. The majority of tourists entering Brazil must pay anywhere between $40 and $100 USD for a visa. To be safe, always check with the Consulate of your host country before you set off.

Location, location, location

If you’re in a touristy area, you’re assuredly paying more. Nothing wrong with that, but get off the beaten path and try your Spanish skills to find the local rates.


In most of South America it is customary to tip your bagger a small amount at the grocery store. Likewise in any parking lot which has an attendant standing guard. On international buses, a man usually unloads and loads all the baggage at the border crossing for customs inspection, finally passing a hat or basket around the bus. Although this can have the appearance of begging, it is customary and expected that you provide a tip.

I hope you’ve found this helpful in planning your next excursion in South America.

Lead Image: CC Image used courtesy of morrissey on Flickr



Ryan is a writer, photographer, and teacher living and volunteering throughout Latin America.

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  1. September 29, 2012
    My sister saved this website for me and I have been reading through it for the past several hours. This is really going to assist me and my friends for our class project. By the way, I like the way you write.
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