Don’t cry for Argentina, but open your wallet

Written by admin on January 7, 2010 – 10:15 am -

One of the things many travelers don’t factor into their trip expenditures is the cost of coming and going to certain countries. Depending on your passport, you may be in for a surprise when you purchase a plane ticket. If it didn’t set you back enough, you may have to buy your way in and out of the country and obtain a visa.

A hot off the press add-on fee pertains to Americans, Canadians and Australians who are flying into the Buenos Aires airport. Effective December 28, 2009, the Argentine Immigration Office implemented a reciprocity fee.

Happily, you can pay for the visas at the airport and won’t be turned away if you arrive without a stamp in your passport. There’s a desk at the airport and as long as you have cash, a credit card or traveler’s checks, you’re good to go.

The fees are:

$70 for Canadian Nationals and it’s valid for only one entry
$131 for United States citizens that is valid for ten years
$100 for Australians that can be used for only one entry.

Flight crews, people from the above countries, who have legal residences in Argentina, plus people with official or diplomatic passports are exempt from paying entry fees.

While you’re thinking security and the myriad aspects involved in air travel, ascertain whether or not a visa is required. The airline should know but that doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for checking the government’s official tourist site. Another caveat: be sure your passport doesn’t expire within six months of your return ticket to the U.S. A conscientious airline representative can (and should) forbid your boarding the outgoing flight.

Leafing through my passport, I realize it represents a mini-fortune documenting my travels and some didn’t come cheap. You have the option of sending your passport, the supporting paperwork and passport photos to the consulate of the country where you’re intending to travel or using an Expedititor Service to facilitate the process. A Briggs is one of many of these companies and you do pay a premium in addition to the cost of the visas listed on their site.

Who says travel is glamorous when there so many variables? But for travel junkies like me, each visa stamp brings back memories I’ll never forget.

Come to think of it, it’s a good thing I returned from Buenos Aires on December 18th, 2009 or I’d be out an additional $131. On the other hand, I’d be able to return to Argentina without having to ante up additional cash.

Many Consumer Traveler readers travel extensively. Have you ever forgotten to obtain a visa before leaving the U.S.? And what’s the most expensive visa you’ve had to buy? In my case, I’d wager it’s my collection of visas permitting entrance into Vietnam.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

Photo: detail of print by Tina Chaden


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Some do’s and don’t of vacation rentals – will you fall in love?

Written by admin on December 15, 2009 – 3:21 pm -

Having written extensively about vacation rentals, I’ve learned quite a lot since I took the plunge and rented an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After years of advising Bonjour Paris readers to stay in apartments rather than hotels, in order to experience a place as a quasi-local, it was my turn.

Never having been to the Paris of South America (and speaking no Spanish), B.A. had been on my must-visit list. An acquaintance decided she wanted to perfect her tango so an apartment was the best solution. Eating every meal out is expensive and two people (who’ve never traveled together) confined to one room could spell disaster.

The Internet is a wonderful thing when selecting a temporary home. Enter vacation rentals or short-term rental apartments plus the name of the destination in the search function and you’ll be inundated by choices. Too many. The selection process is challenging, especially in this economic market, when people might opt to rent out properties rather than sell them.

Renting an apartment site unseen is akin to a blind date. Will you fall in love even if you’ve looked at lots of photos?  Wide angle lenses and photo-shop can do wonders.

Tips I’ve learned from being on the buyer’s end:

- Do initial research about the city. Decide what you want to see and study the transportation system. Opting to rent a less expensive apartment a bit out of town, may ultimately end up costing you more money if you’re wedded to taking taxis or are locked into spending time commuting to see what you’ve come to see and do. Surf the web and if you like paper, buy a guide book or two. The DK-Eyewitness Travel “Top 10 Buenos Aires” book with its pull out map was my bible.

- If you’re a woman alone – or traveling with another – evaluate your comfort level if you want to return home late from dinner, or in the case of B.A., a milonga (a tango hall) that doesn’t get started until 11 p.m.

- Reality check: if you’re going to be somewhere for only two or three days, it’s probably not worth renting digs. You’ll need to hit the grocery store and buy essentials such as soap, etc.  Consider whether or not you want or need a concierge or someone to set up tours, make suggestions and/or dinner reservations for you.

How to evaluate a property:

Make certain there’s a high-speed Internet connection if you’re off to a city. Even if you’re not taking your computer and have no need to be on-line, it signifies the landlord caters to business travelers and usually, a more upscale market. Take a careful look at the photos of the kitchen and the bathroom facilities. Living rooms and bedrooms can look charming. Photos of them can be deceptive but they can’t hide an antiquated kitchen or circa 1942 bathroom plumbing fixtures.

How soon and how thoroughly is your rental request answered? People who are professionals are very responsive because there’s so much competition.

Always ask the size of the apartment. A two-bedroom apartment isn’t necessarily spacious when it comes to Americans’ expectations. Forty-square meters is tiny (440-square-feet) and believe it or not, some apartments with those dimensions are intended to accommodate four people.

Do you want to stay in someone’s apartment or are you more comfortable staying in one that’s used exclusively for rentals? A just-rental apartment tends to be less personal. On the other hand, you may not be tripping over the owner’s belongings.

Is the apartment’s owner (or rental agency) willing to have you speak with previous tenants? Is there a manual to the property and a 24-hour-contact number in the event there’s a serious problem with the apartment?

We rented a renovated two-bedroom apartment on the 17th floor that was ideal for sharing. Its American owner emailed a response within one hour of the inquiry and his support staff was excellent. There was a car waiting for us at the airport and someone who met us when we checked in and explained everything in perfect English. There were even cards for us that included the apartment’s address and all of the telephone numbers including the cell phone that was there for our use. We had no complaints. Judy and I were able to share an apartment without getting in each others way since we kept very different schedules.

Another group of apartments that intrigued me were Apartments in a Recoleta Mansion that have been developed by a 38-year-old San Francisco native. Brent Federighi decided to restore the facade  rather than tearing down the building, which so many builders have done in B.A. since it’s easier and less costly. The 18 apartments have the  feel of a boutique hotel. There’s a lobby and a concierge on the ground floor office plus a small pool on the building’s roof.

These apartments are being sold to individuals who want to own a pied-à-terre but want to defray its cost. It’s better than a time-share for those who have money to invest and want an occasional home in Buenos Aires.

Even though where you stay for a short vacation isn’t a life or death matter, it can impact your feeling about a place. Prospective tenants need to read between the lines of rental ads. It’s not always obvious.

Do you have additional tips?  Or have you rented a place to find out it’s a dive upon arrival? If so, what did you do?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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