The US passport is one of the most powerful in the world (although all Western passports are more or less equal with a few exceptions). Americans can travel to approximately 186 countries and territories without a visa (or with a visa on arrival). South America is a beautiful continent and one of the many good reasons everyone should have a passport.
So if one wishes to see North America’s southern neighbor, what should Americans know about visiting South American countries? Note that in this article we will exclude Central America and the Caribbean as they are geographically North America.
What you need to know about South America
South America is made up of 12 sovereign countries, two dependent territories and one interior territory. The South American countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The two dependent territories are the Falkland Islands and South Georgia while the internal territory is French Guiana.
The continent is dominated by Latin America (with the Spanish and Portuguese languages) with the exception of Guyana and Suriname which speak English and Dutch and are culturally more West Indian.
- Countries: 12 sovereign countries
- Cut: 17.8 million km2 or 6.9 million square miles
- Population: About 423 million
Keep in mind that countries can and do change their visa policies all the time and check for the latest information before travelling. If you fail to do so and do not have the required visas and documents, the airline may deny boarding or deportation once you arrive in the country.
Go visa-free to South America
Americans enjoy visa-free travel to most South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and, most recently, Paraguay. In all or most of these countries, Americans can enter for tourism purposes for 90 days or 3 months.
- Visa-free countries: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Paraguay
- Duration: Usually 3 months or 90 days
The odd place in South America for tourism purposes is French Guiana. It is an integral part of France and therefore part of the European Union and the Schengen area. The currency is the euro and Schengen rules apply. Americans can enter French Guiana for up to 90 days without a visa.
- Visa policy: Visa-free (Schengen area rules)
- Duration: Up to 90 days
Exceptions to the rule
Bolivia is an exception to the 90 day rule of thumb for South American countries. Starting February 8, 2021, Americans must obtain a tourist visa. These visas can be obtained free of charge before traveling to the country or as a visa on arrival for a fee. The visa on arrival is valid for 30 days. Western European countries, Canada, New Zealand and Australia remain visa-free (allowed for 30 days but can be extended up to 90 days free of charge).
- Visa policy: Visa on arrival (or get in advance for free)
- Duration: 30 days
Another exception is Suriname. Americans must apply for a tourist card online (costs $54). Once you have a tourist card, you can travel for a maximum of 90 days. Tourist cards could previously be obtained on arrival, but this was canceled in 2019. The tourist card also applies to Canadians and most Western European countries. Irish, New Zealanders and Australians can apply for an eVisa.
- Visa policy: Compulsory Tourist Card
- Duration: Maximum 90 days
The last exception is Venezuela. Americans must obtain a visa before visiting this South American country. Visa-free access was canceled for Americans in 2015 and for Canadians in 2019. Western European countries, Australia and New Zealand continue to have visa-free access as of April 2022.
- Visa policy: Mandatory for US passport holders
It should also be noted that as of April 2022, there is travel advice against travel to Venezuela for US citizens.
Do not travel to Venezuela for the arrest and detention of U.S. citizens without due process or fair trial guarantees, or as a pretext for any improper purpose; criminality; civil unrest; poor sanitary infrastructure; and kidnapping.US State Travel Advisory
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