Photo: Ana Cotta, Flickr Creative Commons

Many Americans may not realize this, but one of the most difficult countries to enter as a tourist is actually the United States.

Visas for foreign visitors can be both time consuming to obtain and expensive. Hence, some countries have resorted to a direct response by charging high fees to visitors from the U.S.

Brazil has long had an expensive and complicated visa process for Americans, but Argentina has, for the most part, been much more lax. These days, be prepared for a new wrinkle.

But in 2009 the country started collecting a $131 fee for U.S., Canadian and Australian citizens upon entry for anyone arriving at the main Buenos Aires airport (the approximate same cost of a U.S. visa for Argentinian citizens).

The fee could be paid in Argentinian pesos, U.S. dollars, travelers checks or by credit card, so while it was an expensive addition to a trip, it wasn’t very complicated.

Now, however, the rules have changed. Most importantly, the reciprocity tax, now US$161, MUST be paid in advance. This change went into effect October 13, 2012, for international travelers arriving at the mostly domestic AEP airport (which meant it affected very few travelers).

But on December 28, 2012, the rule went into effect at the main International Airport (EZE). And, as of January 7, 2013, it’s in effect at ALL border crossings. (Previously travelers who arrived by land or on, say, a ferry from Uruguay, were exempt.)

Before travel, air passengers must go to Reciprocity Fee Payment Page, click on the sign-up box, register and pay by credit card online.

The site will then generate an e-receipt, which MUST be printed and presented as proof of payment on arrival in Argentina.

This last probably means paying the fee advance from home or office. Travelers who have gotten in the habit of using their laptops or tablets on the road and working with mobile boarding passes and confirmations, will have to find access to a printer.

Plus, this change is apparently non-negotiable. Failure to provide proof of payment will result in denied entry and return to passenger’s point of departure. (If they haven’t already, U.S. carriers may start asking for proof of payment at check-in, to avoid hassles.)

Cruise ship passengers are exempt from the fee until July 1, 2013, when they too will have to show the receipt on arrival.

Since the change is so new, there’s no way of knowing quite how many travelers may be caught. But at time of writing this post (Jan. 6, 2013), for example, just has an “entry-exit fees may apply” notice for anyone trying to book a ticket to Buenos Aires.

When the Orbitz link is clicked, there are a number of questions and answers. One is, “Can this fee be paid in advance?” And the answer is “No, these are not visa fees and cannot be paid in advance. It will be collected upon entry in the country.” Oops.

In addition, I can only imagine how many people booked travel well in advance for the high season (U.S. winter/South American summer) and wouldn’t get an alert even if the site they used was up to date.

Travel agents presumably should be able to search future Argentina bookings to advise their clients. But, there are no guarantees they will all do that.

Since the system is new, it may well be tweaked in the future. For now, travelers should make sure they have a printed e-receipt and start the process well enough in advance not to be derailed by a last-minute computer or printer glitch.

For any readers not going to Argentina, the new rules are a reminder that for any foreign travel, even to a country visited in the past, don’t assume anything remains unchanged on the entry rules.