After getting through my two connecting flights yesterday evening, from Quito to Santiago, I arrived back in Chile at about 2am this morning. Let's just say that I had a bit of a "rough" welcome. They let me into the country in the end: but not until I'd paid yet another gringo tax. Which, upon stepping off the plane, I quite literally could not afford.
So I arrive in the airport, I walk through the passageways, and I get to the line for immigration. After waiting in line for a few minutes, I get served by one of the customs police. He looks in my passport, and frowns back at me.
"So you're Australian?" he asks.
"Yeah, that's right", I reply.
"Well, you have to go and pay the reciprocity tax", he says, pointing back in the direction that I came.
"Huh? How much is that?" I ask.
"I don't know — just go and pay it!" he insists.
So off I go to another desk, to pay the "reciprocity tax". This is exactly what its name implies: Chile charges an entry tax to people from certain countries, purely because those countries charge its citizens a similar entry fee when they visit. Turns out that for Australians, the entry fee is $56. It has to be paid in cash (or with a credit card), in US dollars, upon arrival.
Also turned out that I only had 30 US dollars, in cash, upon arrival. And no credit card. And they don't take EFTPOS. And there are no ATMs inside the immigration gates. So I was in a right little quandary — what you might call a catch-22. Couldn't enter the country without paying the tax. And couldn't enter the country to get the money for paying the tax, until I'd paid the tax.
Took a little while, and nobody was happy about it (it was, after all, 2am): but eventually, I managed to get one of the customs policemen to escort me out to the front of the airport, where I could withdraw some Chilean pesos out of an ATM there. Then, when I got back inside, the lady at the tax desk still wouldn't let me in: despite this being Chile, she wouldn't accept my pesos; the tax had to be paid in US dollars.
So the customs policeman had to escort me outside once again, to change some of my pesos at a currency exchange. Then, and only then, the tax lady finally accepted my US$56 cash; and the immigration people stamped my passport, and let me into their country.
Thankfully — after the immense delay involved in paying the reciprocity tax — the shuttle bus that I'd booked ahead was still waiting for me. So I was able to get in the bus, zoom through the cold and dark freeways of Santiago, and arrive at Hostal de Sammy by about 3am, where I crashed for what was left of the night.
Great, warm welcome to Chile, eh? And the icing-on-the-cake to what has been a really bad day. Please g-d, wake me up when it's tomorrow, and please let the sun shine on me once more.