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- Ideal Latin Countries for the New Gringo on a Tourist Visa
Back when I first started traveling to Latin America some odd years ago…
It was basically just me hopping around from country to country for the most part.
With some countries getting much more of my time than others…
Particularly Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, etc…
With others like Paraguay, Uruguay, Nicaragua or whatever getting a lot less time.
But that initial year really helped give me a broad introduction to the region.
Beyond that, I ended up in Mexico soon afterwards…
And it was actually the best country to begin living in Latin America more seriously at the time though I didn’t realize it…
I only chose Mexico because I was set to finish a project I was working on in regards to a movement in Mexico called the Zapatistas.
It was either that…
Or maybe spend a year in China as a guy I know was offering a job to teach English there.
But ultimately I decided against that because I really wasn’t that excited about living in China..
And I was also thinking of maybe going to Colombia instead in that year over Mexico…
Perhaps Pereira or Manizales maybe mostly because of the cheaper cost of living, plenty of nice hiking trails and mountains nearby….
And also, if we are being honest, because I found the women there before to be pretty good looking and I wouldn’t mind a year having fun in a city like Pereira perhaps…
Though arguably Mexico City might be a better deal when it comes to that simply because of the amount of women available and the better nightlife scene…
However, some might say women in Pereira are better looking but now I’m rambling a bit…
Anyway, back to the topic….
Which is that, ultimately, Mexico was a better choice for me long term over Colombia for getting my feet back in Latin America.
Because, as you can read here, I was unfocused in my first year back in this region as I was mostly out and about drinking and hooking up.
Had I chose Colombia to get my feet back in the water down here…
Given that Colombia, from what I know, only allows you in the country for 6 months out of the calendar year…
It would’ve been a poorer choice as I didn’t have my shit together financially after the first year in Mexico to begin traveling to other Latin countries…
Yet alone after the first 6 months.
The huge benefit to picking Mexico…
Outside of the cheaper airfare…
Is also that Mexico is an easier country to do visa runs as you can read in this article I wrote here…
6 months in the country and then you have to leave and come back in for another 6 month time period.
Whereas, with Colombia, I understand it as you have to wait until the New Year starts again to get your next 6 months.
Which would have let me stay in the country for an entire year as I had left the US for good by June 2017 if I remember right.
And so I wouldn’t have had to wait long to renew the next 6 months after spending the first 6 months there…
But then I’d have been fucked as my legal right to live there would’ve expired…
And though I could always try my hand at being illegal like some odd amount of foreigners do down here…
I’m not sure that’s a game I would’ve wanted to play back then.
So it would then basically break down to either picking a new Latin country to relocate to with all the inconvenience that would come with at a time I wouldn’t have had my shit together…
Or head back home for 6 months or whatever really.
So, like I said, I’m glad I chose Mexico as a starting point for getting my feet back into the water down here.
And that’s the point of this article!
To break down some ideas for those interested in moving ot Latin America but you want a place that is more legally convenient….
When it comes to tourism visas and the like.
Because some countries down here are much less convenient than others.
So here are my recommendations of where to go by country and city and places I would advise against if you are new to this region…
And just want a place that is more legally convenient for getting your feet in the water with living down here.
In my opinion, Mexico really is the best option in Latin America for getting your feet in the water.
If you are a North American, it is literally the closest country to you!
Much cheaper airfare then most likely…
Good food all around.
The people tend to speak English a little bit better than most other nationalities of Latinos in my experience (in case your Spanish is weak).
It has a good exchange rate (though most Latin countries do) with a great value for what you get with your money.
Better than plenty of other Latin countries in my opinion.
The flights there are not as long.
If you come from Chicago area, it’s literally just a day to get there.
No overnight stays in some random hotel in some random country and then waking up in the morning for the next flight…
Plus, as I said, they are very relaxed on the time a tourist can stay there.
With an entire 6 months given to you and then you can renew it by leaving and coming back in.
Though, from what I remember, it’s recommended you stay out of the country for 72 hours before coming back in but still.
You compare Mexico to other Latin countries where visa runs are possible…
And either they gives you a smaller amount of time like 2 or 3 months before you got to do a visa run…
While some of them, like Costa Rica, tend to be smaller in size with less places to visit.
Anyway, Mexico City is one of the better options in my opinion in this country if you like the big city.
Want a smaller city that is less chaotic?
Try Pachuca de Soto or maybe Cuernavaca.
Want the beach?
I’ll be honest – I’ve never been to a beach in all of my time in Mexico.
I’m not a beach person to be honest.
But I’ve heard Mazatlan is good for it.
Otherwise, here’s a video on the best beaches in Mexico to see.
I don’t know if it is legit but it has a good thumbs up to thumbs down ratio so I guess it’s cool.
More helpful than any advice I can give on beaches in this country.
Argentina is not perfect by any means…
It is very far away.
So the cost of a flight and the length of that flight is a bit worse.
Having said that…
I remember English levels were higher there in places like Buenos Aires than other parts of Latin America for those with limited Spanish.
Nightlife is some of the best of the whole region.
Very safe in my opinion and much safer than most of Latin America in my experience.
Some of the best scenery of Latin America in my opinion also outside of Buenos Aires as you can read here.
And, according to this article here, the Argentine peso has crashed in the exchange rates.
And from what I have heard by other travelers, it is now relatively cheaper to live in Argentina.
Apparently one of the better deals for having a low cost of living in a high quality of living environment.
While Argentina only lets tourists in for 90 days…
The process to do a visa run isn’t as much of a pain in the ass if you happen to live in Buenos Aires.
Because, as you can read here, plenty of people just take a boat ride that is an hour or two over to Uruguay.
Then come back and done!
Though, as some of the people in that source caution, there has been more pushback by Argentine authorities on those who do visa runs to Uruguay.
But, technically speaking, you should be able to do it from my understanding.
I did that once – not so much a visa run but just to check out Uruguay from Buenos Aires by boat.
It was easy and cheap.
I don’t remember the cost of the trip but it wasn’t much either.
So there you go!
Anyway, if you don’t like the big city life, then I guess Buenos Aires wouldn’t do it for you.
But I do know Argentina a little bit better than most other Latin countries as of this writing…
I’m much more familiar though with the northern part of southern parts of the country.
If you want a warmer climate with some good sightseeing in the countryside, then try Misiones.
Or Corrientes next door – both have some of the nicer people too and cost of living isn’t high either.
If you want a colder climate with better hiking trails and amazing things like ice glaciers nearby…
Perhaps try El Calafate?
I liked that city quite a bit.
Though I suspect cost of living might be higher in Argentine Patagonia but I could be wrong…
I haven’t lived there – only visited.
But I was told cost of living can be higher in that region due to all of the tourism and so forth.
Anyway, that’s where I would go in that region.
Though I have never been to Costa Rica as of this writing…
I always assumed that their English levels are better on average than other Latin countries.
That’s an assumption though so take it with a grain of salt.
But anyway Costa Rica makes an obvious choice…
More foreigners with no experience in Latin America are more comfortable this country since they have heard about more than Bolivia or Paraguay…
Also, it’s more comfortable in general and less violent from what I’ve heard.
They only allow you in the country though for 90 days…
But a visa run, as you can read in this great article here, is not too difficult to do and plenty of people do it.
After reading that article, it seems most folks tend to go to Nicaragua or Panama for that visa run.
Fair enough – it’s right next door and I imagine the trip isn’t too long as most of these countries in Central America tend to be smaller in size.
Also, Costa Rica isn’t very far from the US or Canada if you happen to be from there.
So cheaper flight costs and flights that are not as lengthy.
Where should you go?
Well, since I like the city…
I’d go to San Jose personally.
If you like the beach…
Well, since I don’t know Costa Rica and am not a beach person…
I have no idea but a quick Google search shows that a place called Jaco is a good option.
So there you go!
Alternative Option: Country Rotations
Though there are other countries in Latin America that I could’ve mentioned as places to do visa runs and all…
This article is getting lengthy and I figured it is time to wrap it up soon.
However, I want to mention also that, as I implied before, you can also just do country rotations if you want.
Basically spend a part of the year in one country and a part of the year in another.
I know one guy who does that – spends his time between Colombia, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.
And that’s it.
But he makes good money online and can afford to do so.
If you are a young whippersnapper like I was when I got my feet back in the water in Latin America by going to Mexico…
That wouldn’t have been an option due to the fact I was just getting my feet wet with making money online.
Though nowadays it wouldn’t be so difficult (ignoring the travel restrictions we have with Covid).
But, like I said, if you are more comfortable with money as well and have something going for you…
And if you feel comfortable being on the move like that every 6 months or so…
Then keep this idea in your mind also.
It would be similar I suppose to my first two years in Latin America where I basically just went from country to country.
And, in my opinion, was a great and broad introduction to the region.
So I recommend it if you happen to have the money and time for it.
Finally, though I don’t recommend you do this….
I just want to point out that plenty of people choose to live illegally down here as tourists!
By overstaying the visa.
Again, I can’t recommend this whatsoever!
But I just want to say that I know people like this in Mexico.
Who are here illegally of over 2 years or more…
And they have no issue.
Some of them have left the country even and only paid 25 bucks as a fine when they left.
No jail time.
No huge fines.
Though, on the books, fines in Mexico for being illegal can be as high as 300 bucks if I remember right.
Still cheaper than a flight out of the country usually…
And while I don’t know how they handle it in other Latin countries…
Something you’d have to research yourself.
I suspect there are other countries with a similar liberal attitude to foreigners staying here illegally and who happen to have money.
Again, not encouraging this in anyway whatsoever!
It’s a very malo idea!
But it is a path some people happen to choose when they want to live in Latin America for a long time.
Doesn’t involve visa runs either…
But it’s very malo!
Like I said, there are other countries where the visa run is allowed.
So I don’t want to make it seem like Mexico, Argentina or Costa Rica are the only options…
But, assuming you are a foreigner with no experience in Latin America and no Spanish or Portuguese…
Then I’d recommend those areas as I feel they are easier to adjust to life down here perhaps for beginners.
More tourism infrastructure perhaps?
Better English levels perhaps to a degree.
In Mexico’s case, easier to fly into.
And the big point being that they are easier to stay in long term with visa runs.
There are a few countries I’d recommend against though for those who want visa runs as they begin their time down here…
Veneuela being an obvious one.
Cuba as well.
Also, from what I’ve heard, apparently Colombia is difficult as you can read here.
So is Brazil according to this article here.
Among maybe some others as well.
Anyway, if you have any questions about some countries or cities down here…
Write a comment below and hopefully I can help.
Or if you have any comments or experiences…
Just drop them below in the comment section.
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And thanks for reading.