For a few years now the United States government has been gouging potential visitors with high fees to apply for visas to visit. No guarantee that you’ll be admitted but you pay anyways. A number of countries responded in kind, either requiring a visa with a comparable fee or, in some cases, just charging the fee. Argentina is one of these countries, charging a "reciprocity fee" for visitors.
The fee is comparable to what is charged to Argentinians visiting the United States, $140. Rather than applying in advance for a visa, however, one simply pays the fee in a separate line at the airport before heading through the immigration line. But it turns out there’s a way to avoid this fee, if you happen to be a bit crazy like me.
The fee only applies for folks staying in Argentina. If you’re just connecting then you don’t pay the fee. And, much like the airlines, the definition of a connection is pretty liberal: 23 hours 59 minutes. If you over-stay you get hit with the fee on departure and it can be a bit of a mess, but so long as you have proof of onward travel departing in <24 hours you’re good to go. Rather than getting a stamp in your passport you get a stamp on the immigration form. And if you lose that you get hit with the fee. But so long as you can hold on to that piece of paper for 24 hours the transit is free of reciprocity fees.
I strongly recommend having a paper print-out of your itinerary showing the onward flight out of the country. I managed to get by with showing the immigration officer the itinerary on my phone but I got the impression he wasn’t too impressed but that performance. Show them the itinerary and explain that you are in transit and you should be good to go. I would imagine that this is an easier conversation if you speak Spanish but I managed to get by in English so it is definitely possible. It is possible that this only works for passengers in transit between countries, not folks returning to the same country from which they arrived (similar to China’s policy on transit) but it definitely worked at least twice I can vouch for.
Once you’re past the immigration folks for your day trip to Argentina head into town and spend some of that $140 saved on supporting their economy. And expanding your waistline:
That was a great steak. And I was much happier spending the money there than on the reciprocity fee.
And a special thanks to Grahm for tipping me off to this benefit in the first place.