If you’re an avid Travel Off Path reader, traveling is probably one of your greatest passions.
There is probably nothing more exciting to you than dusting off your passport, heading to the nearest international airport bags in hand, and anticipating the adventures you are about to have once you land in that unpronounceable foreign place.
The excitement and skipped heartbeats aside, you also know international travel does not come without its share of bureaucracy, and other than getting the right documentation for your trip, such as health insurance, you must verify which are the entry and stay regulations at your destination.
Fortunately for American travelers, their passport is one of the strongest travel documents in the world, and they can enter a majority of their favorite countries – with some noteworthy exceptions– visa-free, but this does not mean rule-free, especially if you’re going to be away for a longer while.
What Is The 3-Month Rule?
Usually, they can only stay for three months or less in any given destination.
One famous example is Europe’s Schengen Area, a collective of 27 nations that form a single outer border and thus apply the same entry controls.
When traveling to Schengen as tourists, Americans can only stay 90 days out of any 180-day period.
The 90-day rule is replicated across most countries worldwide, though a tourist’s authorized stay can be even shorter in specific cases, such as Thailand, where Americans are only granted a 30-day stay.
In Latin America, however, these strict rules tend to be more lax, and in three countries, American explorers get a whole six months to travel as long-term tourists, enabling them to explore extensively without having to worry every day about the ticking clock.
And the good news is: they are some of trendiest hotspots among U.S. visitors.
Historically, Costa Rica has only ever allowed Americans to stay for up to 90 days in its territory, in accordance with other Central American states.
As of October of this year, however, immigration authorities have officially increased the deadline for leaving to 180 days, essentially double the original permitted duration of stay.
Starting this fall, Americans have been eligible to fly to Costa Rica visa-free, as usual, except when they present their passport landing in the country or crossing via land from neighboring Central American states, they get a full six-month leave to remain.
This decision has been greatly influenced by Costa Rica’s growing popularity as a digital nomad destination: since 2020, remote workers have been flocking into the country in droves to be nearer nature, as close to 60% of the landmass is forested, and live peacefully by the oceanside.
Before the change was enacted, however, they were required to leave after their three months were up, which could be a nuisance to some, as Costa Rica has an incredibly diverse tourist offer, and there is no way you can do the country justice, and explore all of its beautiful reserves in only a few months.
Now, both digital nomads and long-term visitors alike get an additional three months to soak up Costa Rica’s tropical atmosphere and take it slowly as they travel.
One of the fastest-growing Latin American destinations in the post-pandemic scene, Colombia is yet another country that grants American visitors a longer sejour, but here’s why most tourists are not even aware staying for more than 3 months is possible.
When arriving in Colombia, you will only get a three-month stamp, but this does not mean you cannot extend your visit legally beyond the initial 90 days the border officer has granted you.
If that is the case, and you can’t get enough of the Colombian Caribbean’s gorgeous colonial-era cities, Medellin’s riotous nightlife, and Bogota’s world-class museums, you must head to the nearest immigration office to apply for an additional three-month permit.
This can be done from inside Colombia, but it is imperative you apply for a renewal before the expiration of the 90 days.
The extension is officially called a salvoconducto, and it will require you to present yourself before Migracion Colombia and pay a fee.
Usually, they will ask for proof you are indeed leaving the country after the end of the additional three months, so you may be required to present an outbound or return ticket, on top of the other documents, such as a copy of your passport’s personal data page, and your entry stamp.
The fee is only 74,000 Colombian pesos, or the equivalent of US$17.55, but those failing to apply before the original tourist visa expire, and going on to stay in Colombia illegally, without having obtained an extension could be fined as much as US$1,185.64.
The third Latin country where Americans enjoy a full six-month stay as tourists is their absolute favorite of all time, Mexico.
This sunny destination grants U.S. passport holders an automatic six-month stay on arrival, so they are not required to ask for extensions once 90 days have elapsed, unlike in Colombia, nor do they need to worry about visa extensions.
Additionally, there is reportedly no time limit on how long you must stay outside of the Mexican territory before you can return, even if you have used up your 180 days previously.
As a U.S. passport holder, this means you can reside in Mexico for six uninterrupted months, return to the United States, or visit another country for a month, and then seek re-entry into Mexico.
Naturally, Americans who are identified to have been living in Mexico through consecutive visits, with the sole purpose of renewing their 180-day visa, could be investigated further and, in a worst-case scenario, even denied entry.
With that being said, Mexican border authorities are normally extremely fond of U.S. visitors, and as long as you answer their questions truthfully and you’re a genuine visitor, regardless of how long you intend on staying or how often you visit Mexico, you should get able to get in and out hassle-free.
In some Mexican airports, such as Cancun, you are now even allowed to use e-Gates for faster entry, meaning you are no longer required to undergo an interview at the border, and you can simply scan your passport to enter the Mexican Caribbean.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com