Families jetting off to far flung destinations in search of sun at half term could be in for extra costs they had not bargained for, according to new Post Office Travel Money research. It found that tourist visas and taxes – payable in foreign cash – could set a family of four back as much as £145 extra on top of the holiday package price.
While the USA requires UK visitors to pay $14 (£9.27) each for an ESTA visa, this has to be purchased before travel, making it impossible for families to get caught out. But Post Office research found that some popular winter sun destinations levy visa and tourist tax charges that are payable on arrival or departure from the country.
Families are most likely to fall foul of the visa trap in the Caribbean. In Antigua tourists must pay almost £20 each in EC or US dollars before leaving the country. For a family of four with children aged 12 and over this means handing over £77.76 in foreign cash at the end of a holiday, when spending money may have run out.
The charges UK families face on half term holidays (see attached for full breakdown):
1. Mexico £145.12
2. Kenya £138.88
3. Cuba £124.44
4. Aruba £97.24
5. Dominican Republic £83.32
6. Antigua £77.76
7. Indonesia (Bali) £76.20
8. St Vincent £44.44
9. Egypt £41.68
10. Turkey £40.00
Holidaymakers travelling to other half term hotspots could come unstuck too as there are visa charges to pay in Kenya, Turkey and Egypt. The position is particularly confusing for visitors to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts. The Post Office research found that visitors to Sharm el Sheikh are exempt from visa costs but those staying in Hurghada or El Gouna have to buy a single tourist visa, costing £41.68 for a family of four.
The research also revealed that Mexico charges tourists 700 pesos (£36.28) when leaving the country. While this may be included in scheduled airfares, depending on the airline, holidaymakers on a charter flight have to pay in cash before leaving Mexico. For a family of four this means an additional outlay of £145.12.
Ironically Mexico has attracted growing numbers of UK holidaymakers because of its value for money All Inclusive package deals and low resort costs. The same is true of the Dominican Republic where cheap All Inclusive holidays have led to a growth in UK visitors. Both countries feature as best value destinations in the latest Post Office Long Haul Holiday Costs Barometer 2011 and were lowest-priced for meals and drinks amongst those surveyed in the visa research.
However, the Dominican Republic is one of three countries – Cuba and Indonesia are the others – where both entry and departure taxes are payable by UK tourists, adding over £88 to the price of a family holiday.
Families drawn to Kenya because sterling is worth 22 per cent more against the Kenyan shilling than a year ago will also find a sting in the tail. The entry visa charged in US dollars means that a family of four faces paying £138.88 – wiping out much of the extra cash they will have received because of the exchange rate rise.
Sarah Munro, Post Office Head of Travel Money, said: “Families looking for a low priced half term holiday may get a nasty surprise if they have to pay tourist taxes on top. This is likely to be particularly problematic for people who are on an All Inclusive package as they may not have budgeted to take foreign cash to cover the charge.
“Unfortunately the issue of visas and tourist taxes is a confusing one and it can be difficult to find out what the charges are and how these have to be paid. We found a wealth of conflicting advice about whether charges were included in airfares and whether children must pay as well. The safest advice is to get in touch with the tour operator or airline you have booked with to ask whether there are tourist taxes, who must pay them and what currency they have to be paid in. If the operator cannot help, it is worth checking with country’s embassy or high commission.
“However, families will be well advised to carry enough foreign currency so that they do not end up having to change money at their departure airport or hotel where they will get a poor rate.”
Over 1,600 larger Post Office bureau de change branches offer a wide range of mid and long haul currencies on demand. All major currencies can also be pre-ordered at 11,800 Post Office branches or online at postoffice.co.uk for next day branch or home delivery. Foreign cash can also be carried on the Post Office Travel Money Card Plus, a chip and PIN-enabled MasterCard accepted in over 28 million locations worldwide.