The Force is Strong With This One (Dollar): Top 3 Destinations to Spend Your Buck

Imagine the US dollar has been lifting weights over the past 10 years, wearing an oversize hoodie and sweatpants. Today, the dollar rips off its shirt, heads to the beach and reveals its 6-pack abs and all around muscular physique!

Yeah, that’s the dollar I want to travel with, too.

Historic gains have been ripping through the S&P 500–the index is up almost 90% over the last decade. Like the US equity market, the dollar is also Superman-strong. As a U.S. citizen, or anyone holding USD, your buck has the potential to take you further than any other time in the recent past. I’ll show you just how much you can stretch that equivalent, value-menu Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger!

First, I evaluated the top traded currencies of 2016 to get an idea of how four quarters stacks up against the equivalent currency. Second, I noted other currencies which appear to be on sale and offer tremendous value.

Taking a longer term view, I figured how much the dollar has gained (or lost) from 2007 to 2017. For example, the exchange for the dollar to the Great British Pound was 1USD=0.49GBP, on average, over 2007. Today, that average exchange rate for 2017 is 1USD=0.81GBP.

I took this approach because I am much more interested in the value the current dollar represents today, over a period of a decade, than a year-over-year change. In a word, perspective.

I’ve come come up with a top-3 list of cities to visit, based on where the USD represents an extremely great value, considering the 10 year time horizon.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ten Year Value: 1USD=15.73ARS vs 1USD=3.11ARS
caminito-351167_960_720

All things being equal, your dollar will give you nearly 5X the value it did back in 2007. That’s insane! Sure, inflation has rocked Argentina over the past few years, but the value the dollar provides here cannot be ignored.

Vegetarians look away! Argentina knows a thing about a great steak, as its annual beef consumption ranks second to only neighboring Uruguay on a per capita basis. Make nice with a local and get yourself invited to an asado. Check out this mouthwatering page for all the details.

Expect great weather throughout March with temperatures ranging from 65-80°F (18-27°C), with an average around 71°F (22°C). Perfect for your street tango encounters.

An AirBnB along the famous Avenida 9 de Julio in March averages $45-$75/night for 2 guests. These rates are for an entire private home/apartment.

Cape Town, South Africa
Ten Year Value: 1USD=13.38ZAR vs  1USD=7.06ZAR
helicopter-1218974_960_720
The dollar has consistently grown stronger over the last 10 years with regards to the South African Rand. Today, your greenback affords almost double what it did back in 2007.

Take the cable cars all the way to the top of Table Mountain. With views of the bustling harbor and Cape Town Stadium to the north, this mountainous lookout provides incredible views of the South Atlantic Ocean and the port city below.

Swartland, a region about an hour north of Cape Town, has shot into the spotlight in recent years. Plan a trip here and see where some of the country’s best wines come from. And remember, since your buck goes twice as far, toast a second glass (or bottle; no one is judging).

Moscow, Russia
Ten Year Value: 1USD=59.1RUB vs  1USD=27.2RUB
moscow-1556561_960_720
Experience the crushing power of the Kremlin. You’ve no doubt seen colorful pictures of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, but the view from the cathedral into Red Square is one of the most impressive anywhere in the world. The surrounding fortress walls command dominance and offer a glimpse into the importance of the complex throughout its storied past.

Despite Moscow being quite an expensive city, if there ever was a time to visit, it’s now. Do yourself a favor though and visit during June, July or August, as these are the only months the average temperature is agreeable and hovers between 60-65°F (15-18°C).

Sure, the dollar is quite strong in a host of countries, but these three offer exceptional value and should be included in anyone’s travel itinerary if overall value is the objective.

You will notice that Mexico, Brazil, and other countries represent a great opportunity as well. However, these countries have consistently been less expensive over the long-term. I’m advocating taking advantage of large fluctuations in otherwise expensive destinations while you can.

Data compiled from: http://fxtop.com/en/historical-exchange-rates.php?MA=1

How to Visit China Without a Visa

100% possible to do, but a little misleading. Technically, you will be issued what is known as a Visa in Transit upon arrival. But you do not need this prior to arrival.

But first, a little background…

It’s 9:45 in the morning on a Friday in November. I’m jamming away at my keyboard at work, still slightly foggy and desperate for another cup of coffee. Instead of caffeine, I decide that printing out my literary for an upcoming trip will produce (almost) the same effect and allow myself to mentally escape work for a few minutes. Print. Get up. Fetch. Return. PANIC.

I return to my desk but immediately get up and rush to the end of the aisle, dash down the hall, fling open the stairwell door and enter silence. I’m furiously reading over a few specific words and then rereading as if hoping a change will transpire through my repeated disbelief. I need a visa to travel to China.

Yes, I know you’re wondering how I could’ve been so foolish as to not know I needed a visa in order to land in China. But, in my joy of a cheap fare, agreeable layovers and the sweet PTO I had requested, I had forgot a pretty damn important detail. I once thought myself a savvy traveler but now…not so much.

What do I do now? I was determined to bring my visions of steaming Shanghai soup dumplings to fruition. So I did what any efficient person with an internet connection would do: Fire up a Google search to see if there was some way around the red tape. Some loophole I could squeeze myself into.

alley
Old City of Shanghai
These were the options so far:

Option 1: Drive to consulate to get visa
This meant driving to Chicago (where the Chinese consulate that served my state was located). The drive would take 4 hours and from what I knew, they are unable to process a visa same-day even if I did make it there.

Option 2: Re-book flights and visit some other time
The re-booking fees would come to half of my original ticket price and also not include any additional fees incurred if the new flight was more expensive. And they all were. I had got a killer deal.

All initial searches came up with the same result: “You need a visa, dumb-dumb”. No help there. I called my brother, whom I was to visit, and gave him the terrible news. After some back and forth, we each continued frantically searching online for ways in which to beat the system, or uhh, arrive legally.

We eventually stumbled across a sort of technical visa aka Option 3. Originally, the visa was good for 24 hours—I think intended for long layovers for which people did not want to obtain a traditional visa. The Chinese government then rolled out a new provision with a window of 72 hours. Then in January of 2016 they decided to expand this temporary visa to 144 hours, in order to increase foreign visitors, boost spending yada yada yada. But, it also gave last minute, ride by the seat of your pants types a process to follow to gain entry. Legally.

There’s something slightly unnerving about driving some four hours to Chicago, then taking a 13 hour flight to Shanghai not knowing if I would be deported upon arrival. But I took the risk and detail how you can too.

You can follow this link to the Shanghai immigration website where I read their official guidelines. What follows is not an interpretation based on the rules, which I kept finding on guides and other forums.[1] But instead is the real deal, I did it, and so can you guide!

visa stamp.jpg
Transit visa stamp aka freedom stamp
You can stay in China for a period of 24, 72 or 144 hours without a traditional visa.  Each time frame has its own stipulations. The wider the window, the more rigid the rules.

24 hour Visa in Transit
72 Hour Visa in Transit
144 hour Visa in Transit

I will use information from the Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection website, as the Pudong Airport in Shanghai is the transit point I used.

This was my scenario and how I worked it out:

I had booked a direct flight from O’Hare Airport in Chicago to Pudong Airport in Shanghai with a return flight from Pudong to O’Hare. I would arrive November 6th and depart Shanghai November 13th. In order to execute the 72 hour Visa in Transit, I needed to buy an onward ticket to a third country within that time frame. The 72 hours comes in to play like this:

The 72 hours begins the immediate day after you land. I was landing Sunday the 6th, so the “clock” wouldn’t start until Monday at 12:00AM or 00:00. Before I left the U.S., I bought another round-trip ticket from Shanghai (Pudong) to Hong Kong. As noted in the guidelines, Hong Kong does count as a separate country from China, even though it’s an “autonomous territory” of the People’s Republic of China. The flight would leave Shanghai November 9th at 4:45 pm and depart Hong Kong back to Shanghai the 12th of November.

I had all of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (72 hours) in order to exit the country via flight to a third country that was not the original country of origin (the U.S.) and was a country included in the rules. That left me with about seven hours to spare applying the 72 hour transit visa.

Once you leave the transit country (China) and land in the third country, the clock and 72 hour rule start over. What I mean is, upon returning to China from Hong Kong, I could apply the same 72 hour Visa in Transit policy again. And I did.

andrew, friends Hong Kong.jpg
Obligatory stop in Hong Kong to make visa work
Guidelines to follow:
The third country cannot be the same as the country of origin aka where you started from. You can’t go USA => China => USA, even if your visit in China is less than 144, 72 or 24 hours. You have to follow something like this: USA => China => Hong Kong => China => USA with both times in China being less than 72 hours.

Print out an itinerary or a flight booking with a confirmed seat of an onward flight with you. I was asked for this at every immigration check and once at the ticketing counter when getting a boarding pass while leaving Hong Kong. This is absolutely necessary to prove to immigration that you have an actual flight and will be leaving/arriving. Basically, no country wants to be stuck with you.

Print out your original confirmation. This should come without saying because the second onward flight in this reservation (the one back to the U.S.) is the onward flight that applies to the second 72 hour transit visa and allows you to leave China again.

Make sure your third country does not require a visa. Or if it does, GET IT. Hong Kong is very lax in this aspect of immigration and currently allows citizens of 161 countries to enter and stay visa free for varying lengths of time with a majority of these at 90 days.

Keep old boarding passes. These can help confirm your other printouts and may speed up the process.

Leave more time than you normally would. A lot of immigration agents and ticketing agents are not familiar with these rules, as they are fairly new. I was held up a few times for longer than I would’ve with a normal visa, but that’s a small price to pay.

Use the special Visa in Transit lane at immigration upon arrival in China. The ones in Shanghai are labeled on signage as 72-hour Visa-free Transit. Look to queue here.

Be sure to check which airports you’re allowed to use this Visa in Transit for. Not all airports in China allow this, but the major ones in Beijing and Shanghai do. You can also check other methods of entry/exit, as I believe this special visa can be applied to arrival via airplane and then exit via another method, like a cruise ship.

You’re technically only allowed to be in certain municipalities/ provinces depending on what airport you fly into. For me, I could only be in the Shanghai Municipality, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province because I landed in Shanghai. So check this.

My tickets departing from and then back home to the U.S. were both with United on the same booking. My tickets to and from Hong Kong were also on the same booking. I do not know if there are rules to this specifically, but I would assume as long as you show that you have onward flights out of China within the time frame, you should be good to go.

One other thing to know in China: Police registration
Most hotels and paid lodgings (maybe not a sketchy hostel or dodgy AirBnB host) register you with the local police ahead of your arrival. This is standard. However, if you’re like me and staying with family or friends at an apartment, it is required by law to register at a local police station. Yes, a lot of people do not do this and nothing happens to them. There is a fine that can be imposed if you’re caught. But for me, my brother was working one of the days I stayed there, so I went to the local station and registered. It took under 15 minutes even though he didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Mandarin. All it took was a few head nods, some pointing, and a signature. I searched online for what to bring in to confirm my brother’s legal residence, but apparently it varies widely by the district you’re in. This is what I brought:

  • Passport with a printed copy
  • Printed copy of my Visa in Transit sticker from my passport
  • Copy of the first and last page of my brother’s lease agreement—this was advised on a couple different forums and I was able to obtain it easily, so I brought it.
  • Copy of all my flights—they did not look at these.

The guy behind the counter gave me a registration of temporary residence form and had me sign it. A few keystrokes on his computer later and that was that.

If you’re in a bind like I was, or you simply do not want to shell out the $140 for a visa (more if you have a company do it for you), or figure out the logistics of visiting your state’s designated consulate during the week (most likely out of state), wait three days to process, and then return again during the week to pick it up, consider this an alternative.

1. Shout out to FlyerTalk where I actually did find someone who said they had recently used this process. This was ultimately what swayed me to go ahead with my flight to Shanghai.