Citizens of the EU and most other European and American countries (except several ex-Soviet and Balkan states) require only a passport for visits of up to 90 days to Uruguay. The same usually applies to Australians and New Zealanders, while most African and Asian nationalities require visas in advance. As the UK is no longer a member of the European Union, documentation requirements for UK citizens may change. Check before travelling.
If you wish to extend your stay for a further three months, contact the Dirección Nacional de Migración (National Office of Migration) in Montevideo or departmental capitals – but it’s generally easier to leave the country for a night and return.
Arriving by plane, you’ll be given two forms for Immigration and Customs; they are currently in Spanish only but are not difficult to fill in (just remember that your apellido is your family name). You’ll be given a white form to keep with your passport, but if this gets lost it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you have the correct stamp in your passport. Immigration queues are dealt with pretty fast, and there are special desks for the disabled and pregnant and those with babies.
Getting to Uruguay
Most visitors from Europe will naturally arrive by air. From Madrid, Iberia flies direct to Montevideo every night, code-sharing with sister airline British Airways, and offering connections from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dublin and Cork. Air Europa is a slightly cheaper option (although with poor food), flying three times a week from Madrid (with a connection from London).
Several companies operate ferries between Argentina and Uruguay. The best known is Buquebus, which runs both fast ferries and traditional slower ships from Buenos Aires. These no longer go directly to Punta del Este, but connecting buses go there from both Colonia and Montevideo. Fast ferries reach Colonia in an hour from Buenos Aires or Montevideo in 3 hours, while slower ships are scheduled to take 3 hours to Colonia. Both types of vessel carry cars.
Getting around Uruguay
Uruguay has excellent infrastructure, with modern main roads (rutas nacionales) and bus stations. Many minor roads (caminos) are unsurfaced but decently maintained, though you should be prepared for pot-holes on some interior routes, even major ones.
The main roads from Montevideo to Colonia and Punta del Este (Ruta 1 and the Ruta Interbalnearia, abbreviated to IB) are toll roads, and there are tolls on other main roads, often at departmental boundaries; these are fairly inexpensive at about US$3.
Uruguay’s railways were built by British companies and prospered for many years; however, in recent years they have been close to collapse and the vestigial passenger services have indeed been suspended at times. At the time this was written, there were no services except for a daily train from Tacuarembó to Rivera, as the government was investing half a billion dollars into totally rebuilding the 273km main line between Montevideo and Paso de los Toros, for freight from the huge new pulp mill under construction there.
The main line is set to reopen in mid 2023, and passenger services should soon restart from Montevideo to Progreso and 25 de Agosto (64km from the capital), although they’ll never be much use to tourists (unless they are extended to Florida or Durazno).
Buses will get you almost everywhere, and generally pretty punctually. Being a relatively small country, Uruguay does not generally have separate systems of local and long-distance buses, and most interurban buses will stop to pick up passengers who flag them down by the roadside. Standing passengers are allowed, but a point may come at which no more will be picked up.
The SummerBus Uruguay backpackers’ hop-on-hop-off service was introduced in 2010, running five days a week along the coast from Punta del Este to Montevideo, from there to Punta del Diablo and then back to Punta del Este, calling at many hostels along the way.