Arrival at Port of Entry
We arrived at the dusty border town of Corumba, Brazil in our silver 2011 Chevrolet around 3 pm, ready to start our epic road trip through Bolivia. But first, the small matter of getting into said country.
I knew it was going to be a pain in the ass to cross the border to Bolivia when the owner of a small currency exchange shop remarked with a shake of his head “You are American? Muy Complicado…”.
Up until a couple of years ago, Americans didn’t require a Visa to visit Bolivia. However, that all changed when the president, Evo Morales, decided that it was unfair that Bolivians were required to obtain a visa to travel to the US, but it wasn’t so the other way around. “Fair is fair”, I am sure he thought. And to be honest, if you have all your ducks in a row before you get to the border (unlike me), you should get through without too much trouble.
Visa Requirements for entry into Bolivia:
Yellow fever certificate
Economic solvency (a copy of a credit card sufficed)
Passport (valid for at least six months)
Hotel / hostel reservations or invitation from a host family
Return ticket home
No Passport Photo was required of me, but officially they can request it
Bring two photocopies of everything
During my initial research on the border crossing, I had read that Bolivia’s border guards could be pretty lax; sometimes they didn’t request anything except for the 135 USD. That was wrong. They wanted it all, in duplicate, and I didn’t have anything printed out. Don’t forget to bring 2 printouts of everything and come prepared! For people trying to stay a head of the game, you can also obtain your visa from a Bolivian consulate in the states before you depart.
The border guards allowed me to enter the small border town on Bolivia’s side to print out the necessary documents for entry. I thought the matter would be solved in minutes. Wrong again.
I visited over a dozen internet shops – all of which sported a dusty printer stuck shabbily somewhere in the corner of their shop. Unsurprisingly, none of them worked. The customs agency closes at 6:30 pm in Puerto Suarez and if I couldn’t produce the necessary documents by then, we would have to stay an additional night in Corumba and try our luck the next day. It was almost 6 pm and I started to feel the time crunch.
Finally I found one that did, that is for one page. Then it decided that it had done enough work for the day and promptly quit. I then decided to get creative and tried other places as well – hotels, libraries, mom and pop stores. Finally, I found a travel agency that had a working printer. Oh the rapture. A small victory, but I was on cloud nine none the less.
Hotel Reservations or invitation from host family
When I got back to customs, they wanted to see Hotel reservations for all days I would be in Bolivia. Unfortunately, I only had made a reservation for my first night in Bolivia. So I was forced to tell a little white lie. I said that we would only be staying one night and then we would be driving on to Peru.
I don’t recommend this, as the customs guard gave me a good long stare and then questioned my Brazilian friend if we were truly staying only one night. We weren’t of course, but after leaving customs, there would be no way of them checking this fact. Athough we had numerous run-ins with law enforcement throughout our three weeks in Bolivia (most traffic checkpoints required a small 20 Boliviano bribe), none of them were on the subject of my supposed one night stay.
Furthermore, a Visa to Bolivia is valid for five years and you are not required to provide any additionally documentation on return visits – at least I wasn’t.
Note on Yellow Fever Certificate
They didn’t need the original of my yellow fever certificate, which was quite lucky since I had left it at home (I only had an electronic scan of it per email). Better to not risk it though, as the border guards are a bit unpredictable when it comes to continuity of process. Furthermore, the yellow fever shot needs to be given 10 days before arrival in Bolivia – supposedly the time needed before the vaccination will provide protection from the disease.
Please share your border crossing experience below. Alternatively, if you have questions, I would be happy to help.