Written by: Sara
I’ve crossed several borders in my time – a lot by air, but a lot by bus as well. This was the most difficult border that I’ve crossed. We could have been more prepared, but there wasn’t a lot of information telling us what to expect. We had also heard from friends that you did not need a visa in advance for Bolivia as a U.S. citizen. And it’s true – you don’t. We just proved that. But you do need more than just you and your passport. Here was our experience, and hopefully it will help you avoid the same mistakes...
We took an overnight bus with Continente Internacional from Cusco, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia. The seats reclined partially, and they were pretty comfortable. I was able to get some sleep in, and it was kind of cozy with the blankets they provided us.
The bus left Cusco at 10:15 PM, and arrived at the Peru-Bolivia border crossing (in Desaguadero) at 8 AM.
Once you get to Desaguadero, you first need to get your exit stamp from Peru. This part is straight forward – you stand in line, they stamp your passport and the little piece of paper you’ve been carrying with you all through Peru, and you leave the building. One thing I found odd here though is that the immigration officer had to look at me and my passport a couple of times before agreeing that it was me. I’ve grown my hair out from a pixie to chin length, and apparently that’s the first time he’s ever seen a change in hairstyles before.
After you’ve exited Peru, you cross the border into Bolivia on foot. To get a visa upon arrival in the immigration office here, you need:
Colin was smart enough to print off a copy of his bank statement, our hostel reservation, and our bus tickets out to Chile, but we only had one copy of each and did not have copies of our passports or proof of yellow fever vaccination. We are traveling with several little standard visa photos, so we had those as well. Colin only printed off his bank statement, so we made a copy of that for me and a copy of our marriage certificate in hope that it would be good enough (and it was, although I’m not sure they looked closely enough at the name on the statement to notice that it was only his).
When we got to the Bolivia immigration office, we had to turn around and go back through to Peru to make the rest of the copies that we needed because there were no photocopiers that were working on the Bolivian side. Luckily, we hadn’t changed over our money yet, so we still had some Peruvian soles to pay with.
All of this takes about 30 minutes, so we are back at the Bolivian immigration office at 8:30 AM and we wait in line for about an hour until we finally reach the front of the line.
The immigration officer takes all of our paperwork and kind of laughs and says that they don’t issue visas here (this was all translated to us by a nice man next to us because she spoke literally zero English). She continued to laugh and flip through our paperwork to see what all we have, and smiled when she sees our marriage certificate.
She started rushing around the little office looking for something, and then came back and told us that we couldn’t get a visa there because we didn’t have the visa application. Well, actually, Colin had filled out the visa application for himself, so he had a copy. He’d tried to do mine as well, but their website stopped working. For whatever reason, now that Colin had an application, everything was okay.
The immigration office had one copy of the visa application. ONE copy. So, I had to run back to Peru to make a photocopy for myself and fill that out. Luckily, I still had a few coins to get copies with because we’d already exchanged the rest of the money thinking that we were done with the Peruvian side.
Once all that was done, there was a guy who issued us the visas for $160 each (in US money). He looked over each $20 bill that we handed him and wouldn’t take any that were even the tiniest bit torn.
Then, we needed to go back to the lady for her to give us an entry stamp. AND THEN you need to make a photocopy of your newly issued visa and your entry stamp for them to keep with your other paperwork. At this point, we’d run out of Peruvian money, and the bus driver was following us around since we were holding up the bus from leaving. The bus driver was extremely helpful because he not only held the bus from leaving us, but when I told him we had no more Peruvian soles, he told us to go back to the bus, and he ran to get the needed photocopies for the immigration office.
We arrived in La Paz at 2 PM... We were expected to arrive at 11 AM, so even with Colin and I taking an hour longer at the border than we were supposed to (oops), we still got in later than scheduled.`
I’m still not convinced everything was done 100% correctly, so I’m just waiting until we try to exit and find out that we entered the country illegally. We shall see……
Sara & Colin
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