Border crossing from Peru to Bolivia is supposed to be a cake walk. Even for Americans getting visas. At least according to every travel blog out there and anyone I’ve talked to who visited in the past. Well, it wasn’t for us!
Marc and I hopped on a 7am bus from Puno (Peru) to Copacabana (Bolivia). We bought our tickets the day before through Edgar Adventures, who we thought would assist us with the border crossing and everything, but apparently all they do is buy your tickets. We probably should have just bought our tickets upon our arrival in Puno from the Panamerican counter directly- but we were so sick and out of minds when we arrived from Arequipa that day, there was no way that was happening.
15 min before you reach the border, you can exchange money and use the bathroom (which you really should because border crossing can take forever!). We exchanged money too and the rate was fine, despite what I’ve read from other bloggers. There supposedly aren’t any ATMs in Copacabana so we withdrew USD from Puno the night before.
When you reach the border, first you get in line to exit Peru. There are maybe 40-50 people on this bus from various countries so the bus company moves all the Americans to the front in case there are issues applying for visas on the Bolivian side. Exiting Peru should be easy, just make sure you have your white immigration slip and that it is completely filled out. The American girl ahead of us forgot to put her nationality and they gave her a really hard time.
Then you walk across the border and get in the immigration line to apply for a visa/enter Bolivia. The US Embassy website says you need the following items when applying for a Bolivian visa (as of May 2015):
- $160 USD
- visa application form
- 4cm x 4cm color photograph
- a passport valid until the date of departure from Bolivian territory
- evidence of a hotel reservation or a letter of invitation in Spanish
- round trip ticket or copy of itinerary
- proof of economic solvency (credit card, cash, or a current bank statement)
- an International Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever.
According to 100% of the blogs I’ve read and people I’ve talked to, specifically in regards to this Puno- Copa border, they never request for anything on the list except the application and a photocopy of your passport (by the way, that is NOT listed but is definitely the only consistent thing they seem to request). When the first American got to the front of the line, the border patrol doing the pre-screening told her she needed an itinerary and a photo, or something along those lines. It was actually really confusing at the time because no one knew exactly what they wanted. It’s not like this list above was readily available for anyone. (Border patrol doesn’t have a list and there’s no internet. It’s really just whatever the border patrol says at the time).
Also, the US embassy in Bolivia has a terrrrrible website so everyone has read something different before arriving to the border. I literally just spent 5 minutes trying to find the list above which is actually just a press release on the embassy website. I only found it because I included $160 as the keyword in my search. If you google visa requirements for Americans, it takes you to an outdated page from the embassy website and you won’t know there is more up to date info (because that is the official requirements page. You wouldn’t check for a press release, you would assume the page would be up to date.) For instance, I didn’t know the fee was $160 until the travel agent guy told us so the night before- so luckily we withdrew the correct amount of US dollars. There was another American in line that didn’t have the cash on her and someone from the bus company had to bring her back to the Peru side and get her to an ATM. They didn’t make it back on the bus in time and had to take a taxi from the border.
Another American couple I talked to had similar border issues from another day. They were unfortunately the only Americans at the border and they were convinced the fee was only $135, per the website. They showed border patrol the website and refused to pay $160. So the border patrol literally told them to “get the fuck out.” They were so upset, they walked away and told the bus company they were going back to Peru. But the bus company basically said it’d be hard to arrange transport back and that they should just pay. So they did and we met them in Copacabana later.
Back to our experience. Luckily, I brought extra copies of my passport photo and I had our itinerary. Marc needed to get his photo taken and so we went next door to this little shack that was packed with 20 frantic Americans trying to figure out what they needed. He got his pictures, and we got back in our special line. We were in line forever, under the sun. There are only two agents at the counter plus the pre-screening guy and bus LOADS of people.
Another group of Americans we met in line were actually coming back to the border a second time. Apparently, they were at the border the day before and didn’t have all their paperwork. So the border patrol told them to go into Bolivia and come back the next day. They were also told to bring different items.
Finally an American successfully made it across and she told us exactly what they asked for – 4×4 photo, copy of passport, evidence of leaving Bolivia and confirmation of hotel for the night (and she was also asked if she had a boyfriend. Ha talk another professionalism). That’s it. No vaccination, no proof of solvency. We didn’t have any kind of confirmation of us leaving Bolivia because we plan to get a ride with a tour company, so we used my Excel itinerary, which literally just shows “on to Chile” at the bottom of the page. Basically, you can print anything and as long as it looks legit, it’s acceptable.
Anyway, hours later, we made it into Bolivia! The bus was missing people when we left the border too because they couldn’t wait for everyone. There were some people screaming at the bus agent already because the bus was so delayed. What an experience. Quite the warm welcome!