Sunday, March 1, 2009

Instructions for Crossing the Border into Guatemala

Follow these simple steps and it should be smooth sailing.

1) Cross the border from Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Mexico into La Mesilla, Guatemala!
I have read horror stories about crossing the border further to the South with regards to paying ¨fixers¨ to help sort out the details, paying ¨exit taxes¨which amount to nothing more than a bribe, and spending hours mindlessly wandering about in confusion. Be assured that this border crossing is hot, filthy (garbage literally lining the street) and just pretty much not a place you would want to hang out. It is however efficient and hassle free!

2) Make sure to Stop at the Mexican Immigration office 4KM BEFORE THE BORDER!
This is a large red and white open roof building on your left (heading south). If you make it to the border without stopping here, they will ask you to turn around and go back (I know from experience). Inside, the immigration official will ask for your Mexican Visa (the paperwork they gave you when you entered Mexico) and your Passport. They will take the visa from you and then stamp your passport. If you have a yellow ¨vehicle pass¨ keep it with you. (We didn´t have one, but the Guatemalan Vehicle Permit agent did ask for it. I told them that Mexican immigration took our Visas and stamped our passport and there was no other paperwork.) He checked the stamp in the passport, shrugged his shoulders, and moved on.

3) Have the Guatamalen attendant Fumigate the vehicle!
This is pretty straightforward. JUST as you cross the border there are some construction cones indicating where to park. The official will start up the generator and then generously spray the undercarriage and wheels of the bike/car. You will need to follow him into his little office afterwards and pay 20 Mexican Pesos for the spray. (He asked for Quetzales, but all I had was pesos. Should be around 10 Quetzales.)

4) Walk into the Immigration office for your Paperwork!
Just beyond the fumigation is a clear sign for ¨Migration.¨ Park your vehicle out front and walk inside. Tell them you´re planning on driving through the country and give them your passport. This takes about 5 minutes and you´ll get stamped and a tourist visa for 90 days. He will then tell you to move on to the Aduana to deal with the vehicle permitting.

5) Visit the ¨Aduana La Mesilla¨ for your vehicle permit!
About 10 meters further up the road is the Aduana. They will need the Title of the vehicle and your Passport. (I only had a copy of the title and not the original. He wanted the original but when I told him I didn´t have it he just shrugged and moved on). He will hand you some paperwork and tell you to pay the fee at the bank next door (we´re talking 5 feet away).

6) Pay the Piper!
The permits cost 40 Quetzales (of which we still had none) and they wouldn´t take pesos. The woman behind the counter at the bank suggested we walk out into the street and exchange some pesos with one of the 50 people out there providing just that service. The exchange rate wasn´t great, but we got the 40 Quetzales and made the payment. Afterwards, I returned to the Aduana and handed over the paperwork. One minute later we were given the green light to enter the country.

The whole process takes about 30 minutes and you´re home free.
Buen Viaje!

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