Crossing the Peru-Bolivia border (from Peru into Bolivia) is an easy process for the most part . It is not easy however, if you’re an American (and a handful of Middle Eastern and Asian nationalities). I’ve compiled everything I’ve learned about my crossing experience in full detail to help out my fellow American and dual American citizens.
UPDATE 2020: As of Dec 2019, US Citizens no longer need to pay or obtain a visa before arrival. Essentially, Americans will be treated like every other western country now!
Crossing the border
This post will focus solely on crossing into Bolivia from Peru. If you’re doing it the other way around, Peru has very relaxed requirements and most Western nationalities can get a free visa upon arrival. Most people cross into Bolivia from Puno, a lakeside town on Lake Titicaca. From Puno, most travelers then head to Copacabana for a day or two to visit Isla Del Sol, before heading to La Paz.
- There are numerous bus companies that will take you from Puno to the border. From the border, their Bolivian counterpart will take you to Copacabana. You will ALWAYS switch buses
- Some sketchier bus companies will take you to the border, and a different company will pick you up on the Bolivian side
- We took the Bolivia Hop bus that started in Cusco, taking us to Puno, the border, switching to a Bolivian bus, Copacabana, and finally La Paz.
Visa Requirements for Bolivia
Most Western Countries
For almost all Western countries, the visa is completely free. As I am Canadian and American, I elected to use my Canadian passport for this trip. Just fill out the standard green immigration form, give it to the immigration officers, and you’re good to go. In and out within a few minutes.
For US Dual Citizens
As a dual Canadian-American citizen, I did extensive research before crossing the border. Originally, I had planned to enter Peru on my US passport (which has all my passport stamps and naturally I wanted more), and enter into Bolivia with my Canadian passport. This DOES NOT work.
The Bolivia immigration officials will look for the Peruvian exit stamp on your passport and if they do not see it, they will not let you in. Therefore, if you enter Peru on one passport, but plan on entering Bolivia via the land border with another, it will not work. You must enter Peru and Bolivia with the same passport.
Update 2017: Thanks to one of my readers for this data point. If you are a dual US/something else citizen and mistakenly entered Peru with your American passport, there is a chance you can avoid the Bolivian visa fee. When you get your Peruvian exit stamp, make sure your non-US passport is visible. There is a chance one of the Peruvian officials will allow you to pay them (bribe them) to stamp your non-US passport. With this, you will be able to enter Bolivia free of charge!
Update 2018: Another one of my readers Victor, a dual Italian-US citizen, entered Peru with an American passport unknowingly. At the Peru Bolivia border, he did the following:
-Showed the peruvian officer that you have two passport and want to enter Bolivia with the non-US one
-She refused and said I had to exit Peru on the same one as I entered with
-I asked if there was any fine or tax I could pay to leave as an Italian (I think the language is key, use the word “Multa” (fine) or “Impuesto”(tax) and definitely not “Soborno” (bribe)
-She said she would check, and came back a minute later and said yes it could be done for a cost of 30 USD. I had 20 dollar bills and she had no change, so I offered 100 soles instead, about the same value, which she accepted.
-She gave me an exit stamp on my US passport, and THEN she gave me an entrance and an exit stamp on my Italian passport (same date, but it doesn’t matter because the stamp says Puno, where there is an airport)
-Showed the Italian passport to the Bolivian authorities, they didn’t bat an eye, stamped and sent me on my way
For US Citizens
Goodness, Americans get the shaft in Bolivia. It’s painstakingly difficult for Americans to enter this country so read this carefully. Americans can enter this country without applying for a visa beforehand, although this is always the recommended approach if you have the time. This is different to places like China and Brazil, where you must obtain a visa before arrival.
Americans however, cannot enter the country without paying a hefty visa fee, and producing numerous documents supporting your identity and itinerary. As of 09/2016, the official requirements per the Bolivian government website are as follows:
- $160 USD, in good condition bills. The officials can refuse any bill they deem in less than ideal condition
- Valid passport with at least 6 months until expiration
- Two passport size photos
- Hotel Reservation or letter of invitation
- Roundtrip ticket and Itinerary
- Economic Solvency, bank statements proving you have enough money
- Photocopy of Yellow fever certificate
We can thank reciprocity for this horrible struggle, as we make Bolivian visitors to America go through twice as many hurdles.
What if I don’t have any of these documents?
It turns out, most Americans do not when they get to the Bolivian border. On our Bolivia Hop bus, there was an American couple that had no idea there were any requirements at all and ended up staying in Puno for a night to take care of things. There was another American guy that knew he had to pay a fee but thought it was 160 soles instead of 160 dollars, and ended up taking a taxi back to Puno to get the cash. Both examples were lack of planning and gross negligence on their part but I suppose it’s not something everyone thinks of.
Worry not, print your documents at the Peru-Bolivia border
For me, I used my Canadian passport but my girlfriend is American. We had the money (in dollars!) ready, but did not know about the other documents required. When we checked into the Bolivia Hop bus station in Cusco, they flat out told us that we were out of luck and would have to stay in Puno to print out all the documents in order to cross the border. After some begging and crying, they finally told us that there was in fact a store to print all the documents at the border.
From Puno, the border is ~3 hours. At the border, there are shops to stock up on supplies and to exchange any left over soles to Bolivianos.
First order of business is the Peruvian exit stamp. This is relatively quick. Give the officials your passport and the immigration form you received upon entry and it’s done. If you lost the form, it’s only 25 soles to replace. If you’ve overstayed the tourist, it’s a mere 10 soles a day.
Walk about 100m to the Bolivian side and enter the Bolivian immigration office. Assuming you have everything, all you’ll need is to fill out their standard immigration form and it is complete.
Bolivian Border Print Service
For the Americans that forgot to print their required forms, this will be your absolute savior. There is a little shop adjacent to the immigration office that has a computer, printer, and internet! The owner also takes passport photos as well!
My girlfriend ended up printing most of her documents here (bank statements, flight tickets, etc.) so she could finally enter. Total cost was only 10 soles. He could have easily charged 5x as much and we would have paid it.
In the end, the Bolivian immigration officers didn’t need all the documents listed on their website. The only documents we ended up printing were:
- Two passport photos
- Hotel Reservation
- Itinerary/Ticket exiting Bolivia
After 20 minutes with the officials, my girlfriend finally got her visa. From the border, it is a short drive to Copacabana.
For the one American who brought 160 soles instead of 160 dollars, he had to take a taxi back to Puno to get the necessary funds before returning to the border, and finally taking another taxi to meet us in Copacabana! Amateur hour!
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