When you enter Guatemala, they will automatically give you a tourist visa that provides 90 days within the CA4 countries - Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
You can visit any and all of those countries during that 90 day period. But once those 90 days are up, you have to renew it by leaving those countries (similar to Europe's Shengen agreement/visa thing).
If we've spent the entire 90 days in Guatemala (which has been the case), we can't renew that visa by visiting El Salvador or Honduras. We have to go to Mexico or Belize (or Costa Rica, if it's before the 90 days are up.)
So if you're a foreigner living in Guatemala (or the other countries), every 90 days you have to take a 'border run' in order to remain 'legal' (and you have to make sure you do it the 'right' way.)
What happens if you don't make this frequent border run (or if you don't do it the 'right' way)?
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Well, several things can happen.
- You pay someone to do it for you. They take your passports to the border, get the stamps and return them to you, for a fee. (We have done this and there are 'legitimate businesses' that offer this service. But it can be pricey, and sometimes it doesn't always get done exactly right. Be careful. 🙂 )
- You send your husband with passports in hand and he gets everybody's passport stamped (this costs about Q100 each).
- You visit the border, get your stamps and vehicle renewal and then head home (this also costs about Q100 each passport.) However, this is not the 'right' way. We discovered this when we tried to get into El Salvador and they kicked us out.
- You also have the option of getting a residential visa. This reduces frequency of border runs, but takes about two years to complete (but then no more border runs after that.)
The 'right' way to do a border run (if you plan on traveling through to the other CA4 countries after the original 90 day visa) is to head to Mexico, Belize or Costa Rica for '72 hours' (at least two nights), and then return. This will reinstate your visa making it legitimate.
We've been living in Guatemala for over one year (yeah, that's longer than 90 days), and we'd always done the visa renewal the 'easy' way (one of the first three listed above.) That is until El Salvador wouldn't let us into their country and said we were 'illegals'...
That was a little more than we could handle... what do you mean we can't come in??!!
So we decided to do things the 'right' way, so we could have options, and actually head south (instead of just north).
That's why we took a three day/two night trip to Mexico.
Our 'favorite' border is El Carmen, just on the other side of Tapichula, Mexico.
The crossing was pretty uneventful (for us, our friends were refused entry into Mexico because they didn't have a current vehicle registration.)
We were a few days late (because the truck was in the shop)... a VERY bad thing for your vehicle permit. We'd heard we might be charged a $200 (yes, DOLLAR) fee for being late on renewing the vehicle permit. Gratefully, the lady working at the window took a liking to the kids, and after secretly verifying Greg's story of a broken vehicle with Kyah, she waved all potential fees.
We did have to pay late fees on our passports... Q10 per day, per passport. We got 'stamped out', cancelled our vehicle permit, then went to the Mexico side and got 'stamped in'. (No permit required because we were going to be in the 'free zone' for less than seven days. All that was needed was our vehicle registration.
Then it was time to enjoy Tapachula, Mexico and the coast.
What's your border/visa experiences been like?
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