‘You can just go to the border. I had a couple friends do that, and they were waived through. I think Bolivia is just interested in getting the $160 US dollars,’ she said. I evaluated her advice against the research I did, and while it might work in a specific instance where the border guards were lax, how much would it suck to wait 10 days at some cold border station with no accommodations, no sleeping bag, no nothin’?
I decided that I needed to go through their embassy, and they happened to have one in Antofagasta, a coastal town in Chile. I was considering cooling my heels in Calama, since Bolivia also has a consulate there, but as my friend Edu remarked in Facebook “…Calama is awful.”
Antofagasta it is!
Here’s the thing: The Bolivian Consulate is not well marked. The address they have on their own consulate page is incorrect. I know, I went there. It’s off by about a block. Google maps marks it a little closer, but is still off of the entrance by about 50’.
The closest map marker is through using maps.me, a mobile mapping app I use. You enter through a parking garage, and go up 4 flights of stairs, and take a right.
“Consolada de Bolivia” the sign said. A harried Boliviano official behind the desk was busy fiddling with some papers when I came in, so I just stood there for awhile. Once he noticed me I told him I’d like to get a visa. He responded with some rapid Spanish, something about the internet. Finally showing me some documents that I should have. I figured out I needed to apply through and online form on their website.
After a few Google searches, I was able to find their application form and their directions. These are their requirements:
From the Bolivian Consulate website:
This VISA has a duration of 10 years from the date of issue and allows the holder a stay of up to ninety (90) calendar days by Management. The documentation below is required.
- Submit an Affidavit form correctly filled out and signed.
- To fill out the form, the applicant will be asked to have the requirements in digital format, which should not exceed 300Kb. The photograph must be uploaded in .jpg format and the others must be in .pdf format. Once completed the form must be printed and sent physically with the other requirements.
- Passport valid for at least 6 months.
- One (1) color photograph passport size, front without lens.
- Copy of the hotel reservation, or letter of invitation of relatives and / or friends that includes the address and the time of stay.
- Copy of the flight e-ticket or flight reservation.
- Copy of solvency bank (Bank extract of your checking account, savings or your credit card) ..
- Cost is equal to $ 160.00, payment to be made in Money order or credit / debit card.
- Submit an Affidavit form correctly filled out and signed.
Once I filled out the requirements, which included a scanned copy of my passport (I took a shot with my cellphone), as well as uploading a visa photo, I went back to their offices.
Closed. Apparently, they are able to shift hours around, so I had to come back at 5:30pm instead of 3:30.
When I came back, there was some sort of argument going on – couldn’t follow a word. Now I understood why he seemed so harried, probably had to deal with consulate immigration and visa issues all day.
Finally, he saw me, I handed him my papers. He seemed nicer this time – not sure why, maybe because I finally got my shit together. He clipped all my carefully printed out documents together and told me (it was Friday now) to come back on Monday at 9am.
2 more days in Antofagasta
It’s not the horrible boring city people made it out to be. I find it up and coming, like Denver in the 90’s. A nice coastal town, nice boardwalk, central plaza, yadda yadda with some new construction going in. A poor part of town (north), but picturesque houses crowding the hills that must have a killer view.
But, it’s just a city like any other city. At least my part of town seems pretty safe.
Frankly, I was this close to skipping Bolivia. But how could I skip the country that hid Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Also, my friend Kata encouraged me: “You’ve got to go to Bolivia. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would!”
Yeah, you hear that Bolivia is very poor, like Peru, but that it’s also dirt cheap – which is great for travelers. And that the language schools are great in Sucre, where you can get 1-on-1 instruction from the slower and smoother Spanish of the Bolivianos. Not to mention the natural wonders of the Bolivian Salt Flats, et al. But, like Pedro says, “Eh, you go there, take the Instagram photo, and then you leave, missing out on all these other great towns nearby.” Pedro, a well-travelled Portuguese guy told me if I have the time, to cross the border to Argentina, and explore the northern Argentinian towns. He said they have just as much to offer in cultural experiences as Uyuni and San Pedro.
2 Days Later in Antofagasta…
I arrive Monday morning at 9am for my scheduled meeting, and it’s a full room with about 8 people waiting. Compared to the Chilean Immigracion line wrapped around the block, though, just outside the building, this is nada.
Still, I wait behind someone who is faster to the counter, finally he starts handing out numbers. I’m number 8.
Finally, I’m in front of his desk, and after looking at my printed forms and what I sent online, he tells me that I need to make a $160 USD deposit into the Consulada de Bolivia bank account. What he doesn’t tell me (or perhaps I missed it in his fast Chilean Espanol) is that the deposit has to be in US Dollars – the bank won’t accept the deposit otherwise.
I go to a nearby money changer (Cambio), and think I get out with a fairly decent exchange of $1.49 USD/1,000 Chilean peso and pay the deposit.
I run back to the Consulate, receipt in hand, thinking I that I finally hit paydirt.
He tells me to come back in a couple days. Bring both an entry and an exit ticket out of Bolivia.
MAN, they really just want you to get in, then get the f*ck out!
Well, as my friend Erin said, “It’s much harder for Bolivians to visit the US than it is for US citizens to visit Bolivia…” I think it’s in reference to the poverty in the country, so I’m actually in a privileged position in just being able to travel.
I know, #1stworldproblems, but I wasn’t feeling charitable at the time. I responded, “I’ll get Trump right on that!”
2 More Days in Antofagasta
Well, thank god I didn’t go to Calama for my Visa. From what I’ve been told, Antofagasta is a tad boring, but Calama, my friend Edu said ‘…is awful.’ Doesn’t sound appetizing. I actually like Antofagasta quite a bit, something about being the only tourist in a medium-sized coastal city has it’s appeal. And everyone seemed to be hustling, working, living – real, you know.
Not sure how lax the actual border is, but I thought…in the case of Visas…better be safe than sorry. Get the official visa from a local consulate, hopefully in a fairly safe and somewhat interesting town while you do the Visa dance.
Bolivia better be freakin’ AWESOME is all I’ll say…;-)
I head to the Consulate, entry and exit tickets in hand. I decided to enter through Calama, Chile, and exit through La Paz, Bolivia to Puno, Peru. I had to buy bus tickets through Recorrido.cl (from Calama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia) and ticketsbolivia.com for the exit from La Paz, Bolivia to Puno, Peru.
He looks at my documents and smiles a flat smile, and tells me to come back in a week. He says US Citizens need a special stamp.
Instead of cooling my heels in Antofagasta another week, I decide to head to San Pedro de Atacama, to enjoy the pleasures of the desert, mountain biking, hiking and soaking in various temperatures of water.
When I return from a 5 hour bus journey back, I enter the room, and again he hands out numbers – but not to me. I stand anxiously, and he waves me to follow him down a hallway into a nicely furnished room, with a black leather couch and matching black leather chairs. He points to one and I sit.
He explains calmly that my visa is delayed, but that it is not the Bolivian Consulate to blame, it is waiting on Washington D.C. – at least that’s what I think he said. The rest goes by in a blur. Another week? Maybe more? I ask if I can have my passport back. He says yes. I ask if I can have the $160 receipt for what I had already paid? He said to come back next week. My mind raced: is he angling for a bribe? Should I ask if there was a fee to help expedite the process?
Last thing I needed was a jail stay for trying to bribe a government official. No Bolivia, at least not this trip. But, just in case, I gather the necessary items for a run at the border, in case I change my mind.
How to cross into Bolivia at la Frontera (Border)
- Fill out and print the Affidavit form from the Bolivian Consulate website.
- Bring a Visa photo
- US Passport valid for 6 months
- Exit documents (Flight or bus)
- Possibly a hotel reservation while in Bolivia.
- Crisp $160 (suggested: a $100, and 3 $20 bills in pristine condition).
A lot seems to depend on how lax the border is. My friend crossed with the $160, a visa photo and a passport. Didn’t ask either her or her boyfriend anything about exit transport, or hotel stay. But my online research seems to say if you want as effortless a border cross as possible, bring as many validation documents as you can. One person was sent back to an ATM because of wrinkled bills. Another was sent to another town to fill out and print the validation form. Best to do these at some comfortable city than in a dusty border post.
I bought the bus tickets, planning only to use the entry, and decide on the exit later. Small price to pay if I changed my mind and decided to exit later. The hotel reservation I made on Booking.com and cancelled after I printed it out.
Anyway, if I had this all to do over again, I’d take my luck at the border, rather than do the visa dance with the Consulate. What I should have done was do this while hanging out in Santiago for 3 weeks – c’est la guerre. Who knows, maybe I’ll go there next year. Maybe, like Peru, Bolivia will allow US citizens to enter without a visa, but I won’t hold my breath, at least while a certain so-called president is in office.
One can always hope.
Follow blog via Facebook