The following post details how to get a Bolivian visa, and our experience completing the border crossing in June 2018, at the border station near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Before heading to Bolivia we knew we needed a visa. Most visitors do not need said visa; it’s a US-specific requirement due to reciprocity rules. We also knew the visa cost money – $160 US to be exact. And from what we’d read online, we knew it might be hard to obtain. Although the requirements list on the Bolivian embassy site is relatively straightforward, as is the online application, we heard and read many stories about the actual level of difficulty in obtaining the visa.
How To Get a Bolivian Visa
There are 3 ways to get the visa:
- Apply online with the online application in advance of our visit (link above)
- Visit a Bolivian consulate in a major city and present the necessary documentation to get the visa
- Try our luck at the border
After much deliberation, we decided to try to get the visa at the border. We did this because 1 We were already in South America and getting to a consulate in another city was a pain and 2 We put it off and don’t have time to wait for the online application to go through, plus heard it might fail and then we’d have to start over being delayed.
Bolivian Visa Requirements for US Citizens
The Bolivian embassy website includes a lot of requirements for the visa for US citizens, as follows:
- Fill and sign the Sworn Statement form.
- Valid Passport for at least six (6) months, make sure there are available pages to stamp the VISA sticker.
- One (1) picture, full color Passport size.
- Hotel reservation’s copy, or invitation letter from relatives or friends including the city/address and staying period.
- Flight ticket or the tour itinerary, simple copy.
- The last Checkings, Savings or Credit Card Statement (you may cover the Account number ).
- The VISA fee is $ 160.00 (One hundred and sixty 00/100 US dollars).
Additionally we read online we might need:
- A copy or proof of our yellow fever vaccine
- Copies of our passports
- Proof of departure from the Bolivia, and potentially proof of return to our home country
- An itinerary of our time in Bolivia
Arriving at the Border
After researching, we headed to a print/copy shop and prepared the following documents in advance of the crossing:
- 2 copies of our passports (black and white)
- Sworn statements, filled out and signed. This form was hard to find this online – the one on the official website brings you to the online application, which you cannot print and initiates the online application. A Google search provided me with the one I used (I found 2 copies of it on different sites and cross referenced). Link to Sworn Statement [this did work in our case]
- Itinerary for the entirety of our trip in Bolivia, including dates, lodging, and transportation between cities, translated into Spanish
- Detailed hostel bookings for each item on itinerary (we printed out each confirmation email)
- Copy of bus ticket out of Bolivia and into Peru
- Copy of latest credit card statement, with account number blacked out
- $160 US dollars each – crisp bills without marks, and a few backup bills in case these were rejected
- 2 visa photos, printed (got these at CVS prior to our trip)
- Yellow fever card, original copy (the yellow paper book)
We lined up with others from our tour (all from Europe), whom were waved inside quickly and got their visas with only their passports. The agent asked if we had a visa when he saw our US passports, to which we said no — but we had the documents! He glanced at our thick stacks of papers and saw the original yellow fever cards, and told us No, we needed a copy of that. Luckily we had copies of these in our backpacks we’d been carrying just in case we lost them, so we went over to the side and rifled through our stuff to get them out.
We then got back in line where the agent again asked if we had all the documentation required, and we repeated yes. What happened next was a cursory handing over of documents, with strict oversight. We went through each item we brought one-by-one (and one person at a time), laying the papers into a stack in order as the agent demanded each item. He did not glance at the documents at all past ensuring we had them; the itinerary and bus ticket, everything, could have been entirely fake (we heard a story of one girl who brought her documents and was then made to go to a small hut by the border and pay someone for a new set of entirely false ones). He did accept the sworn statement, which I was nervous about as I found it on an unofficial site online. He only asked for one visa photo and did not take the hostel booking confirmations, but he took all the rest of it.
And Then, The Money
Once he was satisfied we actually had our documents, he moved to money. My sister handed over her stack of $20s first, and he proceeded to examine each bill closely, holding them to the light and looking for marks. He – seemingly arbitrarily – said “no” to several bills, throwing them down on the desk brusquely. Luckily we had backup bills to replace the rejected ones, which were accepted. Only then did he get out the stamp and grant the visa. He repeated the entire process for me, not showing any more leniency than he had with my sister. We had not been allowed to approach the desk together.
In the end we got through, but if we had been missing anything I am not confident we would have. Despite the strict visa process, they did not check our bags at all, it should be noted. And that is how to get a Bolivian visa and cross the border!