As we said on the previous page, when you arrive in a South American country, your passport will be stamped with a 90-day tourist visa. If you are a British citizen, you get this for free, no problem. Then, when you leave the country, you are given an exit stamp on your passport, which then allows you to get the next entry stamp for your next destination.
Yes, it’s simple enough, however I’ve had one or two minor mishaps when crossing the border between Peru and Bolivia, so I feel I should pass on a few of pieces of advice.
1. Check your stamp. One tip I would give you is to make sure you check that ’90 days’ has been written clearly on the passport stamp to avoid any confusion when leaving the country. I had to pay my way out of Peru when it looked like I had only been given ‘30’ rather than ‘90’ days on my passport. At the time, I naively thought this was a genuine mistake, however now I realise that I had been done. The border guard lady said that I had to pay a fine as I had overrun my stay. When I questioned it, she appeared to make a phone call, but still she insisted I had to pay in order to get my exit stamp. She knew there was little I could do, and so I handed over the cash with little hesitation. It wasn’t a lot of money for me, but I guess for her it was worth it. The worst thing about the situation for me was that I was so worried of the thought that I had been in Peru illegally and that I could have got into a lot more trouble. It was my first time travelling so I was a lot less travel-savvy than I perhaps am today. Now, I know that it wasn’t actually a big deal, even if I had overstayed, I wouldn’t have got into trouble. And actually, people are always trying to take advantage of tourists. I was the one that had been picked on that day.
2. Don’t forget your exit AND entry stamp. When I was crossing from Peru into Bolivia, I was on a coach load of other travellers. The problems with overstaying my visa in Peru, that I described above, were happening and so I got delayed from the rest of the coach group. I was worried that I was going to miss the coach and be stuck in the border town. After leaving the Peruvian office, I ran straight to join my group who were ahead getting back on to the coach. There was no one giving any assistance or telling us where to go. We set off on our journey and then I got talking to a friendly Singaporean guy. We compared passports and he pointed out that I had not got my entry stamp into Bolivia! I had not realised that I had to go to the Bolivian office afterwards. Again, I was so worried about being in the country illegally. Luckily we were heading to La Paz so I could go to the immigration office there. When I arrived, there was another gringo who had done the same thing as me. It wasn’t a problem and I didn’t even have to pay anything – I just had to wait in the queue for a couple of hours and present a passport photo and photocopies of my passport. So, to avoid all the worry and hassle, best to make sure you get your passport stamp confirming you have left the previous country and your stamp confirming entry to your new country. It’s easy when you know.
3. Be wary of dodgy police officers/border officers. We had gone through passport control, got back on our bus and continued our journey into Bolivia. About 20 minutes or so down the road, the bus stopped and a police officer, or what looked like a police officer, boarded the bus. He demanded money from everyone, saying that it was necessary to pay to enter into Bolivia. A couple of people questioned him and expressed their disapproval, however the guard made it clear that if anyone had a problem, they should get off the bus. No one said anything more. He had a gun after all. When he came to us, we only had big notes, so he said he would come back to us at the end when he might have some change. He never did come back to us and so, in the end, we never actually paid. He wasn’t asking for a lot of money. That wasn’t the problem. It was more the injustice of the situation and, of course, it was pretty scary being threatened by a police officer.