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Central America and MexicoTopics specific to Central America and Mexico only.
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I’ve written up our experiences on border crossing formalities when we went through Mexico and Central America in Nov 2007 - Feb 2008. While it’s written in the style of a semi idiot guide please don’t take it as gospel as I wrote some of it after the fact and I’m sure that some details are wrong or missing. It’s what we had happen to us and I’m sure other people going through the same crossings will have different experiences.
FYI we were travelling on Australian passports on the one bike. I have probably the second worst Spanish language abilities in Central America (despite the efforts of our language teacher, thanks Jennifer) but using my limited skills, patience, lots of smiles and apologising for my muy pobre Espanola we had goodish to very good experiences at all the crossings.
As posted elsewhere I highly recommend having many colour photocopies of your passport, drivers licence, bike registration/title documents. Also learn as much Spanish as you can. Don’t both learning the phrase “Buenos dias, habla ingles?” (Good morning, do you speak English?) as 99.9% of the time the answer will be “No”. I did use a border helpers a couple of times but if I had better language skills I would not have bothered.
Entering Mexico Tecate border
We came through the Tecate border as we had heard that the Tijuana crossing could take a long time and that Tecate was much quieter. They were right. We nearly kept going as there was no one at the gates. The immigration office is on the right hand side just before the gates. Immigration gave us a 180 day visa with a fee to be paid at a listed/named bank. We paid this a couple of days later. This needs to be paid before you can get your permit for the bike.
I needed a temporary import permit for the bike and this was a problem as this has to be done at a Banjecito or military bank and there isn’t one at Tecate. At least that’s what several immigration people told me.
After we paid the visa fee I went to the border town of Tijuana (population 1.6 million) and eventually found the Immigration/Bajercito building complex.
Getting the permit is easy enough you need a copy of your passport, registration, Mexican visa and a credit card. Queue up and hand it all over. It costs around $33 USD which they charge to the credit card. They give you a credit card receipt stapled to the temporary import permit which has a sticker you peel off and put on the bike.
You must get this permit cancelled when you leave Mexico as they have your credit card details and they will charge import duties at the end of the permit time.
Total time at Tecate and Tijuana 45 minutes (plus 2 ½ hours trying to find the Banjecito in Tijuana)
Mexico – Belize Border Chetumal crossing
This was very easy
Park your bike just before border gates and the immigration was on the right side just before the gates. Hand over your passport and get stamped out of Mexico
The Customs office is on the left hand side just after the gates. Get on your bike and go to the immigration officer at the gates he will check your passport, and then ride around to the customs office and park in front of them.
Peel off the label you got when you entered Mexico and give this as well as the original form the label came from to the customs people behind the window. They need to give you a certificate back stating the bike has left the country. This also had the original credit card receipt stapled to it. It should have been stapled to the original form you just handed over.
Cross the bridge and immediately on the right hand side is a small building/hut that sells motor insurance. You need this. I think we paid $29 BZD for a week.
Go down the road about 500 metres and park near the immigration/customs building. It’s next to the border gates
The immigration desk is in front of the customs desk. Be careful what you say to both immigration and customs. I said that we would not be spending much time in Belize so immigration gave me a 5 day visa!
The customs guys got very defensive when I asked for a temporary import permit for the bike (as in Mexico) He wanted to know why I wanted that and where I had heard that expression before. He wanted to know where we were going and for how long. I ended up with a 3 day permit for the bike. They wanted copies of registration, passport, drivers licence.
The total time for both borders about 30 minutes
Belize – Guatemala Border Benque Viejo/Melchor de Menos crossing
Leaving Belize was much easier than getting in. Park the bike near the immigration building, go to the two desks and get stamped out.
There was no customs desk on the exit side from Belize go across the building to the arrivals area and the customs desk is at the back of the room same as at Chetumal. Get stamped out that’s all for Belize
Get back on the bike show your passport to the guard at the gate and ride down to the fumigation building. The people there didn’t want to fumigate the bike and got me to ride around the building. The immigration/customs building is about 50 metres down the road on the left hand side. Park here and go inside.
Immigration is on the right and is signposted after that go across to the desks on the left hand side of the building to the customs desk. They want the usual copies of passport, registration, etc. He will give you a form back that you need to go across the hallway to the cashier and pay 40 quetzals.
Go back to customs and get your permit and sticker for the bike. All very easy and they were very friendly and helpful
Total time for both borders 30 minutes
Guatemala – Honduras Border Copan crossing
The immigration/customs offices are on the left hand side just after you go through a barrier. You can park just opposite the offices.
There are a series of offices go to the departures window and get stamped out of Guatemala. I think I had to pay a small fee around 10 quetzals. Go left about two offices and there is Honduras immigration. Hand over your passport and pay $3 you get a receipt but that was all no stamp. I didn’t understand this but apparently when we entered Guatemala my 90 day visa covered Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. I’m travelling on an Australian passport so it might not apply to all.
Keep going left and semi behind the immigration offices is the Guatemalan Customs office. Hand over your passport and permit that you got when you entered the country and get your bike stamped out of Guatemala
Get on your bike and go down the road about 100 metres to the barrier across the road and park in front of the Honduras Customs office.
Go to the window and hand over the usual paperwork copies. There was a $29 USD fee you do get a receipt but I couldn’t get the numbers to add up in dollars or lemp, I would not be surprised if there was some private enterprise happening. But they were doing the paperwork and I didn’t want them to suddenly slow down.
After you have your permit show it to the guard at the gate and you are on your way
Total time for both borders 45 minutes
Honduras – Nicaragua Border
This was the first border crossing that we experienced being mobbed by moneychangers and border helpers. I decided to get a helper in the end simply to rid of everyone else but you don’t really need them and in some ways its better if you don’t have them.
The immigration/customs building is on the left hand side as you approach the border. You go around the back of the building for both Honduras and Nicaraguan immigration there are a series of windows back there. It cost us a total of $14 USD for immigration we got a receipt for this. Nearby are people selling Nicaraguan motor insurance you need this also cost is $12 USD. In an office nearby is customs and also where you pay a further $20 for a xxxx from Nicaragua.
I can’t give exact details here as my helper had other people running around so I lost the plot a bit but it all worked out and we got out.
Get back on your bike and go down the road a few hundred metres to the Nicaraguan customs building (it’s signposted, sort of) and park outside.
Inside hand over the usual document copies, etc along with the insurance form and xxxx you just bought over at the Honduras side of the border. You’ll get your permit and insurance form back. Keep them handy as you’ll need to show them to a guard about 100 metres down the road.
A few kilometres further down the road we were stopped and had to pay some sort of toll that turned out to be similar to a toll we paid just before leaving Nicaragua later on.
Total time for both borders 45 minutes
Nicaragua – Costa Rica Border Penas Blancas crossing
This was the worse crossing that we experienced with lots of people and some not very obvious rules.
Go past all the trucks and jump to the head of the queue (and there were a lot of trucks). At the entrance to the immigration/customs area you need to pay $1 per person for some sort of toll you get a receipt.
A DGA (customs) guy nearby will then check your passport and give you a small piece of paper which you need to several signatures on.
Park the bike where the Banco building is. Find the DGA office in the building opposite the bank. Someone there will sight the bike and sign your paper and tell you to get the police to sign it as well. They were in the office next door. Go back to the Banco building and inside is a row of people Go to the first window it’s marked as Documents receiving or something similar. Hand over your passport and immigration paper from when you entered the country as well as your form with the signatures on that you got at the entrance. You need to pay $2 per person you also get a receipt. He should stamp your passport and now you have finished with immigration.
You now need to queue at the next window (or the second window I can’t remember) to get your bike permit cancelled (check with the immigration guy to see which line you need to be in there are several windows, not all are marked)
When you get to the window they will want your passport, import permit from when you entered the Nicaragua and the small form you got the signatures on. They play on their computer for a few minutes and hand it to the police officer behind the next window who signs it and gives it back to you. You should now be done with Nicaraguan customs.
Get on your bike and head toward Costa Rican immigration. About 100 metres down the road is a small building/hut for fumigation control. There was a line of trucks waiting to go into a large building on the right for spraying. You need to park on the left hand side of the fumigation hut and go around to the other side of the hut to pay $3 USD (or about 1500 Colones) to have your bike sprayed.
Get back on your bike and ride down the road until you get to the Costa Rican immigration building it’s not marked but it was obvious to us by the HUGE queue of people snaking outside the building waiting to be processed. When we got there several buses were parked.
After you park your bike you seem to have two choices go to the start of the line and wait for immigration (this would take at least 2-3 hours when we there) or walk towards the head of the queue at the immigration building. There is a cafeteria facing the immigration section. Go inside and wait until they let the next group of 20-30 people go into the immigration section and sneak in behind them. The guy behind the counter just stamped my passport and that was it, no arrival form was filled out.
I only found out this ploy from the border helper guy we met near the office. He wanted $5 and $5 for the immigration people but I’m sure that he pocketed it all.
To get the bike processed you need to first get a copy of you passport page showing the stamp you just got. You can get that in the same immigration building it cost around 400 colones. Just behind the photocopier is a small office that you need to get the local bike insurance from. They want to see bike registration and licence. The cost was around 7000 colones ($14)
Go back outside the same way you came in and opposite is a small customs building you need to fill out a form with all the usual details. They will need copies of passport main page and the page you just photocopied, registration, licence, the insurance receipt you just got, the form with the signatures, the usual stuff.
Get on your bike and go further down the road about 100-200 metres there is a building on the right hand side it has a very small car park at the end of a short driveway. It’s not signposted but from memory I think there is a flagpole just out side. Inside on the left hand side is an office you need go to. If you show your paperwork to any of the people behind the other counters they will point you in the right direction.
Inside the office they will want your sheaf of papers as well as originals of passport, registration and licence and your magic form with signatures. After they type the info to a computer you will get an import permit with the insurance receipt stapled to it.
Finally get on your bike head down the road about another 200 metres and there is a checkpoint they want your magic signatures form, your import permit and passport. You’re now free to see Costa Rica.
Sorry, I don't want to seem a nit picker Ian but in the first paragraph I must tell you there are two serious errors, and you put yourself through a lot of needless work by going to Tijuana.Obviously an outcome of your admitted poor Spanish skills.
At TECATE there most definitely is a BANJERCITO office - it is located on the east side of the street right across from the customs building where you got your tourist card ( you called it a visa, not the same) Yes , you can pay this at any of the listed banks , but at some border crossings they will actually now permit you to pay it in cash at the BANJERCITO ( and I think Tecate is one of those, if memory serves). More importantly you do NOT need to have paid it before you can get your temporary import permit. What they clearly tell you is that it must be paid before you can CANCEL the temp.import permit and tourist card when you leave Mexico at the end of their legal valid period.
You could have obtained this temp.import permit at TECATE just with the proof of your tourist card. Correct, as you state, this import permit can only be paid for by use of a credit card. However , failure to have a working credit card would not need to stop you from entering, as in such cases you can post a cash bond , up to $400 depending on age of vehicle. That cash bond will be promptly returned to your hands when you cancel the temp.import permit when you leave.
HONDURAS ENTRY ; your 90 day visa had nothing to do with any of the other countries but it was valid for any return to Guatemala within that time so if you did come back to GT you would not have paid any additional fees, just stamps in passport.
I agree that the Central American borders can be very trying, depending on which crossing you choose.However there is a standard sequence which applies to them all, in four steps 1 MIGRACION - PASSPORTS 2 TRANSITO- VEHICLE DOCUMENTATION 3 "SEPA' the acronym for the entity in charge of protecting the agriculture,health and environment, also called OIRSA, CUARENTENA and FUMIGACION, depending which country and step 4 ADUANA - They check all your documents and luggage. These steps must be followed in this sequence, or you will be wasting time waiting in line to find out that you will be sent to another line to wait some more.
I just checked my notes from Sept. 2004 , the most recent crossing I made at Tecate into Mexico on my way home from the James Bay Hydro Projects of Quebec.
I made a note at that time that the Banjercito hours of Tecate were shorter than the 6am - to - midnight opening of the border and that Banjercito-Tecate was CLOSED on Sundays. This may explain why Ian had such difficulty as he reported. I will check up un any changes taken place but doubt I will find any. It was possible to get these import permits in La Paz before getting on the ferry also if one neglected that chore at the border.
As I mentioned at the start of my write up this is simply what happened to us and other people will have different experiences, yours being one of the different experiences.
Just to clarify a couple of the points you raised. Prior to going there I also understood that there was supposed to be a banjercito at Tecate and there may still be one there but the three different immigration people we spoke to on the day understood what I wanted and all of them said that I would have to go to either Tijuana or Mexicalli. Please let me know what you find out when you go down there next. From memory we crossed mid week as I assumed that banks etc might be closed or have limited hours on weekends.
As for the Honduras visa I think the rules might have changed since you were there.
In June 2006 Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala signed the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4). Under the agreement travellers may travel between signature countries without completing exit and entry formalities for periods up to 90 days.
Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Honduras for the most up to date information.
I found out about this CA-4 afterwards and it made sense to me why they didn't bother stamping me into Honduras. As I said we were travelling on Australian passports and I don't know which other countries it applies to. It would not surprise me to find out that maybe US or Canadian citizens are exempt and allowed to stay for much longer periods than Oz passport holders (but it doesn't explain why they did stamp it in Nicaragua who are part of the same agreement??) who knows what rules they make up on the day.
As they mention above visa/customs rules change all the time.
Right if , as Lone Rider says , they changed the process at Tecate recently I am wrong .
I did cross from Guatemala to Honduras early April this year at Florido Copan and found the process no different from previous years , just the fee was a little bit les. But Florido is always a straightforward affair.As explained in a post elsewhere earlier last fall the CA4 agreement is primarily intended to ease the transit of citizens of those countries, not tourism .
I'll confirm that the banjercito in Tecate has vanished off the face of the earth....at least, that's what I was told at the border. Officials there told me I needed to go to Tijuana to clear my temporary import permit, but since I don't care for Tijuana I went to Mexicali a week or so later, after visiting friends and touring a bit in southern California.
FWIW, the banjercito in Mexicali is at the crossing ±5 miles east of town, not the downtown one; this information would have saved me some time and trouble, had I known in advance. Basically, you lane split through the hours-long line of cars waiting to cross into the States, find the little banjercito booth in the middle of a parking lot just before the border itself, then lane-split some more and cut in front of the first car in the lineup at the booths. The uniformed immigration officer was so concerned that I had failed to lane split with maximum efficiency (he suggested riding on the right hand sidewalk the entire distance) that he neglected to do anything more ambitious than glancing quickly at my passport and waving me on.
Mexicali, Tijuana and northern Baja are famously involved in the current round of violence, but I never saw or felt anything out of place.
On my way south some months ago I crossed through Brownsville and Matamoros, another reportedly-scary place. No issues, no problems, clear signage through town, and a banjercito counter right there at the border.
Thanks Sjoerd. That's what fellow travellers have been telling me too. Just checking again as it might change with time and new political events.
It was such a plus not to have to leave this big deposit (with a 4wd especially), so South America made it an easier choice to start our tour.
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