How to Get a Visa on Arrival for Bolivia
When I decided to visit Bolivia in July 2018, I knew it would be a little bit more challenging and require a bit more work than some other places. Unlike many other countries where a visa is not required for US citizens, Bolivia is a country that requires Americans to get a visa in order to enter the country.
There are 3 types of visa groups that countries fit into for Bolivian entry. The first group includes countries that do not need a visa to enter the country. Instead, they just need to show their passport. The countries included in that group are the countries in the European Union, South American countries, Canada, and a few Asian countries and places in Oceania. The second visa group includes countries that must acquire a visa either in advance at a Bolivian consulate or on arrival for a monetary payment. The United States falls into this category along with several others although the US citizens pay the most for the visa ($160). The third visa group is comprised of countries that require more paperwork and authorization from a Bolivian embassy or consulate in order to get a visa.
Since I am a US citizen, I fell into the second group. Hence, I needed a visa to enter Bolivia. There are two main ways to get a visa for Bolivia for US citizens and those in the second group. The first option, and the one that many people recommend is getting the visa before you arrive in the country via a consulate. The second option is to get the visa upon arrival in the country either at a land border or airport. This article will deal with how to get a Bolivian visa upon arrival at an airport (El Alto International Airport).
There is a lot of conflicting and outdated information out on the internet. While some of it might have been accurate in the last few years, it has quite possibly changed in 2018, so the information I present in this article is accurate as of when I received a visa in July 2018.
In the course of my research, it seemed that even the Bolivian government was not consistent since reports abounded of one Bolivian consulate saying one thing, and another Bolivian consulate saying something completely different. Also, I read that Bolivia had stopped issuing visas on arrival in 2015 and December 2017, and I had no idea what the current status was since I hadn't seen any new information from the US State Department. As I did research, my head began to swim, and it seriously started to stress me out. Since I did not have time to get a visa in advance for Bolivia, I needed to take my chance with getting a visa on arrival at El Alto International Airport.
However, despite the mix of conflicting and inconsistent information which was rather frustrating, I found there were several items that seemed to be consistent with what everyone was saying.
Here is the list of items that I brought:
- This is the most important document. Without it, you won't be getting to Bolivia.
Yellow Fever Vaccination Certification (Carte Jaune)
- The Yellow Fever Vaccination certification is particularly important if you're going into the lowlands of Bolivia, or if you are coming from an area where Yellow Fever is commonly found. I was told by the travel nurse in the United States I went to that if one stays in La Paz and the highlands, Yellow Fever is not much of a concern. However, even if your travel plans do not involve going into these areas, this is a document that many people recommended having.
2 Black and White Passport Copies of the First Page and 2 Color Copies
- I originally planned on bringing only color copies, but since they were not particularly good quality, I did not want to take a chance of a rejection, so I asked the hotel where I was staying in Peru to make 2 black and white copies as well. I think two passport copies should more than suffice.
- I typically print out all my flight itineraries from the start to finish, but it is particularly important to have the flight information going to Bolivia and leaving from Bolivia and onward. The documents relating to flying into Bolivia and leaving are of particular importance, but it is best to print out everything to be on the safe side.
Hotel Reservations in Bolivia
- Make sure to have a printout of your hotel reservation in Bolivia with the dates you're arriving and leaving. This was particularly important.
4 Passport Photos
- Most sources I encountered said only two pictures were needed, but I tend to be rather OCD and anal retentive about things, so I decided to bring four just in case.
Typed Day-to-Day Itinerary in Bolivia
- Some people suggested making a very basic day-to-day itinerary of what you'll be doing, and where you'll be during each day of your stay. I don't think the Bolivian authorities are so interested in making sure everything is 100% accurate, but it maybe gives them an idea of what you'll be up to.
US Dollars for the Visa Fee of $160
- As of July 2018, the visa fee is $160. Older sources give a lower number. Those are no longer correct. It is important to note that some sources on different websites said the Bolivian authorities no longer accepted US dollars, and you needed to have Bolivianos, which is the currency of Bolivia, to pay the fee. I did not find this to be the case. Regardless, it is a good idea to have the visa fee cash in USD. Most importantly, make sure the bills are brand new without any damage (rips, tears, ink stains, wrinkles, or creases). Also, it did not look like credit card is accepted, so it is best to have cash on hand.
Credit Card Statement
- This was a source of nervousness for me. I did not feel comfortable giving my financial information to a complete stranger. Rather than use a bank statement, which is what most people said to use, I opted for a recent credit card statement and blacked out the account number. Admittedly, I did panic in the early morning hours before heading to airport and took a screenshot of a bank statement, blacked out the account numbers, and kept a photo on my phone just in case it was needed (thankfully it was not).
Sworn Statement of Visa Application
- You can download the "Sworn Statement for Visa Application" and fill it in with pen, which is what I did. Make sure to fill in everything as much as you can and to sign at the bottom of the document and date.
With those items in hand, I had prepped as much as I could and whatever would happen would happen.
When I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia from Cusco, Peru, I was admittedly filled with anxiety. I had read of all kinds of stories, and it seemed like there was no truly consistent standard. It seemed to be a matter of luck with the border officer. Upon reaching the immigration desk, I went up to the immigration officer, who spoke English, and he asked "Do you have a visa?" I said that I needed one and told him that I had all the required documents. He took my pile of documents and looked through them. He then told me to go the visa window nearby where another guy was behind a window.
I walked over to the window and found that the guy behind the window spoke English. He was friendly, and I told him that I needed a visa and handed him my documents. He asked me if this was my first time in Bolivia, and I told him it was. He then started to go through the documents, and this is what I noticed.
The guy behind the visa window took out a large business folder and started putting aside the following items:
Sworn Statement of Visa Application (filled out, signed, and dated)
1 Passport Photo Copy (black and white)
Bolivia Hotel Reservation
Flight Itinerary from Cusco, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia
Flight Itinerary from La Paz, Bolivia to Quito, Ecuador
Typed Day-to-Day Itinerary while in Bolivia
I noticed that he barely glanced at the credit card statement, and he only briefly looked at the Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate (Carte Jaune). He did not even look at the passport photos. Instead, he had a Logitech camera and took a photo from his desk. He then told me the cost was $160 in US dollars. I had come prepared with brand new bills. I had to go to three different banks in the US to get them, but now my effort of getting them and bugging bank clerks about needing perfect bills would pay off. I gave him a $100, a $50, and a $10.
IMPORTANT: The guy did indeed look at the US dollars carefully. He turned each bill over, ran his fingers over the edges, checked for wrinkles, creases, and excess ink marks. This was by far the thing he spent the most time on, so it tells me that it is extremely important to have crisp bills. He accepted the money and started typing information into a computer. He then took my passport, put the visa sticker in, returned the passport and folder with the items he put aside and told me to bring everything to Desk 1.
At Desk 1, I stood in line and another immigration officer called me over. I gave him the folder and passport. He went through the folder again to check the documents before looking at my passport for the visa. He looked at the visa, put the folder with my documents under his desk, and stamped my passport. I was officially let into Bolivia, and the visa is good for 10 years! The process was surprisingly easy and not nearly as stressful as I thought it would be. The immigration officers I dealt with were friendly, spoke English reasonably well, and were very professional.
Even though it is entirely possible the visa policy and rules will change in a couple months or years, and slightly different items might be asked for, hopefully this sets your mind at ease if you are stressing about what the immigration authorities need for a visa on arrival for Bolivia in 2018.