Tag Archives: Tourist Visa

Americans and Visas in Bolivia…a complicated topic

1 Jun

This subject used to give me heartburn.  Any American who has tried to work/study in Bolivia knows the loops that the Bolivian government will put you through, all in the name of reciprocity.  This policy, enacted in 2007 by Evo Morales, president of Bolivia and protector of Bolivian rights, aims to make it just as hard (read: impossible) for Americans to obtain visas as it is for Bolivians to obtain visas to the U.S.  The U.S. is the visa tier with other hard-to-admit countries such as Iran and North Korea (Bolivia, we’re not an axis-of-evil!) Though this is a legitimate protest again U.S. immigration law, I feel that Bolivia is hurting itself more than helping by barring & discouraging educated foreigners from working or volunteering in non-profits.  This also extends to tourism—I know many an American who avoid Bolivia on the S.American gringo circuit, because of the $135 fee.  It’s a shame, because Bolivia is such a beautiful country, with a diversity of sites rivaling Brazil.

In any case, I thought I’d document in detail my difficulties in getting an objeto determinado visa and how I finally got a legitimate visa in Bolivia, because there seems to a lack of information from the Bolivian government about this matter (leading also to inconsistent enforcement…ahem, there was a euphemism in there.)  Please note that the following applies only to Americans.  If you are French, Peruvian, Chinese, British, Canadian, Australian, Swedish, congratulations.

Q:  If I entered Bolivia on a tourist visa which expired, how can I stay here longer?

A:  You have several options:  get an objeto determinado visa, overstay and pay a fine of 20B per day, or try to obtain a visa cortesia (through a lawyer or the cancilleria in La Paz.  There is a very nice man, Marco Valverde, who speaks fluent English at the cancilleria.  His number is: (591) 2-2 408900 ext. 3312 and he can pull strings for you).  You can also try to reenter the country and hope that the border officials will take pity on you and extend your visa another 30 or 90 days, but the guards were quite quite strict at Desaguadero and Kasani.  The tourist visa is only 90 days total every year (not calendar year).

Q:  If I overstay my tourist visa, will I go to jail?

A:  The immigration officer in Cochabamba and a few immigration lawyers have told me that it’s just a fine of 20B/day, no matter how long you overstay, but you never know.  I also heard a horror story from a Canadian vice-consul that there was a Canadian last month who overstayed his tourist visa by 2 months.  The government threw him in jail and upped the fine, but drugs may have been involved in that story.  I overstayed by 18 days and just paid a fine of 360Bs at Kasani, very easy.

Q:  Where can I get an objeto determinado?

A:  Because it is illegal to change your migratory status in Bolivia, you must go to a Bolivian consulate outside of Bolivia.  The closest one to La Paz is in Puno, Peru.  But the guy is terrible and might possibly steal your pen.  (if you’re wondering about the randomness of that statement, it happened to me.)  The consulate in Arica, Chile is just as strict and terrible.  The easiest place to get an objeto determinado is in the United States—the rules are much different and less strict.  Marco at the Bolivian consulate in New York is awesome.

Q:  What are the requirements to obtain an objeto determinado?

A:  Good question.  This area is grey.  If you obtain the O.D. in the U.S., the requirements are listed plainly on its website. But these are not same for other Bolivian consulates, even though a consulate is a consulate.  I went to the Bolivian consulate in Puno & Arica and in addition to the yellow fever certificate and ticket out of Bolivia, you need a “antecedente policial” (Interpol check) and a work contract approved by the ministry of work in La Paz.  (this is only if you’re working/volunteering).   The Interpol check will take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to obtain in La Paz and the work contract was impossible for me to obtain because your organization needs to be registered in Bolivia and it also costs $300 for an approval stamp.  Interestingly enough, the consul in Puno was willing to waive the Interpol check (this is after me looking sad and him asking for a bribe, to which I was not disagreeable), but he couldn’t waive the work contract APPROVED by the ministry of work part (I had letters from a Bolivian organization stating I was there to work to benefit Bolivia, but this did not suffice.).  But on my second attempt at getting an O.D., Marco Valverde, from the cancilleria in La Paz, called the consulate in Puno and was able to waive both of these requirements for me.

A Bolivian lawyer suggested for me to get a fake student certificate in La Paz.  Apparently this is common, and much much easier than entering as a volunteer/worker.

I’ve also heard from a lawyer that works for the Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce that if you can apply as a consultant/volunteer for a Bolivian organization, but you would need to submit their NIT.  This only has tax implications for the Bolivian org if you’re getting paid, but it may be a pain to obtain their NIT.

Q:  Perhaps the Bolivian consulate in Chile or Argentina would be more like the one in the U.S.

A:  Arica is equally strict.  I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that Argentina is very strict as well.  A journalist working for Bloomberg was unable to obtain an objeto determinado in Cusco and Chile, because she didn’t have a work contract from a Bolivian organization.  She finally got the O.D. in the U.S.

Q: Sounds like you know a lot about going to Puno.  Tell me what a trip entails.

A:  You can catch the tourist bus to Copacabana, but it leaves from the bus terminal once a day at 8 a.m.  (25Bs).  There’s combis/minis that leave once every hour from the cementery (Cementerio) and costs around 20Bs, but there’s a little risk associated with them.  From Copacabana, take a mini for 3Bs to the border, Kasani.  From Kasani, you can take another mini to Puno or also if you’d like, a mini to Desaguadero (but this is only from Tuesday-Friday.  You can still do an indirect road to Desaguadero on Monday).  In Puno, try to take those little bicycle-powered rickshaws—only 1 sol vs. 3.50 for a taxi.  The Bolivian consulate is open from 8 a..m. – 2 p.m., but the consul told me that it’s open until 4 p.m.  Anyways, you can call him to confirm at:  (005151) 950826046 (Ing. Eloy Poma).  You can take a combi from Puno to Desaguadero for 10 sols and one from Desaguadero to La Paz for 25 Bs.  These run all day and leave when the combis fill 00up.

Q:  How did you finally get a visa?

A:  Since I couldn’t obtain an O.D., I noticed that my passport had damages and got a new passport.  I then reentered Bolivia with my new passport and got an entirely new tourist visa.  Interestingly, this is cheaper than an O.D.  ($100 for new passport + $135 for tourist visa vs. $85/mo. for 3 months on an O.D.)

Q:  I don’t want to do this on my own, I need a lawyer.

A: Although most lawyers in Bolivia will not be in their office or come to appointments on time, Vicente is the opposite and fairly good.  He’s located in La Paz and the number is:  (591) 71545317.  A lawyer in Cochabamba would be Ronald: (591) 4529995 or (591) 4529700.  There is also Janath in Cochabamba:  (591) 4531568 or (591) 70390653.  Most people I’ve met in La Paz have used lawyers to get a one-year visa.  The ones who did it on their own failed…this is not to say that you can’t do it on your own, but one of the requirements of the one-year visa is a lawyer to verify that you’re a good person.

Q:  You listed a lot of contact information in random places.  Can you tell me the contact information for…..

A: If the phone numbers for the Bolivian consulates in Chile listed on other websites don’t seem to work, these should.  I copied them from the directory listed on the desk of the vice-consul in Arica, Chile.

  • Bolivian Consulate in Arica, Chile:  (56 58) 583390, (5658) 583392
  • Bolivian Consulate in Iquique, Chile:  (5657) 527472
  • Bolivian Consulate in Antofagasta, Chile: (5655) 794369
  • Bolivian Consulate in Calama, Chile: (5655) 341976, (5655) 344413
  • Bolivian Consulate in Puno, Peru: (005151) 351251 or the cell phone of the consul Ing. Eloy Poma: (005151) 950826046
  • Cancilleria in La Paz, Bolivia: (591) 2-2 408900 or you can talk to Marco Valverde: ext. 3312