A guide to crossing the Argentine / Bolivian border (by land)

la quiaca argentina border town

Photo credit; alpertron

I’d been told a lot of things about the border crossing between Argentina and Bolivia before I crossed it last week. A lot of people were keen on talking horror stories, but in actual fact the experience turned out to be pretty straight forward, if just a bit long and tedious because of the queues. However, I thought it’d be useful to explain what you have to do (and bring/keep with you) to get through. Whilst I am a British passport holder, I will also include some details for some other nationalities including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most of Western Europe.

1. Buses do not cross the border

First off, if you’re coming from Argentina (and going into Bolivia) you should know that there are no buses that go directly into Bolivia from Argentina. All Argentine buses stop (and finish) at the Argentina border town of La Quiaca. You then need to either walk the 10 minutes from the bus station or take a taxi (it’s only around 10 pesos) to the border control point between La Quiaca and the Bolivian border town of Villazon. I suggest setting out early and arriving in La Quiaca during day light hours in order to do all of this.

2. There are 2 queues – 1 for locals and 1 for internationals

When you rock up to the border controls you’ll first see a big queue (which you’ll need to join.) Expect to wait approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour in this first queue. As you approach the front of the queue you’ll find they move internationals to the left next to the office window where they check your passport and stamp you out, and to the right they move the locals with the identity cards who are  fast tracked through. Personally I found the Argentine’s were much more strict about making sure you didn’t get through before being stamped out than the Bolivians were about who came in. This was not something I expected as usually when you’re leaving a country they don’t really care! It’s more when you’re coming in that you’d think they’d be more strict, but that was just the way it was…

3. Make sure you get your 2nd stamp!

After I’d been stamped out of Argentina I walked straight ahead and into Bolivia (by accident) as there were no customs officers standing outside checking your passport. It’s only when I walked right into Villazon that I realised I needed to go back and get my Bolivian stamp to make sure I was legal! A number of other travellers made this mistake too when I was there so I thought it was worth noting that you need to go to the 2nd office window after you’ve been stamped through Argentine customs to make sure you get your Bolivian entry stamp! Otherwise you may find some problems when you’re leaving Bolivia later on in your trip.

4. Who needs to pay?

As a British person/citizen I did not need to pay any entry into Bolivia (yay!). British nationals are usually issued with 30 days entry free of charge, which you can extend later (for up to 90 days at no additional cost). As a general rule all Western European (and EU) countries have the same entry conditions in Bolivia as the UK (although of course it’s a good idea to check before you go as these things can change.)

The ones who suffer most unfortunately when it comes to visa restrictions in Bolivia are Americans. As a general rule US nationals need to pay a visa for entry into every South American country – Bolivia included.

  • The cost for US nationals entering Bolivia on a tourist visa is a whopping $135 currently!
  • Canadians do not need to pay an entry visa, however if you’re Canadian and want to stay longer than 30 days you’ll need to pay $30 for a tourist visa.
  • Australians are granted free entry for up to 30 days, which can be extended free of charge up to 90 days in total.
  • People from New Zealand are granted free entry for up to 30 days, which can be extended free of charge up to 90 days in total.
  • For all visitors to Bolivia, if you overstay your allocated time/visa in Bolivia you’ll usually be charged 20 Bolivianos per day for every day you have overstayed.

As a general rule Bolivia tends to work on a reciprocity fee basis. What this means is that if your country charges Bolivian people a fee to enter your country, then Bolivia will charge you the exact same amount to enter their country! If your country raises or lowers this fee, Bolivia will do the same by the exact same amount. Of course, as with any of the information printed above, it is subject to change. It’s always best to check with your local embassy first before you go to the border just in case there are any changes or things you need to do differently than detailed above. Comprende? 😉

5. Check you have your passport stamped AND your immigration voucher ‘thingy’

Aside from just getting your passport stamped coming into Bolivia, they’ll also get you to fill out a small green form which they then retain half of and give you the other half back stamped by an immigration official. Particularly if you want to extend past the original 30 days you will need this stamped green form (along with your passport of course) to take with you to an immigration office in Bolivia – so make sure you don’t lose it or throw it away!

6. Villazon bus station & where to get USD

Particularly when it comes to Americans looking for USD to pay for their visa (as far as I’m aware they won’t accept any other currency at the Bolivian border control for this visa), you’ll either need to get some on the black market in Argentina (Argentine ATM’s no longer issue USD), borrow some from a friend, or just cross the border first at Villazon, use an ATM, and then come back and pay for your visa. In the case of the latter I can’t guarantee you won’t be stopped from doing this, but when I was there (once you had been stamped out of Argentina) nobody actually stopped you from crossing into Bolivia first, getting some money out the ATM etc, and then coming back over to get stamped in. It definitely appeared to be a very easy/straight forward border control in this sense.

Once you’re through all the customs stuff you just need to walk to Villazon bus station to catch a bus elsewhere in the country. The bus station is only around 5 to 10 minutes walk from the border and you just buy your ticket from one of the sellers outside of the bus you want to take. I tried before arriving in Villazon to find and book a bus ticket online for my journey to Tupiza and could find nothing online. It really is just easier to rock up and book there and then in Bolivia (when it comes to onward bus travel.)

7. Are there other border towns you can cross through?

There are, but my advice is stick to the main border towns when you’re crossing into places like Bolivia. The main reason is that they’re just much more used to international travellers, but also because you’ll find more buses going to/from this way also and amenities about should you need them.

– If you liked this article you may also be interested in reading my first impressions of Salta, the last city I visited in Argentina before crossing the border into Bolivia.

8 Responses to “A guide to crossing the Argentine / Bolivian border (by land)”

  1. Rebecca says:

    gotta love being Australian and getting free entry!! Great tips, thanks for the through article!

  2. julia says:

    hi

    I read this too late and don’t have an entry stamp for Bolivia. The immigration office told me I have to pay 300 BOS to get one which I cant afford. I fly to Brazil next week and am wondering if I will be allowed to board the flight and leave Bolivia if I don’t have an entry stamp nor the green form.

    any advice would be appreciated

  3. Jonas says:

    Great article! We’re doing the same route tomorrow, so this is helpful.

    I have seen a few different stories about getting to the immigration in La Quiaca, sounds like a taxi could be a decent option.

    Cheers!

  4. Shari says:

    Thank you SO MUCH! I am planning on crossing the Argentine-Bolivia border in the next two days (taking buses from Puerto Iguazu to La Quiaca) and this was incredibly helpful!

    Cheers!

  5. Nate Oaks says:

    Just wanted to give a quick update for US citizens crossing from La Quiaca to Villazon. We crossed the border a few weeks ago in early May 2015. We paid $60 USD, though I think we got a 30 day visa rather than one that was good for 5 years. We had all our documents that the US embassy website indicated we would need (copies of passports, passport pictures, itinerary, etc) and they didn’t ask for any of it. We brought our money in USD 20’s, but they kept telling us they wanted a $100 bill or in bolivianos, neither of which we had. After about 20 minutes of waiting, they finally let us in without anymore hassle.

    Until I have some official comment, I wouldn’t arrive with less than $135, but it was nice to only have to pay $60. One other note, for those arriving from Argentina, bring USD to exchange to bolivianos, not Argentine pesos, if you can manage. We had a lot in case the ATMs weren’t working and lost about 25-30% because the exchange rate is so bad. Exchanging USD, we got pretty much the official exchange rate.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks


Leave a Reply