We are the worst type of overlanders, the kind known as “slowverlanders” unable to simply stay in a country the length of our visa and move on, we have often needed to obtain a visa extension – for ourselves and for our vehicle.
This vehicle visa, or “temporary import permit” is tied to your stay in Guatemala (or any other CA-4 country) and must absolutely be done correctly or your car may be impounded. Guatemala is part of the group of countries called the CA-4 (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua). For all four countries you only get a collective 90 days personal visa and each country grants a different time period for your car (Nicaragua only gives you 30 days). This is simply NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH TIME.
Here is what we learned about extending our personal visas and temporary import permit for the car:
Of course, the easiest way to renew your visa is to leave the CA-4 to a non CA-4 country – Mexico (to the North, a 6 hours drive, Belize(to the Northeast, about 12 hours drive) or Costa Rica (to the South – more than a day’s travel and many borders to cross) if by land or anywhere else, by plane. You have to get an exit stamp on your passport and stay out for 24 hours before you will be allowed to re-enter.
For your vehicle, its pretty much that simple as well, except that you will be issued a new temporary import permit from each of these countries, independently. If you do the run to Mexico, remember that Mexico will require you to purchase insurance and pay a 400 dollar deposit that is refundable only upon leaving again and we recommend doing this in cash. We lost our deposit in Mexico because we had paid for it with a credit card. Then that credit card was stolen while we were in Mexico. Because we had to close the account, Mexico could not reverse the credit card charge and wouldn’t issue the refund any other way. Also, KEEP YOUR RECEIPT, you don’t get the refund without it.
Important to note, if you are not on an extension, Guatemala won’t let you immediately re-enter your car after leaving. If you have previously extended your import permit, you have to wait 90 days before re-entering. The loophole here is if the title is in more than one person’s name. If you’re a couple and you both own the vehicle, you can get a permit in one of your name’s and after you leave the country and re-enter, get it in the alternative person’s name. Unlike other countries (Costa Rica, for example), the permit is tied to the person rather than the car.
But lets say you don’t want to leave the CA-4 – you don’t want to backtrack to Mexico or rush to Costa Rica. There is an “easier” way – depending on how you define “easy.”
If you have not extended before (you are only allowed to do this once) In Guatemala, this has to be done in Guatemala City or by hiring a service. It’s a 5-day process.
Most people don’t stay in the city but in Antigua, which is about an hour from the city. The road to Guatemala city is steep and windy. Make sure your brakes are in good shape. Rush hour traffic is pure punishment. If you want to stay in Guatemala City, however, check out our recommendations for places to stay. Look for it under the "Lodging We Love" tab. If you have extended before, the only way to do it is the border-run we mentioned above.
In Guatemala, you have to renew your tourist visa first before you do your vehicle permit.
Go to the immigration office. It shows up on google maps/waze as Migracion or Extranjeria or Direccion General de Inmigracion and you’ll find the gps coordinates on Ioverlander. You can also ask any taxi to get you there.
Here is the address:
Dirrecion General de Inmigracion (Extranjeria) Avenida 6, 3-11, Zona 4
Open Monday through Friday 830-430. Phone Number: (502) 2411-2411
If you do not want to go drive into the city at all you can take a bus. Take a Guatemala City bound bus from Antigua (Q10) and get off at the Tikal Futura Mall, which is the next stop after Walmart. You’ll find taxis out front. Hand them the address to Extranjeria (below). The fare should be between Q30 and Q50 - make sure you get this clear up front.
The first thing you will notice about the area is a few strip clubs. Don’t let that put you off – it’s a reasonably safe area and a few blocks over you will find our favorite area in Guatemala City – full of hipsters, artists, locally-owned coffee shops and restaurants. A great place to get lunch when you need to decompress after completing your first step.
WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU:
1. Passport (Preferrably, unexpired – there is some debate about this topic but generally, if you have let your visa lapse, there is risk you will not be granted a new extension). There is a 15 quetzales fine for each day it is expired.
2. As always, have color copies of your passport and all of its relevant pages including your visa stamp, made because (and yes, this totally freaked us out, too) they will keep your passport. You wont get it back for 7-8 days – if there is a holiday…or someone calls in sick to work, it could be a day or two longer. You need a couple of copies for yourself and two copies to turn into the immigration office with your application for extension. Make sure you have two copies of your bio-data page and two copies of the visa stamp from your entry. If you forget your copies, there is a window on the first floor where you can get them made. Copies are 1 quetzal each.
3. A copy of the visa extension application (PDF download). If you don’t take a pre-filled form with you, they have copies there but it is another step and another delay. Don’t forget to bring a pen!
4. A copy of the front and back of a non-expired foreign credit card. They won’t check your balance or place any kind of funds-hold but they will check the expiration date. It HAS to be a credit card and not a debit card. I’ve read that the credit card has to be in the name of the person requesting the extension but that did not prove to be true for us where we both used the same one. It was a possible mistake, though so I wouldn’t risk it. If you have kids, you will also need a copy of their birth certificate.
5. Two black and white passport-sized photos. You can get these done in Antigua (the guy says is a 24 hour turnaround but we got him to do it in about 4 hours) or you can get it done in a little shop next to the immigration office in Guatemala City.
6. Bring 120 Quetzales for the extension application fee. This cannot be paid in US Dollars. You will pay this on your second visit when you pick up your passport. Once you pay
1. Enter the building.
2. Sign-in with the receptionist sitting at the desk next to the entrance.
3. Across from the receptionist is a staircase leading to the second floor.
4. On the 2nd floor, you’ll enter a large room with a bunch of people standing around (there always seems to be a lot of nuns in there, go figure) and a lot of chairs.
5. Go to the service window to the right of the entrance labeled “informacion” and get in line.
6. This clerk, usually English-speaking, will check the items you brought and your visa application form to be sure you are all set. This is where you can get a visa form if you forgot to print one out in advance.
7. The representative will staple your items and photos together.
8. Ask for a number. You’re not technically supposed to get your number until a few more steps below are complete but the number is everything! And there will be plenty of time between getting it and getting all else done – but you will save the agony of waiting so long afterwards.
9. If all is good to go, he or she will hand you a receipt to take down for your visa fee. More recently, people have been asked to pay this fee upon the 2nd visit when you pick up your passport but for us, it was the first visit as described.
10. You will be directed to another window where a clerk will check all your documents again and input the information into the system.
11. Once you’re in the system, the clerk will send you, with your receipt, to the bank cashier on the first floor, located right behind the receptionist you met when you first entered the building. Show the bank’s cashier the invoice, pay the visa fee, copy the receipt at the copy window and return with the stamped receipt to the second floor. You’ve made it, the finish line is in sight. The hardest part of all of this really is the standing in line and waiting.
12. Since you already have your number in hand, simply go back upstairs and wait. If you did not get your number before this step, go to the “informacion” window and ask for a number now.
13. Watch the screen at the front of the room for your number to appear. When it does, it will also tell you which window is your window. Hand over your stamped receipt, your documents and yep, your passport, too (so stressful!!).
14. You will be given another receipt and a pick-up date, generally 7-8 days later. They will also tell you the specific hours you will be allowed on that date to pick up your documents. For us, it was 1-3pm.
This all took us about two hours. An hour and a half of it was standing around, waiting for our number to come up on the screen.
15.7 days later, or whatever date you were given, at the given times, return to the same floor of the same building. Ask for the passport pickup window. Do not stand in line at this window but press your way to the front. The people standing in line are mostly doing their part 1. Part 2 people have priority.
16. You will be asked your name, told to sign a logbook and given your passport.
17. Double-check that the stamp and WHAT THEY WROTE ON IT reflects 90 days. For many of our friends, it was wrong and that can cause a lot of hassles and lost time.
If you’d rather avoid the hassle of traveling to the city, there is an immigration office in Antigua that will handle all the paperwork for you – but they tell you it will take longer than 8 days, sometimes up to 20 days. The office is located at the entrance to the Monoloco Hostel and Bar on 5ta Avenida Sur, half a block away from Parque Central. For Q500, someone else takes care of all of this – but honestly, it wasn’t that big a deal, was an experience of the road and we didn’t mind doing it.
Know that the car permit will not be extended until your tourist visa has been extended first.
For your car: the Aduana you need is near the airport. Its listed with coordinates (GPS: N14 35.056 W90 31.829.) Ioverlander and in a blue building with a parking lot across the street or in front of the building.
This was the easiest ten minutes we have had doing anything. We walked up to the window, explained what we needed. Had two copies of our title, our registration, our original import permit and our bio-data and new visa-stamped pages of our passport. The clerk took it all, stapled it together and came back with a newly extended temporary permit.
Other Info re driving in Guatemala
Insurance is not mandatory in Guatemal but given the aggressiveness of Guatemala drivers (matched only by Nicaraguan drivers) and the wildness of the roads, itssmart to have in case of a collision. Depending upon the age of your vehicle, you can get liability-only insurance in Flores/Santa Elena at Todo Riesgo. Their full address is 4a. Calle 6-76, Zona 1, Calle Principal, Santa Elena. Their phone number is 4210-8958. The prices in 2016 were:
- 15 days: Q249.32
- 30 days: Q335.76
- 60 days: Q498.64
- 90 days: Q1,270.16
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