A couple of weeks ago, I began to run out of time. I’d been in Antigua Guatemala for close to 90 days, which meant my tourist visa was about to expire, and so was my vehicle’s permit. This vehicle visa, or “entry permit” is tied to your stay in Guatemala. The process to obtain a Guatemala visa extension is well-documented, although there’s a lot of incomplete and outdated information out there. I’ll give you the latest info on the process. If driving to Guatemala, you’ll need to update the vehicle’s permit as well – see the link. You have to renew your tourist visa first before you do your vehicle permit. (Updated May 30, 2017).
*** Have you been in Guatemala for less than 90 days? Then you need to follow the Guatemala visa extension process outlined below.
Have you already filed a 90-day extension and been in Guatemala for close to six months? Then you need to go on a Guatemala Visa Run. Click the link to know how to do a Guatemala visa renewal by visiting nearby Tapachula, Mexico (opens new window).
Alternatively, you can also go on a longer, yet infinitely more satisfying visa run to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico (opens new window). If you want to travel even farther, head to Belize instead (opens new window).**
Guatemala Visa Extension Options
First, to renew your tourist visa for an extra 90 days you have two options:
1) Leave the country for one day (24 hours), get an exit stamp on your passport, then a new 90-day entry stamp when you return.
2) Apply for a permit extension at the central office in Guatemala City.
Option 1, while simple, is not too convenient if you’re far from Mexico or Belize’s border. To get a qualifying exit stamp, you need to leave the CA-4 zone. The closest border to Antigua Guatemala’s is El Salvador’s, about 2+ hours away by car. However, this won’t work since Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua formed a pact to allow for open borders between them (collectively they’re called CA-4 countries). Getting an exit stamp from a CA-4 country means you haven’t left the CA-4 zone.
That leaves Costa Rica to the South (more than a day’s travel and many borders to cross), Belize to the Northeast (about 12 hours away) and Mexico to the North (6 hours away) as the only possible overland options.
Most people that need to leave the country do so on a bus-ride to Mexico since it’s the cheapest ride and closest destination (more on that below)***. Unfortunately, there’s also the cost of looking for a place to stay in overnight while on Mexican soil. Tapachula is the favored, easiest option for a short stay in Mexico. Read my post on how to do a Guatemala visa run to Tapachula.
The vehicle is another story, as it is a semi-complicated process to cross into Mexico and involves a hefty deposit added to your credit card. Also, depending where you’re headed, Mexico requires you buy vehicle insurance.
***NOTE: If you’re driving to Mexico and don’t go inland with the vehicle more than 20 kilometers away from the Guatemala – Mexico border, it’s not necessary to obtain Mexican insurance. All you will need is proof that you own the vehicle and have a legal document proving (passport, for example) that you do have the right to be in Mexico. Conveniently, Tapachula happens to fall within the 20 km border buffer zone, which makes that city an excellent option if you need to leave Guatemala with your vehicle. If driving into Mexico with a Guatemalan vehicle, make sure your registration is up to date.
If driving past the 20 km border buffer zone, you will need to provide proof of ownership, pay for a permit ($51USD + IVA), plus a refundable deposit. As of today, the deposit is $400USD for cars made in 2007 and newer, $300USD for 2001-2006, and $200USD for 2000 and older. Payments are made at BANJERCITO – credit cards are accepted. You’ll be given a cool hologram sticker to place on your vehicle’s windshield. Upon exiting Mexico, authorities will remove the sticker. Head to Banjercito to claim your deposit.
I wanted to avoid the cost and hassle of going to Mexico, so I headed over to Guatemala City to renew my tourist visa and find out if it was possible to extend my truck’s permit.
Leaving Antigua Guatemala
Santo Hermano Pedro Statue: Entrance to Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is at a higher elevation than the capital city and nestled in a valley surrounded by volcanoes, which means you’ll have to go up a steep road to leave Antigua and then downhill when nearing Guatemala City – the reverse applies when coming to Antigua. Your vehicle’s brakes will get a good workout during this ride.
Colorful buses, dangerous drivers.
Once you’ve successfully reached the city unscathed by dodging fast-moving chicken buses (above) and without burning your brakes going downhill, it is time to find the immigration building.
I won’t even attempt to tell you how to get there by car or via public transportation. You’re better off going with someone who understands the confusing layout of the city or better yet, hire a taxi to take you.
For the best combination of time/cost, take a Guatemala City-bound bus from Antigua (Q10) and get off at the Tikal Futura Mall, which is the next stop after Wal-Mart. You’ll find white taxis waiting to pick up passengers out front. Hand them the address to Extranjeria (below). Negotiate the fare before jumping in – it’ll cost anywhere between Q30 and Q50, regardless of the number of passengers. About Q40 fare one-way is right, payable after you’re dropped off.
Feeling bold? On a back-breaking budget? Check out my instructions on how to get to the Immigration building to/from Antigua solely via public transportation. It’ll cost you a minimum of Q22 round-trip to/from Antigua.
Here’s the address the Extranjeria, or “Guatemalan Immigration Agency,” where you can renew your passport:
Direccion General de Inmigracion (Extranjeria)
Avenida 6, 3-11, Zona 4
Open: Monday to Friday (excluding holidays), 8:30am-4:30pm.
Phone #: (502) 2411-2411
Immigration Building – Parking lot across the street
What You Need to Bring:
Item 1: Your UNEXPIRED passport (there’s a Q10 per day fine for every day your visa has been expired). Your passport will not be returned to you the same day. I recommend you make full-color copies of your bio-data page(s) (the page(s) indicating full name, date of birth, passport number, etc.safe-keeping) and of the page showing your entry stamp into the country (safekeeping). It is also a good idea, as recommended by a police officer here, to go to a lawyer and get both copies notarized – around Q75 (~$10) per page. I haven’t found it necessary to do so, yet.
I had found outdated information on the net indicating that if you arrived early, your passport could be returned the same day. This information is INCORRECT.
Your passport will be returned to you eight days later at the same office, barring any holidays in between. Iff you turn your passport in on a Wednesday, you’ll get it back Wednesday of the following week.
Don’t wait, like I did, until you have less than eight days left on your passport’s expiration date since you risk walking around with a color copy showing an expired stamp. You can still explain it away, but you’ll have to carry around your receipt from Extranjeria demonstrating that your passport has been turned in.
Item 2: Bring two copies of the bio-data page(s) of our passport and one copy showing your latest entry stamp into the country. Doesn’t seem to matter if they’re color copies or not.
Don’t have copies? There’s a copy service booth (blue sign) on the first floor, next to the BanRural branch where application payments are made. Copies are 1Q each, although if you ask nicely, they will copy both sides of the credit card on one page and still charge you 1Q.
Item 3: A copy of the visa extension application (PDF download). If you don’t take a pre-filled form with you, they will supply a clean copy (bring a pen).
Item 4: A copy of a non-expired foreign credit card (front and back) serves as a guarantee that you’ll be able to leave the country via private means (they don’t check balance, only the expiration date –
I speculate that a debit card may work as well). ***Fellow travelers Brenton and Shannon from RuinedAdventures.com advised that they needed one credit card PER PERSON to extend their visas. They were also successful in using a Visa/MasterCard Debit Card. Thanks for the update guys!
***Debit cards are no longer accepted as of March 2015!*** When you first submit your paperwork, you may be asked whether it’s a “Debit” or “Credit Card” if the card isn’t clearly marked as a “Debit” card, which most are. If it’s a debit card, your application will be rejected, and you will have wasted a trip if you can’t provide one of the options listed below.
On the off-chance that the debit card does get accepted by the screener, upon your return to pick up your passport the following week, someone will likely catch it and ask you to provide a credit card or one of the options below – it happened to a friend of mine. Luckily, my friend was able to provide a credit card on the spot and was told to return for the passport the next day. The credit card must be in the name of the person asking for the extension.
What’s that? You don’t have a credit card you say? Here are three options, according to the visa application extension I linked above:
a. Bring four traveler checks bearing your name, each amounting to $100USD.
b. Valid travel ticket – bus, airline, horse, it doesn’t specify the mode of transportation. Don’t have that either? Bring your flight reservation printed on the travel agency’s letterhead – must be signed and stamped by the agent that sold you the ticket. I’ve seen people get by with an email printout of an airline ticket reservation.
c. Bring a notarized letter from a personal Guatemalan guarantor that includes:
1) Full Name,
2) Guatemalan ID Number (DPI),
4) Telephone Number,
5) Tax ID Number (NIT),
6) Passport Number,
7) Notarized Copy of ID (DPI), and
8) Guarantor’s Last Bank Statement showing a balance of at least Q3,000 – Bank Statement must be certified (signed and stamped) by the bank.
Item 5: If renewing a visa for a child, bring a copy of his/her birth certificate. If married, bring a copy of your marriage license (if they ask – they didn’t ask me for it).
UPDATE (04/24/2015) Parents now have to bring notarized copies of ALL pages in their passport. For children’s passports, the standard procedure stands (copies of the bio-data page and last entry stamp).
Item 6: Two black-and-white passport-sized photos printed on matte paper. There is a small office to the left of the Extranjeria building which can give you the pics on the spot for about Q75.
UPDATE (5/28/2014) The procedure has changed. The visa extension fee will have to be paid for on your second visit when you COME BACK to pick up your passport. Only quetzals are accepted. Dollars accepted ONLY if you have a BanRural account: Item 7: About $15USD (about Q120 should do it) in Guatemalan currency for visa application fee, Q75 for passport-sized pictures, and about Q20 for parking if using the lot across the street.
UPDATE (4/24/2015) You’re now asked to make a copy of the BanRural receipt upon payment of your visa. You can easily do this at the photocopy booth downstairs – copies cost Q0.50. This copy will be for you to keep – it isn’t strictly necessary. But it’s better to have proof of payment should any issue come up later.
Once you have all your documents lined up, it is time to go inside the building.
Entrance to Immigration Building
Once you enter the building, register with the receptionist sitting at the desk next to the entrance. You’ll be directed to go to the second floor via the stairs or elevator right across the receptionist’s desk.
On the second floor, you’ll find a waiting room with chairs. Go to the window right by the entrance to the lobby marked “Informacion” and stand in line. At the window, the clerk will check all documents and the visa application form to make sure you’re squared away. He’ll give you a blank visa application form if you don’t have one.
If all is good to go, he’ll staple your photos and documents together. The clerk will also hand you an invoice for the equivalent in Guatemalan currency for $15USD, and direct you to another window. Stand in line again.
The next clerk will check all your documents again and input the information into the system. Once you’re in the system, the clerk will send you, with your invoice, 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, and return with the stamped invoice to the second floor. You’ll be almost finished.
Go back to the second floor and stand in line at the “Informacion” window again. The clerk will check your invoice and hand you a number. After waiting for a few minutes, your number will come up on the big LCD screen in the center of the room, indicating what window to visit. Hand over your bank receipt stapled documents AND passport. The clerk will give you a receipt and ask you to come back eight days later, which is not an exact date for pick-up, but the earliest date you can come back to pick up your passport.
While this whole procedure seemed tedious and drawn out, it took less than 45 minutes and wasn’t bad, considering one keeps moving from window to window, which helped pass the time.
NEW PROCEDURE (5/28/2014): Eight days later, receipt in hand, I returned to the same immigration building and headed to the “Informacion” window again. I showed the clerk my receipt and was directed to the passport-pickup window. They handed me an invoice and directed me to pay the tourist visa fee at the BanRural bank branch downstairs. Once paid, I returned with my receipt to the passport-pickup window. They made me print and sign my name in a logbook, after which they handed me back my passport. I checked the new visa stamp on the passport to make sure that I had 90 more days. Satisfied, I left the building and headed out.
What If You Have Overstayed Your Initial 90 Day Visa?
While it’s not something I recommend you get into the habit of doing – flaunting a foreign country’s laws, it’s not that big of a deal. It won’t get you featured in one of my favorite shows, Locked Up Abroad. On my last visit, I was shocked to discover I had miscalculated how much time I had remaining and ended up overstaying for two days. The woman behind Window #8 directed me to the fourth floor, where fines are paid. I was given a receipt to be paid immediately at Banrural on the first floor. Once I did that, I returned to the fourth floor where my receipt was stamped (I think) and directed once again to Window #8 on the second floor. Once I presented my receipt, the extension process continued as if nothing had happened.
***Updated 5/10/2017*** While I was paying my penalty on the fourth floor, I asked the clerk about a friend who had overstayed his initial visa for almost an entire month and what would be required of him. The clerk informed me there wouldn’t be any issue as long as the fine was paid (
Q10 per overstay day fine per day has increased to Q15 per day). The extension’s expiration date wouldn’t change, meaning if one overstayed for a month, the visa extension would last an additional two months, not begin on the day the fine was paid. In my case, the two days I overstayed were “discounted” from my extension period.
Also, keep in mind that the fine has to be paid even if you leave the country and don’t care to file for an extension. Leaving the country doesn’t exonerate one from having to pay an overstay fine.
All in all, it was a somewhat painless experience and better than spending 16 hours in a car driving to Mexico, not accounting for the time and added expenses.
If you’d rather avoid the hassle of traveling to the city, there are immigration lawyers who will handle all the paperwork for you. If in Antigua, visit the immigration services office at the entrance to the Monoloco Restaurant on 5ta Avenida Sur, half a block away from Parque Central. For Q500, a lawyer will take care of the paperwork for you, get it stamped, and return your passport promptly (thanks to reader Lindsey, below, for the tip!).
***Unfortunately, this procedure can only be done one time after entering the country from a non-CA-4 country. Each time you enter Guatemala from a non-CA-4 country, your visa clock starts. The visa can be renewed at the Extranjeria after your first 90 days are up. After your second 90 day period expires (180 days total in the country), you MUST leave the country to a non-CA-4 country to restart the clock. Once you come back in with a foreign entry stamp, you can then renew again for another 90 days at the Extranjeria.
Know that the car permit will not be extended until your tourist visa has been extended first.