If your travels overland require you must drive through Guatemala, be warned. You may have planned to hit a few of the sights and merrily go your way, but trust me, Guatemala will slowly draw you in.
Spend a week in Antigua Guatemala, or a weekend at Lake Atitlan, and pretty soon an idea slowly settles in: Despite everything you’ve heard from people who have never visited Guatemala, this country is quite nice and maybe you’d like to see more of it.
Soon, a couple of weeks turn into a month, then two months… and you realize that the end of your 90-day tourist visa is fast approaching and you’re not quite ready to leave yet. Been there, done that.
Tip #1: Don’t Let Your Vehicle Permit Expire
Extending a tourist visa for an extra 90 days is not terribly complicated, only time-consuming. If you let your vehicle permit expire, you won’t be able to renew your permit and will be asked to take the vehicle out of the country immediately. DO NOT let your vehicle permit expire!
Tip #2: Renew Your Tourist Visa First
You can leave the country for a day, return the next day, and that will get you a fresh 90-day stamp. This applies if you leave for any country in the world, except when you go to one of the CA-4 countries (El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) which Guatemala has open-border agreements with. Visiting CA-4 countries will not get you a fresh stamp. That leaves Mexico and Belize as the closest options, Costa Rica a distant (literally) third option.
Alternatively, you can renew your visa an extra 90 days by applying for an extension at the Guatemala City Extranjeria office. Here is the step-by-step guide to renewing your tourist visa in Guatemala City.
Renewing Your Vehicle’s Permit
Your vehicle is a different story. Its “visa” or import permit is tied to the tourist visa, meaning the permit will valid as long as the vehicle owner’s tourist visa is valid. This presents a problem if you need to keep your vehicle in Guatemala with you.
Like your visa, your vehicle’s import permit can be renewed, though not at the Extranjeria office. Be advised that your vehicle’s import permit likely won’t be extended until your tourist visa is extended first.
I attempted to find answers on how to do this by going to the main office of the Superintendencia Administrativa de Tributos (SAT), in Zona 9.
The Customs official directed me to the second floor. There, I met a helpful official who promised to find answers to an apparently previously unasked question:
How do I extend my car’s permit without leaving the country?
After a pleasant 10 minute wait in the lobby (he asked if I wanted coffee or a cold beverage – which I politely declined), the official informed me that the rules had recently changed (surprise!) but that I would be able to extend my permit at SAT’s Customs branch located near the airport. Thankfully, I knew how to get back to La Aurora International Airport, so finding the place was not complicated.
How to get to SAT’s Customs Office
1) Head over to La Aurora International Airport, in Zona 13. Follow the signs from Calzada Roosevelt.
2) Follow the signs for passenger pickup/drop-off entrance.
3) When you get to the first roundabout, bear right. Follow yellow signs for arriving/departing flights, which will be your first roundabout exit. You’ll see the second roundabout at the end of the street, about a half mile away.
4) As you approach the second roundabout, you’ll see the offices for Payless Rent-a-Car and Dollar Rent-a-Car in the distance. Take the second exit for 11 Avenida, towards Payless.
5) Bear left and drive past Dollar and Payless Rent-a-Car.
6) After you drive past Payless, there will be a fork in the road less than quarter-mile away. Stay on the main road. Very soon after you’ll see the signs for SAT Aduana Express Aereo, the office building you need to go into.
7) There’s a cheap, dirt parking lot, right across the street from the SAT building. Careful crossing the street, which is heavily trafficked.
There’s only one public entrance to the building. The section open to the public is fairly small and somewhat crowded. Don’t be concerned with the slew of windows in front of you, just turn left and head immediately for the “Informacion” window and stand in line.
The process is straightforward. Show your passport bearing your new 90-day stamp to the official, along with the SAT import permit paperwork you received at the border. Explain that you’re still seeing the wonderful Guatemalan sights and would like to extend your vehicle’s permit to match your new entry stamp.
The official will make copies of your passport and stamp and enter the new extension date (matching your visa’s stamp) into the system. The official will also give you a new printout showing your new extension date, along with the official’s stamp and signature.
All this with no fees or even charges for the photocopies!
Interestingly, the official told me I needed to renew my tourist visa before getting the extension. The first time I visited the Customs office, I didn’t have my passport with me, as I’d left it with the Extranjeria office. It would be another 8 days before I’d see it again. “No problem”, said the officer. The official graciously provided me a 15-day extension to take care of my visa, which was due to expire in 4 days. I promised to bring my passport back to show that it had indeed been extended. Rules in Guatemala are often fluid and will often depend on the mood of the official and the attitude of the person making the request.
The official explained that they give vehicle extensions as a courtesy to visitors. They have no obligation to extend your permit. Which is why it doesn’t hurt to be nice and extra gracious to the official providing the extension.
I was also informed by the official that the permit can be “temporarily suspended” if I wished to visit a neighboring country, such as Belize or Mexico, and reinstated once I decided to come back to the country. All one needs to do is pay another visit to the Customs office and tell them of the dates one is leaving and returning. This will come in handy if you have to come back after you’re done with your 180 days in-country and have to leave before coming back. Again, not official policy, but a courtesy they can extend to you. Keep in mind they’re losing revenue by allowing people to stay in the country for long stretches of time without paying import taxes.
This was by far the most pleasant and courteous experience I’ve received from Guatemalan officials during the trip. It may have to do with the fact that these officials are not jaded by having to deal with hundreds or thousands of tourists every week.
Want more tips about living in Antigua Guatemala? Check them out here: https://www.okantigua.com/guatemala-expat/