Driving to Guatemala: Extending Your Vehicle’s Permit

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.

SAT's main office in Guatemala

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.

Road to the airport in Guatemala City

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.

Passenger Drop-off at La Aurora Airport

5)  Bear left and drive past Dollar and Payless Rent-a-Car.

Payless Rent-a-Car office at the airport

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.

SAT Aduana Express

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/ 

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10 comments

    • Good question Miguel! In theory, yes, because of the agreement the process should be valid for all. But I know that Honduras for one has ignored the agreement in regards to C-4 permits and has decided to implement their own processes.

      I wish I knew the exact answer, but I don’t at this moment.

      -Rich

      • Went to the SAT at the Aurora Airport today. 90 day extension (they will pair it up to your passport’s extended tourist visa), free of charge, fast and magnificent customer service. I can now confirm that the permit will be valid for Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, all in the CA-4 treaty area. Thanks for the amazing write-up!

        • Glad it worked out, Miguel! That’s great info to have to, though I always take what Customs tells me with a grain of salt :)

          How long are you planning on staying here?

          -Rich

  1. I extended my permit twice at the aurora airport while I was living in Guatemala. and then I drove to El Salvador and down to Costa Rica before my 9th month was up…and at the San Cristobal, El Salvador border they were puzzled by the prorrogas but finally signed the form and gave me the green light. Well, that was in June of 2015…and when I finally got around to driving north again in March of 2016 the Hachadura, Guatemala border official not only charged me 300Q extra for it being Semana Santa (labor outside the “normal hours”) but they said the visa had never been officially cancelled by the San Cristobal border office and it had remained open and was now invalid and under no circumstances could the vehicle reenter Guatemala. This was hard thing to swallow considering it meant abandoning everything in El Salvador. It sounded very complicated but what I could understand was that I was supposed to cancel the visa at the airport back in june of 2015 when I was leaving. That would mean driving to El Salvador with an cancelled permit but that’s what I understood. So, anyone getting the extension needs to clarify where and how they need to cancel this prorroga vehicle extension at the airport or wherever they get the extension. DO NOT simply drive to the el salvador border and expect the green light. they easily could’ve refused to cancel the permit and told me to go back to the airport a few hundred KM to the west. and if the permit was about to expire then that could mean fines. of course if you do not intend to drive the vehicle back to Guatemala then this is academic. But if you are driving to Panama or Costa Rica and then returning north then you will probably face the same problem I did and be told the permit was never cancelled and you can’t reenter.

    in the end after much pleading they offered me a solution of paying $50 fine to retroactively cancel the permit from 2015 even though I had spent 10 months out of Guatemala and then I would have to sell the van by signing the title to anyone..and fortunately I was traveling with a passenger…and that would allow the vehicle to enter under the passenger’s name with me as an additional driver. crazy. this may or may not be notarized by a lawyer at extra expense. But this means that me and the passenger had to leave Guatemala at the same time since the permit could not be cancelled with only me. and this caused many problems since I didn’t want to leave so soon, but did leave through La Mesilla where they cancelled the permit and told me the vehicle could not return for 3 months. Mexico proceeded to tell me I owed $600 for carrying 2 guitars and tools, which was more than allowed by law. they also told me my registration was expired and the vehicle could not enter Mexico. That involved another story so I leave you with the advice to clarify how to cancel the permit extension if you intend to drive to Guatemala again with that vehicle.

    • Wow, what an adventure oggybleacher! I advise to anyone thinking of sticking around to plan well in advance and think long and hard if driving a vehicle down is really necessary. Rather than being liberating, it can really mess up travel plans and create added travel costs.

      -Rich

Comments are closed.

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