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/ 

Antigua Guatemala Cost of Living Update: Fruits and Veggies

One of the best things about living in Antigua Guatemala is the exciting number of dining options are available. Due to the huge influx of tourists, you can find good, quality restaurants representing almost any type of cuisine. Do you want French food? Plenty of options. Thai? Japanese? Mediterranean? Italian? All covered. Getting your fix of the food you enjoyed back home is pretty easy.

Unfortunately, dining out all the time is not a budget-friendly option. An easy way to control your budget (and eat healthier to boot!) is to take advantage of Antigua’s local farmer’s market. For fresh fruits and veggies at great prices, El Mercado (The Market) in Antigua Guatemala is hard to beat. Here’s a typical haul I brought from the market:

Antigua Guatemala Market

My weekly shopping haul

How much did this spread set me back? Exactly Q165.50 – about $22.00USD

Here’s the cost breakdown:

FRUITS

Strawberries (2Lbs):     Q8.00

Pineapple:     Q10.00

Melon:     Q10.00

Blackberries (1Lb):     Q3.50

Young Coconuts (4 @ Q5 each):     Q20.00

VEGGIES

Tomatoes (2Lbs):    Q6.00

White Onions (1Lb):     Q3.00

Broccoli head (2Q each):     Q4.00

Carrot (2 @ 1Q each):     Q2.00

Lettuce head:     Q3.00

Radish (bush):     Q2.00

Eggplant (1):     Q3.00

Local Avocados (2):     Q5.00

Cilantro bunch:     Q1.00

Green Bananas (6):     Q4.00

Sweet Corn (4-Pack):     Q6.00

Sweet Plantain (6):     Q10.00

Yucca:     Q4.00

MEATS

Smoked Pork Chops (1Lb):     Q25.00

Fresh Chicken – Cut Up (4Lbs):     Q36.00

El Mercado itself is a pleasure to shop in. It is kept very clean and police continuously patrol the market on the lookout for miscreants. While I always exercise caution and try to be aware of my surroundings, I can say it is not rare to see tourists walking around with fancy camera equipment happily snapping pics.

The easiest way to adapt to the culture, minimize homesickness and protect your budget is to eat like the locals do. One can eat very well here by sticking to a healthy diet of in-season fruits and veggies.

Guatemala Visa Extension: Guide To Renewing Your Tourist Visa

*This article has been updated on April 30, 2018*

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 – a vehicle visa, or “entry permit” is tied to your stay in Guatemala. You have to renew your tourist visa first before you do your vehicle permit.

*** 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).**

***UPDATED 4/30/2018***

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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 on where you’re headed, Mexico requires you buy vehicle insurance.

Updated 4/30/2018

***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 car, 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.

Antigua Guatemala cobblestones

Leaving Antigua Guatemala

Santo Hermano Pedro Statue

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.

Chicken bus in Guatemala

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. Better yet, hire a taxi to take you, or even double better, hail an Uber ride.

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 and are not afraid of being robbed? 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.

Immigration Offices in Guatemala City

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 in Guatemala City

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. If 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) (the form on the government’s own website is out of date). If you don’t take a pre-filled form with you, they will supply a clean copy (bring a pen). It may cost you 1Q to purchase a copy at the copy booth downstairs if they won’t give you one at the service desk.

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 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),

3) Address,

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 (only 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 are accepted at BanRural ONLY if you have an account with them: 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 Q1. 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.

Dirección General de Migración Guatemala

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 pickup, 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.

Fines For Overstaying

While it’s not something I recommend you get into the habit of doing – flaunting a foreign country’s laws, overstaying is not that big of a deal. It won’t get you featured on one of my favorite shows either (Locked Up Abroad). The current fine is Q15 per day, up from Q10.

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 to be paid. I was given a receipt and directed to the Banrural branch 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. 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.

Shortcuts

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 5a 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!).

If you’re at Lake Atitlan, or Xela, or Peten, you can always count on a lawyer or two being readily available to help take care of it for you.

***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.

Internet In Antigua Guatemala: Residential and Free WiFi

A popular café may be perfect for browsing or quickly checking e-mail, but not for when you need to grind out some serious work. If your nomadic travels take you to Antigua, Guatemala, here’s how to stay connected.

Connecting to the internet in Antigua Guatemala is relatively easy. Almost all restaurants, hotels and cafés offer free WiFi Internet access.  Something of note is that most wireless access points are secure and you’ll need a key to access them. But no sweat, just ask any helpful attendant for the wireless key, or “la clave (LAH CLAH-VEH)” and you’ll be up and running in no time.

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Free WiFi

A couple of years ago, as part of the city’s Information Technology Initiative, Antigua Guatemala became the first “digital city” in Central America by offering free WiFi Internet access in the town’s Parque Central (Central Park). The sign below was located in the Northeast corner of the park. But now, the sign has been replaced, and it appears that the initiative was canceled.

Internet in antigua guatemala

That said, it isn’t much of an issue if you don’t mind accessing the internet at the many cafes and restaurants surrounding the park.

internet access at Pollo Campero

Most hotels and inns offer internet access as well.  However, be mindful of checking before booking that:

  1. They do offer a free WiFi signal.
  2. The signal reaches the particular room you’re staying in.

Otherwise, you’ll have to hang around the main lobby waiting to use one of their Internet-connected computer terminals.

If you’re staying longer than a couple of weeks (awesome!) then you might want to check out short, medium, and long-term rentals. These typically offer better rates than weekly/monthly hotel rates. Short-term rentals will usually include internet access.

Note: Check if the signal is WiFi and from where exactly does the signal originate. The equipment may be at an adjacent apartment occupied by another of the owner’s tenants. If you ever lose your wireless signal, it makes it hard to check the equipment when said equipment is inside a stranger’s house.

Internet with Claro

When I acquired my long-term rental, I inquired whether there was Internet access available.

No Señor,” I was told, “but you should have no problems requesting service.

I later found out that this was technically correct. You can “request” service all you want, but the trick to pull off is to actually “get” service. Getting an internet connection is not a trivial matter if it’s not already in place.

I tried the first option, Claro, which provides landline phones and “Turbonett” residential DSL internet service. At the Claro office, located across from the southwest corner of Antigua’s Central Park, I received the worst customer service possible. They couldn’t answer a simple question and directed me to take a number and wait for another rep.

I took a number and waited 40 minutes to be called. Most Claro representatives stood around watching loud, racy music videos. I kid you not.

After waiting for a long time and thisclose to walking out, my number was up. It took about three milliseconds for the representative to tell me that residential internet service was available if I could give a copy of my lease going forward at least 18-months!

Claro also required a utility bill in my name (fat chance as utilities are usually under the owner’s name).  Since I didn’t qualify on either end, this option was a no-go for me.  Here are the rates, in case you’re still interested (plans include landline phone service).

Internet with Veridas

Next up was Veridas, a wireless ISP offering internet anywhere there is line-of-sight transmission around Antigua. They claim to offer immediate connection (not true) without any contract (wrong again) for multiple computers (unable to verify).

I gave Veridas a try and called them up. The person at the other end was very friendly and helpful, but unreliable. Scheduled with him at least twice to meet at home so he could assess signal strength. He was a no-show both times.

After being stood up twice, he promised to call me back shortly to schedule another time for the visit (did not call back, I had to call him the next day on both occasions). By the way, if you’re required to sign-up for a minimum of 3 months, as he explained, it IS a contract. You’re just prepaying ahead of time.

After trying to get service with Veridas for the better part of the week, I finally gave up. Maybe their service is so in demand that it takes a dogged effort to get it installed. Perhaps the quality of service is worth it. Unfortunately, this was not my experience. These are their rates if you’re willing to give them a try.

At this point I was getting tired of internet cafés, as my best work is usually done at home, in my work area, wearing nothing but flip-flops (kidding! Sorta…).

Internet with Tigo

I walked into a cell phone provider’s shop to inquire how I could get internet access at my house. The representative offered me USB-modems from both Claro and Tigo, another big telecom provided. I mentioned to him that this would not be suitable, as I needed a way to connect more than one device, including an iPad and iPod, both without USB ports (dumb Apple!)

An option would be to purchase a USB modem and buy a suitable router to share the connection. But I liked the appeal of being to connect outside of the home, whenever I took off traveling.

The rep mentioned the existence of a wireless modem offered by Tigo, which allowed up to 4 wireless devices to be connected. Unfortunately, the device was not currently in stock, and the rep advised it would not be easy to obtain – and he was very right.

I visited a dozen cell phone shops in Antigua, getting the same “No hay” (not in stock) answer. Eventually, a rep at another store suggested I go to the main Tigo office in Guatemala City, where they might have it in stock.

Out of options and desperately needing Internet service at home, I heeded his advice and trekked down to Tikal Futura, a shopping mall/hotel in Guatemala City, about an hour away from Antigua.

I arrived at Tigo’s office, where I was promptly informed that they did not have it in stock, but would check the computer system to verify whether any of their offices had one. I waited in line while the Tigo rep pecked away at her keyboard.

After waiting for about 5 minutes, again I heard the dreaded “No hay.” No timetable for when they’d be in stock either.

But…” she said, “check with the photo store across here. They might have it in stock.

At this point, I was starting to wonder if the device existed and placed it in the realm of other mythical creatures, such as unicorns and leprechauns.

I walked across to the store the girl pointed me to and inquired again. “Sure, we have it! Want to buy it?” she asked.

Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!“, I replied, as I snatched it from her hand.

Yes, the mythical wireless WiFi modem does exist! Although super-pricey at 949Q ($120USD], it does offer the option to connect five computers simultaneously:  One via USB connection and four wireless devices.

When compared to the other options above, this one wasn’t bad. The rates were reasonable (about 299Q for the high-end plan – 8GB data), no contract needed, and I could now have internet access everywhere there is a Tigo cell phone signal (best coverage in Guatemala). Here’s the modem in action:

So far the modem (Huawei E5836) has worked out well. Having ok internet access (YouTube is a pain to download, and I avoid it) at my disposal at all times has been pretty useful. It’s not what I originally had in mind, but I think I would’ve eventually bought it even if I did have internet access at home already.

The lesson here is, find out and make sure Internet access is already included and working with your rental property. It’ll save you a lot of headaches down the road.