Driving the Americas
The greatest adventure yet
Starting in Seattle, and ending in Argentina. Driving my car through 16 countries in Latin America had its challenges, and was worth every bit of it.
There were times when the car just had to be shipped. The first was crossing the unpassable Darien Gap in Panama where the car was loaded and shipped to Cartagena, Colombia. The second was at the end, from Buenos Aires; where I shipped my car to London to continue the adventure. Finally, shipping the car back from Belgium to Baltimore.
More than a dozen land border crossings with more than a dozen different set of rules and processes. Makes for some interesting times. From sweltering at the border in the 90 degree heat in Nicaragua, to arriving in El Salvador without cash, and having to pay an entry fee, and trying to enter Paraguay without the proper Visa; it didn't always go smoothly. But, by and large, the people I met were willing to help me out, and make things happen.
Crossing the border from Guatemala to El Salvador
This was the first crossing that did not go quite as planned.
The "helpers" that are at all crossings can be very beneficial. Here...not so much.
They are much more aggressive on the Guatemala exit, and at the end, discovered that they are there to get as much money out of you as possible. And, giving you the correct information is not all that important to them. They insisted that I owed the officials extra money ($60) because they worked on their lunch hour. We argued, and settled on $25, just so I could move on.
If I did this again, I would go without any helper.
The key leaving Guatemala, when driving your own car, is that when you arrive at the exit lanes, just park in the spaces on the right of the building (which will be next to the far left immigration lane). You will need your car there before it is over. Immigration and customs are in the same building. And, the copy shop is just up to the right.
The helpers, along with what I read online, all said that El Salvador will need nothing but the cancelled Guatemala papers for my car. This is very wrong. I have to assume this changed recently.
El Salvador was the first country to do a thorough entry customs process on my car. Including opening all doors, checking the VIN in the door and windshield.
So, leaving Guatemala, go over the bridge, and you will be asked to pull over immediately on your right. You will leave your car here for the duration.
They are thorough, but very nice. Probably the friendliest immigration so far.
Get your car checked...be patient, we are working on Central American time frames.
Then, you will head to the immigration office, which is across the road, and down a slight hill.
Need copies? You can get them 30 feet to the south of where your car is parked. The "building" (more shack) is marked.
The folks on the Salvador side were very helpful.
Despite what you read online, you WILL get entry paperwork for your car. And, you will hit 2 or checkpoints in the first couple miles, and they will all ask for it. Again, very friendly...the 3rd checkpoint, the officer and I chatted about what it was like to drive through Central America. A smile, a handshake, and a "much gusto" later...I was on my way to San Salvador.
Crossing from El Salvador into Honduras
Another border crossing, another little adventure. It is frustrating to have to pay people to help you through these crossings, but getting the car through can be a little complicated, so it can be well worth it.
It feels like greasing palms, and I am probably right. These helpers at the border make a living doing this, so I don't feel too bad about paying them.
They get you early leaving El Salvador because approaching the border, the one and only lane is backed up with trucks that are not moving. The border helper (mine was Rene today) will guide you around the traffic and get you to the front of the line.
Leaving El Salvador, you stop just after the speed bump, and park off to the right. At the little shack with a window, you get your car permit cancelled. Then, drive ahead 2 kilometers. At the new bridge, veer left (the new bridge is for trucks only). go one more kilometer, passing thru a little village, and park on the right side of the blue and white building for immigration. Get your passport stamped , and a little white piece of paper that you will need later to finally get out. That is it for exiting El Salvador.
Drive on for Honduras. Over bridge, and park on the right side at the blue and white building for immigration and customs.
This is where my helper really started to shine.
First, as you come over the bridge, a Honduras official will take your passport and cancelled Salvador car permit. He leaves with those, and you drive forward and park. This seems odd, but it is normal.
After parking, you need to go thru the Honduran process. This is the first time I needed a car title, instead of just registration. This is also the first time I had photo and fingerprints taken.
My helper got my passport back, and took the rest of my papers, and handled everything while I waited by may car. 30 minutes later, I had all my docs, and was ready to go. I only has to enter the immigration building for about 5 minutes for immigration. I was not involved at all with customs.
My helper asked for 65 dollars to handle car permit, and customs. And to pay for the inspection and fumigation...that never actually happened.
Thanks to Rene, I was through both sides and on my way in less than an hour. Record time!
Driving from Honduras into Nicaragua
As usual, getting out was the easy part, getting in is the hard part.
Approaching the border, trucks will be backed up for nearly a mile. Pass them all and go to the border.
I reached a rope crossing. Someone will move the rope for you, and let you pull through. (to show the informality of this part, I realized after that the rope mover this time, was the money changer.) Immediately, park on the left in front of the orange building with about a dozen windows. Go to immigration first, on the right side, and get stamped for exit - no fee here.
Then, move to a window farther left to customs, and get your car permit cancelled. You will need to fill out a customs form for this. There is no fee for this either.
If you need copies, as you always do; there is a shop for this down the hill to the left in the little white container, pictured here.
These 2 steps and you are out of Honduras.
Move about 100 feet down the road from the Honduras offices, and stop at the black and yellow barrier. Before crossing, show your exit papers to the Honduras official there.
At this point, I had to wait for about 10 minutes. There was an obvious staff motivation session going on in the field to the left that involved clapping (you can see all the light blue shirts in this pic). So, with no staff, the border was closed for a few minutes. No problem...except for, you know, waiting in the near 100 degree heat.
10 minutes later...Meeting over, barrier lifted, good to go.
Go past barrier, and immediately park on left. There are a number of buildings here of different colors. Plus, a place to eat. The place to eat always concerns me...that tells me people spend enough time here, that they need a meal at the border.
Here is he 10 step process I went through on the Nicaragua side.
For reference, these are the little buildings you will see and visit. You can start by parking at the bottom of the steps in this pic, or a bit around in the parking area where the gray truck is.
1 - go to Aduano (customs) - the pale yellow building. There is 1 window here (and 1 door). this starts your car entrance paperwork.
2 - go the police officer that is standing nearby for his sign off on the papers.
3- At this point, to my surprise, I had to take my car through a huge scanner that I had not seen before. It is directly across the road. And, this is 1 at a time, and it takes a few minutes, and you will wait in line, and there is only 1 scanner for north and south bound. So, be patient. The officers there will direct you. When it is your turn, they lead you in like an airplane. Stop your car...leave all bags, even backpacks, in the car and move to the waiting area in the corner. No pics, and no phone use here. I was scolded when I took this picture of it.
When done, pull out of the scanner bay, and take an immediate U turn to park right where you were before.
4 - Go the immigration. this is the second white building in the group. This will take a bit of time. The employees here were VERY nice. Just working on Central American time...slow.
5 - Back to the nice policeman to sign off on the immigration docs, too.
6 - Go to customs for your car permit. This is in the first white building. The great news is that, so far, you have not bene charged a penny.
7 - Back to immigration, and the nice, slow folks. Finally a fee...$12 US - and ONLY U.S dollars. I had to see a money changer to get US dollars. I mean, going from Honduras to Nicaragua, why would I carry US currency??? Fortunately, if you do these crossings, you know you are never far from a money changer. Back with my 12 US, up to the window and pay.
8 - Back to your car, and go directly across the street, a tiny building, for fumigation. Fee - $3 US
9 - Go down the road a bit, and be stopped informally, sort of. You almost feel like you could go right by without a problem. However, they are here to collect a $1 fee to enter
10 - and also to let you know that car insurance is mandatory, and $12.
Got your insurance? all right, drive on finally! Enjoy Nicaragua!!
Driving from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.
This is the crossing I was warned about. that it could take hours (and hours). I have heard stories about 3-5 hours at this crossing.
As I arrived, I had no doubt that could be true.
Maybe it was because it was a Sunday, maybe because it was leading up to a holiday week (Easter was the following Sunday)...but this place looked like arrivals at an international airport...but with no order. There were literally hundreds of people milling about, and rows of busses waiting. All outside, in 90 degrees with 60% humidity.
It was clear I need a guide to help on this one. Luckily, as usual, a half dozen offered in about 5 seconds.
This is what it looked like as I arrived.
Note that virtually nothing has a sign on it...you are just expected to know where to go.
Approaching the border, again, the road is lined with a mile of trucks. Drive past them all...even into oncoming traffic. If you don't, you will never get there. The oncoming cars are understanding. They know what you are doing. After all, they just did it coming the other way.
At the beginning, show your passport to the attendant at the gate. Then, drive forward and park on the left, near the big new building (that is not being used yet as of April 2019).
Immigration is on the right. But, you start with an official that will be in the parking lot...that you have to find yourself... among hundreds of people.
Now, this is where it gets proven that this is impossible without help.
The person we needed will have a light blue shirt for customs. He is the one in middle in this picture, with the white hat. (The one covering up his light blue shirt with a gray sweatshirt.) There are 6 "helpers" surrounding him at this moment. My helper, Raul, has the red hat. We had to follow this official around for 5 to 10 minutes waiting for him to sign the customs exit paper. I should note, Raul had the exit paper for me, I didn't even know where to get one.
After he signs, we find a policeman (in black) in this same parking lot to review my papers and sign something. But, this wasn't the right policeman, so yes...find a 2nd policeman to do the same...in this same lot.
Then, we can finally go into the building on the right to get immigration exit stamp. The entrance is on the north side of the building. This is $2. I have heard of a $1 fee to get in line, but I did not have to pay that. You exit to the south of the building, then turn right and right back into the same building for customs, where the line was clearly an hour long. At this point, and official approached me and said I could skip the line for $60. This is the first time an official has so brazenly asked for a bribe. I was so taken aback by the audacity, I said NO. After 3-5 minutes, the line has not moved 1 inch. My helper makes some calls...he finds an official that will let me skip the line for only $30. I agree.
This process has clearly gone off the rails. But, we went to that official's office, he took all my papers, and walked away. About 10 minutes later, he returned, and I was all done with the exit process.
$30 bribe and $35 for my helper - it stinks, but that may have saved me hours. Well worth it.
Costa Rica side.
I guess the $35 tip was enough to keep my helper, Raul, happy on the Nicaragua side. He called his friend Stephen to meet me on the Costa Rica side to help me.
So, I am done with Nicaragua, I drove forward a bit, a few hundred feet actually. and come to a gate. Cannot pass, no signs, nobody manning the gate. What the hell?
This is when Stephen shows up to help. The gate is not for entrance, you need to veer right, drive through the fumigation booth, also not manned.
Then, left and back out to the road by veering right again.
Come to a parking lot on the right and park.
First stop is immigration on the left side of the road (across from the parking lot). Wait in line, get stamped. You will get asked about when you are leaving, and will be asked for proof. I didn't have any, and explained why ( I am driving thru, not flying, and not on a bus)...and I was good to go. No fee here.
Next, go across the street again, and get copies at the blue and white "building" - really shack.
This is where Stephen really shined! The woman at the copy shop also did my car permit app for me - turns out it is Stephen girlfriend. It sped things up - however, only to find out later, there was an extra fee for that!
Next, go ahead for customs, where they will check your car. My total fees for car permit were $55 - if you don't use a helper (and his girlfriend) to speed it up, I think it is $35.
Finally, drive ahead for insurance on the right. In this building, you get insurance, and your final car permit sign off, in the same building. Insurance for Costa Rica is $45.
Then, I am done, and can drive on and enjoy Costa Rica!
My bribes and helper fees took my total cost to $210 to cross this border. I believe it could have been done for less than $100 if I wanted to try to navigate it myself, and spend likely 5 hours at the crossing. But, I did this crossing in just over 90 minutes.
The temp was 90 degrees and the humidity was 60% when I arrived. And, nothing was in AC.
I think the extra $100 or so dollars was worth it. :-)
Crossing from Costa Rica to Panama
This crossing is pretty simple compared to others throughout Central America. First thing, when approaching the border, you get used to swarms of people where you need to be. That is not the case here. I actually missed it and drove right by Customs and Immigration and had to go back.
The building is a few hundred meters north of the border, on your left as you come south. It is a blue and white building with an awning on the street side - yay! for shade while you do your business. There were no helpers running around - but a nice official outside that will point to where you need to be.
Park under the awning.
First stop is for copies. That is across the street at the little yellow building.
You can also pay the exit fee at this copy building ($7US plus $1 commission)
Once you pay the exit fee, return to the blue and white building. On the north side, go to Migracion, to the Salida line. This is on the North side of the building. Get your passport stamped.
Then, go to your left, and round the corner of the building, to Aduano for vehicle exit. Fill out customs form, and get your car inspected.
That is it, you are all set to exit.
Now, drive a few hundred meters south down the road to the Panama building. Here you will find a few helpers if you want them. The building will be right in front of you at a fairly busy shopping area. Park on the right side of the building.
First step is insurance. Go to the far end of the building and turn left. There is an insurance office on your right. (small white building - Elyan Seguro) Insurance is required, and will cost $US 30, or 17,500 Colones
Then, return to Migracion. It is next to your car inside the door for the migracion windows. Get your passport stamped.
Then, you will need to take your bags out of your car and to Aduano, same building, opposite side. They will check them like an airport, and also inspect your car. You get your car permit here.
That is it. Simple and cheap. You may drive on to Panama.
Shipping your car from Panama to Colombia
This process can create a lot of anxiety for many people driving the Americas. I have heard stories of smooth travels, and very rough travels. Expect something in between, and have patience.
You can find a container buddy (to split a 40 foot container bertween 2 cars) to save money at containerbuddy.com
Start by contacting a freight forwarder. I used Tea Kalmbach. She was very responsive while I was in Panama to get the process started. I reached out to her on a Monday, and we started immediately, and I shipped out that very week. She emailed me the steps to take while in Panama, and I started the very next day, first thing Tuesday.
The first step is car inspection on Tuesday morning. This will happen in what I will call a colorful neighborhood in Panama City. But, I never felt unsafe...so don't worry. The gates open at 5:30 AM, and Tea said be there by 7:30 because they will only inspect 25 vehicles per day. (I arrived at 5:45, and I was #13 so I would arrive very early). First thing...park on the right. back in, open your hood to let the car cool. Get in line to wait for a number at the door to the left of the gate...as I said, I got #13. Then, wait. At 7:00, the inspector came out and spent 15 minutes giving inspection requirements to all gathered. Not speaking Spanish, I was worried I was missing so much. I wasn't. No reason to worry. Tea will have told you what to bring. You need your Panama car entry papers. Passport, title...copies of all. make sure the car entry papers are correct...especially the VIN, and motor ID #. My motor ID # on my paper was incorrect. But, he let me slide after a lecture. Also, make sure your car is clean, including engine. Then, inspection start. I passed. I was out of there by 8:30 AM.
2nd step is to get your approved export papers back at 2:00 the same day at the Secretary General Office. So, you have a bit of time to burn now. The Secretary General Office is actually behind and across the road from the inspection building. I arrive at 1:30. Papers were ready at 2:45.
3rd step is to pay. I did this, actually, as 2nd step while waiting for Secretary General. Tea has me on Seaboard Marine for shipping, and I pay directly to their acount at Citibank. This is where I cannot stress enough...MUST be done in US cash only. I did not find a container buddy, so I got a 20 foot container by myself. My fee here is $1155. I royally screwed up and wrote them a check (the bank took it for payment). I will explain more later why this is a royal screw up.
Then, on Wednesday morning, you go to the Manzanillo Port in Colon to drop off your car. You want to arrive at 8:00 when they open. Tea had emailed me the Bill of Lading on Tuesday. I made 4 copies, and you get them all stamped at the Seaboard office. Tea's directions to Seaboard Marine were wrong. To get to Seaboard, you actually enter the port gate, go straight ahead, and it is just about the very last office down the road on the left.
After getting the BL (Bill of Lading) stamped, go to Aduano (customs). Again, Tea's direcitons were wrong again. To get here, go back out port gate, turn right. down this road, you will see blue gates for the "Free Zone. Park on the side of the road outside the gates (you will not be allowed to enter the gates with your car). Walk in, go right, behind a trailer there will be a row of offices. Aduano is there. Get your cusoms papers approved.
Then, go to the RORO section of the port (RORO and containers are both done here.) Finally, tea's directions were correct. Park outside again, and walk in the pedestrian gate to the left of the RORO entrance. Only one person can enter per vehicle. At first window, hand your papers over. Move forward to the next window. Your papers will come back approved. tea said this was $US73...it was actually $US79. After your papers are done, you may go back and get your car, to drive into RORO. Pass gate, turn left for the inspection area. Here they will check for everything, right down to drug sniffing dogs. When all is complete, don't forget to grab your final approved papers!
You do not need to load your own car into the container. They will do that for you.
Now, I had to grab a taxi to the bus station ($8), and grab a bus back to panama City ($3.50).
Thursday - I flew to Cartagena on Wingo Air ($244) the very next day to wait for my car.
After spending a few days enjoying Cartagena, and the Old City, Monday morning is here...it is time to start car retrieval.
I arrived at Seaboard Marine office at 8:00. Tea's directions were close...but not precise. And since this office has absolutely no sign, it took the help of a landscaper outside to help me find. They are supposed to open at 8:00, but in true Latin American style, they opened at about 8:20.
First step, get the Bill of Lading from Seaboard, Then, you will go to Citibank to pay 162,000 pesos (about $US50) - all payments in Columbia will be in pesos. Then, return to Seaboard for the Bill of lading release. This is where my royal check writing screw up in Panama bit me hard in the butt! Seaboard doesn't take checks as payment, and there will now be a 3 week hold for release.
I reached out to Tea for a solution. It took all day for her to suggest that I send the cash by Western Union back to her daughter in Panama...which means I am fully paying for a 2nd time. Not wanting to wait 3 weeks, and hoping I would get a refund in the future, I did this Monday night. I have lost a day.
Tuesday morning, I return to Seaboard hoping I can start now. I wait there for 3 hours...and know nothing. I leave and return to my hotel. I get word to go back to Seaboard Tuesday afternoon, so I do. Now, I am told the Western Union doesn't work...and am asked why would I do that? I need to pay AGAIN! I refuse.
It turns out that Tea's daughter never even picked up the money from Western Union. So, I was actually able to retrieve the money from Western Union Tuesday night, minus the nearly $100 in commissions I gave to Western Union, of course. I have lost another day.
Wednesday, unfortunately, is a holiday (May 1st is Labor Day, or May Day) in Columbia. Everybody is closed. I have lost a 3rd day.
Thursday, I need to go to Western Union, again, and send Tea $US150, and go to Citibank, and pay Seaboard for freight again (plus $75 in change fees because of the check). And, hope I get the BL release on Thursday so I can start retrieval. Luckily, this worked out, and I got my BL.
The next step is to go to the Aduana office at the Dian, and fill out your permit papers with Senor Han. He is very nice and helpful, and speaks some English. Hop across the street to get copies of the application (and passport, license, title) and back to Senor Han again. He will get you set up to head over to the port.
The first visit at the port (mine was Sociedad Porteria) is for more paperwork. You may or may not get to inspect your vehicle on first visit. I did not. I had to return Friday morning at 8:00.
You will also need accidental death insurance that covers Columbia if you want to enter the port. I bought this in Old Town on Thursday afternoon and it cost me about $US20
Friday...the final day! Back at the port at 8:00 for inspection (you must wear pants and closed toe shoes). This took about an hour to get the container found and ready. You will need to take pics, especially of the VIN and license plate. My car arrived without any issues.
After inspection, back to Senor Han for the car permit (Temporary Import of Tourist Transportation means).
Once you have the permit, you can get the required insurance. I had read that this price was set and all offices charge the same...not true as far as I can tell! I had friends go to Old Town for insurance, and they paid about 200K pesos, I went to SURA for my SOAT (insurance) and I only paid 116K (about $35 for 2 months) even though my car value was higher.
Now, with permit and insurance in hand, I am able to get my car. I return to port about 11:00, fill out a couple papers, and wait for about 2 hours for processing. At 1:30, I am taken to get my car. Hit the gas station across the street, and head out!
It actually isn't a bad process (assuming you use cash in Panama, of course). A lot of red tape, and waiting. But, by now, after 7 or 8 border crossings, you should be used to red tape.
Not including costs for my screw ups, the total cost was $1725 to ship solo in a 20 foot container. If you share a 40 foot, you will save a few hundred dollars off that. So, this whole thing can be done for under $1500.
Also, budget for quite a few cab rides, and a bus (or train) from Colon, Panama to Panama City...and, as always, copies
Shipping fee, includes forwarders commission - $US1155 (less than 900 if you share a 40 foot)
Port fee in Panama - $US79
Port Fees in Cartagena - $US436 (less than 300 if you share a 40 foot)
Health Insurance - $US20
Car Insurance - $US35
Crossing from Colombia to Ecuador
This was possibly the simplest crossing I have seen yet.
This entire crossing should take 60-120 minutes, depending on the lines and speed.
You don't have to go back and forth ever. Dian and Migracion windows for Colombia, Migracion and Aduano for Ecuador. Simple!
As you near the border, you may face traffic as 3 lanes merge into one. You will see an orange building ahead, and you need to veer to the right of it. All cars are forced into this lane. All of the parking ahead of this is private, and not for your use.
As you pass the orange building (this is Dian), you will see a little "official only" parking on the right. This is the only parking I saw, and I took it. I asked a money exchanger, and he said that is where to park. Don't worry...you wont be here long.
Directly across from the parking is the Dian window. Hand them your car permit, tell them you are leaving, with no return, and you are all set.
Now, you can go to immigration. This is the building directly on your right. Go to the south end of the building and enter under the white awnings. Get stamped for exit, and go back to your car to head to Ecuador...less than 15 minutes total.
Drive through 100 to 200 meters of no man's land, and veer to the right around the white building. Ideally, you can park right behind the building, but there are few spaces, so move slightly ahead and there is more parking across the street (on the east side of the building)
First stop is immigration on the North side of the building. There are now 2 lines. One for Venezuelans, and one for all others. Exit and Entry are the same line. Look for the sign separating the 2, or you could stand in the Venezuelan line for a long time before you see the spilt. Immigration was only a 20 minute wait for me on a Saturday.
Once you are stamped, make sure they wrote the number of allowed days on your stamp...if not, Aduano will send you back. This happened to me, and slowed me down.
Proceed to the Aduano window, this is also on the north side of the building. They wanted title, registration, passport, license. No copies of anything...can you believe it? No copies?? They asked to go out and take pics of my plate and VIN...did not look in car. If there is no line, this will take about 10-15 minutes. Unfortunately, I had bad timing, and there was a very slow line. However, when I finally reached the window, there was no line at all behind me, so wish for luck on your timing. After you get your car permit, you are free to go on to Ecuador. There was no checkpoint just down the road to check papers.
I was not asked to get car insurance for Ecuador. Nor was I asked for it later on at checkpoints.
Now, enjoy $1.85 gasoline, and the best roads you have seen in a long time!
Crossing from Ecuador to Peru
Crossing from Peru to Ecuador requires stops in 2 locations when using the Hauquillas crossing.
First, as you approach the border - you will see the blue and white buildings on your left. You need to drive slightly past them, do a U-turn to approach them. And, there is plenty of parking on your left. In the 2nd building on your right, enter the door in the middle to return your TIP.
That is all at this location. You may return to crossing the border.
As you pass the border, you will come to what look like a set up for toll booths. There are empty. Pass through them. Then, curve right around the building, and an officer will check your passport, and log your plate. After that, you will move to the right for parking.
Go to the 2nd blue and white buildings for Migracion. Unfortunately, I caught this at a holiday, so it was quite busy and Venezuelans are not separated out here. However, Ecuador exit and Peru entrance are in the same place, so once you get through the line, it is quite fast.
Once you get your Migracion stamps, return to the first building that you drove past to park. Here, you will get your TIP for Peru. In the building, there is a long desk on the left with 3 of 4 men working. Wait in a short line, and approach. Simple process - title, registration, license, passport - and no need for copies.
Once you have your permit in hand, walk out the door, and there is a booth selling SOAT. Buy it here, it is about $10 depending on vehicle type.
It is all done. Go back to your car, and pull out of the parking lot to your right to enter Peru.
Even though I faced holiday lines, it was about 90 minutes.
Crossing from Peru to Chile
This crossing is pretty straight forward. Everything is in 1 location.
First, cross the border to head to the Chilean side. Keep going through curves, and weaving until you hit what looks like toll booths. Stop here, and park in the lines in front of the booths.
First step, get the immigration form...Go to the left, and go upstairs to the casino. At a little desk on the right side of the cafeteria, they will sell you the form for 5 soles.
Go back down. each set of what looks like toll booths is migracion. Peru on the left, Chile on the right. You ,can go to any of them except the one closest to the casino...that is for buses. Wait in the line. above you will be a red sign with numbers. that is the window that is saying they are ready for you.
After you get stamped out of Peru, go to the right into the Chile line.
Once you receive the Chile stamp, you need go to Aduano. that is right behind the Migracion windows. You need another form that you can get where they X ray bags. Fill that out...twice. Then, turn in your Peru TIP, and move to the Chile Aduano for the new TIP.
After you receive that, go get your car and pull forward. They will inspect, you need to take your bags out for X ray also. Get the stamps there. And, you are set to move out.
This whole process took me 55 minutes.
Crossing from Chile to Argentina
easiest crossing yet!
I crossed east of San Pedro at Paso Jama. The only thing you need to know here is that he crossing doesn't open until 9:00, and fill up with gas before you leave San Pedro. It can be a lonely drive. In the first 90 minutes, headed up the highway outside San Pedro up to the pass, I saw only 1 car coming down. But, I left in the morning, so the pass at the top hadn't opened yet.
Part of the reason this is easy is that there is nothing else around. Cross the border, and about 3 or 4 miles later, you get to the border crossing. You will reach an officer that will check your plate and passport. Then, drive to the right. Go, to the building on the far right, and park to the left of it. You don't use this building for anything...just to park at.
What you need is the building on your left now.
Enter, and all the windows you need are lined up starting at your left.
Chile Migracion, Argentina Migracion, Chile Aduano, Argentina Aduano. You just work your way down the line.
Once you finish with Argentina Aduano, go back to your car, pull forward a few feet to the gate/booth for inspection. And you are on your way.
The only challenge at all is that they were so light on people needing to cross, that you would have to wait a minute for someone to come back to the window to help you. Even so, this was 28 minutes from start to finish.
Looking back, it makes me wonder why Nicaragua has to be the way it is!
Crossing Argentina to Paraguay
First thing first - US passports need a VISA to enter Paraguay. And, this is not waived for Overlanders. I made this mistake. However, the Paraguay official had mercy on me. He would give me a 5 day education Visa as a visiting professor if I could go back and get the 7000 peso fee ($160). The fun part of this is that I was now in no man's land. Not in any country (and obviously, no ATM's). So, I had to re-enter Argentina to get the cash. Then, return to the border to re-exit Argentina, and then enter Paraguay. My passport looks crazy. I exited, entered, and exited Argentina all today. But, I made it to Paraguay finally. However, I have to leave in less than 5 days, and head east to Brazil. BTW - Brazil has the same policy, but it changes to a no Visa policy on Monday, so I am safe for at least one more country. Travel's little adventures continue to make life interesting!
If you have your Visa ahead of time, this is another straight forward South American crossing.
Heading North, cross the bridge. All services are on the Paraguay side. After the bridge, you will come to a building in the center island with a Welcome to Paraguay sign in front. Park in front of the building, on the side of the road, if you can. If not, there is a parking lot across the street to the right.
Go to the first windows on the left, to Argentina immigration. Then, work your way to the right to Argentina Aduano, and Paraguay immigration.
After that, Paraguay Aduano is on the right also, but they wanted me to bring my car forward first. So, I retrieved my car, which is only 100 feet away, brought it up to Aduano, and parked just to the right. Here, a Paraguay official filled out the TIP form, I signed, and I was on my way.
No inspection. No insurance. Really easy. Other than my Visa mishap, this is another 30 minute crossing.
Crossing Paraguay to Brazil
Unlike the last few crossings, this one actually takes place on both sides of the border.
First, as you approach the border, go through a huge area of shopping. This is where Brazilians come to get cheap goods in Paraguay. Traffic is tough, and a bit crazy. But, go through all of this until you see a large pedestrian bridge across the road. Just before that bridge is the immigration office on the right in a beige building. Park in front if you can.
Enter this office, and get stamped out. Then, about 50 feet further in is a small blue building in the center of the road. This is where you hand in your TIP. You can drive up, or walk up. I chose to just walk over. Watch the traffic, though! Hand in your TIP, and you are ready to cross.
Get back in the car, and drive across the bridge, still dealing with crazy traffic. Across the bridge, the road immediately curves right then left. on this left curve, there is a parking lot on the left. Pull in and park. This is Brazil immigration and Customs.
First building is directly in front of the lot, and well marked. This is immigration.
You may think all this traffic is going to make this area have long lines. Just the opposite. This may be the most deserted crossing office yet.
Go into immigration. There was nobody waiting, and 2 windows to help me. Takes 1 minute.
I had to remind the officer that the US doesn't need a Visa anymore since this just started yesterday.
Then, go to the right into Customs. Again, nobody waiting, and actually, no employees for a bit.
In a couple minutes, someone came out, and helped me get my TIP papers started. After entering things into the computer, he walked me to the next Customs office, further to the right. They took my title, registration, and passport, and told me to sit and wait. After about 10 minutes, they called me up. My TIP was ready. All set to enter. Going in, there was no inspection of the car or papers, and no insurance check.
There are even ATM's and restrooms here at these offices.
Both sides took about 35 minutes total.
Crossing from Brazil to Uruguay
crossed from Jaguarao, Brazil. This crossing actually requires 3 stops.
In Brazil, you first need to go to the Policia Federal office in Jaguarao. Coming down Highway 116, instead of turning on the main road to Uruguay, turn left 1 block earlier, on R. Julio de Casthillos. The Police office is 1 1/2 blocks down on the right. A gray building with metal fencing and a blue sign pointing to it. This is where you get your passport stamped.
After getting stamped out, head towards Uruguay again. The bridge is about 1.7 KM away. The Aduana office is actually ON the bridge. So, unless you want to stop all traffic, you want to not take the bridge quite yet. I turned right at the gas station immediately before the bridge, then immediately to the left. This allowed me to drive under and park at the base of the bridge and take the concrete steps up to Customs to turn in my TIP. This office opens at 8:30 in the AM. The officer took my paper, and asked where my car was. we went out and I showed him at the base. I guess he didn't want to go down the stairs. He just said okay, and I left.
Now, you can cross the bridge take an immediate right, and head to Uruguay. You will drive a few kilometers through Free Zone shopping before you reach the immigration and customs office. and there is no changing currency, or any services, at immigration of just after; so if you want to change money, get gas, or buy snacks; stop along the way before immigration.
As you near immigration, there is a quick left, and plenty of parking next to the red and white building.
This was quick and easy. Immigration inside the building just to the right. Then, Aduano just to the left. They didn't check anything. Just stamped, gave me TIP papers and sent me on my way.
3 stops is a bit of a pain, but at every one of the stops, I was the only customer there so it was very fast! :-)
Crossing from Uruguay to Argentina
Crossing on the San Martin bridge near Fray Bentos, Uruguay.
This was a very easy crossing once you know what to do. It is a little odd, as this is the first drive through immigration I have seen yet.
First, approaching the bridge; you will pass through a sea of trucks. Just pass through an keep going. The first building you will see is a little gray building. This is tourist information...keep going.
The next building will be a little orange building on the center. At the right of this building are immigration booths.
The first step is to drive to one of the booths, and wait your turn. This is where you will get stamped out of Uruguay and into Argentina, and get a little white piece of paper stamped.
After getting stamped at the booth, you will pull a few feet ahead, and to the right (out of the way of traffic) to park, so you can go into the orange building for Aduano. In the door and a little to the left is Uruguay to hand in your TIP. Then, the next desk to the right of that is Argentina to get your new TIP. This is easy...passport, title, registration, and no copies needed. Also, no fees.
When you have the new TIP, head back to your car. There will be someone there to check the TIP paper. I didn't have any inspection done. Then, back in the car, ahead a little bit to final check, where they will take the little white paper. Then, you can go forward to pay the toll and cross the bridge. They take many currencies at the bridge toll, BTW.
and, onto Argentina.
This whole process may take as little as 20 minutes.