Driving South America – Border Crossings and Must Have’s

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Argentina / Chile / Ecuador / Peru / Travelling

Stopped in Northern Argentina


So on a lot of our trip we needed to lookup from others how they did it – if they really needed certain paperwork, etc.  so I figure I’d add one post for the world in case there were others out there needing information.   No photos in this post as I find myself sitting back in the home office in Colorado these days, wondering how a year ago we figured out to go drive in South America…

On our trip we did 8 border crossings – many between Chile and Argentina going down and back up along Route 40, etc.  The one thing – each border crossing was different.  The paperwork was the same, but what people asked for, looked at, etc. were a bit different.  Crossing from Chile to Peru, completely different than Argentina-> Chile.    When we shipped the car into Chile (Vina Del Mar) and back home from Guayaquil Ecuador we had an agent – they took care of all of the paperwork so that was very easy.  But it is the same paperwork that you need to have ready at the border crossing, so you should understand it.

Typical one way bridge/road

Typical one way bridge/road

Going Chile to Argentina was fairly straightforward.  Getting out of any country was easy – the getting in is the more interesting part.  Typically the agent for the country you are leaving is sitting right next to the agent from the country you are entering.  They process your passports, then slide them to the next person to input and you’re done.  Other places you have this three stage process:  Immigration, Customs and Inspection.  You must first check-out/in of the country (immigration).  For this it’s all about passports, stamps, etc.   At each site there is typically a piece of paper to fill out about family information, purpose of your visit, etc.  You must have it filled out.  At some border crossings there was a person there who spoke some English – but not a lot.

The car & paperwork.  So the car was not as hard as you would believe it to be.  In each country there is basically a import form that is filled out for the vehicle.  Upon coming into a country (customs) you present them with owner passport, title and your registration.  They don’t care about insurance.  They usually want to see the originals of registration and title.  They enter it into the computer, print out a form, you sign it, they stamp it a few times and off you go.  One guy coming into Argentina complained that the registration was not stamped with an official office or something – I told him in the USA they don’t do that.

Argentina:  you MUST have the paperwork that you have paid your reciprocity tourist fee.  This you do online before hand – it’s good for 10 years, but if you are from USA you must have paid it.  Each and every border crossing with Argentina that’s what they asked for.  There is also special insurance for Argentina that you should probably buy.  For our car it was $100 for 90 days.  But if you get stopped – and in Argentina you get stopped a lot – there are police in the road every 30km or so sometimes – they want to see your insurance papers.  Handing them something in English doesn’t do it.  It needs to be official and have stamps on it, etc.   The police stops at first are a bit scary – you are expecting the bribe scenario, etc.  We never had anything like that.  At each stop they would ask for our papers, usually ask if we were American and let us go on our way.  Usually they liked the car and would want to ask about it – being friendly helped.  No bribes paid in Argentina.

Chile:  Chile was a bit more strict on searching the car for stuff.  One guy made us take everything out of the car and set it on tables next to the car.  He then walked around, and said “ok”.  So we then reloaded everything back into the car.  At another border crossing you have to have your bags ‘scanned’ so you have to take everything out, wheel it inside a building, scan it and then wait for the car.  There was only one border crossing that did this – between Chile->Peru.  Going from Pucon to Bariloche was great, but the lines in the summer were very long and it took several hours.  Other spots it was 30 minutes.  You don’t have the regular police stops/checks in Chile like you do in other spots.  No bribes paid in Chile.

Peru:  Peru – you must have SOAT insurance.  It’s the first thing they ask for.  When you cross the border there is usually a place to buy it.  I think it was $12 for our car for 60 days.  It’s a little piece of paper.  I asked the lady to make me a copy and we kept a spare one in the car as well.  The police in Peru are similar to Argentina and you have regular police stops.  They are simply checking paperwork, etc.  But primarily they are checking for SOAT insurance.  So have it with your vehicle.  While driving though Lima a police car pulled us over for speeding – huh? we were going slower than everyone else.  We had a nice time talking then he asked for money.  He asked for dollars.  I said we don’t have dollars on us.  How about some soles?  ok.  Ended up costing $6.

Ecuador:  Ecuador supposedly has SOAT insurance program as well.  Since we were driving straight to our hotel and putting the car on a ship I didn’t get it.  My guess is that if they have it you should have it.  We went through Peru/Ecuador up north near Tumbes (Zarumilla/Huaquillas).  Probably the most unorganized border crossing we had.  No signs of where to go, what to do, etc.  Couldn’t find where to check out/in.  Finally we got through it but it was very frustrating.  Everyone was nice, but they would tell you to walk to a place – get there and no one is there.  Then you walk around back and there’s a dude with a computer – oh yes, that’s your guy… stand in line, get up front – he says – you need to go to the other building first… grrrrr… we got it all done – but it’s a mess.

International Insurance.  Ok – so we bought this international car insurance from an underwriter in the USA.  Guess what – it’s printed in English and they don’t offer a Spanish version.  So while you are protected legally, if you present it to a police officer?  It’s worth toilet paper.  I would have it in case something happens – but presenting it to an officer it’s pretty useless.

ok, back to work – hopefully this helps someone who’s driving in South America.

along the road in peru

along the road in peru


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