Border crossing in South America by vehicle and temporary importation

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What formalities for crossing borders in South America with a vehicle is a question that comes up often in my emails. So I have prepared a summary of all our border crossings (10 crossings in total including several Argentina – Chile and vice versa).

Contents of this article

  • Tips for crossing borders in South America with a vehicle (Van, motorhome, 4 × 4)
  • Temporary importation of the vehicle
  • Anecdotes and info on our border crossings (Paraguay, Uruguay Bolivia Argentina Chile Peru Ecuador and Colombia)

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>> Our file: 1 year in South America

Crossing South American borders with a vehicle: our advices

That you circulate
in a van, 4 × 4 or motorhome, the advice will be the same!

1 – Show up early at customs and especially not at mealtime

2 – Prefer a small or medium customs : there will be fewer people, the customs officers will be happy to discuss, to help you with the papers

3 – Take off your hat, sunglasses, and show your best smile, do not make your children cry because the customs officers always talk to the children… whatever happens, do not look like a gringo, be as humble as possible!

4 – In countries with food health control (Chile, Argentina), plan not to buy anything fresh the day before or try to get a list of products authorized or not (after a year we still do not know)

5 – Do not be afraid of the different people who come to ask you, there is no rush to take out insurance, change money … Don’t stick with people who are too clingy.

6 – Do not make mistakes and do not forget tostep to cross the border and ask the migracion where the Aduana is located. Here are the steps: go to the Migracion exit offices – exit stamp on your passport – then Aduana where you return your temporary import (never leave the country without having given proof that you have respected the authorized time limit) – travelers have had their newly purchased vehicle confiscated because it had been considered for too long in the country – problem with import remittance temporary!). Then again Migracion, for entry stamps into the country, and finally aduana to obtain the new temporary importation sheet

For the aduana, you must go all with your family, try to park near customs to keep your vehicle in view or near a guard. For temporary importation, only one family member can go. If it lasts too long, bring your young children to motivate the customs officer to do it faster.

7 – The hardest part in this action is to find the right office, hence the interest of going through a small customs! It took Nico 1 / 2h between Brazil and Paraguay to find the customs office, which was installed in a small gatehouse between 2 lanes!

8 – Be careful, often color photocopies are recommended! Alas, the practice is known and we have often been asked for the originals. And for the last frontier, we took 1 / 2h to find the original gray card, which was stashed in the 4 × 4, but we no longer knew where! (see our story below!)

9 – Check that your vehicle has the same time limit as you in the country, and ask for the maximum… not always easy according to the customs officer… In Bolivia, we were told 30 days, then 2 months and when we had the paper there was noted 3 months!

10 – Never had a baksih problem for us at the borders

Temporary importation of a vehicle into South America: tips

  • Always have your photocopied or original gray card with you, your passport.
  • Check that all the information is correct
  • Keep the paper in a safe place, do not give it too much during checks, as this will be a problem for you if you are absent at the exit.

Import duration
temporary as of 2018/2019

  • Argentina: 90 days
  • Uruguay: 12 months
  • Bolivia: 90 days normally, at the discretion of the customs officer
  • Chile: 90 days
  • Peru: 90 days
  • Ecuador: 90 days
  • Colombia: 90 days

Our border crossings in 4 × 4

Entry into
Uruguay – customs clearance

All our papers were obtained with the help of the agency
transit Wave Logistic. Looking back, I think we could have
do it ourselves, but it was less stressful for the
departure !

Passage of
border Uruguay (Salto) – Argentina (Concordia) by vehicle

1er switching the trip to autonomous mode. No problem! The border is actually on a bridge. We showed up early, so there weren’t many people there. We leave Uruguay first, with a transition to “migracion and Aduana” (in Spanish in the text). Then we hit the road again to arrive at the Argentina post, 1 to 2 km away. First shifted to Migracion, then Aduana. The buildings are right next door.

No search of the vehicle

Passage of
border Argentina (puerto Iguazu) – Brazil (Foz de Iguazu) in

I have absolutely no recollection of this border crossing. There is
had a lot of people, since people often just go to see the
Iguazu Falls. It seems to me that we did not
temporary importation to be done by saying that we stay there that
for the day. It’s a bit borderline, but it’s good
past ! No vehicle searches

Passage of
brazil border
(Foz de Iguazu) – Paraguay (Ciudad
del Este)
in vehicle

One of our most horrific border crossings that went well! But, these 2 cities are huge and Ciudad del Este is a free zone. Suddenly, many touts want you to come to their duty-free store, they climb onto the vehicle’s running boards, etc. But nothing bad, but pressure, because constantly “harassed”

On the other hand, the hardest part was finding the customs office, which is normally located in a street behind the “migracion”. But that day, no! The customs officer for the temporary importation of the vehicle was in a tiny, unnamed booth amid the queues for the “migracion” … Don’t hesitate to ask several people where the customs officer is!

Paraguay Chaco (Mercedes) – Bolivia (Puerto Sucre) border crossing in 4 × 4

A customs post that also made us stress. Because, we had as an indication that we had to get the papers in the previous city and then continue towards Bolivia. But a lot of work is in progress, and for us in 2018, the Customs was well down the road from the Chaco.

The formalities on the Paraguayan side went well, but as we arrived at 12:20, the “migracion” kindly checked us in, but the “aduana” officer had already left …

So we waited 2 hours , of course having eaten just before customs around 11:30 am! Never arrive at mealtime. After 2 hours, we finally had the temporary importation, but we had to wake up the customs officer from his nap so that he raised the barrier!

Fortunately, over a year, we have time!

Passage of
border Bolivia (Villazon) – Argentina (La Quiaca) in 4 × 4

We passed 2 times by this border. Downhill Bolivia – Argentina, there were a lot of people. He had to walk a bit to get to the Migracion office, but the Aduana was right next door. Many searches took place on vehicles, our customs officer just wanted to see our safe (more out of curiosity)

On return Argentina – Bolivia, we lost 2 hours to cross the border (Another 4 hours!), Because there was only one agent to handle the entry and exit paperwork. We were therefore given numbers by having us park in a parking lot far enough away, and we would pick up our vehicle and the papers when the number was called. That day, few customs officers were nice, too many people, too much fatigue!

Passage of
Argentina – Chile border by motorhome or other vehicle

We have spent the border several times in this direction, and after the first one, we always chose very small customs, precisely so as not to have too much concern with food.

– Punta Delgada
– Land of Fire

No problem to leave Argentina, all offices are
find next to each other

Chile is quite painful for food health controls. Of many products are prohibited, normally there is a list, but no one has ever been able to show it to us. Milk, cheese, butter, open cold cuts don’t seem to be able to cross the border, we were taken away from the bananas, but not the oranges, etc.

For the record, as it was raining that day, Nico, arriving in front of the customs officer and despite the stop sign, advanced 2m more to get under the roof of the customs. The customs officer took it very badly, telling us: “in France, we do not know the stop sign”! It started badly! Then he asked to see our 4 × 4, he looked ahead at the children’s level, opened the trunk, the fridge, etc. He comes across some bananas and tells us it’s forbidden. As there were few of them, I asked him if the children could eat them rather than throw them away! “This is not the restaurant” he replies! …

We remain smiling, he wants to see the roof tent, we open it (well we did not stash the cheese here – as other French people had advised us – and finish it instead), he seems surprised and finally , he becomes almost friendly and lets us go! Before that, the paperwork, visa and vehicle import went smoothly.

Paso robbalos

A very small customs, where customs are at the end of the world. I don’t know if their choice or if it is a punishment! All the procedures are done at the “migracion and aduana” counters which are side by side! The customs officers stole a leftover sausage from us that we had forgotten to eat. We had found the tactic to open the fridge squarely (having eaten the most “craignos” before) so that the customs officers themselves look for what they do not really like! Suddenly there, they had left us the milk and the butter open!

The customs officers, very nice, wanted to discuss!

Border post Tierra del Fuego Argentina-Chile lost to lago blanco

Paso Robaldo border post

Passage of
border C
hili – Argentina by motorhome or other

On the same day on Tierra del Fuego, we leave Chile to go again to Argentina. No memory of this customs, so it is very simple, Argentines know that Chileans have checked everything before!

We went through customs between Chile and Argentina once at Cerro Castillo (towards Torres del Paine Park) and to Paso de Jama (near Atacama in the north). Very easy, but at altitude so beware of the head spinning when you wait. A very touristic crossing point, with many buses. Normally, individuals, with their own vehicle, have a dedicated counter so they don’t have to wait with bus travelers! It was the passengers of the bus who explained it to us, thus avoiding nearly 2 hours of waiting!

Bolivia – Peru border crossing (Kasani lake Titi Caca) by motorhome or other vehicle

A border where we also arrived at the wrong time after having had a bite to eat at 11:45 am with our friends, yet having warned them ! The “migracion” was there, the customs office for temporary importation too!

Except that…

In Peru, vehicle insurance is required, to be purchased once there. The customs officer never wanted to let us pass with our vehicles without insurance. Our darlings therefore left by taxi on Saturday between noon and two to the insurance offices. They took 2 hours to finally find an open office. While our children were playing next to customs and the mobile phone saleswoman was staring at us!

everything turned out for the best.

Don’t forget: Insurance to buy when entering Peru

Passage of
Peru – Ecuador border (La Balsa)

There too, at the Peru exit post, all is well. The formalities are carried out on one side and then the other of the building. Except that there were strict sanitary controls.

A doctor asks us for all our health records to check if we were vaccinated against measles, thinking that we were entering the country. He was, indeed, impossible at this time to go home without a measles vaccine following an epidemic in the country linked to careless tourists.

On the other hand, the entry into Ecuador was more epic ! And this border does not reflect at all the country which is much more developed than this poor village ! There, we make our first “migracion” papers, then the customs officer asks us for the vehicle registration certificate... he is shown the color photocopy… he wants the original! 8 months since he was taken out of his hideout ! Except that while cleaning, we had to change it a bit, we look for it for 1 / 2h !

When he is found, the customs officer does not have a photocopier, he takes photos of the papers to send them by email, where they are scanned and where a colleague fills out the paper for him. In short, a 2 hour wait, with our customs officer taking a nap while we go to eat in the only “boui-boui” in the corner where the “migracion” officer also ate, laughing to see us hanging around!

No insurance – not covered: No vehicle insurance for foreigners … this is normal, but better not to test the accident there!

Passage of
vehicle border Ecuador – Colombia in Ipiales

For this last border crossing, with our vehicle, and despite the training we had a good ball. This border crossing is immense and invaded by Venezuelan exiles who took refuge in the tents of the UN and the Red Cross!

Suddenly, caught by the crowd, the hardly sustainable images of families lying on the ground waiting for a right of way, we found ourselves on the road to Colombia without having completed any customs formalities!

Having asked a guard for help, he asked us to go 2 km further to turn around and go back to Ecuador. But, being afraid of having problems to make us understand, we asked him to come up with us to make this U-turn, to cross the Colombian border on the way out… We gave him a small tip when we found ourselves in Ecuador. .

The, the procedures were very long, we were badly parked, a police officer wanted me to move the car forward, but I couldn’t, because after that it was Colombia … In short, an hour’s walk for the exit formalities!

300m further on the Colombia office, where you pass in front of everyone (crowd of Venezuelans desperately waiting for a visa) to get yours in 3 min., Feeling very, very bad, with tears in your eyes to see these scattered lives ! Then, 5 min to La Aduana in an office next door for the last vehicle import!

No photo because too much stress!

French customs
for return shipping!

The 4 × 4 was searched on boarding in the container, more than half a day of waiting through customs, just shaking up a few bags, etc.

On our return to Marseille, we were also entitled to customs, but only our vehicle and not the other 4 × 4! We had to go down urgently to Marseille to be at the appointment with the customs officers, especially to ask them to unlock the 4 × 4 for us immediately and not 4 days later! But they were great! Did a little digging, asked a lot of questions about our trip and did the papers in 1 hour!

I hope this long article will have given you some information and put you in the mood for border posts in South America, feel free to comment on your questions!

For further
  • All our articles on Our stay in South America
  • Info and 4 × 4 destinations
  • All our trips

Ideas for family tours in Argentina