We left the campsite behind in San Ignacio, headed to the border, full of anticipation! This was the start of our journey through Central America, and we were excited! We got an early start, ready for anything we may encounter with the crossing. It should be a fairly easy crossing as we had been through this border a couple of times before.
As we pulled up to crossing check point, we were waived into parking spots along the side, to allow us to get out and do the necessary procedures.
First up was to take our window sticker from the window, showing our Belize insurance policy. In Belize, you are required to purchase insurance while there. It is fairly inexpensive, and coverage is minimal, but its a major deal if you do not have current insurance on your vehicle, and you get caught. I had a friend who had this happen. He called me upset from the police check point, because they were wanting to haul him to jail. They are serious about the infraction. Fortunately, after I spoke with him, and my friend negotiated with them, he had to pay a “fine”, and then sent him on his way, told to get insurance. Lesson learned, even though it wasn’t my friends car, he was the responsible party driving it.
After suspending the insurance, because we planned to drive back through, we headed back to the border crossing building. The next stop, was to pay the exit fee for leaving Belize. This is a $37.50 bze fee.
The exchange rate in Belize is $2.00 bze to $1.00 USD. We received the receipt of payment and headed to the next window, where the receipt was checked, and our passports stamped.
We had a vehicle, so we had one more stop to make before leaving Belize. There is a wooden door between the reception desk and the afore mentioned window. There are no signs. marking the door, but you will need to go through the door to the other side of the building. This is where you go to the Customs counter. He will stamp the passport and vehicle permit, showing that you have taken the vehicle back out of the country. Make sure you bring the car permit, your passport, and vehicle registration.
As you leave the building you will be approached by the money changers. These are guys that make their living exchanging money from USD, pesos, or Belize dollars to Guatemalan. money. This is a legitimate service, and there are no ATM’s. The exchange is set, and there isn’t any bartering on the exchange. At the time we crossed, it was offered at 7 to 1. This is not the full exchange, but the difference is what the exchangers make.
Now, back to our vehicles, we pulled up to the exit of Belize. We showed proof of paying the exit fee, and our passports, before passing through. We were officially out of Belize, in no mans land, just before entering Guatemala!
Straight ahead was a large double bay building, open at both ends. You pull into the left bay, and slowly drive through. Make sure your windows are up, as this is the pesticide spraying required to enter Guatemala. Once through the building, pull over to the left hand side along the building. Take a mental note of your license plate number, and walk back across the street to the little white building with a glass window. You pay for the pesticide spraying here. It was 18 Q (Q is the abbreviation for the Guatemalan currency, Quetzals). That equated to approximately 2.50 USD. The exchange rate is about $7.75 Q to $1.00/USD.
Once you get your receipt, you walk back across the street and enter into the line to enter Guatemala. You will need your pesticide receipt, passport, and vehicle title and registration. The first line is very simple, you just present your passport, tell the agent where you are headed in Guatemala, and they stamp your passport. The next thing you need to do is ask for a foto copia. They will send you around the corner to a store to make copies. It cost 1Q per copy. or if you have a copy of your passport with you, which I recommend to carry several copies of your passport, and drivers license, and title with you, you can just have the agent stamp it along with your passport, and you can avoid the hassle of getting another copy. What they are looking for is a copy of your passport with the Guatemala stamp in it.
Now you go to the next line to your left, where you will fill out paperwork to bring your vehicle into the country. This process is the slowest, as they must fill out all of the info for the vehicle, you must fill out some additional paperwork, and then they go out to look at your vehicle. This probably took 15 minutes this time around. Once they returned from looking at the vehicle, we were given a paper to carry over to the cashiers window behind us. This window is guarded by the military, bearing an assault rifle. He also acts as the liaison for the line. Actually there are several different officials around bearing menacing guns, but they are all friendly, and there for your protection.
We paid 160Q, and then went back to the car permit line, where we showed the receipt. The agent walked with us to the vehicles, and installed our actual sticker permit in the window. We were finished with the formal border crossing.
Back in the vehicle, we made our way out of the parking area to a barrier, where another border agent waited to see our paperwork. They looked at our passport again and vehicle permit, moved the barrier and waived us through.
We crossed the bridge into Guatemala, where we approached a toll booth. I have actually waived to the toll collector as I drove through without paying in the past. I had heard it was an unofficial gringo tax. I was right behind a local who just drove on through this time as well. However, the agent stepped in the road, in front black ng my access. I was told it was 50Q for the bridge crossing. I asked why the car in front of me didn’t pay. She acted like she didn’t understand and said 50Q again. When I pressed the issue, she ran over and dropped the barrier in front of my vehicle so I couldn’t pass. She came back and said I needed to pay 50 Q. Reluctantly, I began digging up change. By this time, the line was backing up. We finally paid the fee, using USD, Belize dollars, and Quetzals. At least she had to work for that fee! We were officially in Guatemala!
Posted by Scott Woodhams