As far as I know, other than Brazil, Paraguay, and Suriname, Bolivia is the only other country in South America that requires a paid tourist visa for U.S. passport holders to enter the country (source). Apparently, from what I read, Bolivia made this requirement because the U.S. charges a fee for Bolivians to enter the U.S., which the U.S. pretty much does to most countries.
The visa costs a whopping $135! Very expensive, but it’s good for 5 years and up to 3 months of stay in Bolivia each year. A lot of Americans who wanted to visit Bolivia only for a few days will especially find it very expensive, as that might be more money than they’ll spend in their entire stay in Bolivia.
Visitors coming from Peru would most likely end up in Puno as their last stop before entering Bolivia. There’s a Bolivian consulate in Puno that can issue the visa. The address is 136 Jr. Arequipa Street, 2nd Floor. The office wasn’t that easy to see as the door and the sign were quite small. I actually didn’t find it right away and asked a guy standing across the street and he wasn’t sure either. We were both looking around the area then spotted the sign at the same time.
You need the following to apply for a visa:
- 1 x passport size photo
- copy of yellow fever vaccination certificate
- confirmation from a place you’ll be staying at in Bolivia (I just booked one night at a guesthouse in La Paz, Bolivia through HostelWorld and printed out the confirmation email)
- proof of onward travel out of Bolivia (since I’m heading to Chile next and will be taking a bus, I just went to Gap Adventures’ website and printed out an itinerary for one of their tours that’s similar to what I was planning on doing)
- latest bank statement showing that you have enough funds to cover your trip
If you need printouts of your documents and there’s no printer where you’re staying, you can just go to one of the Internet cafes in the city and they can print them out for you. It cost me like S/.0.10 per page ($0.04).
When I arrived at the consulate in Puno with all my documents there was only one other person there. When it was finally my turn and told the guy that was there that I needed a Bolivian visa he quickly looked through my passport and all my stamps but told me that they don’t have anymore visa stickers in the office but it shouldn’t be a problem getting the visa at the border. He told me that it costs the same amount both at the office and at the border. From what I read, getting the visa at the consulate used to cost only $100 and $135 at the border. So I just asked him for the visa application forms to save some time at the border.
I also read somewhere that the border at Copacabana, Bolivia is easier and safer than the other border crossing (forgot the name). So I bought a ticket at the bus station after my tour to the Uros islands (the bus station is pretty close to where the boats leave to Puno) the day before my departure. I went with TourPeru bus company as they seem to cater to foreigners. I bought a ticket to La Paz, Bolivia (it will make a stop at Copacabana for the border crossing and to change bus before heading to La Paz) and I was glad to buy the ticket the day before as there were only a few seats available. The bus ticket to La Paz cost $13.20 for a 6-hour ride (3 hours to Copacabana and another 3 hours to La Paz).
When they asked for my passport and saw that I’m American they quickly asked whether I have a visa to Bolivia. I told the lady at the window that I will get it at the border in Copacabana.
The day of departure the bus was full. All the passengers were foreigners as far I could tell. Before boarding the bus they’ll check your passport. Sure enough I got asked again whether I have a Bolivian visa and told them I’ll get it at the border. They asked me if I have cash as they accept cash only, which I did.
It looked like most of the passengers on the bus were Europeans as when we got to the border I was the only person in line to get a visa. I met one other American but he already had his visa. I had all my documents with me ready but all they asked for were the following:
- visa application (which you can get and fill out right there)
- photocopy of passport
- photocopy of yellow fever vaccination
- and the most important of all: $135 in cash (which they carefully handled and inspected, so make sure no damages/writing on the bills)
That’s it, no other questions asked. But it might vary from person to person so I would recommend to still have your other documents ready.