A couple of weeks ago, I began to run out of time. I’d been in Antigua Guatemala for close to 90 days, which meant my tourist visa was about to expire and so was my vehicle’s permit. This vehicle visa, or “entry permit” is tied to your stay in Guatemala. The process to obtain a Guatemala visa extension is well-documented, although there’s a lot of incomplete and outdated information out there. I’ll give you the latest info on the process. If driving to Guatemala, you’ll need to update the vehicle’s permit as well – see link. You have to renew your tourist visa first before you do your vehicle permit. (Updated February 4, 2014).
*** Have you been in Guatemala for less than 90 days? Then you need to follow the Guatemala visa extension process outlined below.
Have you already filed a 90-day extension and have been in Guatemala for close to six months? Then you need to go on a Guatemala Visa Run. Click link to know how to do a Guatemala visa renewal by visiting nearby Tapachula, Mexico (opens new window).
Alternatively, you can also go on a longer, yet infinitely more satisfying visa run to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico (opens new window). If you want to travel even farther, head to Belize instead (opens new window).***
Guatemala Visa Extension Options
First, to renew your tourist visa for an extra 90 days you have two options:
1) Leave the country for one day (24 hours), get an exit stamp on your passport, then a fresh 90-day entry stamp when you return.
2) Apply for a permit extension at the main office in Guatemala City.
Option 1, while easy, is not too convenient if you’re far from Mexico or Belize’s border. To get a qualifying exit stamp, you need to leave the CA-4 zone. The closest border to Antigua Guatemala’s is El Salvador’s, about 2+ hours away by car. However, this won’t work since Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua formed a pact to allow for open borders between them (collectively they’re called CA-4 countries). Getting an exit stamp from a CA-4 country means you haven’t left the CA-4 zone.
That leaves Costa Rica to the South (more than a day’s travel and many borders to cross), Belize to the Northeast (about 12 hours away) and Mexico to the North (6 hours away) as the only possible overland options.
Most people that need to leave the country take a bus-ride to Mexico, since it’s the cheapest ride and closest destination (more on that below)***. Unfortunately, there’s also the cost of looking for a place to stay in overnight while on Mexican soil. Tapachula is the favored, easiest option to stay in Mexico. Read my post on how to do a Guatemala visa run to Tapachula.
The vehicle is another story, as it is a semi-complicated process to cross into Mexico and involves a hefty-deposit added to your credit. Also, unlike Guatemala, Mexico requires you buy vehicle insurance.
I wanted to avoid the cost and hassle of going to Mexico, so I headed over to Guatemala City to renew my tourist visa and find out if it was possible to extend my truck’s permit.
Leaving Antigua Guatemala
Santo Hermano Pedro Statue: Entrance to Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is at a higher elevation than the capital city, nestled in a valley surrounded by volcanoes. This means one has to go up a steep road to leave the city and then downhill when nearing Guatemala City. Your vehicle’s brakes will get a good workout during this ride.
Colorful buses, dangerous drivers.
Once you’ve successfully reached the city unscathed by dodging fast-moving chicken buses (above) and without burning your brakes going downhill, it is time to find the immigration building. I won’t even attempt to tell you how to get there by car or via public transportation. You’re better off going with someone who understands the confusing layout of the city or better yet, have a taxi take you. Here’s the address the Extranjeria, or “Guatemalan Immigration Agency”, where you can renew your passport:
Direccion General de Inmigracion (Extranjeria)
Avenida 6, 3-11, Zona 4
Open: Monday to Friday (excluding holidays), 8:30am-4:30pm.
Phone #: (502) 2411-2411
Immigration Building – Parking lot across
What You Need to Bring:
Item 1: Your UNEXPIRED passport (there’s a Q10 per day fine for every day your visa has been expired). Your passport will not be returned to you the same day. I recommend you make full-color copies of your bio-data page(s) (the page(s) indicating full name, date of birth, passport number, etc) and of the page showing your entry stamp into the country (for personal safe-keeping). It is also a good idea, as recommended by a police officer here, to go to a lawyer and get both copies notarized - around Q75 (~$10) per page. I haven’t found it necessary to do so, yet.
I had found outdated information on the net indicating that if you arrived early, your passport could be returned the same day. This is INCORRECT.
Your passport will be returned to you eight days later at the same office, barring any holidays in between. This means if you turn it in on a Wednesday, you’ll get it back Wednesday of the following week.
Don’t wait, like I did, until you have less than eight days left on your passport’s expiration date, since you risk walking around with a color copy showing an expired stamp. You can still explain it away, but you’ll have to carry around your receipt from Extranjeria showing that your passport has been turned in.
Item 2: Bring two copies of the bio-data page(s) of our passport and one copy showing your latest entry stamp into the country. Doesn’t seem to matter if they’re color copies or not.
Item 3: A copy of the visa extension application (PDF download). If you don’t take a pre-filled application with you, they will supply a blank copy (bring a pen).
Item 4: A copy of a non-expired foreign credit card (front and back). This serves as a guarantee that you’ll be able to leave the country via your own means (they don’t check balance, only the expiration date – I speculate that a debit card may work as well). In the absence of a credit card, you’ll need to find a Guatemalan sponsor guaranteeing that they’ll pay your fare out of the country if necessary.
Don’t have copies? There’s a copy service booth (blue sign) on the first floor, next to the BanRural branch where application payments are made. Copies are 1Q each, although if you ask nicely, they will copy both sides of the credit card on one page and still charge you 1Q.
***Fellow travelers Brenton and Shannon from RuinedAdventures.com advised that they needed one credit card PER PERSON to extend their visas. They were also successful in using a Visa/MasterCard Debit Card. Thanks for the update guys!
What’s that? You don’t have a credit card or debit card you say? Here are three options, according to the visa application extension I linked above:
a. Bring four traveler checks bearing your name, each in the amount of $100USD.
b. Valid travel ticket – bus, airline, horse, it doesn’t specify the mode of transportation. Don’t have that either? Bring your flight reservation printed on the travel agency’s letterhead – must be signed and stamped by the agent that sold you the ticket.
c. Bring a notarized letter from a personal Guatemalan guarantor that includes:
1) Full Name,
2) Guatemalan ID Number (DPI),
4) Telephone Number,
5) Tax ID Number (NIT),
6) Passport Number,
7) Notarized Copy of ID (DPI), and
8) Guarantor’s Last Bank Statement showing a balance of at least Q3,000 – Bank Statement must be certified (signed and stamped) by bank.
Item 5: If renewing a visa for a child, bring a copy of his/her birth certificate. If married, bring a copy of your marriage license (if they ask – they didn’t ask me for it).
Item 6: Two black-and-white passport-sized photos printed on matte paper. There is a small office to the left of the Extranjeria building which can give you the pics on the spot for about Q75.
Item 7: About $15USD in Guatemalan currency for visa application fee, Q75 for passport-sized pictures, and about Q20 for parking if using the lot across the street.
Once you have all your documents lined up, it is time to go inside the building.
Once you enter the building, register with the receptionist sitting at the desk next to the entrance. You’ll be directed to go to the second floor via the stairs or elevator right across the receptionist’s desk.
On the second floor, you’ll find a waiting room with chairs. Go to the window right by the entrance to the lobby marked “Informacion” and stand in line. At the window, the clerk will check all documents and the visa application form to make sure you’re squared away. He’ll give you a blank visa application form if you don’t have one.
If all is good to go, he’ll staple your photos and documents together. Clerk will also hand you an invoice for the equivalent in Guatemalan currency for $15USD, and direct you to another window. Stand in line again.
The next clerk will check all your documents again and input the information into the system. Once you’re in the system, the clerk will send you, with your invoice, to the bank cashier on the first floor, located right behind the receptionist you met when you first entered the building. Show the bank’s cashier the invoice, pay the visa fee, and return with the stamped invoice to the second floor. You’re almost finished.
Go back to the second floor and stand in line at the “Informacion” window again. The clerk will check your invoice and hand you a number. After waiting for a few minutes, your number will come up on the big LCD screen in the center of the room, indicating what window to go to. Hand over your bank receipt, stapled documents AND passport. The clerk will hand you a receipt and ask you to come back eight days later, which is not an exact date for pick-up, but the earliest date you can come back to pick up your passport.
While this whole procedure seems tedious and drawn out, it took less than 45 minutes and wasn’t bad, considering one keeps moving from window to window, which helped pass time.
Eight days later, receipt on hand, I returned to the same immigration building and headed to the “Informacion” window again. I showed the clerk my receipt, was handed a number. About 20 minutes later my name was called up. I checked the new visa stamp on the passport to make sure that I had 90 more days. Satisfied, I left the building and headed out.
All in all, it was a somewhat painless experience and better than spending 16 hours in a car driving to Mexico, not accounting for the time and added expenses.
If you’d rather avoid the hassle of traveling to the city, there are immigration lawyers who will handle all the paperwork for you. If in Antigua, visit the immigration services office at the entrance to the Monoloco Restaurant on 5ta Avenida Sur, half a block away from Parque Central. For Q500, a lawyer will take care of the paperwork for you, get it stamped, and return your passport in a timely manner (thanks to reader Lindsey, below, for the tip!).
***Unfortunately, this procedure can only be done one time after entering the country from a non-CA-4 country. Each time you enter Guatemala from a non-CA-4 country, your visa clock starts. The visa can be renewed at the Extranjeria after your first 90 days are up. After your second 90 day period expires (180 days total in the country), you MUST leave the country to a non-CA-4 country to restart the clock. Once you come back in with a foreign entry stamp, you can then renew again for another 90 days at the Extranjeria.
Know that the car permit will not be extended until your tourist visa has been extended first.