Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Border Crossing – Puno to Copacabana (Peru to Bolivia) with a Malaysian Passport

One of the most nerve wrecking time during travels is always crossing borders from one country to another especially when it’s through a tiny border town. Information is always scare for border crossing town somehow and even when there is, its bare minimum enough that you have to think twice if the information is reliable. Everyone crosses the border differently (due to different passport) and crossing like a local is always the aim.

Some errands needed to be run for entry to Bolivia as a Visa is required for a Malaysian visiting Bolivia even as a tourist. No Bolivia embassy in Malaysia so even if one wanted to he could not obtain a Bolivian Visa in Malaysia. Fortunately thou traveling around South America there are plenty of Bolivia Embassy in neighbouring country.

I got my visa in Cusco, Peru where the embassy was situated in town a short taxi ride away for 5 Sol. The very first thing I did when I was in Cusco in fact for I wanted to know if I could get in to Bolivia else the whole journey, route would need to be reconsidered.
Arriving at the Embassy the following was pasted on the wall

Bolivia Visa Application Requirement in Cusco
Minimum Requirement needed for a Bolivian Visa if your Country is listed under Category 2 (Malaysia Is Fortunately)

1. Passport Photocopy
2. Yellow Fewer Vaccination Photocopy
3. One Passport Photo
4. Itinerary Copy (Flight Ticket out of South America)
5. 1st Night Accommodation Booking in Bolivia
So back to the city to get the necessary stuff prepared. Plenty of shops in Cusco offer photocopying, Internet and Printing, Passport Photograph and I could understand now why for many tourist use Cusco as a gateway to Bolivia and all of them needed the same things.
Itinerary copy was a tricky one for a hand drawn copy of where you are going was not going to work but if you don’t have a flight ticket it’s just ridicules to get one. However there are many ways to fake a flight ticket booking. I had my round the world ticket which was essentially just a plain printout of the flights and times with nothing that makes it look like an official ticket. It looked so much like I just typed it out of MS Word but I used it anyway.

1st night booking was about USD 1 on hostel world, a deposit I was prepared to burn and that’s was enough for the Visa application
Heading back to the Embassy the following day with the five items above the officer did not even glance though the documents. He just counted them, one, two, three, four, five … ok. He passed me a form to filled up which we filled and for question such as route through Bolivia I just write a few city in it. Passport was handed to them and they took it upstairs for a while and returned later with a 30 days Visa stamped into the passport.

Easy peasy, no payment required, no bribe required. It looked more like a documentation process than a visa application process. The officer was pretty strict to have that 5 items which I notice some people trying to negotiate a leeway but he held firm. Once you have that 5 items thou regardless if it’s real or not you get the visa no questions asked.

Puno to Copacabana

Bolivia Entry Form
The trip from Puno to Copacabana was easier than I thought. Bought a bus ticket for 25 Sols which takes you across the border pretty slowly since it’s a whole bus load of people and they have to wait to clear immigration. The bus company was Huayrar Tours which has a nice person on board to help you with the immigration crossing and she spoke English as well as Spanish.

After dumping all the bags into cargo, with no tickets issued whatsoever we boarded the bus and it was a 2 hours bus ride to the border. Along the way the bus attendant gave us the forms to be filled up and help us along when in doubt such as the front page of the form had English translation but the back side had only Spanish. Weird but she said just leave it blank since it was not important. I gave my best shot at reading it and understood it was questions with a yes or no answer like, “ are you a terrorist” , “have you ever been rejected from a country” etc.

Money Changer at Peru Border
After most of the passengers had settled down filling their form and falling asleep she came to me and said for Asian people there will be an additional form to fill up for Bolivia crossing and it will cost 2 Sols. If it was a scam to get more money out of me I was not bothered since it was only 2 sols. I paid her and fall asleep only to wake up at the border. 
Peru side of the border and there are many money changers around to get rid of unwanted Peruvian Dollars. Exchange rate was fair (2.1) close enough to the internet rate that I checked the day before but nowhere as good at the rate I got in Puno (2.5). I got rid of the last few notes 14.10 Sols in total and got into the line for the immigration building.

There is no real checkpoint that you must clear before going into Bolivia. If you wanted you could just stroll along the road all the way into Bolivia and no one will stop you. Immigration was more of a self-obligation thing if you don’t want to get into trouble in future. Queueing up for the exit stamp of Peru the bus attendant came to me and pass me two more forms to be filled up for Bolivia. Seems like she was honest about the additional forms for I saw her only dishing it out to Asian people. 2 Sols was more of the photocopy cost of the form.

Peru side of Imigration
Ola … bye bye Peru …. And he stamp out my passport after a long wait verifying through online that I was legal tourist in Peru and had not overstayed. Walk across the border all this time with only my day pack bag with me. The bus had already gone over to the Bolivia side with all the cargo inside the checked compartment.
As far as I know there is no screening at all done. No customs … just immigration so you can take whatever you wanted from Peru to Bolivia and vice versa. I also took a mental note that if you left something in cargo and got stuck in immigration there is no way to get your bag out at all so luckily anything important was packed on hand carry. Some people I notice even left the day packs in the bus ….. but like I thought if you needed it … its probably gone or stolen while you are queuing in immigration

Walking over to Bolivia
Hello Bolivia ….. Where is the immigration office …. Look closely at all the signs and one gave an arrow to a small building on the left hand side. Now if you wanted just board back the bus or walk on ahead into Bolivia. No one is going to stop you really. Like I said immigration is a self-obligation thing. Going into the small building the officers looked at my passport with a frown. He asked the person in the next counter …. Malaysia ??? This is going like the border crossing in Peru I thought.
After many chit chatting in Spanish they establish that Malaysia is under the second category of visa requirement.

Bolivia Immigration
You Need Visa, he said
I have Visa … that’s the page you are looking at …. The Bolivia visa I got in Cusco in your consulate

He look at it dumbfounded ….. I figured he either don’t recognised his own country visa stamp or he was just trying to be funny and charge me money for not having visa at the border. After much scrutinizing gaze at my Bolivian visa he finally started processing it, scanning the passport, keying in some data into computer and STAMP ….. Passed back my passport without a glance or a word of welcome ….
Hello Bolivia …. no payments needed and no bribes thankfully
Back onto the bus and towards Copacabana



  1. your travel journal is very inspiring! I wanted to ask, do you remember if the yellow fever certificate was an optional requirement? They don't seem to ask for it when you get a visa directly at the border

    1. I remember it was a requirement ... but I applied in Cusco and did not try getting the visa at the border. Some countries do not need visa to enter Bolivia and when I was in line none of the other nationals showed the yellow few card. Thou it is possible to get vaccinated in Cusco ... about 60 usd

  2. Hi Edwin,

    May I ask when did you go to Bolivia?
    I plan to go by bus via Arica, Chile to La Paz.
    I get conflicting views of how to get visa. Some websites said it's visa on arrival while in your case, pre-approved visa. Can you confirm?

    1. Erm last year around end Jan ... It really depends on what passport you are holding ... I saw quite a few that dun need visa but for Malaysian it is required

    2. Hi again,
      Forgot to check your blog.
      Ya, as a Malaysian, I know I need a visa but isn't it visa on arrival rather than pre-approved visa?

      Thanks again, Wendy

    3. Its pre approved visa .... thou I have heard from some travellers who were in the same boat but just risked it and turn up at the border and apply for a visa ....

    4. Thank you very much

  3. Hi Edwin,

    Thank you for your useful informations. May I ask, do you still have the address for the bolivia embassy in cusco? thank you, xin

    1. Hey little Penang - Oswaldo Baca 101, Cusco, Peru :)

  4. Hi Edwin, can I check if you need to show a photocopy of ur credit card for visa application in cusco? Thanks

    1. I can't remember really ... But I had one with me so I didn't think too much about it

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