Border Crossing – El Salvador

Midmorning, nearly three weeks after our last border crossing, we were thirsty for another. The Valle Nuevo border between Guatemala and El Salvador was our choice for crossing as we heard the bridge between the countries has a weight restriction which eliminates truck traffic and makes for a simple crossing. As we approached the border, we experienced our first swarm of money changers and border helpers that we have heard so much about.

At our previous border crossing, we unknowingly hired a guide and ended up paying him $50 Quetzales or $7USD which was a bit high for the work he did, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal. Knowing a decent rate, we offered to pay $50Q for a helper for both borders, but the helpers insisted the amount was too low and that $20USD (approximately $150Q) would be better. Armed with information about what we needed to cross the border, we stuck to our original offer and decided we would take on the process without help.

On the Guatemala side, the first order of business was to get checked out of the country at migration. 45 seconds after stepping in the building, our passports were stamped and we were on our way to the SAT office to have our temporary vehicle import permit cancelled. We peered into the office to find that nobody was there so we looked around and found that the SAT worker was enjoying a soda break leaning against the wall next to us. It must have been badly needed as we ended up waiting for 30 minutes before he finished his break and decided to help us. Five minutes later, we passed our friend in the orange shirt who declined our $50Q offer for help. Too bad!

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On the far side of the new bridge was the El Salvador customs, migration, etc. To our surprise, there were no helpers at all. Our approach to the El Salvador border was made with hesitance as we read the office for a vehicle TIP is only open M-F and we were crossing on a Sunday. We parked the truck when we found the office was open and began the quick, but annoying entrance. The annoyance started with the border agents and their friends aggravating two dogs napping in the shade for entertainment. It was frustrating to see, but we decided it was not the time and place to educate them on how to treat animals. The next annoyance began as the customs agent asked us to fill out paperwork for our truck. It seemed as though most of the sheet was reserved “for official use” and we weren’t sure what most of it meant so we did the best we could. He indicated that the whole thing must be filled out, so without knowing what was being asked, we filled it in the best we could as he sat in his air conditioned office (there were no other vehicles in line). As he looked over the paperwork with the truck, he began fixing the errors which ended up being nearly every line. It certainly would have been easier for everyone if he would have helped us to start with. Oh well.

After getting our paperwork straightened out, we headed to the migration office to complete our entry into El Salvador. Five minutes later, we had our official paperwork for the truck and that was it. No passport stamp was needed as El Salvador is a CA-4 country which allows foreigners 90 days of travel within the four countries without the need for a tourist visa stamp at the border and includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. We had a quick picture snapped, passed through two additional police checkpoints and were on our way!

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The total time to cross the border 1 hour 45 minutes, most of which was standing around waiting. It was a pretty simple process and a helper was not necessary at all. The best part was that crossing the border didn’t cost us a dime!

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3 comments

  1. Your story reminded me of trying to get through the Kabul airport. Our luggage had wheels and so we didn’t need help but when help was offered I accepted it because I know everyone needs to make a living somehow. I paid the man $5 USD for 5 minutes of work which was incredibly generous knowing the going rate was about $2 an hour. Of course he asked for more. That soured my attitude. I quit using the baggage helpers after that though it wasn’t easy as I had to fight to get to my luggage before the baggage handlers got to it first. Poverty is it’s own worst enemy.

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