06 May

Guatemala-El Salvador Border Crossing @ Valle Nuevo-Las Chinamas

Another border post for those overlanding from Guatemala to El Salvador. Here’s our happily uneventful experience at the Valle Nuevo-Las Chinamas border crossing. Note that this is not the Pan-American highway crossing.

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Leaving Guatemala – Friday, May 1, 2015 @ 11:00am.

Border at Valle Nuevo, 2.5 hours southeast of Antigua.

Objective: Cancel temporary vehicle import permit, and receive Guatemala exit stamps in our passports.

You will come upon a big blue and white building that houses both Aduana (customs) and Migracion (immigration). Many cars may be lined up and stopped. Knowing that you’ll have to enter the building to get all your paperwork done, veer away from the sheeple and find a parking spot along either side. We parked on the left near a fruit stand, crossing over the incoming traffic lane.

At this point, we were approached by extremely unofficial looking guys who probably just wandered out of the local bar. They offered to help us, asked about our paperwork, wanted to change our Guatemalan quetzals into dollars. Many many many times ‘no gracias’ and we head straight for Migracion on the right hand side of the building.

Migracion

  • If you’re lucky and there’s no line, you’ll be ushered right into an air-conditioned office which is manned by an armed guard.
  • Hand over passports to officials at the counter. Passports are stamped, no money is exchanged and you’re given a little paper ticket to give to El Salvador immigration. *Important* this little paper ticket is what authorizes your entry on the El Salvador side. Do not lose this 2 in. x 2 in. scrap of paper!

Aduana

In the same building, but through another door, you’ll find the Aduana office to cancel your vehicle import paperwork (the seemingly grumpy Migracion lady can tell you where to go). The officer will confirm that you really want to cancel your vehicle permit, since it’s good for 90 days. We won’t be back before the permit expires and don’t want to find out what happens if you just let it lapse. Yes, we want to cancel it.

  • Aduana official checks our passports and the vehicle import paperwork in the office.
  • He then comes out to the car to check the VIN, license plates, etc.
  • Back to office, he types up cancellation paperwork and returns only one photocopy to us. The photocopy is needed to give to Guatemalan police who will let you drive under the building’s awning, which leads to the bridge to El Salvador.
  • The Aduana official will keep the original copy of your canceled vehicle permit. We had to convince him that a copy of the cancellation paperwork was needed on the El Salvador side. He agreed to loan us the original so that we could make our own photocopy across the street for 1 quetzal and return the original to him. *Disclaimer* a copy of the canceled Guatemalan permit may not be absolutely required on the El Salvador side, but it was certainly a good starting point for vehicle import on the Salvadoran side and avoided more questions.

Entering El Salvador – Friday, May 1, 2015 @ 12:30pm.

Border at Las Chinamas

Objective: Receive temporary vehicle import permit (no passport entry stamps are given in El Salvador).

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Only one vehicle can cross the bridge at a time, and this is the only bridge used for both incoming and outgoing border traffic. Thankfully, this is not a busy border crossing.

Upon reaching the Salvadoran side, turn right towards the food stalls to park. It looks more official on the left hand side and you will want to go there, but don’t! We initially parked there and were told to move.

Aduana

  • There are many officials and border guards hanging around the small shack near the bridge. We started the vehicle import process by handing over our photocopy of the canceled Guatemalan permit. Since it had all of the car’s info on it, it was a help in filling out the Salvadoran form.
  • Aduana official wanted one copy of everything: passports, drivers licenses, car title, registration. We were ready.
  • One form to fill out with many details for the car. The official helped when he saw that we were struggling with some of the words.
  • The official takes the form back to the shack for a few minutes, then escorts us over to the larger building on other side of street (where we had originally parked).
  • We are taken to an air-conditioned room to wait for someone to type up the details of our filled out form. Finally receive vehicle import permit. No money has been exchanged on the El Salvador side of the border.
  • At this point, we are told to proceed to Migracion on the opposite side of the large building. We wait in line for what we presume to be entry stamps into our passports. Once we reach the counter, the official tells us that stamps are only for exiting the country. Our little paper ticket we received from Guatemala immigration is all we need to drive through to the final check stop.

Reunited with Bruno, we proceed to the border area exit. The official asks for our passports with the little paper ticket we received in Guatemala, and we’re on our way.

Less than 1 minute later another guy with a clipboard wants to check the vehicle import permit only. On our way again.

2 km down the road, we hit a regional police check stop. He wants to see the vehicle import permit, as well as a visual inside the car. He asks what kind of ‘special equipment’ we have (Bruno must look really souped up). We tell him just camping, and open a few doors. No problema, have a nice day.

Of the few car “searches” we’ve had so far, nobody asks about the funny looking grey fridge being powered in the back seat. Or the gallon ziplock bag of white (protein) powder that tastes like cookies. Strange. On our way! Hello El Salvador!

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  • Hey I crossed this same border by foot a few years ago! I love telling the story of how I just walked into El Salvador (also pleasantly uneventful) and the guy at the border just scribbled a signature in my passport and then I was on my way on a bus to Juayua, where I discovered that it’s true; every El Salvadorian who gets on a bus greets everybody with “buenas”!