Most of the more than 65 border crossings we’ve made so far on our little road trip through the Americas have been, essentially, the same. But at this crossing between Bolivia and Argentina, some unusual regulations confronted us. Here’s what you need to know for a smooth crossing on foot or in a vehicle from Villazon, Bolivia to La Quiaca, Argentina.
From: Villazon, Bolivia
To: La Quiaca, Argentina
Date: March 14, 2019
Lay of the land: The immigration and customs offices are clustered on either side of a bridge that marks the border here. However, this border has a weird rule that vehicles have to line up in a nearby street before approaching the border. First, file your paperwork, then wait in your car in the lineup, inching forward as the cars in front of you are waved onto the bridge then into the customs processing area. There are many money changers on the Bolivia side of this border, but not on the Argentina side. Another weird thing at this border? We did not receive an exit stamp from Bolivia. There was just one trailer with four or five windows where immigration was handled for exiting Bolivia and entering Argentina. The agent there assured us that no exit stamp from Bolivia was required. Sure hope he was right…
Elapsed time: It took nearly six hours for us to clear this border making this the slowest border crossing so far (unless you count that time that El Salvador refused to let us in). As we explain in the “vehicle insurance needed” section below, the delay was almost entirely due to the requirement that SOAT be purchased before crossing into Argentina and the extremely limited hours of the office selling the insurance.
Number of days given: We each got 90 days so the temporary importation permit (TIP) for our truck was also good for 90 days. We have heard of other travelers getting 180 days but we were not so lucky.
Vehicle insurance needed: Oh, hell yes. At every other border we’ve crossed (including a previous crossing from Yacuíba, Bolivia to Salvador Mazza, Argentina), drivers were allowed to cross and then purchase the required SOAT insurance either from an office at the border or, failing that, in the nearest city. At this border, however, drivers must have SOAT before entering Argentina. You can purchase SOAT from companies like Integrity Seguros online, but when we tried to do that we realized that the website did not have the model of our truck listed. We did not want to purchase SOAT with a document listing a different model, so Eric had to physically visit the Seguros Agrosalta office (Av. España & San Juan, look for the Pago Facil sign) in the town of La Quiaca on the Argentina side of the border. This required long walks and taxi rides, but the most frustrating thing was that this office is only open from 10 am to 1 pm and then from 6 pm to 8:30 pm. We arrived at this border at 2:45 pm which meant we had a long wait until the office even opened. Then the agent was 45 minutes late. Then the agent realized that our truck model was not listed as an option when writing the policy. Then he called someone about it and waited an hour for a response. Finally, Eric bought a SOAT policy covering Mercosur countries listing that our truck is a Chevrolet S10 (really, we drive a Chevy Silverado) and made the agent promise to manually amend the policy. Fingers crossed. The cost was around 3,200 ARS (about US$78) for four months of coverage.
Where to fill up: Fuel is notoriously expensive in Argentina, but paying the official foreigner price for fuel in Bolivia is even pricier. If you can manage to fill up at a station in Bolivia for less than the foreigner price, do it. We got diesel for 5BS per liter at a weird station near Atocha, Bolivia on our way to the border. Some travelers have reported that employees at some or all of the three of the stations in Villazon were willing to fill a jerrycan for near locals’ price, but when we were there none of the station employees were willing to do that.
Need to know: You will lose an hour when entering Argentina from Bolivia. If you need to stay in La Quiaca, consider staying at Hosteria Refugio del Sol. For 1,500 ARS (about US$38) we got a super clean private room with a clean bathroom with lots of hot water, a good bed, and a breakfast of breads (including the ubiquitous media luna), good coffee, and fresh juice. The Wi-Fi was just okay and the hotel has secure gated private parking for guest vehicles (even our big truck) just a few blocks away.
Duty free: Nope, unless you’re in the market for fresh coca leaves (which are legal in northern Argentina but not in the south). A major street at the border on the Bolivia side is lined with dealers selling fresh coca from the Yungas region.
Overall border rating: Complicated
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia