Crossing international borders in Latin American is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across borders in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you cross from Ocotopeque, Honduras to El Poy, El Salvador smoothly with or without a vehicle.

Date: October 4, 2011

From: Ocotopeque, Honduras

To: El Poy, El Salvador

Honduras Immigration Sign

“Bad attitudes prohibited here” – good advice in the immigration office on the Honduran side of the border.

Lay of the land:  This small, dusty crossing is relatively quiet except for occasional waves of 18 wheelers, mostly transporting beer and liquified gas. If your papers are in order (see CA-4 visa warning, below) the agents here keep things moving at a nice clip unless you arrive at lunch time when you can expect to wait at least an hour. Just beware of the scuzzy bathrooms and, apparently, cholera-filled water (check out the creepy warning poster in the ladies room, below).

Colera sign at El Salvador Border

“Water with cholera!!! You can end your life!” – scary advice in the ladies room on the El Salvador side of the border.

Elapsed time: 1 hour (mostly spent dealing with the truck which entailed listening to the chatty customs agent who was bored and curious and thrilled to have someone new to talk to)

Fees: None. Amazingly, personal entry is free, there was no fee for the temporary importation of our truck either and no fumigation to pay for. This was our first totally free border crossing south of the US. We could get used to this…

Number of days they gave us: When entering El Salvador at an overland border crossing you don’t get a visa, permit, or passport stamp. We walked away with no record in our passport of when we’d entered El Salvador or when we were supposed to leave. But that doesn’t mean you can stay as long as you want. El Salvador upholds the CA-4 Border Control Agreement which means you can stay in the region (Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador) for up to 90 days total which is tallied from the day  you first entered any of those countries. Note that if you fly into El Salvador you will be given an entry stamp on arrival as this will be considered your point of entry into the CA-4 region.

Vehicle insurance requirements: There was no place to purchase insurance at the border and we were never asked to provide proof of insurance.

Ruined car El Salvador border

Luckily, we did not have to abandon our truck at the border like the owner of this vehicle, parked right in front of the immigration office, obviously did.

Where to fill up: Fuel is a few cents cheaper on the El Salvador side of the border.

Duty free finds: You’re kidding, right? Shopping at this border is limited to spectacularly greasy pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, warm beer or minutes for your cell phone.

Need to know: This is not a 24-hour border

El Poy - El Salvador, Honduras border crossing

Approaching the El Poy border into El Salvador.

CA-4 warning: In 2006, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras joined together to create the so-called CA-4 (Central American 4) group of countries all honoring and enforcing one CA-4 visa governed by rules spelled out in the CA-4 Border Control Agreement.

Tourists are allowed to spend up to 90 days in total in any combination of the four participating countries. The clock starts ticking on your CA-4 visa the moment you step foot in any of the CA-4 countries.To complicate things further, in 2009 Honduras stopped honoring CA-4 regulations and started issuing its own 90 day visa. This means you can now spend 90 days in the other three CA-4 countries then enter Honduras and receive a new 90 day visa for that country.

But be warned: Honduras is completely surrounded by other CA-4 countries and, unless you fly, the only way out is overland. This requires entering one of the other CA-4 countries which still abide by the 90 day limit starting when you first entered Central America. If you’ve used the 90 days Honduras give you, you will not be allowed to enter another CA-4 country without paying a hefty fine for a transit visa.

This is exactly why El Salvador wouldn’t let us in the first time we tried to cross this border.

Overall border rating: This crossing is relatively hassle free and easy-going as long as you have time on your CA-4 Visa.

Welcome to El Salvador

Hello El Salvador.

Read more about travel in El Salvador

Read more about travel in Honduras


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