For the van I have brought many color copies of the original title. We have International Driving Permits which we got at an AAA office in Chicago. For our dog Francie, I had got all the revelant forms from a website called www.pettravel.com. We made four visits to a vet in Phoenix to have all the paperwork filled out and signed. We also have several copies of his rabies cert and vaccination cert plus a USDA International Health Certificate. One thing we learnt was that you need a lot of patience at the borders and things might change depending on the border official. We met other people travelling at the same time as us and some of their experiences were completely different. We always tried to get to the borders as early as possible in the morning time. The length of time it took varied from 1 hour to 5 hours. The following is an account of our experience at each border but things can change from day to day.
USA TO CANADA: We weren't asked for any documentation regarding the van or the dog. Our passports were the only thing we needed to show. Because we were going to be travelling for a few months there we did have to prove we had enough money to support ourselves. The border official allowed us to go online on her computer and show her our bank balance. Our American insurance was valid in Canada.
CANADA TO USA: We just had to show Francie's rabies certificate and our passports.
USA TO MEXICO: We crossed into Mexico at Nogales. We went to an insurance office just off the main highway before making the turn for the border (follow the truck route). There are plenty of insurance offices signposted as you approach the border. It cost $61 for 24 days, liability only. At the border, we showed our passports and for $22 each we were given a 90 day visa. The vehicle permit cost $50. We had to show the title of the van and insurance. There are copy machines at the border office to make the copies required. The permit is good for 10 years. We didn't want a 10 year one but this is the only permit they would sell us. I asked where I was to go with Francie's paperwork and they said it wasn't necessary. Nobody even came out to look at the dog or the van.
MEXICO TO GUATEMALA: We crossed into Guatemala at La Mesilla. On the Mexican side we had to go the immigration office and hand in our tourist permits. They stamped our passports to prove we have left the country. Be sure to do this or the Guatemalan officials will send you back. Then at the Guatemalan border they sprayed the wheels of the van with disinfectant and charged us about $5. I gave the official Francie's paperwork. He barely looked at it and just kept a copy of the vaccination warranty cert. Then we went to the immigration office and handed in our passports. We got 90 day visa with no charge. Next door was the vehicle permit office. We gave in the title of the van and our passports. The permit was $4 for a year. There was no insurance office at the border or in Huehuetenango. Apparently it is not illegal to not have insurance in Guatemala. However we did find a bank in Xela called Seguro G&T. They gave us 3 months insurance for all of Central America except for Panama for $140. It's liability only but worth having just in case we did get into an accident.
GUATEMALA TO EL SALVADOR: We crossed the border into El Salvador at Cd. Pedro de Alvarado. An official stamped the Guatemala vehicle permit and then we went to immigration with our passports. The stamp for Guatemala is actually good for El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as well so the lady said we could go ahead to the El Salvador side. When we drove there we had to get a new vehicle permit and were told that we needed to go back to the Guatemala side and get that permit finalized. Apparently one stamp wasnít enough, they wanted two stamps! So back we had to go and get another stamp on the permit, drive back to the El Salvador side and then we got landed with the slowest official ever there. It took three hours in total to get our new vehicle permit and off we went. Again, they didnít even ask for Francieís paperwork. The permit was free but we had to pay $5 at the checkpoint before we left.
EL SALVADOR TO HONDURAS: We crossed into Honduras at El Poy. As like all the other borders we had to surrender our current vehicle permit for El Salvador and get a new one for Honduras. Thankfully both offices were in the same building. However, we got there at 11am and everyone goes on lunch at 12pm for supposedly an hour but it was really two hours. So we had to wait three hours for them to process the new permit. The permit cost $38 and it was $3 each to check our passports at immigration for the Guatemalan stamp. For the first time ever a quarantine official for El Salvador asked for Francieís paperwork. I showed him everything and he stamped it all and took a few copies. We thought we were done but then a quarantine official from the Honduran side came over to look at the paperwork. I had everything for him but he still insisted that we needed to get a transit permit for Francie. Of course he couldnít do it there and he said we would have to go to one of the international airports! Then we had to wait another hour while he typed up a bullshit compromise letter to allow us to enter the country with Francie.
We didnít want to go to the capital city so we drove to San Pedro Sula afew days later, the second biggest city in the country. The airport was outside the city and wasnít too difficult to find. Instead of trying to struggle with our Spanish to explain what we needed we just walked right into the airport with Francie. With a big dog with us it wasnít hard for them to understand what we were there for. A cop brought us down to the quarantine official who handed us a list of vets telephone numbers that we needed to call. A woman at the Rent-a -Car desk spoke English and made the call for us. We thought the vet was in the airport but it turns out she had to call a few different vets in the area until she found one that was available to come out. We didnít really understand why we needed a vet but just went along with it all to try and get it sorted as quickly as possible. The vet arrived after and hour and half. He went in the back with the quarantine guy for a few minutes and when he came back out the first thing he asked us was if we wanted to know how much it would cost. We said yes and he said $132 and we said get lost. It was obvious he had cooked up the price with the official. Apparently he needed to examine Francie in order for us to get the permit. We said no thanks that our dog was perfectly healthy. Then he wanted $35 for his taxi fare back to his clinic. After a lot of arguing the vet eventually got pissed off and left in his car I presume. We were left with the quarantine official then who said we could stay in the country for five days with Francie but he wouldnít give us back the paperwork we had got at the border. He walked off and Jimmy took after him through the security gates and tried to get his name but he wouldnít tell him. He tried to cover his badge number too but Jimmy got it in time. The next day we went to the tourist police in Tela and told them all that happened. They said we didn't need a permit for Francie so hopefully it will be OK when we are leaving at the border. We had no problems at the border and nobody asked for any documentation for the dog so I am glad we didn't pay $132!
Honduras to Nicaragua:We went to Honduran immigration first and it was $3 to leave the country. Next was Nicaraguan immigration which was $7 to enter. They printed up a new vehicle permit which was free.Here, we decided we would go to the quarantine station to see what the story was for the dog as we didnít want the same worry again in Nicaragua. The official was really nice and printed us up a one month permit for Francie on his ancient typewriter for $10.
Nicaragua to Costa Rica:
We crossed the border into Costa Rica at Penas Blancas. Like all the other border crossings we had to get our passports stamped out of Nicaragua for $2 each and surrender the vehicle permit. On the Costa Rican side we were stamped in for free. To get the vehicle permit we needed to have insurance. Even though we already had insurance they would not accept it. We had to buy their insurance for $15 and then they gave us the vehicle permit for free. The quarantine office barely looked at Francieís paperwork and just stamped his USDA cert. It wasnít a bad border crossing and we were through in about two hours.
Costa Rica to Panama: We crossed the border into Panama at Penas Canoas. This was by far the worst border crossing yet.We got there at 11.30am. We got stamped out of Costa Rica in about 20 minutes and then headed across to the Panama side. As soon as we parked up some guy came straight up to us blabbing on that we needed to pay $130 for the dog. We had a guide with us to help with the paperwork and he said to ignore him. He has been working the border for five years and said we just needed to pay $6 for a dog license. So we went ahead to immigration and got stamped in. Next we got our vehicle permit which was free and it was all finished in about 30 minutes. Then, our guide brought us on a fifteen minute walk to some vetís office to get the form we needed. We then had to walk to some other office and get it filled in. We got back to the border and the guys in the quarantine office said they couldnít stamp it. All the time the other asshole was standing in front of the van watching every move we made. The quarantine officials said the law had just changed and it was now compulsory to pay $130 for a pet even if you are just passing through the country. It was this guyís first day on the job to enforce the law! Would be our luck, the day before it would have been $6. The guide and the officials were really nice though and tried to come up with all sorts of ways of getting out of it. They suggested we drive back to the Costa Rican side until it got dark and come back when the asshole was gone. Or they were going to bring us down some back roads to avoid the checkpoint. The guy must have copped what we were trying to do and then called ahead to notify the police. We didnít want to do either anyway as it was completely illegal and we didnít want to get into any trouble with the police. By now it was 3.30pm and we were fed up arguing. So when we finally decided we had no choice but to pay, we had to get a taxi to the bank to pay the money into an account. The bank was closed! We got a taxi back and the guy said he couldnít accept credit card or cash. Now we were really pissed off. We just wanted to pay and get the hell out of there. He asked the police to witness the transaction and they wouldnít. Then he had to call his supervisor and get permission to accept the cash and write up some bullshit letter that we had paid. He made about five other people witness it and sign the letter. We finally left the border at 4.30pm, five hours later.
Panama to Colombia: Go to the page on "Shipping the Van" for the detailed account of this crossing.
I know I need to add all the border crossings for South America but just have not got around to it. For now, if you go to the blog for each South American country, at the beginning of each blog I give an idea of how the border crossing went. I will at a later date give a detailed account of each border crossing.