Submitted Date 11/26/2018

Why I Wasn’t Allowed Into Bolivia

Our bus rolled up to the Chilean border with Bolivia. Adrenalin pumped through our veins even though we’d been there before. Crossing from one country to another is always an exciting event, especially when backpacking with your two best friends.

We got off the bus and in line to go through immigrations. My friends went through without a problem, as expected. Argentines can get into Bolivia without any special requirements. When I showed up and presented my US passport, the game changed. The look on the man’s face wasn’t the same. He gave me a strange look and kept staring at the passport. Then he looked up and said “Oh you’re American”.

I’m not an Argentine citizen, but I have an ID that says I’m a resident. A couple years before I’d visited Bolivia with that same ID, not knowing it was by pure luck. I’d got in as an Argentine, camouflaged between a bunch of other friends. This time the story was different. I had showed my passport first. An American citizen was trying to get into Bolivia -  it’s not that simple. The man holding my passport called someone else saying they had a “situation”.

I was taken into a room where they told me about the necessary requirements to get into the country. These included a $200 VISA (which is actually less), an active bank account and proof of yellow fever vaccination. I had almost none of those. Paying the VISA was the only thing I could actually do, even though I really didn’t want to spend all that money at once. I’d gotten the vaccine a while back but had no proof. As for the bank account, I had none at the moment. It was a stressful situation and my friends were waiting. Not to mention all the people on the bus which was going to leave any second.

It came down to accepting to pay the VISA and begging them to let me in. At one point, it seemed like they were going to, but it must’ve been my imagination. They weren’t very happy with my presence either. In response to US immigration policies, Bolivia puts up barriers for Americans. In my case it was more difficult since I didn't follow up on all the requirements. To make things worse, I was speaking Spanish with a porteño accent (how they speak in Buenos Aires) which Bolivians aren’t very fond of. For them, a US citizen disguised as a porteño might be the worst mix ever.

Our bus left and me and my friends were stuck at the border of Chile and Bolivia. We thought of hitchhiking somewhere, but it was clear no one was going to pick us up there. The only option was to take a bus all the way back to the city of Iquique, were we’d taken the first one. It was a frustrating moment, but it worked out in the end. The whole experience gave us a reason to go straight to Peru. Once we got there, we understood why we were meant to go directly. And so, our adventures in the land of the Inca's began…

Ph: Juan Colacioppo (@elviajedemisfotos)


Please login to post comments on this story

  • Haley Clark 5 years, 2 months ago

    Wow... How enlightening to know that the US's immigration policies not only affect immigrants coming here but Americans immigrating into other countries. This was very eye-opening and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Tomas Chough 5 years, 2 months ago

      I know! It was a pretty interesting experience... Thanks a lot Haley!

  • Carrie Lowrance 5 years, 2 months ago

    Wow, Tomas that was a very enlightening story. Thank you for sharing.