I've crossed into Bolivia on 3 different occasions and through 3 different checkpoints.  And each time I crossed I was asked to provide different information.  What I learned is that there is no standard for crossing the border.  Procedures vary depending on where you enter and who is on duty at the time.  I have included list of all the essentials needed no matter where you cross.

  • Desaguadero - gritty border town on the edge of Peru.  From Puno, it takes about 2.5 hours by bus, which will stop and let everyone off to have their passports and documents stamped to exit Peru and reviewed to enter Bolivia.  
  • La Paz International airport - located in el Alto at 14,000 ft altitude.  Flights arrive at all hours of the night.  Be prepared for slow service if you arrive outside of banker's hours.
  • Copacabana - small village located on the edge of Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side.  The border crossing is about 15 - 20 minutes before the village.  You have a short walk between the Peruvian immigration office and the Bolivian immigration office.
  • San Pedro, Chile - it is possible to cross over from Atacama Desert in northern Chile. 
  • The procedure for entering Bolivia for US citizens is more complicated than for other countries.  Except Russia!  

Desaguadero

When I crossed Desaguadero, I was the only US citizen on the bus and was taken by an agent to a funky office on the Bolivian side where a young male agent, with his uniform unbuttoned so that I could see most of his chest, brashly instructed me to pay $135 USD in cash and directed me to go get a copy of my passport.  He never asked me if I had a copy of my passport, (which I had), so I assumed I was supposed to get a special copy.  (which turned out not to be the case.)  We exchanged money and documents across his desktop where his "reading" material featuring photos of busty women, was prominently exposed.  It was a relief to get back on the bus and continue to La Paz with my new visa valid for 5 years.

La Paz International Airport

I was with a group of 8 who arrived at 5 am in La Paz.  It was as if it was the first time Americans had arrived at this hour.  Most of us didn't have Bolivianos, so one person from our group collected funds from each of us and was allowed to enter the airport without clearing immigration, to change money at the cambio.  Then she returned and one by one each person painstakingly stood in line where passports and visa documents were processed.  Everyone was issued a 30 day visa and charged $50 USD.  

Copacabana 

This was the most challenging crossing.  Our group of 8 had brought color copies of our passports, and we had $135 USD pp ready to pay, but the agent insisted we provide passport photos, $160 USD each, and individual copies of our itinerary and departure flight details. There just happened to be an office next door where we could have our passport photos taken and copy our documents. However, all of this was complicated by the added time it took us to wait for 3 Russian men to process their visas in front of us.  The bus didn't want to wait for us and was anxious to continue to Copacabana.  Fortunately our Bolivian guide showed up and was able to interface with the immigration officers then helped come up with a plan to let the bus continue.  Two of us got our visas, then jumped on the bus where we collected the backpacks and belongings of our group on the way to Copacabana.  Meanwhile, the guide waited for everyone to get his/her visa and then drove the others into Copacabana to meet up with the first two on the bus.  Everything worked out fine in the end, if you don't count paying about $50 USD for passport photos and copies, not to mention extra $200 USD for the 10-year visas. 

US citizens should plan to bring the following documents to get border visa when crossing into Bolivia: 

  • valid passport (should not expire less than 6 months from your departure date from Bolivia)
  • 2 color passport photos for each person 
  • 2 color copies of your passport
  • your itinerary complete with hotel information. translated into Spanish. 1 copy for each person in your group
  • evidence of your departure flight/bus ticket info. 1 copy for each person in your group. 
  • Boliviano currency.  (the bus will stop at a cambio right before the border. The only option is to buy money at whatever rate the proprieter chooses to offer)
  • $165 USD cash in perfect condition (visa is valid for 10 years in case you want to come back)
  • Yellow Fever vaccinations were not mentioned.  But our itinerary did not include visit to the jungle. 

After all this, we noted that at least half of us had errors on our visas.  Names were misspelled and dates of birth were incorrect.  The details of our itinerary didn't seem to matter and I don't think anyone even looked at the hotels we were staying in.  Accuracy didn't appear to be important.