The Guatemalan Border Scam
|Just past the border|
As you come within view of the Guatemalan border, the troops start to swarm. It seems as if every male between the ages of 12 and 60 is trying to help you cross the border. Wearing their homemade “tourismo” badges and day old white polo shirts, they promise that for only $2-5 USD they will help you navigate the system, in less then half an hour. Once you select one person out of the crowd of “helpers”, the rest move on to next vehicle. After asking for all of your paper work: passport, vehicle registration, and title (originals of course), they proceed down the road, alone, to process your paperwork. Upon completion, they return with your passport stamped and request that you pull into line and wait for your vehicle to be fumigated.
Once they direct you into line, the fun begins. First, the “parking police” in their pseudo official uniforms arrive and request that you pull off the road and into the parking lot while you wait to be fumigated. The parking will cost you $10 USD; but for a small contribution, the gentleman will allow you to stay where you are parked and you can forgo the official parking fee and the pain of relocating. This “contribution” can range from $3-7 USD. Next, the younger assistants start asking for a donation for the service of watching your car. Out of concern for what they might do to the vehicle when you are not looking, this may be a legitimate, small fee ($.50-$1) to pay. After this, the big players step in. They often explain that the fumigation station is backed up (you can not see the station from where they have parked you). They inform you that it may be hours before you can get through. But for a fee, you will be able to continue at once. The price for continuing immediately can vary greatly; it depends on where you are from, how willing you were to part with your money earlier, or if you were willing to part with your passport earlier. Prices can range from $20-800 USD. Often the largest prices are reserved for travelers with RVs or trailers, for the individuals that can not speak Spanish and/or for those who no longer possess their paperwork.
At this point it becomes a waiting game. The assistants simply negotiate with the traveler until an agreement can be made. This can sometimes take several hours. Once the traveler has been completely fleeced of their money, the rest comes quickly. Within 10 minutes, the car proceeds to the empty fumigation station (that has been empty for some time), then to pick up the vehicle permit, and then on to the empty streets of Guatemala.
Although the scam may seem simple enough to discover, the con men are surprisingly efficient, and work as a group to make the process seem official and trustworthy. Even though this system is near fool proof, there are a few things that can dissuade the “helpers” from helping themselves to your pocket book.
|The easy way across|
Second, and also very important; if you are not fluent in Spanish, bring a small Spanish/English dictionary. Take your time looking up the meaning of the words that the officials have told you. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised by how many people try to speak English to officials when traveling from one Spanish-speaking country to another.
The third, and probably the simplest, is to have a basic understanding of the border crossing process. The process is easy. You should start by getting your Mexican exit visa, before you cross the river into Guatemala (Q5.00 toll for the bridge), next move on to get the entrance visa for Guatemala (Q10.00 per person), located on the left-hand side of the road, in the official government office. Then you will need to pay for your car to be fumigated (Q42.00 for a large vehicle). Finally, take your receipt from the car fumigation, along with your vehicle title and registration, into the immigration office. You will need to make a request for a car permit at one counter, and then go to another to pay for it (Q41.75). After this, they will do a quick visual inspection of your car, and place a translucent vehicle permit on your driver side window. The process is quick, painless, and cheap if you simply follow these steps.
Driving the Pan-American Highway will amaze and inspire you. There are so many incredible sights and people that you will encounter along the way. Though many unexpected occasions may arise, none of them reek of such greed and mistrust as the Mexican/Guatemala border crossing scam. Some travelers are forced to spend more money crossing the boarder to Guatemala then they will spend for an entire month’s stay within the country. With only a little know-how and a bit of luck, this fleecing does not need to occur.