Living in Guatemala: Visa Renewal Trip

On Wednesday, November 4, I went to Mexico for about 3 hours. It was a silly, nearly all-day affair that is necessary every 90 days for those of us who are kind-of, sort-of living here.

Guatemala makes it difficult to get anything other than a tourist visa. It’s at least a couple of year affair to get temporary residency, and most people decide that it’s not worth it, especially considering that your 90 day tourist visa can be easily renewed at the border. For those of us living in Quetzaltenango, it’s especially easy because the Mexico trip can take less than one day if you do it right and are lucky. Here’s what I did:

The parents of one of my students (I’m tutoring high school math) were driving from Xela to Coatepeque and had offered to give me a ride. This was very nice for many reasons, but the main two are that it was much faster and much more comfortable than taking the Xelajú bus that makes the same trip. This took a little over an hour. We left at about 8:15 AM and by 9:30 I was in Coatepeque on the bus to Tecún Umán, the Guatemalan border town that I was headed for. This trip cost Q7.

At the border, I didn’t have any trouble. I bought a Q2 pineapple juice in a bag, then sauntered towards the migración booth. I waited in line for a minute drinking my juice, then the lady took my passport and stamped me out of Guatemala, charging me the semi-legitimate Q10 fee for entering or exiting the country.

I walked across the bridge to the Mexican side of the border, waving away offers from the bicycle taxis that wanted to give me a ride across. The woman at the Mexican migración was smoking outside but had a look at my passport before making me go inside and fill out a form. She wanted to know where I was going. I told her Tapachula, which was a possibility, but my real plan was to hang out in the border town (I don’t know its name) for a couple of hours before crossing back. She was a little skeptical but I think it all came clear when she asked how long I was going to stay and I said, “the shortest time possible.”

So I spent two and a half hot, incredibly sweaty hours in this town. I eventually stopped walking around and managed to be slightly less hot and sweaty. Sitting in the shade, drinking a banana smoothie (13 pesos) and reading my book was a nice diversion for 45 minutes, but eventually I made my way to a restaurant for lunch (35 pesos) and then headed back for the border (a block from the restaurant, and about three blocks from the central park where I was hanging out most of the time I was there).

Going back to Guatemala, the Mexican side was super easy. They just took the form and stamped my passport without a word. One blistering bridge walk later, the Guatemalan lady did basically the same thing. So I paid my Q10 and I was free to be in Guatemala for 90 days more. Incidentally, I’m pretty certain the Guatemalan border agent was the same person I had checked out with 2.5 hours earlier. She should have cared, as what I was doing is technically against the rules (you’re supposed to leave for 72 hours), but I’m glad she didn’t mind.

Bus to Coatepeque, Q7 more, and the Xelajú back to Xela was Q17, making the total cost of the trip: dirt cheap. I was back at 4:30 PM, too, so I consider that a success: I was sweaty and gross all day, but got it out of the way. Doing it a few times is fine, but I can see how people who are here for several years get really sick of this and pay the 500Q to the sketchy guy to take their passports to the border.

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