Border Crossing During Your Drive to South America

Some border crossing tips during your drive to South America.

You must first stamp yourself and your vehicle out of a country and stamp yourself and your vehicle into the next country. The only exception is the US-Mexico border, where you don’t need to stamp out of the US.

Every border crossing’s different, but here are some general instructions.

Hired Help

There will be swarms of people at the Central American borders to you hire someone at the border to help you do the paperwork. If you are going to hire them, make sure you agree on the price you’ll pay them BEFORE you hire them. They can sometimes be much more helpful than you can imagine. They would know exactly when and where to contact any administrative official.

I haven’t been to Belize or El Salvador, but the problem borders where I needed to hire someone was Honduras – Nicaragua, Nicaragua – Costa Rica, and Costa Rica – Panama.

Tourist Card / Vehicle Permit

Make sure you keep and safeguard any paperwork you receive at the borders. You’ll need them to get from one border to another.

MIGRACION (Immigration) : Typically, a tourist card means getting a stamp in your passport. At the next border, you’ll need to get an exit stamp to enter the next one. Sometimes you’ll get an extra piece of paper indicating you the individual has entered

ADUANA (Customs) : If you’re driving in with your own vehicle, you’ll need to fill out the paperwork for a Vehicle Permit.

    Vehicle permits are typically…

  • Another stamp on your passport for the vehicle.
  • A Vehicle Permit Card – extra piece of paper (some countries will ask you for an extra copy of this. Make some copies before you get to the next border if you can, as their copy machines are highly unreliable).
  • A vehicle approval sticker to put on your windshield. (Central American countries only)

Usually, getting a vehicle permit requires an inspector to come out and physically inspect your vehicle. They’ll sometimes/rarely just ask you where it is and look for it out of their office window.


Mexico – Guatemala. Interior fumigation. They will do a fair inspection for any food items that they deem to be a hazard to their country.

Nicaragua – Costa Rica. Exterior fumigation. Make sure you keep your windows up while driving through!

Costa Rica – Panama. Exterior fumigation.

Exchanging Currency

I highly recommend that you 1) have a copy of the currency rates before you leave. And 2) research the latest currency rate before you get to the border. You’ll save yourself a lot of money from scammers by doing your own research. I would typically exchange about $35 – $60at the border, and leave most of the currency exchanging at the ATMs or at reputable banks.

Peru – Chile

Relaciones de Pasajeros. On top of the tourist card / vehicle permit, you’ll need to fill out 4 copies of this document before you enter Chile. It’s nothing too new, just copies of information regarding yourself and your vehicle. But make sure you do it at the Peruvian side, or you will be turned away from the Chilean side of the border.

Panama – Colombia

Click on this link for my recommendations on getting around the Darien Gap using a container ship.

Next >> Road Conditions During Your Drive to South America