When I began to plan my South America trip, one of the first things I did was to figure out for which countries I would need a visa. For Bolivia, it appeared that as an Indian national, I could:
- Ask for a VOA (Visa on Arrival) for a fee.
- Get a pre-approved Bolivian visa from the Embassy in New Delhi, India for free.
- Get a pre-approved Bolivian visa from one of the South American countries I would be in prior to Bolivia for free.
MY PLAN A – GETTING A BOLIVIAN VOA
My PLAN A was to just pay for a visa on landing in La Paz, easy peasy. However, on calling the Bolivian Embassy to confirm the same, I was recommended to get a pre-approved visa. This is because the immigration officials in Bolivia can refuse to give you a visa if they simply choose not to. Alternatively, they can make the process really complicated for you (especially if you don’t speak Spanish). Moreover, the embassy could not tell me the VOA fee! The response was it could be anything between $80-100. In order words, the officials can charge what they fell like, apparently.
MY PLAN B – GETTING A VISA FROM INDIA
So after that somewhat worrying information, my PLAN B was to get a visa from India. This meant a bit more paperwork, and tedious visits to the embassy, but at least, it was free! Turns out that the Bolivian Embassy in India wanted my booked flights, fixed itinerary, bank statements, income tax returns, hotel bookings and travel insurance. Furthermore, they would have taken 3 weeks to issue the visa. I didn’t have so much time (and patience), so I decided to opt for the third option: Getting the Bolivian Visa done from the consulate in Cusco, Peru.
MY PLAN C (the one that worked!) – GETTING A VISA FROM CUSCO, PERU
A little bit of digging around the Internet (read: TripAdvisor) told me that getting a Bolivian visa from Cusco was the easiest and quickest way to go about it. If you need a Bolivian visa and are going to be in Peru prior to Bolivia, I really, REALLY, advise you to get it from Cusco.This is because you will get your visa in 20 minutes to 1 hour (the latter being the case if you have a few people ahead of you).
What you need to do for the visa:
- Before you trot off to the Bolivian Consulate, you need to fill the visa application online (click here), and upload certain documents. The following documents you need to upload are:
- Your hotel reservation. If you are visiting multiple places in Bolivia, you can just show hotel/hostel bookings for the first location you will be staying at.
- Flight bookings. They want flight bookings not just out of Bolivia but back to your home country. If you do not have a return ticket back to your country of origin, you will need to show some kind of final destination. For this, you can book fully refundable tickets and cancel them later for free. Note they are very particular about this, a basic ticket out of Bolivia will not work. I gave my bus ticket out of Bolivia, and also my final return ticket from Colombia to India.
- Your travel itinerary day by day for your entire stay in Bolivia.
- Yellow Fever Vaccination – This is not mandatory if you are not visiting the affected areas. I had this, and so, uploaded it anyway.
- Proof of financial means – Online bank statements should suffice. More simply, a scanned copy of your credit card also works just as well.
- Scanned copy of your passport pages which carry your details.
- One digital copy of 2″ x 2″ coloured photo of yours with white background.
- Once you have filled out the form and uploaded the documents, take two print outs of the application. Keep in mind that your online application is only valid for two weeks. So, you must visit the Consulate in Cusco (or any other, for that matter), within two weeks of your online form submission.
2. The Bolivian Consulate in Cusco is open from 8am to 3.30pm, Monday to Friday. The address is: Consulado de Bolivia en Cuzco, Perú, Av. Oswaldo Baca Nº 101, primer piso, Urbanización Magisterio, Primera Etapa, Cusco. Telephone: (+51) 84 231 845 – yes, it works. It should not cost you more than 10 soles and 15 – 20 minutes from the center to get here by taxi.
3. At the consulate, you turn in hard copies of all the uploaded documents, along with your passport and photo. The official in charge will open your online application, check your uploaded documents and the hard copies, and if all is correct, he will print out your visa right then and there. I did not have to pay a fee. If you need to, make sure the USD bills are in pristine condition or they will not be accepted. This entire process should not take you more than 20 – 30 minutes.
I went straight to the embassy after landing at the Cusco airport. I paid 25 soles for a distance of 3.5km which is atrociously high. However, taxis from the airport always quote you absurdly high prices as they are not metered. My taxi driver started with 45 soles! I managed to bring it down to 25, and he did have to pay a 5 soles airport fee.
When I got to the consulate, there was literally ONE person there. He was going through applications and issuing visas and attending to other queries as well. The visa office is upstairs, and I was asked to wait as there were two boys ahead of me. Once they were done, the official then went down to attend to a Bolivian couple. When I could no longer hear anyone, I crept downstairs and realised I was literally alone in the tiny consulate. I opened the main door and just stood there hoping someone will show up. The man eventually returned with a paper bag; turns out, he had gone to get himself some lunch and just left me there alone with tons of sensitive documents just spread around everywhere. Wow.
He then proceeded to address me as “Miss India” (okay?). We had a lovely little chat while he reviewed my documents and printed out my visa. I was all set in 15 minutes. He shook my hand and gave me a hug, and sent me off. I ordered an Uber that took me to my accommodation in the historical centre.
When I arrived in Bolivia, since I had a pre-approved visa, the immigration was a breeze. The officer even said my stay was too short, and wished me a great stay!
If you hold a passport that normally does not require for you to get visas (unlike me!) but you need one for Bolivia, I assure you that it is well worth all the trouble. Bolivia is not the most popular country for tourists in South America, which I hope will change soon. The Bolivian landscape is unforgiving, and only upon visiting you will have newfound for the locals, who are kind and welcoming. Most Bolivians live with bare minimum in harsh conditions. If and when you visit, please be respectful to them, and absorb all that this beautiful country has to offer.
For my post on Yellow Fever vaccination on South America, click here.