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Day 29 – Bolivian Immigration Is Mostly for Americans

November 8, 2010

Location: Border and Copacabana, Bolivia

Date: Monday, November 8, 2010

Copacabana in Bolivia is a sleepy town on the edge of Lake Titicaca. It is not the one in Cuba or the one in Brazil. It’s a waypoint to either La Paz or Isla del Sol, the mythical birthplace of Inca civilization. It’s charming enough, though so small it doesn’t have a usable ATM (the one that’s there only takes cards from a Bolivian bank).

Before all that, though, I had to clear Bolivian immigration. This is not a problem for citizens of most countries. The United States, however, is not most countries. A list of things that, as an American, you are supposed to provide to the Bolivian authorities: a yellow fever vaccination card, proof that you are solvent, a copy of your passport, a 4×4 picture, $135 USD. This is a not so subtle F-you to America, in part, because of tense relations between the U.S. and Bolivia (see: drugs) and the hard time the U.S. gives Bolivians when they try to come to the U.S. All’s fair, I guess.

At the border, I got shuffled to a special line (guard, in Spanish: “You should have said you were American. You get special treatment!”), filled out special paperwork, and handed over a copy of my yellow fever vaccination card. Then came the big moment.

“You pay $135 USD.”

“How much is that in Bolivianos?” I said. Everyone I’d talked to said that Bolivia would make me pay in the local currency and would not accept dollars.

“No. You pay in dollars. Change outside.” He wouldn’t even make eye contact as he said it. The guy was messing with me.

At this point, my wiseass wanted to crack at him, “So you like American dollars more than your own money?” Visions of a cavity search passed through my mind. I shut my mouth and just made a face. Luckily, I had stashed some greenbacks and paid the fee in his preferred currency.

They never asked for proof of solvency or my picture. I think they just wanted my money and for me to pay to be vaccinated. For my troubles, I got a sticker in my passport and a map of La Paz filled mostly with advertisements. I guess I got something for my money.

In Copacabana, the pace slowed. The town is a pilgrimage site because, back in the 1600s, miracles started to happen at the local cathedral, the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana. Outside of that, the place feels like a tourist trap. Hotels and hostels are everywhere. You can’t go five steps without someone trying to sell a bus ticket or a tour of Isla del Sol.

Which makes it not that surprising that I, along with a couple Canadians, bought tickets to overnight on the legendary island. For now, a quiet night in a quiet town.

GALLERY: Click through to see a few bonus pics of Copacabana’s most famous church.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 5:00 pm

    Things were a lot more copacetic with America when Bolivia’s leaders weren’t big buddies of Chavez, Fidel, and Ahmadinejad.

    When we were there in 2002 or 3, there was a free-market group running things, and fresh water had been extended to all the folks surrounding Cochabamba….of course, there was a fee, and the miners’ unions and others began blockading roads and fomenting large-scale protests, and enough cain was raised to swing the next election to the current group.

    Bolivia is sad – rich in resources, and filled with wonderful people, but an incredibly unstable politics that cripples them with a series of cabals that take over, enrich themselves and their friends for a few years, and then get turned out by the next group. They’re not the only one – just the one we were closest to.

    • November 16, 2010 5:40 pm

      Protests seem to be a common thing here. Since being in La Paz the streets have been blocked off at least three times and buses shut down to Potosi and Sucre for a few days. Everyone seems to take it in stride.

      Can’t hate on the immigration grief–at least the fee part. The U.S. is the hardest country in the world to visit. You can pay fees to the U.S. Consulate without any guarantee that your visa will ever be approved. If Americans weren’t “rich” tourists, I’m not sure any country would ever let us in.

  2. Barrack Obama permalink
    August 7, 2013 8:57 pm

    Americans deserve to be shit on. Do you assholes really think you are nationalistically special. The USA has treated Bolivia and many countries like rats. The USA violates international law constantly, at wil, and whenever they want. To suggest that Bolivia busts the balls of American because they are friends with other democratic, independent countries is ludicrous and standard American ‘exceptional ism; Pax Americana moron Americans. I am American and the citizens of America are embarrassing assholes and represent a criminal government. I am ashamed to be called an American, from USA.

  3. Johne73 permalink
    August 13, 2014 7:05 pm

    Hey esto es un gran poste. Puedo utilizar una porcin en ella en mi sitio? Por supuesto ligara a su sitio as que la gente podra leer el artculo completo si ella quiso a. Agradece cualquier manera. afgdkebbdaec

    • September 18, 2014 1:26 pm

      Johne73, puedes usar una porcion si ligaras a este articulo. Dame la direccion a tu sitio, tambien! Si necesitas algo mas, dime. Hasta pronto.

  4. Lara permalink
    March 15, 2015 10:48 am

    Russians have to pay $100 or $150 for American visa.

    • March 15, 2015 10:59 am

      Lara, I think that’s a great example of how countries use visas and visitation privileges to express larger international disputes. The tension between US and Russian relations turns into a fee for Russian citizens. (I’ve never visited Russia but I’d guess there’s some sort of reciprocal requirement for Americans who want to visit Russia.) Makes me wish we could all just get along so everyone could move between countries more freely!

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