Crossing borders in Central America

Packed like mules with our backpacks, daypacks and a warm jacket for air-conditioned minibusses, we crawl through the bustling streets of La Mesilla Guatemala, trying to cross the Mexico Guatemala border. The air-conditioned minibus that brought us from San Cristobal Las Casas just parked in a dodgy and deserted back street of this border town. Young men with carts on wheels greeted us as soon as we put our toes out of the minivan and offered to carry our luggage for us, no price discussed. We hardly ever accept offers like these and we prefer to carry our own stuff. Regretting that now… The road to the migration office is hot and wobbly, but we know we’ll make it there!

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Crossing the Mexico Guatemala Border

We had our hostel take care of our transportation to Guatemala. If you like your hostel, we recommend you to do so as well. Hostels always work with the same transporters and they know service is good or they’ll choose a different transporter.

Pick up at your hostel in Mexico

In our case, we stayed at the Posada de Abuelito in San Cristobal Las Casas. It’s an awesome hostel and they take very good care of their customers. Pick up went very well and we were the first to get into the minibus. After that, the minivan crossed the entire city to pick up more travelers in order to get to La Mesilla Frontera, the Guatemalan border town where most travelers cross the border into Guatemala. The 190-kilometer drive will take about four hours or longer, depending on local circumstances. You might need to switch vans one or more times. This is not unusual and it’s nothing to worry about.

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Mexican Migration office

First, you’ll have to get your exit stamp for Mexico in the Mexican migration office. Depending on how you entered the country, you’ll have to pay a departure fee or not. Read more about how this works below. You’ll get your stamp and off you go. The Mexican migration office is located about 2 kilometers from the actual border town of La Mesilla Guatemala. So if you booked a minivan, this van will take you to the Guatemalan border through no-man’s-land and drop you there.

First stop - Exiting Mexico

No Man’s Land

If you plan on traveling with public transportation, you’ll need to catch a collectivo or taxi to drive you through this zone. It’s a bit far to walk and I don’t know if it’s safe or not. In our case, our minivan driver brought us to the border town of La Mesilla Guatemala after we got our passports stamped with the Mexican exit stamp.

Our shuttle for the border crossing
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Arriving at the Mexico Guatemala border

When the minivan arrives at the border town of La Mesilla Guatemala after you got your Mexican exit stamp, it will park in some sort of dodgy-looking back street.

This is normal too.

The first time, we thought we were in some sort of human trafficking plot and we didn’t like the fact that the minivan brought us to the outskirts of this small village. We’ve done the border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala several times now and we’ve been dropped in the back streets many times before.

The minivans won’t cross the border and you have to switch minivans again. The driver and the guys with the luggage carts will accompany you to the border migration office, where a new van will pick you up. The Mexican driver picks up the people who are traveling in the other direction: a fruitful cooperation.

La Mesilla - Mexico Guatemala Border Crossing

Crossing the border into Guatemala

After getting your exit stamp, you’re allowed to cross the border into the busy village of La Mesilla Guatemala where an abundance of shops, filled with cheap goods awaits you. The goods aren’t for tourists, but for Mexicans who cross the border to get this cheap merchandise.

Depending on the direction in which you cross the border, officials can stop you in order to unpack your luggage. We noticed at this border crossing there aren’t many Guatemalan officials and the bag check is only applicable when entering Mexico. For this reason, you have to walk the few meters across the border and you have to have your own luggage with you.

Guatemalan Migration Office

There has been said and written a lot about the entry fee scams of Central America and I’m pretty sure the Guatemalan migration office in La Mesilla Guatemala has asked a lot of travelers for an entry or exit fee in the past.

You’re not supposed to pay any fees for entering or leaving Guatemala.

But then again, we have paid fees at the Guatemalan migration office before. Official asked us for 25 Guatemalan Quetzales and we paid those. 25 Quetzales is about 2,5€.

Upon asking the minivan driver, he told us we were supposed to pay the fee, but officially we weren’t. You’ll see everyone pay the fee and move on. If you want to make a point, ask them about the official documents to prove the validity of this fee and they will probably let go of the fee. You can read about the fees for Central America in this post by Along Dusty Roads.

Inside the migrations office
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La Mesilla Guatemala Border Crossing

La Mesilla Guatemala is the most common place to cross the border from Mexico into Guatemala without traveling through Belize first. Check this website to see all the places where you can enter Guatemala.

Choose your destination

With a starting point like San Cristobal Las Casas, you can get shuttles to different destinations in Guatemala. The options are to go to Quetzaltenango, Panajachel, Antigua or Guatemala City. If you want to go to a different place, it’s very likely you can get to the destination of your choice. Just prepare to switch minivans a million times!

Entering Mexico and Leaving Mexico

Mexico Tourist Card

When entering Mexico, you’ll receive your tourist card, which you need to fill in completely.  You will need this card again when you leave the country, so keep it safe inside your passport.

Information needed: country of origin, arrival date, flight number and airline, the method of entry (land, sea or air), the address of accommodation. This tourist card is also important to establish your method of entry so you will or won’t have to pay the Mexican Departure Fee.

In case you lose this card, you’ll need to pay a fine of 525 Mexican Pesos. We don’t recommend losing it! The Mexico Tourist Card website claims that the fee for a lost tourist card is as high as 60 US dollars. This depends on how you solve the problem. We recommend solving it at the information kiosk at the airport or go to a local tourist information office. They will send you in the right direction.

Mexico Departure fee

When leaving Mexico, the method by which you entered the country is important. Depending on your method of entry, you will have to pay an exit fee or not.

When entering Mexico by air, your flight ticket includes taxes. This results in the fact that you won’t have to pay an exit fee when leaving Mexico. If you entered Mexico by land, they will charge you an exit fee to leave the country. The exit fee or Mexico Departure Tax is 1400 – 1500 Mexican Pesos. The exact amount can change every day and you can check it at the airport or they will tell you at the border crossing. In November 2017, we paid 500 MXP each, but apparently, the fee has gone up quite a bit in the last few months. The departure fee must be paid in cash.

Mexico Visa Duration

The standard visa duration for Mexico is 90 days. Still, it depends on the migration officer and they’re able to give you fewer days if they want to. We usually get 90 days, but it happened once, we got 120 days.

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Crossing the border from Mexico into Guatemala at La Mesilla
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Entering Guatemala and leaving Guatemala

Guatemala entry and exit fee

You’re not supposed to pay any fees when entering or exiting Guatemala. Many travelers have been asked to pay an exit fee to leave Guatemala and most travelers just pay it and continue their travels. But this fee is actually a scam and you’re not obliged to pay it. Usually, officials ask for an exit fee of 20 or 25 Guatemalan Quetzales. This fee is not official.

Guatemala Visa Duration

As Guatemala is a part of the Centro America 4 agreement, you’ll get your entry stamp, which is valid for all four countries for a duration of 90 days. You can split the 90 days between the different countries any way you like.

About Centro America 4

Centro America 4 is an agreement between the four Central American countries: Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras. This means your 90-day visa is valid for these four countries and it allows you to travel freely between the four countries for 90 days, in theory. As to our experience, you still need to get your passport stamped when crossing the borders and pay an entrance fee. Your 90 days limit is, however, for the four countries. So you’ll need to renew your visa or leave the CA4 area for a few days if you want to stay longer.

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Border crossing tips and tricks

As I said before, we crossed the border at La Mesilla Guatemala a few times. On a different occasion, we crossed the border from Mexico into Belize and from Belize into Guatemala. Generally, all these border crossings are quite similar and you should only keep a few things in mind.

  • Never overstay your visa duration
  • Never lose your passport or tourist card
  • Be prepared to pay unofficial fees or be prepared to stand up for your rights
  • Inform yourself about entry and exit fees
  • Your bags might get searched
  • Be ready to tell the official the name of your / a hostel upon arrival
  • Be prepared to name a few destinations you plan on visiting in the country you’re entering
  • Always be polite, even if you waited in line for hours
  • Being impolite usually has consequences: shorter visa duration or bag searches

Have you done the Mexico Guatemala border crossing before?

Tell us about your experiences when crossing the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Did you cross the border in La Mesilla Guatemala? Did they charge you unofficial fees? How did your border crossing go? Was there a long queue?

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