Monthly Archives: February 2014

Bolivia

Bolivia is a constitutional democracy and one of the least-developed countries in South America. Tourist facilities are generally adequate, but vary greatly in quality. La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia, while Sucre is the constitutional capital and the seat of the Supreme Court. La Paz is accessible via the international airport in El Alto. 

To enter and depart Bolivia, you are required to have a U.S. passport valid for at least six months from the date of your proposed entry into Bolivia.

U.S. citizens visiting Bolivia as tourists must obtain an entry visa. You can apply for a Bolivian tourist visa at Bolivian ports of entry, such as at Bolivia’s international airports and at land border crossings, as well as by mail or in person at Bolivian consulates in the United States. You should allow plenty of time for processing if you plan to apply at a Bolivian consulate. Bolivian tourist visas are valid for five years from the date of issuance and allow the bearer to enter the country three times in a year for a cumulative stay of not more than ninety days. The tourist visa currently costs $135.00. You can pay the fee in cash, by deposit to the Bolivian consulate’s bank account or by money order. If you choose to apply for your visa upon your arrival to Bolivia, you must pay the $135.00 in cash to immigration authorities.

In addition to the $135.00 visa fee, you must present a visa application form with a 4cm x 4cm color photograph, a passport with a validity of not less than 6 months, evidence of a hotel reservation or a letter of invitation in Spanish, proof of economic solvency (credit card, cash, or a current bank statement), and an International Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever.

Arrival by Land: Some tourists arriving by land report that immigration officials did not place entry stamps in their passports, which causes problems at checkpoints and upon departure. Make sure you get entry and exit stamps from the Bolivian authorities every time you enter or leave Bolivia.

Lost/Stolen Passports: If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen while you’re in Bolivia, you must obtain a replacement passport and present it, together with reports of the loss or theft from the Tourist Police and/or Interpol, to a Bolivian government immigration office in order to obtain a replacement visa at a cost of $80.00.  For more information on replacement passport procedures, please consult the U.S. Embassy’s web site.

Exit Tax: The Bolivian government charges an exit tax for air departures from the country. If you have Bolivian citizenship or residency, the Bolivian government requires an additional fee upon departure. While the Bolivian government does not currently require travelers to purchase round-trip air tickets in order to enter the country, some airlines have required travelers to purchase round-trip tickets prior to boarding aircraft bound for Bolivia.

Additional Requirements for Minors: In an effort to prevent international child abduction, the Bolivian government has initiated procedures at entry/exit points. Minors (under 18) who are citizens or residents of Bolivia and who are traveling alone, with one parent, or with a third party must obtain a travel permit from the Juzgado del Menor. In order to obtain this permit, the parent or guardian must present a copy of the minor’s birth certificate, parents’ identification, and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, Bolivian authorities require a notarized copy of the death certificate in lieu of the written authorization.

If the documents are prepared in the United States, you must have them translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Bolivian Embassy or a Bolivian consulate within the United States. If documents are prepared in Bolivia, only notarization by a Bolivian notary is required. This requirement does not apply to children who enter the country with a U.S. passport as tourists, unless they hold dual U.S.-Bolivian citizenship or have been in Bolivia for less than 90 consecutive days.

Upon departure, U.S.-Bolivian citizen minors traveling alone, with one parent, or with a third party, who have been in Bolivia for ninety (90) days or longer, will be required to present a travel authorization issued by the Juzgado del Menor, a copy of the minor’s birth certificate and a copy of parents’ identifications to immigration at the airport or land border. These travel authorizations are only valid for 90 days after they are issued and notarized, and a minor may not be allowed to leave the country if their authorization has expired.

The new visa requirement states that unaccompanied minors to Bolivia must present an official Parental Authorization and Consent Certificate duly provided by the appropriate authorities. Until the Bolivian government provides further specifics on this document, the Embassy recommends that all unaccompanied minors to Bolivia carry a letter of permission from their parents or legal guardians authorizing travel. 

Extended Stays: For more information on in-country visa procedures and requirements, please consult the Bolivian Immigration Service at Avenida Camacho between Calle Loayza and Calle Bueno, La Paz, Bolivia; fax/telephone (591-2) 211-0960. Note: If you submit your U.S. passport to Bolivian authorities for visa purposes, you may be able to retrieve it in an emergency. However, under current regulations, you would then need to submit and pay for a new application.

Please visit the Embassy of Bolivia web site for the most current visa information. Bolivian consulates in the United States are located in San Juan, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

There are limited flights within Bolivia and to neighboring countries. Flight delays and cancellations are common. You should keep this information in mind when making your travel plans.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to, or foreign residents of, Bolivia.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.

Protests, strikes, and other civic actions are common and disrupt transportation on a local and national level. While protest actions generally begin peacefully, they have the potential to become violent. The police have used tear gas to break up protests. In addition to rallies and street demonstrations, protesters sometimes block roads and have reacted with force when travelers attempt to pass through or go around roadblocks. You should avoid roadblocks and demonstrations. Demonstrations protesting government or private company policies occur frequently, even in otherwise peaceful times.

If you plan to travel to or from Bolivia, you should take into consideration the possibility of disruptions to air service in and out of La Paz and other airports due to protests. Monitor Bolivian media reports and the U.S. Embassy website for updates. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens avoid areas where roadblocks or public demonstrations are occurring or planned. Political rallies should similarly be avoided in light of press reports of violence at some rallies in various parts of Bolivia.

Roadblocks: Roadblocks are common in Bolivia. If you find yourself at a roadblock, you should not attempt to run through it, as this may aggravate the situation and lead to physical harm. Instead, you should consider taking alternative, safe routes, or returning to where the travel started. If you plan to take a road trip, be sure to monitor news reports and contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz at (591-2) 216-8246 or the U.S. Consular Agencies in Cochabamba at (591-4) 411-6313 and/or Santa Cruz at (591-3) 351-3477 for updates. Given that roadblocks may occur without warning and have stranded travelers for several days, you should take extra food, water, and warm clothing.

The U.S. Embassy also advises U.S. citizens to maintain at least two weeks’ supply of drinking water and canned food in case roadblocks affect supplies. For more information on emergency preparedness, please consult the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) web site.

The countrywide emergency number for the police, including highway patrol, is 110. The corresponding number for the fire department is 119.

The National Tourism Police has offices in La Paz and Cochabamba, providing free assistance to tourists. In the city of Santa Cruz, Interpol will provide these same services to tourists. These services include English-speaking officials who may assist tourists in filing police reports of lost/stolen documents or other valuables. The La Paz office is open 24 hours a day and is located at Plaza del Stadium, Edificio Olympia, Planta Baja, Miraflores, telephone number 800-14-0081. The Cochabamba office is located at Plaza 14 de Septiembre, Edificio Prefectura, tel. (591-4) 450-3880; it is open from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. seven days a week.

Chapare and Yungas Regions: In the Chapare region between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba and the Yungas region northeast of La Paz, violence and civil unrest, primarily associated with anti-narcotics activities, periodically create a risk for travelers. This region is also prone to dangerous flooding due to heavy rains from December to February.

Confrontations between area residents and government authorities over coca eradication have resulted in the use of tear gas and stronger force by government authorities to quell disturbances. Pro-coca groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. government or private interests. If you plan to travel to the Chapare or Yungas regions, we encourage you to check with the Embassy’s Consular Section prior to travel. Violence has also erupted between squatters unlawfully invading private land and security forces attempting to remove them.

Stay up to date by:

  • Bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution;
  • Following us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook;
  • Calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays); and
  • Taking some time before you travel to consider your personal security. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.

CRIME: The U.S. Department of State currently classifies Bolivia as a medium to high crime threat country. Street crime, such as pick pocketing, assaults following ATM withdrawals, and theft from parked vehicles, occurs with some frequency in Bolivia. You should secure your belongings in a hotel safe and refrain from wearing expensive jewelry. U.S. citizens have also had backpacks, passports, and other property stolen at bus terminals or while traveling on buses, as well as at internet cafes and in other situations where the U.S. citizen is distracted or leaves property unattended. Theft of cars and car parts, particularly late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles, is common, and some vehicles have been hijacked. 

Express Kidnappings: Incidents in which tourists are robbed and forced to withdraw money from ATMs, known as “express kidnappings”, are common in La Paz. Typically, the victim enters a taxi driven by a criminal, and then an additional person or two gets in the vehicle. The victim is then robbed of his/her belongings and/or driven to an ATM where he/she is forced to provide personal identification numbers for debit and credit card withdrawals. The areas where these crimes are most frequent include Plaza Humbolt (Zona Sur), Plaza Abaroa, Plaza del Estudiante, Plaza Isabel La Católica, and Plaza San Francisco. Avoid becoming a victim of this crime by using only radio taxis and not traveling alone, particularly if you’re under the influence of alcohol or it’s late at night.

Coronilla Hill: We recommend that you avoid the Coronilla Hill, a Cochabamba landmark adjacent to the main bus terminal and near several markets, hostels, and restaurants. The Coronilla Hill has become an increasingly dangerous place for tourists and local citizens alike. The local police, tourist authorities, and press have declared the area off limits and cautioned people to enter the area at their own peril. U.S. citizens have been assaulted in the area. The police have made several sweeps of the area in an attempt to control the situation, but incidents of crime continue. Police reports indicate that thieves in that area have gone from purse snatching and burglary to increasingly violent assaults on passersby.

Public Transportation: The U.S. Embassy in La Paz continues to receive occasional reports of U.S. citizens traveling by bus from Copacabana to La Paz being held up and robbed of their ATM cards and other valuables. This crime reportedly involves U.S. citizens taking an evening bus from Copacabana. While the bus is scheduled to stop at the La Paz bus terminal, the driver will stop short of that location, typically near the General Cemetery late at night. Disembarking and disoriented passengers then have little option but to hail a waiting taxi. Thieves in cooperation with the taxi driver enter the taxi to blindfold and coerce the U.S. citizen(s) into surrendering cash, cameras, ATM cards, and other valuables. Victims have reported that once the thieves withdrew funds using the ATM cards, they were released without further harm. If you plan to travel from Copacabana, you should try to arrive during daylight hours, verify the final destination, and buy tickets directly at the Copacabana bus terminal rather than from third parties.

Scam Artists: Bolivian police report the presence of organized criminal groups operating in the La Paz area. The techniques employed by these groups vary, but there are a few major patterns, including “false police” – persons using police uniforms, identification, and even buildings modified to resemble police stations, who intercept and rob foreigners. Remember, under Bolivian law, police need a warrant from the “fiscal” (prosecutor) to detain a suspect. Any searches or seizures must occur at a bona fide police station in the presence of the prosecutor. The warrant requirement also applies to suspected drug trafficking cases, although such searches and seizures may occur without a prosecutor present. If you are detained, you should request to see the warrant and insist on immediate contact with the nearest U.S. consular office.

Be cautious of anyone introducing themselves to you as a policeman or even a fellow tourist, especially in popular tourist areas. Be wary of strangers and “false friends.” If you have any doubts about a situation, immediately remove yourself from the scene.

Street Crime: Thefts of bags, wallets, and backpacks are a problem throughout Bolivia, but especially in the tourist areas of downtown La Paz and the Altiplano. Most thefts involve two or three people who spot a potential victim and wait until the bag or backpack is placed on the ground, often at a restaurant, bus terminal, internet café, etc. In other cases, the thief places a disagreeable substance on the clothes or backpack of the intended victim and then offers to assist the victim with the removal of the substance. While the person is distracted, the thief or an accomplice grabs the bag or backpack and flees. If you find yourself in such a situation, you should decline assistance, secure the bag/backpack, and walk briskly from the area.

In order to steal wallets and bags, thieves may spray water on the victim’s neck, and while the person is distracted an accomplice takes the wallet or bag. At times, the thief poses as a policeman and requests that the person accompany him to the police station, using a nearby taxi. If this happens to you, say you want to contact the U.S. Embassy; do not enter the taxi. Under no circumstances should you surrender ATM or credit cards, or release a personal identification number.

While most thefts do not involve violence, in some instances the victim has been physically harmed and forcibly searched for hidden valuables. This is particularly true in “choke and rob” assaults where the victims report being choked from behind until they lost consciousness and later awoke to find all of their possessions gone. Again, avoid being alone on the streets, especially at night and in isolated areas.

Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law, too.

VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates). If your passport is stolen, we can help you replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and help you get money from them if you need it. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Bolivia is 110; the operators do not typically speak English.

Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to the local laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. While you are overseas, U.S. laws don’t apply. If you violate Bolivian laws, even unknowingly, Bolivian authorities may expel, arrest and/or imprison you.

Under Bolivian law, suspects can be detained in prison for up to 18 months without formal charges while the investigation is conducted. It is not unusual for legal cases in Bolivia to drag on for years, with numerous delays and costly set-backs along the way.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bolivia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Medical Tourism: The U.S. Embassy is aware of several cases of people traveling to Bolivia for elective cosmetic surgery due to the relatively low cost of the procedures.  Travelers should be aware that there are significant risks involved in undergoing elective cosmetic procedures in Bolivia.  The regulation of doctors and medical services is not up to U.S. standards, and the quality of care varies greatly from company to company. The blood supply does not meet US standards in many areas and transfusion associated transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Chagas Disease and other infectious diseases may occur. The U.S. Embassy has received a number of reports specifically regarding complications arising post-surgery that have proven life-threatening, and in one case, required a costly medical evacuation back to the U.S. for life-saving medical care.   Some medical service companies have demanded more money from their clients once they arrive in Bolivia than was originally advertised, and confiscated their clients’ passports as collateral.  If you are thinking about traveling to Bolivia for elective surgery, we strongly urge you to carefully research the medical tourism companies and doctors before you make a decision.

Authentication of Documents: Any U.S. documents, such as birth, marriage, divorce, or death certificates which are to be used in Bolivia must first be authenticated in the U.S. at the nearest Bolivian Embassy or consulate. For information on those procedures, please consult the Department of State Office of Authentications and the nearest Bolivian Embassy or consulate.

Marriage: Please see our information on getting married in Bolivia, available on the Embassy’s web site.

Mountain Trekking and Climbing Safety: The Embassy urges you to exercise extreme care when trekking or climbing in Bolivia. U.S. citizens have died in falls while mountain climbing in Bolivia. Three of the deaths occurred on Illimani, a 21,033-foot peak located southeast of La Paz. Many popular trekking routes in the Bolivian Andes cross passes as high as 16,000 feet. Trekkers must have adequate clothing and equipment, not always available locally, and should be experienced mountain travelers.

It is not prudent to trek alone. Solo trekking is the most significant factor contributing to injuries and robberies. The safest option is to join an organized group and/or use a reputable firm to provide an experienced guide and porter who can communicate in both Spanish and English. If you develop any of the following symptoms while climbing at altitude – severe headache, weakness, vomiting, shortness of breath at rest, cough, chest tightness, unsteadiness – descend to a lower altitude immediately. Trekkers and climbers should purchase adequate insurance to cover expenses in case of injury or death.

If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.

LGBT Rights: The Bolivian constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For more detailed information about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights around the world, you may review the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012.  For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.

Throughout Bolivia, both personal hygiene and sanitary practices in food handling are far below U.S. standards. Food and beverage precautions are essential. Medical care in large cities is adequate for most purposes but of varying quality. Ambulance services are limited to non-existent. Medical facilities are generally not adequate to handle serious medical conditions. Pharmacies are located throughout Bolivia and prescription and over-the-counter medications are widely available. Western Bolivia, dominated by the Andes and high plains (Altiplano), is largely free of disease-bearing insects. However, altitude sickness (see below) is a major problem. Eastern Bolivia is tropical, and visitors to that area are subject to related illnesses. Insect precautions are recommended.

Travelers to Bolivia should consult with a Travel Clinic well in advance of departure for further information on recommended vaccinations.

Malaria: Malaria is a mosquito borne illness that occurs in the lower altitude regions especially nearer the Brazilian border. Plasmodium vivax is the predominant species but Plasmodium falciparum  infections also occur. Prevention with topical repellants and chemoprophylaxis with mefloquine, atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone) or doxycycline may be recommended depending on where you are traveling.

Dengue: Dengue is another mosquito borne illness that is endemic throughout eastern Bolivia, including the city of Santa Cruz. Since January 2007, there have been several thousand cases, representing a significantly increased incidence and part of a region-wide trend. Unlike malaria carrying mosquitoes, the mosquitoes that carry dengue are day biters. There is no vaccine or treatment for dengue so prevention of biting is crucial to prevent dengue.

Rabies: Bolivia is a high risk area for rabies. Dog and bat bites and scratches should be taken seriously and post-exposure prophylaxis sought. Travelers who will be spending four weeks or longer or who plan extensive remote travel or animal exposure should receive rabies immunization prior to traveling.

Yellow Fever: Yellow fever is also mosquito borne and is present in subtropical Bolivia. A vaccination certificate is required for travelers over one year of age coming from countries with risk of Yellow Fever transmission, but not in those coming directly from the United States. Yellow Fever immunization is recommended for travelers over nine months of age visiting areas east of the Andes Mountains below 2,300 m (7,500 ft) Yellow fever vaccination certification may be required prior to boarding by airlines flying into/transiting Bolivia, as well as at entry points to Bolivia. Please refer to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) information on Yellow Fever.

Other Immunizations: Measles, mumps and chicken pox are not uncommon in Bolivia and all travelers are advised to have obtained these routine U.S. immunizations as well as tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis prior to travel.  Typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccines are also recommended prior to travel and Hepatitis B should be considered for those with long term travel, medical tourists and those who will have sexual exposure in Bolivia.

High Altitude Health Risks: The altitude of La Paz ranges from 10,600 feet to over 13,000 feet (3,400 to 4,000 meters) above sea level. Much of Western Bolivia is at the same altitude or higher, including Lake Titicaca, the Salar de Uyuni, and the cities of Oruro and Potosi. The altitude alone poses a serious risk of illness, hospitalization and even death, even for those in excellent health.

Prior to departing the U.S. for high-altitude locations (over 10,000 feet above sea level), you should discuss the trip with your healthcare provider and request information on specific recommendations concerning medication and lifestyle tips at high altitudes. Coca-leaf tea is a popular beverage and folk remedy for altitude sickness in Bolivia. However, possession of this tea, which is sold in bags in most Bolivian grocery stores, is illegal in the United States. “Sorojchi pills” sold in local pharmacies, contain high amounts of caffeine and are not usually recommended.

The State Department cautions travelers planning to visit La Paz to consider the following risks and advice:

  • Sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait: persons with sickle cell trait may have a crisis at elevations of more than 8,000 feet. U.S. citizens with this condition have required urgent medical evacuation from La Paz to the United States.
  • Heart disease: Any person who has heart disease, or known risk factors for heart disease, should consult their doctor about their risks of ascending to high altitude, and whether any testing of their heart would be in order. Even U.S. citizens who adjust well initially to the altitude in La Paz have subsequently suffered heart attacks and been hospitalized.
  • Lung disease: Anyone with emphysema should consult closely with their doctor and seriously reconsider coming to La Paz or other, high-altitude areas. Anyone with asthma should consult their doctor; mild asthma may be manageable at high altitude, but it is important to remember that emergency care and intensive respiratory care are very limited even in the city of La Paz and are absent outside the city. U.S. citizens with respiratory ailments have previously been medically evacuated from La Paz to other countries to receive medical treatment.
  • Pregnancy: Given potential complications from altitude sickness, pregnant women should consult their doctor before travel to La Paz and other high-altitude areas of Bolivia. There is an increased risk of miscarriages and other pregnancy-related complications at high altitudes.

Everyone, even healthy and fit persons, will feel symptoms of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) upon arrival at high altitude. Most people will have increased respiration and increased heart rate. Many will have headaches, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, minor gastric and intestinal upsets, and mood changes. Try to limit physical activity for the first 36 to 48 hours after arrival, and avoid alcohol and smoking for at least one week after arrival.

Good information on vaccinations and other health precautions can be found in the CDC’s “Yellow Book”. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website.  The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

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