We wrote this post to help clarify the process for crossing the border from Belize to Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala with a vehicle. Having read various accounts of the “official” and “unofficial” costs of crossing this border, we wanted to share our research and experience so that other overlanders can prepare for their entry into Guatemala.
At the time of writing, the only way to enter Guatemala from Belize by car was between the towns of Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize, and Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala.
Belize’s Southern Highway is currently being extended to the Guatemalan border. Once that highway extension is complete, it will be possible to enter Guatemala from a new port in southernwestern Belize.
Guatemala is part of the Central America Border Control Agreement (CA-4). This means that your passport stamp allows you to travel between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua without going through immigration formalities at border crossings for up to 90 days.
Port of Entry: Melchor de Mencos
Date of crossing: Thursday, May 28, 2015
Time of arrival on Belize side: 8:20 am
Time of departure from Guatemalan side: 9:20 am
Total time to cross border: 1 hr
– Belize Vehicle Import permit
– Vehicle title/registration papers from your home country (original + 2 copies)
– Driver’s license of each person who will drive the vehicle (original + 2 copies)
– 37.50 BZD or 18.75 USD per person for Belize Exit Fee (charged by Belize Ministry of Tourism)
– 18 GTQ for fumigation in Guatemala (charged by the Organization for Plant and Animal Health)
– 160 GTQ for Guatemalan Vehicle Import Permit (charged by SAT Guatemala – Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria)
– Up to 40 GTQ “Immigration Fee” to get your passport stamped. We did not have to pay this fee, but others have been charged based on the immigration officer’s mood. Apparently, you can demand a receipt to avoid paying the fee. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go through that.
– Up to 50 GTQ “Bridge Tax” to exit the bridge between Guatemalan Immigration and the town of Melchor de Mencos. We were charged 50 GTQ to pass through the bridge gate. Although we got a receipt, we question the legitimacy of this fee because other vehicles were allowed to pass through the gate without paying anything. Other overlanders have successfully haggled the cost down or have escaped the fee altogether.
Belize banks near the border do not provide currency exchange service from Belize dollars (BZD) to Guatemalan quetzals (GTQ).
We exchanged from BZD to GTQ in the parking lot just outside the Belize immigration office (before fumigation). Random people came up to us to offer their currency exchange services in the parking lot. We researched the exchange rate beforehand and haggled for the rate we wanted.
We heard that you can exchange your money on the Guatemalan side, but it’s likely easier to haggle on the Belize side. Since you need definitely to pay in GTQ at Guatemalan Immigration, the money exchangers on the Guatemalan side can easily put you in a position where the exchange tilts in their favour.
The Border Crossing
Our steps were identical to the ones that were nicely described in Life Remotely’s Belize to Guatemala border crossing, but we experienced three differences:
1. Life Remotely paid 20 GTQ for the “Immigration Fee”. We didn’t have to pay this fee.
2. Life Remotely didn’t pay the “Bridge Tax”. We paid 50 GTQ.
3. At the checkpoint before the bridge (step #10 in Life Remotely’s description), the officer asked for a copy of our Vehicle Import Permit – not the original document. Immigration did not provide additional copies, so we were directed to a photocopy shop just steps away from the bridge. We paid 1 GTQ for a copy and gave it to the checkpoint officer.
This border crossing was much smoother than we expected. After reading other overlanders’ horror stories about entering Guatemala, and after our rather easy crossing into Belize a month before, we believe it may be less stressful to enter Guatemala via Belize instead of Mexico.
There were no touts latching themselves onto our vehicle or banging on our windows or hounding us to use their “translation” services. We found the staff at Guatemalan Immigration to be helpful and cordial, and we didn’t run into any menacing characters.
There were a couple of teenagers who attempted to “help” us by pointing out where we should stand in line. They followed us around and stood uncomfortably close to us while we processed our paperwork, but I shooed them away by repeating in Spanish “What are you doing here?”. They didn’t answer and eventually walked away.
Getting Money After the Crossing
Once we entered Melchor de Mencos, we tried to get money from the ATM machines at several banks. We discovered that these ATMs were all the same: yellow and blue machines branded with ‘Cajero 5B’, enclosed in an unguarded glass room separated from the bank.
Our first attempts to withdraw money from the Cajero 5B ATMs failed. Errors included ‘Chip cannot be read’, and ‘Sorry, we can’t process your request’. Note that these errors occurred even though the Maestro/Plus symbols on our cards matched the ones on the ATM, and our banks had already been notified of our travel plans.
Gregor and I have two different Canadian bank cards that we use only for travelling. We were ultimately able to withdraw money using our CIBC bank card from a Cajero 5B ATM in the Despensa Familiar, a North-American-style supermarket.
Since entering Guatemala we have learned from other overlanders that withdrawing money from ATMs in this country is like a crap shoot – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We have also learned that ATMs at supermarkets are more secure than those in unguarded glass enclosures because it’s more difficult for hackers to tamper with an ATM when clerks and shoppers are nearby.
Stocking Up in Melchor de Mencos
To help familiarize ourselves with the cost of goods in Guatemalan quetzals, we bought our staple foods at the Despensa Familiar supermarket (as opposed to going to the small tiendas or outdoor market stalls, where prices are unmarked). Oddly, the supermarket did not carry raw chicken, beef, or pork. For that, you have to go to a butcher or frozen meat vendor at the central street market.
Down the street from Despensa Familiar there is a Tigo distributor where we bought an iPhone SIM card for 50 GTQ (8.33 CAD) and a one-month 4GB data plan for 200 GTQ (33.33 CAD).
We discovered that gas is sold in US gallons in Guatemala (same as in Belize). There are several gas stations at Melchor de Mencos, but we filled up at an independent station close to the border bridge for about 29 GTQ per US gallon (1.30 CAD per litre).
Once the van was provisioned, we headed for Yaxha National Park for our first night of camping in Guatemala.