Few things in life can be as good a leveler as a visa application. Sometimes, the USA gives you a ten year visa without a sweat, other times even Bolivia does not grant you one.
Yes, the Bolivian consulate in Rio De Janeiro did not give me a visa.
Partially, it has to do with the fact that I took this visa for granted. I had visited Bolivia in the year 2010 and that time had got the visa from the consulate in Salta, Argentina. It was quite an elaborate process which needed me to hand over my passport to the lady at the counter. And after a long wait of exactly one minute, I had a 30 day visa stamp on my passport. Just like that. No questions asked.
So on a rainy afternoon in December 2015, I reached the Bolivian consulate in Rio De Janeiro. To my shock, I was asked to go back home and fill a form online, get a legal acknowledgement that I had the economic means to support myself in Bolivia.
My flight to Bolivia was just three days away. And now things looked quite serious.
Despite, miraculously obtaining a legal acknowledgment of my financial means in Brazil( I was an Indian on a tourist visa in Brazil), I still did not manage to get the visa. Now they showed me that my Bolivian friend’s letter of invitation also had to be notarised in Bolivia.
Its easy to get angry about the consulate acting so anal about documents. But I have to agree that my research and preparation lacked for this visa. So I had to re-learn the lesson that everything changes, and it is better to err on the side of safety.
To ensure that none of you have to go through this pain and frustration, let me list down the exact process for procuring a Bolivian visa.
Step One: Find Out Your Country Group
No, this has nothing to do with the football world cup or any other sporting event. If you are planning to visit Bolivia, look up what group does the Bolivian ministry of external affairs places your country in. Because that determines the requirements, the process and even the fees for the visa.
Here are the links on the Bolivian ministry of external affairs website:
If your country is Group I, breathe easy. You can just arrive in Bolivia with a passport that is valid for six more months and a ticket flying out and get 30 to 90 days visa on arrival for free. Great, isn’t it? Though I would also suggest that you have hotel/hostel bookings on you. Some immigration officers may demand to see those as well. Though, I do know that most travelers from these countries find it easy to get into Bolivia only with their passport.
Group II? Like me, if your country is placed in Group II, then you can still get visa on arrival. But, the catch is that you surely need to have the documents and will have to pay a visa fee. However, if you apply for a visa before arriving in Bolivia(which is recommended), you can get it free of cost. And the saving is quite substantial.
Group III? Don’t even think about arriving without the visa before hand. You will for sure be asked to take the next flight out of Bolivia. Not the best experience on a vacation right? I agree.
Step Two: Fill The Form And Collect Documents
Even if you are Group II and not III, it is recommended that you apply for visa before hand saving you any hassle at the immigration and also saving you some dollars in visa on arrival fees.
Sworn Statement for Visa Application, obtained from the websites of the General Directorate of Migration, the General Directorate of Consular Affairs or Consular Offices where the visa is requested: (You need to fill this completely online and ensure no details are left out. At the consulate in Rio, I was turned back a second time because I gave one emergency contact instead of two, though the form compulsorily asked only for one).
Passport with at least six months validity
Yellow fever vaccination certificate(if you are planning to visit yellow fever prone areas)
Recent 2″ x 2″ passport type photograph(preferably with red background)
Proof of payment of visa fees(this is not required for Group II countries while applying for visa at consulates. For Group III, you may have to check with your respective consulate).
Travel itinerary, letter of invitation from someone with legal domicile in Bolivia or booking accommodation(Keep into and onward flight tickets from Bolivia ready. Make booking.com type reservations which you can cancel later in case your plans change.
Tip: even if you have a host in Bolivia, leave them out of this because they need to give you a notarised domicile letter which is a waste of their time. Bookings are easier.)
Financial solvency accredited by affidavit or other documentation:(Now here is the interesting requirement. It is not enough to just give your bank statement or credit card statement. You need to get it notarised.)
This is the notarised letter where I stated that I had the economic means to sustain myself in Bolivia. My credit card statement was attached to this as proof.
I managed to get this in Rio De Janeiro at a carteiro. Not all carteiros provide this kind of service to foreigners. But my distressed face and a Brazilian friend’s intervention got me this letter. I am guessing this would be easier to do if you are applying for visa in your home country.
Step Three: Visit The Embassy/Consulate And Get The Visa!
Provided you have cross-checked the checklist and prepared the prints of all your documents, the last step should be easy.
Print out the form, all other documents and if the consulate deems your application to be complete, you should have the visa the next day( the consulate in Rio claimed that they return the passport the next day).
And with this little effort, you can get a free visa to one of the most unique countries on the planet. Trust me, the effort for the visa is nothing compared to the rewards that await you in Bolivia.
But, what happened to my visa?
Ok, so even the second time my application was deemed incomplete(since my Bolivian friend had just given me a normal letter with his id proof and not a notarised one).
I was running out of time, which meant I had to exercise the option I was so dreading. That is to get the visa on arrival at Santa Cruz airport. There was no concrete information on the internet, which meant it was going to be a risk. But I had no option.
At least this mistake helped me understand visa on arrival in Bolivia, and I will share that with you in the next blog soon.