Guatemala to El Salvador was our third border crossing of this trip. We were a little nervous as we had gotten used to being in Guatemala at this point, loved it and felt safe there. We had heard so many negative things about El Salvador in terms of safety, so we were a little uneasy, but excited none the less!
To enter El Salvador you need a negative PCR test administered within 72 hours of entering the country. They do not accept antigen. I recently read that if you are fully vaccinated you can now also enter the country with proof of vaccination.
Another thing you need to have prepared in order to take out a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for your car in El Salvador is a copy of your Guatemalan TIP. So before you get to the border crossing make sure you have copies of your PCR test results, your Guatemalan TIP, the title of your car, your passport and the front and back of your drivers license. As well as all of the originals.
We got our PCR tests done at a lab in Guatemala City called Blue Medical. They email you your results within 5 hours, so this was perfect, because we planned on using this PCR test to enter El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. PCR tests are expensive in Central America and you usually need to travel to the country’s capital or a bigger city in order to acquire a test. They run anywhere from $75-$220 from what our research has told us. We figured that the best way to save money on this was to head straight to Nicaragua within the 72 hours that the test is valid for before it expires. We plan on exploring El Salvador more on our way back home.
So we got our tests done on the outskirts of Guatemala City in San Cristobal and headed towards the El Salvador border at La Hachadura. We got our results back exactly five hours after we took the test while we were camping at the coolest outdoor park in Chiquimulilla, Guatemala. I recommend camping there if you are traveling. It’s a short 30-45 minute drive from the border. The spot is called La Combi, you can find it on iOverlander and it’s run by the most welcoming Mexican/Guatemalan couple. La Combi is a big open property with ATVs, cows, goats, a volleyball and basketball court, air rifles, a playground, chickens, an old vw bus turned food truck and all around fun filled place for both kids and adults. The property is huge and the couple who owns it started building it so the kids in Chiquimulilla would have a nice play to go play. They told me there aren’t a lot of playgrounds in the area, but there are a lot of kids. This place is a gem. We were the only people there and Javier told us that he and his wife used to travel around Central America the same way we are, so they love opening up their home to people on the road. He is also a mechanic and offered to fix up anything wrong with our car for free. There was no charge to camp there, but we of course left something to say thank you for the amazing experience when we left the next morning.
As you’re driving up to the border to exit Guatemala, you’re going to see a looooong line of trucks. At first we were like I guess we have to wait in line, but the line literally does not move. Not even an inch, so after we saw a few cars do this we realized we could pass the line. It was probably ten kilometers long. We drove in the wrong lane against traffic until we arrived at the blue and white immigrations building where you exit Guatemala. When you arrive here, you park and go up to the immigrations window on the outside of the building. Hand over your passport and you’ll be stamped out of the country and also be given a little white piece of paper that says “Salida” on it. Salida means exit.
If you have a Guatemalan TIP open on your vehicle you can also close or pause it here where you see the “SAT” sign. We left our TIP open as we will be driving back through Guatemala before our Guatemalan TIP expires, however I do recommend pausing yours if you are unsure of how long you will be out of Guatemala. If you are not driving back through Guatemala you can close your TIP here. However know that if you do close your TIP you will not be able to reopen it in Guatemala for 90 days. If you are driving back through Guatemala within 90 days of exiting the country do not close it.
Once you’ve been stamped out and dealt with your TIP you get back into your car and continue passing the long line of trucks. You will reach a bridge and this bridge is your first checkpoint to enter El Salvador. At the bridge you can also skip the line of trucks and go up to the front of the line, where your PCR test results will be checked. The man/woman there will ask for your original test results and the copy. They will keep the copy and scan your temperature. After this they will ask for a copy of your Guatemalan TIP, so make sure you have copies of your PCR tests and the Guatemalan TIP. The person here will sign your TIP and you will need it to open a new TIP for El Salvador.
Continue driving until you reach the blue and white building. It will be on your left hand side and park your car here. This is the Immigrations and Aduana building. If you are facing the building the first windows on your left will be the immigrations windows. Go up to the window with your passport and your PCR test results. The immigrations officer will ask how long you’re staying in the country, where you’re coming from. etc., and then ask for your PCR test results. He/she will keep the copy. This is the second copy you need to give out. Once your passport has been checked you’re official in El Salvador. There is no stamp to get into the country and there is no visa fee.
Continue walking along the outdoor corridor of the blue and white building and on your left you will reach the aduana office. Make sure you have your paperwork ready. You will need the originals and copies of the following: Guatemalan TIP, Passport, Drivers License (front & back), title of your car. When you walk into the office on your right hand side there will be two windows. The second window is where you will process your TIP. The window looks into an office, so you’ll probably have to get someones attention to come help you. They’ll give you a white piece of paper to fill out your vehicle’s information. It asks things like the brand, model, year, color, weight, type of fuel, engine, how many cylinders your car has, how many seats, etc., If you do not speak Spanish I recommend getting a translator for this portion of the process as it might be difficult to understand what the form is asking.
Once you fill out the paperwork, return it to eh person at the booth. They’ll come out to your car with you to check your VIN number, license plate and to make sure you’ve put all the info in correctly. They’ll also do a quick search of your car and then go back in to prepare your TIP. We waited about 30 minutes for it. Once Victor our aduana official finished writing up our TIP he came out to double check that everything was inputted correctly. It was so he gave us our TIP. The bottom left part of the sheet has a sticker on it. This is your TIP. There is no sticker that goes directly on your vehicle.
Victor gave us 60 days for the TIP. He also let us know that if we overstay the length of the TIP we would be charge $1000 USD/day. He showed me a line of cars that were parked at the building permanently because people weren’t able to pay the fees for overstaying and had to leave their cars. He also told me not to lose the original TIP because you’ll need it again when leaving the country and it will cost $100. There is no fee however for importing your vehicle temporarily.
Once your TIP is ready get back into your car and drive into the country. There will be a checkpoint where they verify your info and paperwork before you enter. Once you enter you’ll drive about 5-10 feet and you will be asked to pay a $5 fee for entering the city. You can pay it in USD as the currency in El Salvador is US dollars.
If you were not able to make copies before arriving at the border crossing there is a little building on the left hand side and across the street when you keep walking past aduana where you can make copies of all your paperwork. The building is blue and white as well and will say “copias.” You can pay in USD here as well.
The entire process from exiting Guatemala to entering El Salvador probably took about 2 hours and cost a total of $5 USD.