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Border crossings and motorcycle insurance in South America

Updated: May 13

Border crossings, it's one of the most discussed topics and questions when preparing a big motorcycle trip. Andrew (32) traveled from South Dakota (USA) to Ushuaia (Argentina) - and back! In this blog he shares his insights thay might come in handy when planning your South America motorcycle trip!

With 18 South American border crossings between Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, I am here to give you some tips and other basic information.  One thing to keep in mind is that laws, regulations, and procedures for insurance and border crossings can change at a moment's notice, even from day to day depending on the border agent.  All of my information is from October 2023 to April 2024.

My key tips for any border crossing

In general, try to keep a smile on your face and be patient.  Some borders just take time, for many reasons. They may be busy, they may not have great internet access, or they may just not be used to foreigners.  I try to approach borders earlier in the day to give myself more time, but it is not always possible. I will also do a bit of research beforehand (iOverlander is a great resource for this) to have an idea of what is to come and what the correct steps are. Though, after a few borders it is relatively easy to figure out on the fly. Of course having some basic understanding of Spanish will go a long way, but the thing I always remember at the border is: they know why you are there. I found borders in South America to be easier than borders in Central America, with a couple exceptions that I will get to later.  I don’t cook, so I very rarely had food on me, and if I did it was usually sealed snacks, but I do know that some countries don’t like you to bring in food, specifically fruit and vegetables. Be sure to do a bit of research if you travel with food.

What about (motorcycle) insurance?

Insurance wise, Colombia requires the SOAT as a mandatory insurance for all vehicles on the road.  Ecuador does not have any insurance available for foreign vehicles that I could find and definitely no requirements. Peru has SOAT requirements, similar to Colombia. There is a 3rd party insurance called Mercosur that covers Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. My contact, Caroline, whose information I will list below this blog tells me that the insurance she sells is sufficient for Peru’s SOAT requirements. For Colombian SOAT, I have paid $30-$40 USD/month.  For the Mercosur insurance that covers most of the other South American countries, I paid $100 USD for 6 months.  You can find insurance at almost every border or if you go to a smaller border, the next decent sized town/city.  My preference was always to have it in advance though.

Coming into Colombia

Entering Colombia the first time, using the Overland Embassy to ship my moto from Panama City to Bogota, was a breeze. They had their helper in Bogota handle pretty much everything, I just gave him my passport and signed a few documents. It did take some time, close to 5 hours, but I didn’t have to do anything but wait.  When I re-entered Colombia at the Ipiales border on my way back north, it was a bit frustrating.  You are required to submit documents in PDF form, driver’s license, title, registration, etc. If you don’t already have PDF copies it can be pretty annoying.  Thankfully, the Aduana agent informed me of an application called CamScanner which converted JPGs to PDFs. Thanks to that I was able to submit and be on my way.  

The Ecuador border crossing

When I crossed from Colombia to Ecuador using the Ipiales border, it was pretty straightforward. Colombian Immigration, then Aduana, followed by Ecuadorian Immigration and Aduana (this is the typical order for all borders).The only hiccup I had was that the Ecuador Aduana wanted an engine number for my moto. In the US, at least in my state, the engine number is not listed on any documents. After explaining that to them, I think they eventually used my VIN or just wrote N/A.  On my way back north a few months later, I had no such issues, although it was a much smaller border between Peru and Ecuador, Lalamor. 

The way back north brought other small problems though, as Ecuador has enacted a state of emergency where travelers are required to bring an apostilled criminal record (in Spanish, so the translation would need to be apostilled as well) in order to get the normal visa. There are a couple work-arounds though. One is working with Hans at Finca Sommerwind.  He has worked out a deal with the Ecuador Board of Tourism to submit a list of travelers weekly to get around the criminal record part. He only asks that you stop by his place in Ibarra on your way north or south. The other option is to ask for a transit visa, which is what I did on my way back north. At first, the immigration official really wanted the criminal record, but I told her that I had heard about the transit visa being a possibility. After that things went rather smoothly. Except for a long wait to get my motorcycle imported, I believe due to lack of capabilities - this border was not used to foreigners as far as I could tell, many locals were passing back and forth freely.

The Peru border crossing

Entering Peru on my way south was a simple, straightforward procedure at La Balza. I would caution that the road there can be quite treacherous in the rain. It is a beautiful ride though. If you use the border near Tacna and Arica, it is a little less straightforward due to an extra required form: the “Declaration de Vehiculo y Pasajeros”. It is possible to print and fill this form yourself, but I went to the international bus terminal in Tacna to get it (it is also possible to get it in Arica, but I do not know where). It cost me 5 soles and I received the form for going into Chile as well as the return form to use getting back into Peru.  So make sure you hold onto the papers you receive in order to save some time if you are coming back north. Other than that the border is rather straightforward, but it can be very busy at times.  On my way south it took nearly two hours, mostly standing in line. On the way north it was closer to 30 minutes.

The Chile/Argentina border crossing

I crossed the Chile/Argentina border at least 10 times going north and south, so I will combine that information here.  Overall, very simple, and the more remote the crossing, the more simple. Except for one, which I will mention at the end. Everytime I entered Argentina was a smooth process. I think the longest I had to wait in line was 30 minutes or so the first time I entered at Paso Jama.  Entering Chile is a toss up depending on the border and the official. Many of the Chilean borders have x-ray scanners to send bags through, but in my experience, they were only used at the busier crossings. If my memory serves me correctly, I only had to remove my bags for x-ray on my initial entry near Arica and Paso de Agua Negra.  Every other entry into Chile I either was waved through, asked to open my tank bag, or sniffed by dogs.  But everyone's experience varies, one border I was waved through after two dogs sniffed my moto, while another moto was made to open all of his hard cases for inspection.  It is also possible he carried food on him.  The only crossing that required a bit of extra work (only if using it to leave Chile) was Paso Roballos. 

Paso Roballos is an incredibly remote border in Patagonia, so remote that they don’t have Chilean Carabineros (effectively a national police force) to do the police inspection that you have to do every time you enter or leave Chile.  It is normally a very simple process, when entering you give them your passport and they give you a receipt. When leaving you give that receipt to them and my understanding is they verify that you have not been reported for crimes while in Chile and are cleared to leave.  At Paso Roballos (and some other small borders, but this is the only one I went to), you have to submit the exit police check online, called a Salvoconducto.  The website says it must be submitted some days in advance and it is only valid for a few days, but I was able to submit it in the morning before I left my hostel and received the response in 30 minutes or so.  Be sure to download the response as you will not have data or wifi at the border.  I watched an Argentinian couple get turned around at the border and sent back to civilization to do the salvoconducto as they were not aware it was necessary.

Contacts that might come in handy

Caroline - Colombian SOAT and Mercosur

WhatsApp +57 302 6049550

Hans, Finca Sommerwind - Ecuador VISA

WhatsApp +593 93 937 1170

I hope this gives you some useful insights for planning your adventure!


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