Updated 2/10/2020 following reports of another change in the procedure.
Step by step guide to the new express Guatemala visa extension procedure including maps, Transmetro and chicken bus directions to the immigration office.
Sometimes, three months is not enough time in Guatemala, and tourists are required to get their visa extended once their initial visa on arrival is up. In our case, we were living and working in Antigua Guatemala, and as the 90 days mark approached, we began researching ways to get that visa extension. We quickly realized there is a lot of conflicting information online about how to get your Guatemala visa extension. At first, it seems pretty simple, you can either do a visa run, where you exit and re-enter the country, or you can get your visa extended at the immigration office in Guatemala City.
But how exactly these need to be done is where it gets confusing. Guatemala changed its visa policy in December 2018 and again in late 2019. The procedure to get a new visa is now very different than it used to be. Under the new guidelines, you no longer need to wait a week to pick up your visa in Guatemala city. For this reason, the once very popular visa run is no longer the best option. We will update this article if we hear of new information and as always, feel free to leave us comments below about your own experience so that we may help other travelers!
How long do Guatemalan visas last?
For people coming from one of the 85 visa-free countries, you get a stamp on arrival that is good for up to 90 days. Make sure that the customs officer manually writes 90 days. While the stamp is from Guatemala, the duration of your stay is within the C-4 border agreement zone. This includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras
What is the difference between a visa run and a visa extension?
So when you travel to Mexico to get permission to continue your stay in Guatemala, your re-entry stamp is a new visa, not a visa extension. It works the same as a visa extension for your first extension.
For example, say you go to Guatemala in January and you get a visa stamp for 90 days. As the 90-day mark approaches in March, you can either get your next 90 days by getting an extension at the capital or by getting a new visa by going to out of the country and back. For you, each will give you another 90 days in the country. So even though you went to, say, Mexico to get your visa extended, technically that stamp is a new visa, not an extension. Beware, as of December 2019 we are getting reports that the extensions given on visa runs are 30 days, and official extensions either 30 days or 90 days. Nobody seems to know what determines the length yet. Stay tuned!
So why does it matter what we call it if the outcome is the same? Because after you have stayed 180 days in the country, regardless of whether your visa was extended or renewed, your next extension has to be done by leaving Guatemala and coming back in, not by going to the capital.
Doing a visa run to extend your Guatemala visa
Doing a visa run out of the country and back used to be the favored method. Until 2018, the visa extension process took 8 days, with two trips to Guatemala city. This is why the concept of a visa run got so popular. People instead preferred going out to Mexico for a while and return to Guatemala with a fresh 90 days stamp.
In late 2019 however, this seems to have changed. Many people have reported only getting 30 days on their way back to Guatemala. Visa runs may no longer be an option! We have yet to hear an official confirm why but it seems the border agents have had enough of the scheme and want people to apply for a residency and get standard visa extensions. Reports also say that visa extensions granted in Guatemala city are only for 30 days now but some people are still getting 90 days. We are investigating.
Today, the visa run is an option if you already had an extension in this 180 days period. You must leave the country and the C-4 zone to get a new visa. But if you’re doing a run for the first time, here is what you need to know about using the visa run procedure to get your Guatemala visa extension.
After this, we’ll cover in-depth the process for getting a visa extension in one hour in Guatemala City.
Where should you go for your visa run?
First, consider your destination. As we’ve highlighted before, the C-4 agreement means you cannot use Honduras, El Salvador, or Nicaragua to extend your visa. Your nearest options, therefore, are Mexico and Belize. Costa Rica is also a possibility but much farther away.
Normally Mexico is the favored choice. As long as you stay within the “free border zone” of about 25km and don’t stay more than 72 hours in the country, you do not need to pay the tourist tax of $25. Belize will charge you $20 upon exiting the country regardless of the time spent within. Belize is also much more expensive than Mexico and Guatemala to travel, so as far as Dirt Cheap Travel goes, it’s not our choice.
Going to Mexico for your visa extension
The favored option for doing a visa run is normally through Tapachula, Mexico. It’s one of the easiest borders to reach by public transport. Be sure to get an exit stamp from Guatemala and an entry stamp from Mexico as the border agents on both sites are known to be scam friendly. While you can try to extend your visa run into a little side vacation, remember to stay within the 25km border area and keep in mind there really isn’t that much to do near the border.
Officially, you have to stay 72 hours in Mexico before you can re-apply for the Guatemalan visa but most people we’ve talked with say a couple of hours should suffice. In any case, double check that you’re getting stamps upon exit in Mexico and entry in Guatemala and that the number on the stamp is, again, 90 days. This procedure can be repeated
We personally have not taken this route, as we simply used the one-hour visa extension option described below. For this reason, we won’t go too far into details as we like to write from our own experience rather than hearsay.
Getting your Guatemala visa extension in one hour
As we’ve said above, you no longer need to wait eight days to get your visa extension. You can now get it the same day and the whole procedure from the moment you walk into the immigration office to your exit with a visa extension can take as little as one hour! All within Guatemala City.
This was a life-saver to us as we had spent a lot of time doing research trying to figure out which option was best. Between spending days in Mexico or having to wait a week for the extension to be done in Guatemala city, the process seemed annoyingly long. Accounts of both methods hinted at bribery and corruption attempts being frequent, especially if you don’t speak Spanish well.
Then we heard that the method had been updated. No one could tell exactly how, but Guatemala was issuing visa extensions at a much faster rate. We were told the processing time had gone done from 8+ workdays to a mere half a day. To our surprise, it was even faster.
After deliberating a little bit, we decided to try this new method. Below you will find our step by step instructions, including transport and maps from Antigua to the Immigration office. We were happy to do this all in the same day: leaving morning, getting our extensions and even visiting a cool museum before being back to Antigua by the early afternoon.
Step by step guide for getting your Guatemala visa extension
Getting from Antigua to Guatemala City
For this part, we’ll assume that you are like us and like to travel for cheap. Likewise, if you are ready to extend your visa you probably have been in Guatemala for long enough to know about chicken buses. If you want more information on the matter, you can read our articles on How to get from Guatemala City airport to Antigua and Safety on chicken buses.
- Take a chicken bus from Antigua bus station to El Trebol (Q10).
-These buses are generally blue and will take about one hour.
- Exit at El Trebol.
-The bus will take a turn left and drop you next to some taxis waiting.
- Walk towards the Santa Cecilia Transmetro Station. The path from the chicken bus to the station shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes and is, from our experience, the safest place to be in Guatemala city. This is because there is a big police station just by the transmetro station. One time, we counted 24 police cars and 16 policemen in only 5 minutes.
- Take the Transmetro that’s headed towards Plaza Barrios (As opposed to Centra Sur) and hop off at Plaza Municipal.
- Here some suggest taking another Transmetro towards the immigration office. We can’t find why. It’s longer to backtrack to the station, wait for the bus, ride for one station and then backtrack again 1 ½ block towards the office.
- Instead, we suggest you simply walk from Plaza Municipal towards the
Migracionoffice. The Direccion General de Migración is a seven-story building on the corner of Via 3 and Ruta 4 in Zone 4. Note that there are two offices really close together, the other is the passport office ( centrode Emisionde Pasaportes) on Avenida 6a, two blocks away. The annoying thing is that even when you type in the exact name of the correct office into Google maps, it still gives you the passport office. The office you want for your visa extension is a coupleof blocksaway.
Beware: many blogs have this information wrong. Their official address, on Google maps, appears in the wrong location: a passport office. We double checked and went to both places, trust us only one of them will give you your extension (see our pic as proof ;).) Its coordinates are, in Google maps, 766FJFCM+C9. The building is right on the corner of the main road.
Corner of Ruta 4 and Via 3, Zona 4, Guatemala City (Plus code for Google maps is 766FJFCM+C9)
Hours : Monday-Friday 8am-4 :30pm
Number : +502 2411 2411
Website : http://igm.gob.gt/
The visa renewal procedure in Guatemala City
You will need:
- Visa extension application (Get it at Migracion for Q2, the online version is always outdated)
- Passport with 6 months validity
- A copy of both sides of your credit card (Or proof of onward travel)
- $25 (pay in quetzales, about Q190, you will be given an exact exchange rate)
- One passport sized photo in black and white and matte paper (Get at Solis Photo, Antigua and specify your intended use) Getting reports that this may no longer be needed
- 2 copies of your passport info page Getting reports that this may no longer be needed
- A copy of your passport’s Guatemala entry stamp page Getting reports that this may no longer be needed
*note: Photocopies can be made directly at the migración office for Q1 per page. We suggest making them in Antigua for Q0.15 per page. Look for buildings that say
Alright, so you’ve found the right office. Time to get that visa renewed! For us, it was 10:25 when we walked in. If you’re Guatemalan, expect to go through some security. If you’re a foreigner, expect to be let in no questions asked. If you need photocopies or don’t already have the immigration application filled, you need to get it from this floor for Q2.
Don’t go upstairs yet! The clerk with the forms and the printer
The attendant will also ask for your visa extension application, passport copies and the copy of both sides of a credit card. Update: the passport copies are apparently not required anymore either. Then the attendant will hand all of your documents back, give you a number and ask you to sit in the waiting area until your number is called. We
When our number was called and we went up to the correct window, the attendant asked for our passport-sized photo, visa application
We went downstairs, paid Q193.25 at the Banco Rural window ($25), and went back upstairs with our receipt in hand. Remember, while the fee is quoted in US Dollars, only Quetzales are accepted.
When you get upstairs, go directly to the window you were at, no getting a new number or waiting forever. The attendant looked at our bank receipts, stapled it with our applications, took our real passports and told us to sit down and wait about 10 minutes until she called us.
Within 10 minutes, she called us and handed back our passports with our visa extension sticker inside. We left the building by 11:25. Simple as that.
The new visa extension procedure is so much faster!
What a huge difference from the majority of information we found online! From claims that you have to go through this process while leaving your passport for 8 days, to the corruption experienced by some during their visa run in Mexico, we are more than happy with the new procedure.
Overall, we were quite impressed with the efficiency. The last time we had to do a visa extension was in Egypt, and that was one of the most chaotic, trying parts of our adventures in the country.
We should note that a lot of the info online about visa extensions in Guatemala is conflicting. It’s not that people are necessarily wrong, as the procedure has changed. Regardless, we are worried that most websites, including Google maps, list the incorrect location of the migración office.
Stay in the know!
That was so quick we got to visit Guatemala City
The time saved allowed us to spend a bit more time in Guatemala City. While most tourists don’t visit it because of safety concerns, we can certainly vouch for it. Zona 1, or downtown, is safe during day time and has a wealth of interesting sights and museums.
The Postal museum is free and is along your way, if not overly exciting, while the Coffee District of Guatemala will remind you of the most hipster neighborhoods in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Also, consider the Museo del Ejercito, the Ex Fort San José. It is cheap with good views and very interesting! As a bonus, nobody visits it. If you go on a weekday, the staff will probably be very surprised to even see someone try to get in. We got a free tour, in Spanish, of this interesting historical site.
3 more months in Guatemala
And that’s it! You now have another three months to explore Guatemala, and it only took you an hour; half a day if you count transport. Some reports from late December 2019 now say that the extensions are only granted for 30 days, regardless if it’s a visa run or a formal extension procedure. Some people are still getting 90 days. We’ll keep this article up to date as we hear new information.
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Have you, dear Dirt Cheap Travelers, got your visa extended in Guatemala recently? Do you advocate for the visa run instead? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get more helpful advice on cheap world travel. Share this!