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El Salvador to Honduras Border Crossing

Written by Jessica on April 16, 2012

El Salvador and Honduras flags

This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.

Border name: El Amatillo
Closest major cities: Santa Rosa de Lima, El Salvador and San Andres, Honduras
Cost for visas: $3 per person
Cost for vehicle: $40. + ($3.90 for copies)
Total time: 1.5 hours
Date crossed: April 6, 2012

Note: We crossed from San Miguel, El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua in one day. This is the first of two border crossings we completed on Good Friday.  A huge thank you to PanAm Notes for their guide on this crossing. Sometimes even people writing the guides need guides. For information on part two see the Honduras to Nicaragua border crossing article.

The steps:

    1. At least a kilometer before the actual border crossing stop at the white shack on the right, it's just after the speedbump. The official will cancel your El Salvador vehicle permit. Make sure you have a copy that he can stamp, you will need that later because he keeps the original.
    2. Drive ahead about a kilometer. Take a left at the fork in the road, away from the pretty new bridge.
    3. Park on the right side of the immigration/customs building. Under the awning is fine, but try not to block traffic.
    4. Go to the immigration counter and present your passports. The official will look over your passports and give you a small white piece of paper with the number of passports written on it. Keep the paper. Your passport will not be stamped (just as it wasn’t stamped on entry).
  1. Make copies of your cancelled vehicle permit. You will need one to exit El Salvador and three on the Honduran side.
  2. Get back in your car and drive to the start of the next bridge. An official will likely stop to collect your white slip of paper saying you went through immigration.
  3. At the start of the bridge, another El Salvadorian official will collect a copy of your cancelled El Salvadorian permit. Drive over the bridge.
  4. Just over the bridge you will be stopped by a Honduran official. He will ask for your title and the passport and license of the person driving. If you have any doubt that this guy is an official (and not a tout) ask to see his ID.
  5. He will instruct you where to park, about 150 meters ahead on the right at the aduana (customs) building.
  6. The official will return the driver's passport and send you to immigration.
  7. Walk over to immigration, pay a $3 entry fee per person, fill out your tourist card. Don’t leave immigration without a passport stamp, a receipt and a tourist card.
  8. Go to the copy shop. You will need three copies of: vehicle title, vehicle registration, driver’s passport (photo page), drivers license, driver’s passport page with the new Honduran stamp, driver's tourist card and receipt for the tourist card and the cancelled El Salvador vehicle permit
  9. Take your stack of copies back over to the aduana (customs) building. The official will take your pile of copies and spend a good bit of time entering it into a computer.
  10. The official will add a vehicle import stamp to the driver's passport and then ask for a fee (around $40) and will present a receipt.
  11. If it's Sunday or a holiday fees are paid in person, otherwise you will be directed to pay at a bank nearby.
  12. You will need to go back to the copy shop and make three more copies of the receipt. The official will keep two copies. You will need the third copy when you leave the border area.
  13. Make sure you have all of your original documents, and the numbers on the permits match the VIN and driver’s IDs. Get back in your car and drive around the immigration building.
  14. You may need to stop for fumigation here. We saw the white sign with green letters, but no one was around, and no one ever questioned us. We drove on.
  15. In about a kilometer a guard will stop and ask to see a pile of paperwork. He will check the numbers and return everything except the copy of the permit receipt.
  16. Drive away slowly, and be prepared for the 14 police checkpoints between El Amatillo and the Nicaraguan border.

Our Experience

We left our hotel at San Miguel, El Salvador at 7am, and reached the border at 8:15, dreading the long day ahead. We were attempting two border crossings in one day on Good Friday, the largest holiday weekend in Latin America.

A short distance before the actual El Salvador border a guard stopped us to cancel our vehicle permit. He thanked us profusely for having a copy. Since it was Good Friday, the only copy shack around was closed for the day, and the next option was very far away. He kept our original permit, stamped and signed the copy and returned it to us.

We headed down the road to the notorious fork, and thought we’d try our luck crossing the new bridge on the right. The other way just looked really sketchy. We were wrong, the guards sent us back to the left, down the sketchy road.

The El Salvador immigration building.

Roughly another kilometer later we saw almost the exact same immigration building that was at the last El Salvador border crossing. Big, blue and white, and smack in the middle of the road.

We parked under the covered area and fended off the touts and money changers. One guy wouldn’t leave us alone. I politely explained we were not going to pay and we didn’t need help. He persisted, and I decided that if he wanted to continue to follow us, it was his problem.

We walked to immigration where our passports were swiped and some things were entered into computers. Then we were sent on our way with our passports and a paper with a seal and a number 3 on it.

Back in the car we drove through immigration, at the end of the building an official stopped us to collect the little paper receipt.

We drove to the start of the next bridge where an official asked for a copy of our cancelled El Sal vehicle permit. Doh, fresh out of copies. We parked on the side and went to the friendly copy shop and made four copies, three of which we knew we'd need on the Honduran side.

The bridge leading into Honduras.

We drove over the bridge and were stopped by a semi-official-looking guy. The first thing he did was show us his government ID. Thank goodness. We knew he wasn’t a tout, our designated tout was walking beside him. It's easy to spot the difference, the touts are the ones who look overly anxious to help you, and the officials are the ones who look bored and annoyed.

The official took Kobus’ passport, drivers license and our vehicle title. He told us to drive ahead and park on the right side. We found the aduana building with 5 parking spots out front and parked there. The official caught up in a few moments, and took our papers inside. Less than a minute later he returned with Kobus’ passport and told us to go to immigration first.

Sketchy Honduras immigration building.

Across the street is an old building that looks suspiciously like a cattle barn, except painted blue. The date on the front of the building says 1947. I believe it.

We went up to the immigration window and handed over our passports. The officials must have been feeling nice, they filled out the tourist cards for us. We paid $3 per person (in USD) to enter and collected our passports, receipts and tourist cards in short order. Apparently not many people cross on Good Friday.

Kobus then took his passport, tourist card, and receipt for the $3 to the copy shop and had 3 copies made of each document. Then, back to customs for the vehicle permit.

Honduran customs building.

There was another family in front of us in line, so we stood around for a good 30 minutes waiting for their paperwork to be completed. Thankfully they had a cute two year old to entertain us while waiting. And it was around this time that the tout who had been following us decided we weren’t worth his time.

After a half hour the official called us into the (air conditioned!) building. She took originals and three copies of the following: vehicle title, drivers passport photo page, drivers license, drivers passport page with Honduran stamp, drivers tourist card, cancelled El Salvador vehicle permit, and vehicle registration.

We didn’t have copies of the vehicle registration (why you need that as well as the title is beyond me). So Kobus went back across the way to make more copies.

After roughly 15 minutes later the official emerged from her office and asked for a $40 fee. We knew that this was likely too much, but the banks were closed and we weren’t in an arguing mood. She gave us a receipt and asked us to make another three copies of the receipt. She also put a giant vehicle permit stamp in Kobus’ passport, and asked for two more copies of this stamp.

The copy shop on the Honduras border.

Back across the road for more copies…wheeeeeee. The official kept the copies of the passport and two copies of the permit receipt. She returned the third copy and the original. She explained (in excellent English) the third copy was to be surrendered at the gate when we left the border area, she said the original would be surrendered when we left the country.

Knowing that we might need more copies at the Nicaragua border, we took the permit and receipt and made a few more copies, just for good measure.

Then back in the car and into the depths of Honduras. Not so fast. In about a 100 meters we saw a sign for fumigation. No one was around, and we weren’t about to hang out and wait for the dude to return from lunch. Onward!

After another 500 meters a guard stopped and asked for a pile of paperwork, but not the fumigation receipt, whew! He kept the copy of the vehicle permit receipt and returned everything else. He actually checked that all three of us had stamps in our passports. Then sent us merrily on our way.

We passed a record 14 police checkpoints in the next 80 miles getting to the Nicaragua border. We were stopped three times. Never did anyone attempt to solicit a bribe or issue us a ticket. One police officer did check to make sure we had the mandatory two warning triangles, fire extinguisher, and a spare tire. Thanks dude, we brought those 10,000 miles just for you.

Best part about this border: Not nearly as terrible as expected, I thank Good Friday.
Worst part about this border: F’ing copies.

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