Most people come to Guatemala as tourists and stay here as tourists. Guatemala automatically grants a three-month stay to many visitors, including citizens of the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, the EU, and Australia.
But what if you’re staying longer than three months? How do you keep your immigration status legal?
You have three options:
- Request a three-month extension at the Migración office in Guatemala City
- Leave Guatemala for 72 hours*, which grants you another three-month stay. However, you cannot get another three months by going to one of the other CA-4 countries: Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Many people go to Mexico or Belize on a “visa run.”
- Pay a small daily fine for each day over the three months when you leave the country.
If you’re not staying much over the three months, paying a small daily fine (currently Q10) isn’t so bad. Not so great if you’re staying longer.
There are services that will take your passport to Migración and get the three-month extension for you. You’ll find these services where foreigners gather: in Antigua and several places around Lake Atitlan, mostly in Panajachel and San Pedro. This is perfectly legal and costs around $50 (US). However, you can only do this one time, for a total of six months in the country. After that you need to leave the country for 72 hours* before you start your next three months. These services are useful because the rules about paperwork needed to get an extension change frequently, and the services are usually prepared with the latest information.
This is where people get confused. If you’ve already received an extension (you’ve been in Guatemala or any of the CA-4 countries for six months) there are “services” that will take your passport and get it stamped for you. It’s as if you left the country and came back with a fresh entry stamp. The only problem is that these services are NOT legal. I know many people who have used these services and are cavalier about the illegality. They’ve told me that Guatemala is so corrupt those passport stamps don’t really matter.
Well, sometimes they do. One friend didn’t really understand what this service was doing. She got her passport back with stamps that made no sense-it showed she came back into Guatemala before she left. People have been thrown in jail for having those bogus stamps in their passports. If you ever want to pursue legal residency, those stamps will be a problem.
So what have I done?
My first year living here, I left the country every three months to visit my family in California; then I started the temporary residency process. Once your residency is “en tramite”–in process–you’re no longer operating on a tourist visa and can stay in the country. I’ll talk about the residency process in a separate post.
*Note* – 72 hours is the official time period. It’s not unusual for people to spend only 48 or even 24 hours outside of Guatemala and come back with a shiny new tourist stamp.