Chile to Argentina Border Crossing
A FEW TIPS
To make the crossing from Chile to Argentina, Matt and I decided to take a Bus Sur from Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina at 7:30am on a Tuesday. Here are some tips for the journey:
There’s a friendly stray dog at the Puerto Natales bus station, so bring treats and be ready for pettings. He loves it.
They check your passport before you got on the bus, so make sure to have that handy in the morning.
About 20 minutes outside of Puerto Natales, you pull up to a little customs building in the middle of nowhere to process your exiting of Chile.
The ride to Calafate has literally 0 cell phone service, so if you are trying to get to town before work like us because you are Digital Nomad-ing, then be warned. We didn’t get service until 5-10 minutes outside of downtown!
Oh, and make sure you kept that piece of paper Chile customs gives you when you enter the country. Because you can’t leave without it. I did not keep mine…
THAT TIME BEN ALMOST COULDN’T LEAVE CHILE
When we arrived at the customs office to exit Chile, we were met by an officer who was your typical DMV grouch. I am sure he had his reasons for being so stingy at 7:30am, but it felt unnecessary. We waited in line--a quick 15 minutes or so--he rattled off something in Spanish about needing a piece of paper. We showed him our bus tickets, thinking he needed to see our method of leaving the country. “No, not this,” he said angrily and showed us a visa type card. Shit. We got to the back of the line and rummaged through our backpacks and important documents. Matt found his visa and then we both remembered something. I threw mine out. Not only did I throw it out, but I tore that shit up because it had sensitive and personal information on it and looked like a receipt. After I threw it out, I actually had congratulated myself for shredding it and being a responsible traveler with foresight. Oops. So, make sure you keep your visa (tourist card) they give you in at customs when you arrive in Chile. No one told us to keep it when we entered Chile.
So, back to the story, we're now googling where to get a new visa in the back of the line. We start talking to the bus guys (they came into the office with everyone) and explain our situation to see if they have any insight. While they’re talking to one another in Spanish, we're coming up with backup plans: we can get our bags off the bus, call a taxi to the middle of nowhere and then go back to Puerto Natales to try and find the police station where a few blogs said we can get a new visa. We can let both of our jobs know what’s going on, get the card, come back, and try this again. I Google translate the sentence, “Lo siento, pero perdí mi tarjeta de turista. ¿Cómo obtengo uno nuevo? ¿que puedo hacer?” or “I’m sorry, but I lost my tourist card. How can I obtain a new one? What can I do?” as we move through the line. When we get to the kiosk window again, I read it word for word from my phone, trying to ensure I don’t get something lost in translation. He says. “No puedes salir,” “You can't leave”.
“But, if that’s how this is going to go, that’s how this is going to go,” I think to myself. Matt and I kick into gear and put the backup plan into action.
We ask the bus guys for a taxi company and if we can get our stuff off the bus, but they don’t give us any information about that. Instead, they become visibly antsy. They start talking to the customs agent, who is still angry, but probably more so now. But it’s not just me who has been feeding his ire, he seems to be pissed with the bus drivers as well. I gather they were supposed to ensure we had our visas before boarding the bus. So, they are going to get in trouble for this. They exchange comments so quickly that I have no idea what they're saying. I'm just standing there with my passport as open as my mouth is in shock until the customs agent begrudgingly goes to his computer and everyone is silent. I apologize to the bus drivers for the inconvenience in broken Spanish. And we wait while he angrily punches the keyboard with his fingers.
Finally, he comes over with the immigration form for me to fill out--he could've given me this from the start! I have my stamp with the date of entry on my passport proving I haven’t violated any laws! He literally was just being obstinate.
DO NOT THROW AWAY!
Anyway, I fill it out as quickly as possible since I had now held up the entire bus for another 15 minutes. I slide the form and my passport through the window. He glances at the form, angrily says something that we gather means "I can't read this" as he crumbles up my form and slides me a new one. Sadly, Matt had to look up an address for that form. I could've at least used the old one to fill out the new one (since I can read my handwriting…)
I fill out the new form much more carefully this time. I make it all the way to my passport number when the pen does that thing when you're writing on receipt-like-paper and it makes a dent in it, but doesn't actually put down any ink! And it always does something to the paper so you can't write over that spot again. So now the first number of my passport number looks like an S and a B combined. “God, he certainly can’t read that,” I think and I cross it out and redo it. I hand the form to him hoping that it works this time. He studies it and then hands me my passport back and says I'm set.
In the commotion, I didn’t notice if he stamped my passport or not, which I know is pretty important for the whole customs thing. I look at the most recent page and it's not there, so I go back to the kiosk window. I slide my passport to him with the page open to the Chile entry stamp on it and lots of empty spaces and ask him if he stamped my passport for exit. He angrily flips to the next page where he stamped--for some ridiculous reason--and asks it this isn’t good enough.
I roll my eyes, apologize, take my passport, and leave.
Anyway. The bus drivers later told us that this isn't typical. They said he's an angry person (hombre malo y loco). They were very helpful.
Soooooooooo, after you get through this spot with no problems because you read this. It's a 5 minute drive to the Argentinian immigration stop. This place was great. Sunrise was happening and it took all of 10 minutes. They don't ask you anything and there is no paperwork. I made sure to ask the woman if I needed anything to leave Argentina. She smiled—sorta; as much as a customs worker ever really does smile--and said, “no, solo eso” and pointed to my passport.
And we entered Argentina!