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Guatemala

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Summary

  • Exercise a high degree of caution in Guatemala because of serious violent crime and incidents of local unrest. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Monitor the media and other sources about possible new security risks.
  • Guatemala has a high crime rate. Violent crime, often involving the use of firearms, is common throughout the country, including in tourist destinations. See Safety and security.

  • Armed robbery on passenger buses is common. Use alternative forms of transport. Avoid inter-city travel after dark - it is dangerous. See Safety and security and Local travel.

  • If you plan to travel by bus from Guatemala to southern Mexico, including on tour buses, first read the travel advice for Mexico for information on recent attacks on buses in Chiapas state. See Safety and security.

  • Be particularly vigilant in border regions with El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Belize due to organised crime and drug related violence. See Safety and security.

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination's entry or exit requirements.

Visas

If you're visiting Guatemala for tourism and you'll stay for 90 days or less, you won't need a visa to enter Guatemala, provided you have:

  • a valid passport
  • a return ticket, and
  • evidence you have enough money for your visit.

Tourists can extend their stay once for a further 90 days. To extend your stay, you'll need to apply at the local immigration office before the end of the initial 90 day period.

If you're visiting Guatemala for a different purpose or you plan to stay for a longer period, you'll need a visa. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Guatemala for up-to-date information or to apply for an entry visa.

If you are travelling to Guatemala through the United States of America (US), or if you are transiting Honolulu or another US point of entry, you'll need to meet US entry/transit requirements. Check visa requirements with an Embassy or Consulate of the United States well in advance of your travel.

More information: Travel advice for the United States of America

If you are flying to Guatemala via Canada, you'll need an eTA (electronic Travel Authorisation) for Canada.

More information:

Other formalities

You'll need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate if you're arriving in Guatemala from a country or area where yellow fever is endemic.

More information: Yellow fever risk and certification requirements (by country, WHO)

Minors (under the age of 18) travelling to Guatemala without both of their parents must present a notarised letter of authorisation signed by both parents. Minors travelling with one of their parents do not need to provide this letter. Minors travelling without their legal guardian(s) must present a notarised letter of authorisation from the non-travelling legal guardian(s). All letters of authorisation must be authenticated by the Guatemalan mission closest to the minor's place of residence and must be translated into Spanish.

More information: Embassy of Guatemala

Central American airlines won't accept passengers travelling to destinations in the US without proof of an onward or return ticket, even if the travellers may be eligible to enter the US under the visa waiver program.

You'll need to pay an airport and security tax in cash at the airport on departure. You'll also need to pay an exit tax on departure if it was not included in your ticket price.

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact an Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

The local currency is the Guatemala Quetzal (GTQ). Local currency cannot be imported or exported. The US dollar is the only currency readily exchanged in Guatemala.

ATMs are not always reliable. Credit cards are widely accepted. Contact your bank to make sure your cards will work.

Using ATMs on the street puts you at high risk of robbery or 'express kidnapping'. See Safety and security.

Safety and security

Crime

Violent crime, including murder, carjacking, kidnapping, assault, rape and robbery is common throughout the country, including in tourist destinations. Violent crime often involves the use of firearms. Risks increase after dark.

Criminals target tourists, including those arriving at international airports and travelling to hotels in Guatemala City and Antigua. Travel in unofficial taxis increases risks of robbery and assault. The use of radio-dispatched taxis or those from hotels may reduce risks. For travel from the airport, using prepaid taxi vouchers, which can be purchased from the Tourist Office at the airport, may reduce risks.

Areas particularly prone to violent crime, including assault and robbery, include:

  • Guatemala City, including in areas previously considered safe, such as Zones 10, 14 and 15
  • volcanos and other tourist sites
  • border regions with El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, where drug and organised crime networks operate
  • land border crossings, where travellers have been violently robbed after changing large amounts of cash.

'Express kidnappings', where victims are forced to withdraw funds from ATMs to secure their release, have occurred, particularly at ATMs, petrol stations and shopping centres.

Victims of crime have been injured when resisting their attackers.

Many scams target tourists. Some involve tourist vehicles. Scammers may make unsolicited offers of services or unusual requests before stealing victims' money and other possessions.

Theft has been reported at budget accommodation, particularly in Antigua.

Use of an escort from the Government run tourist service (PROATUR) may reduce risks associated with travel in Guatemala.

  • Exercise a high degree of caution throughout Guatemala.
  • If possible, schedule arrival at La Aurora Airport (Guatemala City) during the day or early evening.
  • Be alert to possible threats at all times, including in isolated and remote areas. Be particularly vigilant after dark.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing or displaying expensive watches, jewellery, cameras, phones or tablets/laptops.
  • Take care of your belongings, especially in crowded places.
  • Always travel in a group. Travel with a reputable tour company, where possible.
  • Don't use taxis from taxi stands or flagged from the street. Use only prepaid taxis from the airport or radio-dispatched, official taxis elsewhere. See Local travel.
  • Never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.
  • Keep vehicle windows closed, doors locked and valuables out of sight at all times, including when moving.
  • Don't resist if you are robbed.
  • Only use ATMs during daylight hours and in controlled areas such as banks or shopping centres.
  • Only change money in hotels or banks.
  • Get up-to-date information on security conditions in areas you plan to visit.
  • Be wary of strangers offering unsolicited offers of services or making unusual requests.
  • Cross land borders with care. Only cross the border during daylight hours and allow time for border crossing formalities in order to arrive in a major town before dark.

Civil unrest and political tension

Strikes, protests and large demonstrations often occur with little notice and can turn violent. Past unrest has seen travellers being forcibly detained at roadblocks, the closure of border-crossing points and disruption of traffic and essential services.

  • Avoid all demonstrations, protests and large public gatherings.
  • Monitor the media and other sources for news of planned or possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • If you are in an area where a protest or similar is occurring, leave if it is safe to do so.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Cross-border travel

There are strict security controls at all Guatemalan borders due to high levels of drug-related criminal activity at border crossings. Military personnel are stationed along the border with Mexico and tourists may be checked as a result. Exercise particular caution when travelling in the Guatemala/Belize border area because of the ongoing border dispute between the two countries. Only use recognised border crossings.

Road travel

You are four times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in Guatemala than in Australia. Hazards include aggressive driving practices, poorly maintained vehicles, roads in poor condition and other drivers routinely ignoring traffic laws. Additional hazards on rural roads include inadequate lighting and street signs, and the presence of pedestrians and farm animals on roads.

Mudslides and road collapses caused by heavy rains are common. Roads may be closed at short notice.

Inter-city travel after dark anywhere in Guatemala is dangerous. Violent carjackings occur, particularly on poorly maintained roads, but also on main highways, including the Pan-American Highway (CA-1), the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-2) and the Atlantic Highway (CA-9). There have been reports of violent attacks on motorists travelling between El Salvador and Guatemala, particularly on the Guatemalan side of the border. Roadblocks erected by armed gangs are common, particularly in the northern and western Departments of San Marcos, Huehuetenango, El Quiche, Alta Verapaz, El Peten and Escuintla.

Other dangerous areas for road travel include the route between Cocales (Suchitepequez) and San Lucas Toliman (Atitlan), the isolated dirt roads near Lake Atitlan, and the Godinez by-pass via Patzun between Guatemala City and Panajachel. The main Pan-American highway to Solola is an alternate route to the Godinez by-pass.

Criminals have been known to pose as police officers.

It is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you do, you could be arrested and detained.

If you plan to travel by road:

  • first check you have adequate insurance cover
  • familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving
  • get up-to-date local advice on road conditions, including security risks, before travel
  • plan your travel options in advance and be prepared to change plans if security issues arise
  • avoid routes where security risks are particularly high
  • limit travel to daylight hours
  • avoid travelling on your own
  • keep vehicle windows up and doors locked at all times
  • drive defensively and legally
  • don't drink (or use drugs) and drive.

Driver's licence

You can drive in Guatemala with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must obtain your IDP before departing Australia.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

Travel by taxi can be dangerous. Specialised airport taxis and taxis pre-booked through a reputable taxi company are safer than taxis flagged from the street or at taxi stands.

  • Use only radio-dispatched taxis or book a taxi from your hotel.
  • For travel from the airport, use a hotel car or prepaid airport taxi - vouchers can be purchased from the Tourist Office at the airport

More information: Road safety and driving

Public transport

Public buses and 'chicken buses' (converted school buses) are often unsafe. Armed robberies are common.

Tour buses and other inter-city buses, including luxury coaches, have been forced to stop by criminal gangs who then rob and/or sexually assault passengers. Gangs have detonated bombs targeting buses in the past. In 2016 five people were killed in a bomb blast on an inter-city bus in San Jose Pinula, near Guatemala City. Buses have been attacked near border crossings and in known tourist areas such as Panajachel and Antigua. The roads from the El Salvador border to Cuilapa and from the Belize border to El Cruce are danger spots for bus-jackings.

  • Avoid travel on public buses or 'chicken buses' (converted school buses).
  • Only travel on tour buses and inter-city buses with adequate security arrangements – check before you book.

If you plan to travel by bus from Guatemala to southern Mexico, including on a tour bus, read Mexico for advice on risks, given recent attacks on buses in Chiapas state.

Boat travel

Tourists have been attacked on motorised boats and sailing boats in Rio Dulce and Livingston. Check there are adequate security measures in place before booking any travel by boat.  

The strong currents and tides on Guatemala's Pacific coastal beaches pose a serious threat to swimmers. Beach patrols, lifeguards and warning or advisory signs are rarely present.

Air travel

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Guatemala.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails.

More information: Carrying or using drugs

Other laws

The death penalty may be applied for aggravated murder and political crimes.

It is illegal to photograph official buildings, military installations and establishments or sites of strategic importance such as the Presidential Palace and airports.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Guatemalan males, including dual nationals, are required to complete compulsory military service obligations. If you're a male Australian-Guatemalan dual national and you're aged between 18 and 50, you could be required to fulfil military services obligations if you visit Guatemala. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Guatemala before you travel.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

Photographing children and women may be met with suspicion and violence. Life-threatening attacks on tourists have occurred. Always seek the permission of a responsible adult before taking photographs of children or talking to them.

Although same-sex relationships are generally accepted in Guatemala City, more conservative attitudes prevail in other parts of the country.

More information: LGBTI travellers

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor. Example: medicines containing pseudoephedrine are banned in Guatemala.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take enough legal prescription medicine with you to last for the duration of your stay so you remain in good health. Medicines must be in their original container and have a clear label. Carry copies of your prescription and a dated letter from your doctor on letterhead stationery stating what the medicine is, its generic name, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information:

Health risks

Insect-borne diseases

There is widespread transmission of Zika virus in Guatemala. The Australian Department of Health advises pregnant women to discuss travel plans with their doctor and defer non-essential travel to affected areas.

Malaria is a risk throughout the year in rural areas below 1500 metres elevation. In 2014, there were a number of cases of Chikungunya virus reported in the Americas and Caribbean. Guatemala is conducting surveillance on its border with El Salvador. Other insect-borne diseases (including dengue fever, Chagas' disease, river blindness and leishmaniasis) also occur.

Protect yourself against insect-borne diseases:

  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash, bleeding of the nose or gums, or severe headache.

More information:

HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including hepatitis, typhoid and tuberculosis) are prevalent. More serious outbreaks occurring from time-to-time.

  • Use good hygiene practices including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water with intact seals.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • If there is a Red Tide alert, follow local warnings and avoid shellfish and seafood as it may be contaminated.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

More information: Infectious diseases

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities in Guatemala City is adequate but limited outside of the capital.

You'll often need to pay in cash before treatment, including for emergency care.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated to a destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation can be very expensive.

Natural disasters

Guatemala experiences hurricanes, severe weather, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag).
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency.
  • follow the advice of local emergency officials
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts
  • seek local advice before entering affected areas.

Hurricanes and severe weather

The hurricane season is from June to November and the wet season is May to November, when landslides, mudslides and flooding may occur. Storms and hurricanes can also occur in other months. The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning.

If there is a hurricane or severe storm, you may not be able to leave the area: flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended, and available flights may fill quickly. Access to sea ports could also be affected. Roads and bridges may collapse or be blocked. Power, communication systems and other essential services could be affected. In some areas, adequate shelter from a hurricane may not be available for all those who stay.

If a hurricane is approaching, follow the advice for all natural disasters above and:

  • make sure you know your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans
  • identify your local shelter
  • closely monitor alerts and advice from the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

More information:

Earthquakes

Guatemala is located in an active seismic zone. Familiarise yourself with earthquake safety measures for each place you stay and visit including hotels, public and private buildings.

More information: Earthquakes

Volcanoes

There are four active volcanos in Guatemala: Volcan de Fuego, Pacaya, Santiaguito and Tacana. Volcan de Fuego, Pacaya, and Santiaguito volcanoes have very high levels of activity which may increase at any time.

Falling ash following a volcanic eruption can be distributed over a wide area. Exposure to ash can harm your health, particularly your breathing. The ash, dust and toxic fumes emitted following an eruption are a significant health risk, especially to those with existing respiratory problems.

If there is a volcanic eruption:

  • stay inside with the windows and doors shut and place damp towels at door thresholds and other draft sources, if ash is falling in your area
  • when ash has ceased to fall or you need to go outside, wear a disposable face-mask if available and change it frequently
  • wear long-sleeved clothing and long pants to protect your skin, and goggles to protect your eyes
  • avoid unnecessary contact with ash
  • follow the advice for all natural disasters above.

If you plan to climb any of the volcanoes:

  • only do so as a group
  • use experienced guides and a reputable tour company, and
  • follow the advice of local authorities.  

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

PROATUR is a tourist assistance unit which provides 24-hour assistance. It can be contacted toll-free nationwide by dialling 1500, or email proatur@inguat.gob.gt. Read their safety tips page. You may also follow news and recommendations on Proatur's Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: phone 122
  • Medical emergency: phone 123 or go to the nearest hospital
  • Crime: phone 1500 (PROATUR), 110 (Police) or visit the nearest police station

Emergency service telephone operators may not speak English.

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism products and services

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

The Australian Consulate in Guatemala has temporarily closed. Consular assistance is available from the Australian Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico.

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario 55 (Polanco)
Col Bosque de Chapultepec,. C.P.
11580 Mexico D.F. Mexico
Phone: (52 55) 1101 2200
Fax: (52 55) 1101 2201
Email: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au
Website: mexico.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: Australia in Mexico, Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you are unable to contact the Embassy in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources