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Bolivia

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Summary

  • Exercise a high degree of caution in Bolivia because of ongoing political and social tensions and the risk of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Monitor the media and other sources about possible new security risks.
  • The political situation in Bolivia is unstable. Roadblocks, demonstrations, violent protests and strikes could occur at any time. Do not cross roadblocks set up by protesters. Avoid crowds as they could become violent. See Safety and security.
  • Civil unrest can interrupt domestic and international travel services. Double-check your transport arrangements before each movement. Seek local advice before travelling to or from Uyuni Salt Flat. See Safety and security.
  • If you ascend to altitudes greater than 2500 metres, you risk developing altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and can affect anyone, including the physically fit. Many areas of Bolivia, including La Paz, Salar de Uyuni and Lake Titicaca are above 2500 metres. See Health.

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

You can visit Bolivia for tourist purposes without a visa for up to 90 days. For other visits 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 Bolivia for up-to-date information.

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

More information: Travel advice for the United States of America

Other formalities

You may need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate to enter Bolivia. Yellow fever, which is common in Bolivia, is a serious and potentially fatal disease that is preventable by vaccination. Some airlines may require you to present a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate before they allow you to board. Read Yellow fever for information on re-entry to Australia following exposure to yellow fever.

More information:

Unless travelling with both their parents, children (under 18) who are Australian-Bolivian dual nationals must show certain documents on entry and exit:

  • on entry: children need to provide their birth certificate and written consent to their travel from both parents, translated into Spanish and certified by a Bolivian Embassy or Consulate
  • on exit: children need to produce a travel permit from the Juzgado del Menor (Children's Court).

More information: Bolivian Immigration Service at Avenida Camacho entre Calles Loayza y Bueno, La Paz, Bolivia. Phone (591-2) 211 – 0960.

Money

The local currency is the Bolivian Boliviano (BOB). Declare all amounts over USD10,000 on arrival. USD is the most easily exchangeable foreign currency. ATMs are available throughout cities in Bolivia. Many businesses accept international credit cards. Contact your bank to ensure that your cards will work while you are away.

Safety and security

Civil unrest and political tension

Political tensions are high in Bolivia. You could encounter civil unrest, including roadblocks, demonstrations, protests and strikes. Unrest and other large gatherings can quickly turn violent. Authorities commonly use tear gas and force to control disturbances.

Blockades and closures associated with strikes and demonstrations can affect travel across Bolivia, including at airports and bus stations. International and domestic travel can be disrupted without notice, particularly to Oruro, Uyuni and Santa Cruz.

Demonstrations in Uyuni can occur with little notice, making travel to and from the area difficult and expensive.

Anti-narcotics activities in the coca-growing areas of Chapare (between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba) and the Yungas region northeast of La Paz can result in confrontation between authorities and targets. Bystanders can be affected.

  • Avoid all demonstrations, protests and large public gatherings.
  • Monitor the media and other sources for news of planned or possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • Don't cross roadblocks set up by protestors, even if they appear unattended. Doing so may result in violence.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Take particular care to avoid conflicts in the coca-growing areas of Chapare and the Yungas region.

Crime

Petty theft is common, particularly in tourist areas, on buses and in bus stations. Thieves often work in teams using various forms of distraction. Criminals sometimes pose as police officers.

Violent crime against foreigners, including armed robbery and assault, has increased. Such crime can happen in tourist areas and on public transport in the cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz. Several visitors to Coronilla Hill, located behind the main bus terminal in Cochabamba, have been assaulted and/or robbed.

Assaults and robberies in shared, unmarked and radio taxis are becoming more common. Hikers travelling without a guide have been robbed and assaulted on the Inca trails and in Rurrenabaque. Use an experienced, reputable tour guide to reduce these risks.

'Express kidnappings', where victims are forced to withdraw funds from ATMs to secure their release, occur. Overland border points with Chile and Peru such as Copacabana and Desaguadero are high risk.

Food and drink spiking occurs. Victims are often assaulted and/or robbed.

Under Bolivian law, police need a written order or warrant to detain or search a suspect.

Drug traffickers and other criminals in the Bolivian/Brazilian border region present a serious danger to travellers crossing the border.

  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing expensive watches, jewellery and cameras.
  • Be alert to attempts to distract your attention away from your luggage.
  • Don't hail taxis off the streets. Use only well-known radio taxi companies that can easily be identified by the telephone number prominently displayed on the vehicle's roof. Before starting your journey, note the taxi's registration number and telephone number.
  • Don't leave food or drinks unattended, particularly in bars and nightclubs.
  • Never accept drinks, food, gum or cigarettes from strangers or new acquaintances.
  • If a police officer seeks to search or detain you, politely ask to first see a written order or warrant.
  • Exercise a high degree of caution at the Bolivia-Brazil border region.

Terrorism

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

Local travel

Tours and adventure activities

Safety precautions and maintenance standards of transport and tour operators are not always met, including for adventure activities such as diving and tours to the Uyuni salt plains. Safety equipment such as lifejackets and seatbelts may not be provided.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities:

  • check with your insurer if it's covered by your policy
  • check operators' credentials and safety (including communications) equipment before booking
  • always use available safety equipment, even if others don't
  • if appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

For tours to the Uyuni salt plains:

  • choose a tour operator that has a CB radio or satellite telephones for emergencies – mobile phone coverage is very limited
  • be prepared for delays – melting snow and snowfalls can cause delays, usually of one or two days.

Road travel

You're four times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in Bolivia than in Australia. Driving in rural areas is particularly hazardous. Roads and vehicles are often poorly maintained. Rural roads often lack adequate lighting and signage. Roads are often shared with pedestrians and livestock.

During winter and early spring, heavy snowfalls and melting snow can cause difficult driving conditions and blocked roads in some areas. Roads to the Uyuni salt plains are often affected.

During the wet season (November to March), the road to Yungas and Beni can be impacted by flooding and landslides.

It is illegal to drive if your blood alcohol level is above zero.

  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Take extra care at night and in rural areas.
  • Allow extra time and be prepared to change your plans if travelling to the Uyuni salt plains during winter or early spring.
  • Allow extra time and be prepared to change your plans if travelling to Yungas or Beni during the wet season.

More information: Road safety and driving

Driver's licence

You can drive in Bolivia with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must get 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. Always wear a helmet.

Taxis

Only use registered taxis and limousines, preferably those arranged through your hotel. Beware of criminals and scams targeting taxi passengers.

Public transport

Public transport can be unsafe due to the poor condition of local roads. Poor driving and vehicle maintenance standards contribute to higher risks on local buses.

  • Avoid public transport where possible.

Boat travel

Vessels used by tourist operators on Lake Titicaca and for river excursions in jungle areas are often basic. Always wear a life jacket, even if others don't.

Air travel

In November 2013, a plane crash at Riberalta airport killed 8 and injured 10 people. Carefully consider the credentials of domestic airlines and the capacity of regional airports to deal with emergencies when choosing to take domestic flights in Bolivia.

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

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

You're required to carry photographic identification at all times. A photocopy of your passport is acceptable.

Activities that are illegal in Bolivia include:

  • removing any item that the Bolivian government considers to be a national treasure (includes pre-Columbian artefacts, certain historical paintings, items of Spanish colonial architecture and history, some native textiles, and certain flora, fauna and fossils)
  • excavation or collection of fossils without prior written authorisation.

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

Bolivia has compulsory military service. If you're an Australian-Bolivian dual national, male and over 18 years of age, you'll be required to complete military service upon arrival in Bolivia. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Bolivia for up-to-date information.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

Seek permission from an adult before taking photographs of people, particularly children and in remote areas.

Homosexual activities aren't illegal in Bolivia but homosexuality isn't widely accepted in Bolivian society.

More information: LGBTI travellers

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

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

More information: Travel insurance

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 considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

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. Carry copies of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Insect-borne diseases

Yellow fever occurs in Bolivia, a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. It is preventable by vaccination.

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

Malaria and dengue fever occur in areas below 2500 metres. Other insect-borne diseases, including Chagas' disease, 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
  • get vaccinated against yellow fever before you travel
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache

More information:

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, tuberculosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks from time to time.

  • Use good hygiene practices including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water in rural areas.
  • Avoid ice cubes in rural areas.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

Altitude sickness

You're at risk of altitude sickness if you are higher than 2,500 metres. The risk is greater if you ascend rapidly, or make rapid ascents at higher altitudes. Altitude sickness can be life-threatening and affect anyone, even if you're physically fit. You're more at risk if you've had altitude sickness before, exercise or drink alcohol before acclimatising to the altitude, or have lung problems.

Many areas of Bolivia are above 2,500 metres, including La Paz (3,660 metres), Salar de Uyuni (3,650 metres), and Lake Titicaca (3,820 metres). If you plan to travel to altitude:

  • see your doctor prior to travel and get advice specific to you and your situation
  • check your insurance covers emergency evacuation from altitude and related medical costs.

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities provided by private hospitals in Bolivia's major cities is reasonable. Outside of major cities, however, facilities can be very limited.

Treatment at private clinics and hospitals is expensive. Hospitals often require up-front payment or confirmation of medical insurance prior to commencing 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 from Bolivia can be expensive and difficult, as many air ambulance services cannot fly into La Paz due to the high altitude.

Natural disasters 

The rainy season is from November to March. Landslides in mountainous areas, blocked roads and flooding are a regular occurrence and can make road travel extremely difficult. Severe flooding and landslides can disrupt transport services and mean airports are closed.

If you're travelling during the rainy season, keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

If you plan to travel to an area affected by severe weather, confirm your transport arrangements before your travel and follow the advice of local authorities

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates.

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 insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24 hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: dial 119
  • Medical emergencies: dial 118 or go direct to the hospital
  • Criminal issues: dial (02) 222 5016 (Tourist police – English spoken), 110 (regular police) or contact the nearest police station.
  • Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

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.

Australia has a Consulate in La Paz headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance and does not issue Australian passports. You can get full consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Lima, Peru.

Australian Embassy, Lima

Avenida La Paz 1049, 10th Floor
Miraflores, Lima, 18, Peru
Phone: +51 1 630 0500
Fax: +51 1 630 0520
Email: consular.lima@dfat.gov.au
Website: peru.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: Australia en Perú y Bolivia
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm

Australian Consulate, La Paz

Av Montenegro # 961
Torre Olimpo, piso 1
San Miguel
La Paz, Bolivia
Mobile: +591 767 68787; +591 706 10626
Email: cristinafernandezm@gmail.com
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9:00am to 12:00noon, except for public holidays

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 or Consulate in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources