Guatemala - Consular Information Sheet
July 13, 2001
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Guatemala has a developing economy,
characterized by wide income disparities. Hotels and other tourist
facilities in areas frequented by visitors from the United States
are generally good. A peace accord, signed in 1996, ended a 36-year
armed conflict. Violent crime, however, is a serious and growing
concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy
of societal violence, and a dysfunctional judicial system.
ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid U.S. passport is
required to enter and depart Guatemala, even though many people,
including some U.S.-based airline employees, mistakenly believe
otherwise. U.S. citizens returning to the United States from Guatemala
are not allowed to board their flights without a valid U.S. passport.
Therefore, U.S. citizens are strongly advised to obtain a U.S.
passport before departing the United States. Certificates of Naturalization,
birth certificates, driver's licenses, and photocopies are not
considered acceptable alternative travel documents. While in Guatemala,
U.S. citizens should carry their passports, or photocopies of
their passports, with them at all times. Minors (under 18) traveling
with a valid U.S. passport need no special permission from their
parents to enter or leave Guatemala. U.S. citizens do not need
a visa for a stay of 90 days or less (that period can be extended
upon application). An exit tax must be paid when departing Guatemala.
U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Guatemala
must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy and present it,
together with a police report of the loss or theft, to Guatemalan
Immigration, Sub-director for Migratory Control, to obtain permission
to depart Guatemala. Guatemalan Immigration is located at 4 Calle
4-37, Zone 9. Their office hours are weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to
4:00 p.m.; telephone 360-8578, 360-8544, 360-8580 or 360-8540.
No fee is charged for this service.
For further information regarding entry, exit and customs requirements,
travelers should contact the
Guatemalan Embassy at 2220 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008;
telephone (202) 745-4952, extension 102; fax (202) 745-1908; e-mail
at email@example.com; Internet
web site - http://www.mdngt.org/agremilusa/embassy.html; or
the Guatemalan consulate in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami,
New York, or San Francisco.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: While violent criminal activity has
been a problem in Guatemala for years, there has been a substantial
increase in criminal violence in 2001, including numerous murders,
rapes, and armed assaults against foreigners. The police force
is young, inexperienced, and under-funded, and the judicial system
is weak, overcrowded, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an
impressive array of weapons, know that there is little chance
they will be caught and punished for their crimes. The following
recommendations will help residents and visitors alike to increase
Avoid gatherings of agitated people. Guatemalan citizen frustration
with crime and a lack of appropriate judicial remedies has led
to violent incidents of vigilantism, including lynchings, especially
in more isolated, rural areas. Attempting to intervene puts one
at risk of attacks from mobs.
Avoid close contact with children, including taking their photographs,
in rural areas with predominantly indigenous populations. Such
contact can be viewed with deep alarm, and may provoke panic and
violence. Foreign tourists have been attacked and killed by mobs,
including a Japanese tourist in the village of Todos Santos in
Keep informed of possible demonstrations by following the local
news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Large demonstrations
occasionally occur throughout Guatemala, where they can cause
serious traffic disruptions. Fortunately, they are usually announced
in advance. While most demonstrations are peaceful, some have
turned violent, and travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations
are taking place.
Take care along Guatemala's Pacific Coast beaches, where strong
currents, riptides, and undertow pose a serious threat to even
the strongest swimmers. Signs warning of treacherous surf are
rare and confined mostly to private beaches owned by hotels. Lifeguards
are rarely present on beaches. See the paragraph on Disaster Preparedness
for information on natural risks to Americans.
More information about tourist security is available from the
Tourist Protection Office of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourist
Board) at 4 Calle 4-37, Zone 9; telephone (502) 331-1333, extensions
241 and 243; fax (502) 331-8893; e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tourist groups may request security assistance from INGUAT, attention:
Mr. Jose Antonio Parada, Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance
Program. The request should be submitted by mail, fax or e-mail
and should arrive at INGUAT at least three business days in advance
of the proposed travel, giving the itinerary, names of travelers,
and model and color of vehicle in which they will be traveling.
CRIME: In recent years, the number of violent crimes reported
by U.S. citizens has increased. Since 2001, there has also been
a shift in patterns of crime. Well-armed gangs that use massive
force routinely shoot up banks and armored cars, with concomitant
casualties. Relatively secure areas, such as the main road to
Lake Atitlan and the Mayan ruins at Tikal, that in the past were
relatively secure are now less safe. Since late 2000, there have
been several armed assaults, robberies and rapes of foreigners
at the Cerro Cahui and Tikal Parks. Emboldened armed robbers have
attacked vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Travel on rural
roads always presents the risk of a criminal roadblock or ambush
around the next bend. Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling
activities can make remote areas especially dangerous.
Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization.
Stay in groups; travel in a caravan consisting of two or more
vehicles, and stick to the main roads. Resist the temptation to
stay in budget hotels, which are clearly more susceptible to crime.
Travel after dark anywhere in Guatemala is extremely dangerous.
Stay in the main tourist destinations. Do not explore back roads
or isolated paths near tourist sites. Pay close attention to your
surroundings, especially when walking or when driving in the capital,
Guatemala City. Refrain from displaying expensive-looking jewelry,
large amounts of money, or other valuable items. Finally, do not
resist an armed assailant.
- Climb the Pacaya and Agua volcanoes near Guatemala City only
in groups; even so, some groups have been assaulted. Tourists
have been targeted by armed robbers while climbing these popular
- Watch out for pickpockets and purse-snatchers in all major cities
and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts
of Zone 1 in Guatemala City. In 2001, criminals have sprayed mustard
on their victim's clothes and then attempted to rob them as they
"helped" clean up the mess.
- Hotel security is an important concern. The U.S. Embassy does
not allow Peace Corps volunteers to stay in hotels in Zone 1 and
urges private travelers to avoid lodging in this area.
- Be alert for carjackers. Expensive sport utility vehicles have
been targets on open roads, while Japanese sedans and pickups
appear to be more at risk in the cities.
- Avoid low-priced inter-city buses (recycled U.S. school buses
known as "chicken buses"), which are a haven for criminals
and susceptible to accidents. Use modern inter-city buses instead.
- Do not hail taxis on the street, but use dispatched taxis or
taxis from major hotels.
- Try to avoid local buses in Guatemala City. They are overcrowded
and harbor criminals.
Exercise caution on the following roads:
- The main road to Lake Atitlan via the Pan-American Highway
(CA-1) and Solola is safer than the alternatives, though periodic
episodes of armed attacks have made caravaning highly recommended.
Violent attacks have been reported consistently on secondary roads
near the lake. There have been several attacks on travelers along
CA-1 near the border with El Salvador as well as along the CA-9
(Pacific) road to El Salvador.
- The newly paved road from the capital to the Peten has been
the site of armed attacks. Therefore, visitors to the Mayan ruins
at Tikal are advised to fly to nearby Flores and then travel by
bus or tour van to the site.
Mayan Ruins: Take care in the Mayan ruins and other tourist
destinations of Peten. Several violent attacks - shootings, rape,
armed robbery - have occurred, including in the Cerro Cahui Conservation
Park, Yaxha, the road to and inside Tikal Park, and even in the
Tikal ruins themselves. No portion of the Tikal ruins is completely
safe, but most criminal activity has taken place in isolated areas
away from the "Plaza Mayor." Under no circumstances
should tourists visit outlying sections of the ruins, such as
Temple VI, where even relatively large groups accompanied by security
guards have been the victims of armed assaults.
- Do not travel overland in the rest of Peten Department. It
is dangerous and not recommended.
- Stay away from remote areas of the South Coast of Guatemala,
which can be dangerous because of alien and narcotics smuggling
activities and piracy.
- Finally, exercise caution in the Rio Dulce area of eastern
Guatemala. Widespread illegal activities, such as narcotics trafficking,
have increased insecurity in this remote area.
Foreign residents of Guatemala have special concerns. Several
American citizen residents have been murdered since December 1999
and none of the cases have been solved. One American citizen was
kidnapped in 2001. In addition, angry mobs have attacked places
of business run by Americans, resulting in injuries and loss of
While Americans often experience frustration with Guatemalan
investigative capabilities, the U.S. Embassy cannot substitute
for a deficient Guatemalan judicial system. Nevertheless, U.S.
citizens who are victims of crime are encouraged to contact the
Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy for advice and assistance.
For a listing of recent crime incidents involving foreigners,
the U.S. Embassy's website, http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala/.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported
immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or
Consulate. Citizens applying for replacement passports will be
asked to present proof of citizenship and identity. Photographic
proof of identity is especially important for young children because
of the high incidence of fraud involving children. Passport replacement
can be facilitated if the traveler has a photocopy of the passport's
data page. American citizens may refer to the Department of State's
Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free
journey. This publication and others, such as Tips
for Travelers to Central and South America, are available
from the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs;
MEDICAL FACILITIES: A full range of medical care is available
in Guatemala City, but medical care outside the city is limited.
Guatemala's public hospitals have experienced serious shortages
of basic medicines and equipment. Care in private hospitals is
generally adequate for most common illnesses and injuries.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges
Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior
to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas
and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical
evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs
incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage
is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do
not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.
However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance
plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including
emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans
should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require
payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical
evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured
travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme
difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your
trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare
provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses
you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric
treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau
of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical
Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available
via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202)
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations
and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international
travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX
(1-888-232-3299); or via CDC's
Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign
country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ
significantly from those in the United States. The information
below concerning Guatemala is provided for general reference only,
and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside/Ambulance Assistance: Fair
Driving in Guatemala requires one's full attention, and safe
drivers must take extraordinary efforts to drive defensively in
order to avoid dangerous situations.
Because of an almost complete lack of law enforcement, traffic
rules are generally ignored. Many drivers do not use their turn
signals to alert other drivers. Instead, a common custom is for
a driver or passenger to stick a hand out the window and wave
it to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action.
Winding and/or steep mountain roads, poorly designed surfaces,
and unmarked hazards present additional risks to motorists.
Common public transportation is by bus, which serves every town
in the country. Criminal activity and frequent fatal accidents,
however, make these "chicken buses" particularly dangerous.
Modern inter-city buses offer some security from highway violence,
but armed attacks on them show that all buses are vulnerable.
While city streets are lit, secondary and rural roads have little
to no illumination. The Inter-American Highway and the road from
Guatemala City to the Atlantic Ocean are especially dangerous
due to heavy traffic, including large trucks and trailers. There
are no roadside assistance clubs and no emergency transit service.
Police patrol the major roadways and may assist travelers. For
roadside assistance, travelers may call the police by dialing
120 or the fire department by dialing 122 or 123. Cellular telephone
service covers most areas frequented by tourists.
Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits
are accepted in Guatemala. Guatemala's road safety authorities
are the Department of Transit and the Joint Operations Center
of the National Police. Drivers use the right-hand side of the
road in Guatemala, and speed limits are posted depending on the
condition of the road. Speed limits are different in rural and
urban areas, but are rarely enforced. Drivers usually drive at
the absolute maximum speed possible for the particular vehicle
at the time. Turning right on red is not permitted unless otherwise
posted, and drivers must yield when entering a traffic circle.
Seat belts must be worn in Guatemala, but there are no laws regarding
the use of child safety seats. It is against the law for drivers
to operate cellular phones while driving.
People found driving under the influence of alcohol or other
drugs are arrested and may serve jail time. In an accident resulting
in injury or death, every driver involved is taken into custody
until a judge determines responsibility in a re-enactment of the
For additional information about road travel in Guatemala, please
U.S. Embassy home page at http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala/.
additional general information about road safety, including links
to foreign government sites, please see the Department of
State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.
For specific information concerning Guatemalan driving permits,
vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please
Guatemalan National Tourist Organization offices via the Internet
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) has assessed the government of Guatemala's civil aviation
authority as Category 2 - not in compliance with international
aviation safety standards for the oversight of Guatemala's air
carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies
are ongoing, Guatemalan air carriers currently flying to the United
States will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional
flights or new service to the U.S. by Guatemala's air carriers
will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted
by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety
standards. For further information, travelers may contact the
Department of Transportation within the U.S. at telephone 1-800-322-7873,
or visit the
FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some
foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air
services. In addition, the DOD does not permit its personnel to
use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business
except for flights originating from or terminating in the United
States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding
the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the
DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S.
citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which
sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States
and may not afford the protections available to the individual
under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe
than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating
Guatemalan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or
imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal
drugs in Guatemala are strict, and convicted offenders can expect
lengthy jail sentences and heavy fines. Those arrested on drug
charges, even for simple possession of very small amounts, can
expect to spend several months in jail before their case is decided.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Non-Guatemalan citizens who marry
in Guatemala are required to provide proof of identity and civil
status (indicating whether they are single or divorced). Prior
notice of the marriage must be given in the Diario Official (Guatemala's
Official Record) and any large circulation daily newspaper for
fifteen days. The marriage must take place within six months of
the publication of the notice.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Guatemala is a geologically active
country. Therefore, visitors should be aware of the possibility
of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and the need for contingency
measures. Occasional eruptions, such as those in January-February
2000 of Pacaya Volcano near Guatemala City, have forced evacuations
of nearby villages and briefly closed Guatemala City's international
airport. The major earthquakes in El Salvador in early 2001 caused
damage, injuries, and deaths in Guatemala, albeit to a much lesser
extent than her neighbor to the east. Both the Caribbean and Pacific
coasts of Guatemala are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical
storms from June through November. Mudslides and flooding during
the May to November rainy season often kill dozens of people and
close roads. General information about natural disaster preparedness
is available via the Internet from the
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: Current information on Guatemalan adoption
procedures and the immigrant visa application process is available
from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. Prospective adoptive
parents are urged to check with the Consular Section to be sure
that their child's adoption is complete before traveling to Guatemala
to apply for their child's immigrant visa. Adoptive parents are
also urged to carry with them complete adoption paperwork when
traveling with their adopted child to, from and within Guatemala.
more information on international adoption of children and international
parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's
Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's issues.html
or telephone (202) 736-7000.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in
or visiting Guatemala are encouraged to register at the Consular
Section of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City and obtain updated
information on travel and security in Guatemala. You may now informally
register with the American
Citizen Services Section via e-mail to email@example.com.
Your registry information should include your complete name, date
and place of birth, U.S. passport number, itinerary, contact information
in both the United States and Guatemala. You may wish to attach
a scanned copy of your U.S. passport and/or e-mail it to your
own address or to someone in the United States. This will enable
you to easily retrieve a copy of your passport to facilitate a
The latest security information is available from the Embassy,
including its website (see below). The Consular Section is open
for citizens services, including registration, from 8:00 a.m.
to 12:00 noon and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. weekdays, excluding U.S.
and Guatemalan holidays. The
U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida La Reforma 7-01, Zone 10;
telephone (502) 331-1541 during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00
p.m.), or (502) 331-8904 for emergencies during non-business hours;
fax (502) 331-0564; Internet web site - http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala/.
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 29,
2001, to update sections on Country Description, Entry and Exit
Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Insurance, Traffic
Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, Disaster Preparedness,
and Registration/Embassy Location.