It’s the quintessential fear of anyone who visits Peru as a tourist: What do I do if I overstay my tourist visa? Violating immigration law tends to conjure up horrifying scenarios that end with you in some 3rd world prison praying for a lawyer that speaks your language. Fret not, bold traveler, you have plenty of options at your disposal.
Lots of people overstay their visa for various reasons. This usually happens because Peru attracts thousands of backpackers and hippie types that don’t travel on any defined schedule. When you live life by the seat of your pants you don’t pay close attention to the calendar. But problems can always arise. Flight delays, illnesses or accidents, even inconveniences like getting robbed can happen to anyone.
You really only have two options when it comes to handling your tourist visa situation.
Pay $1 for every day you overstay
Peruvian law is extremely lax for tourists. You get between 30 and 183 days when you arrive, depending mostly on your Spanish skills and your immigration officer’s mood. Generally if you show some proof of return travel you’ll get the days you need, and they typically round up to the nearest 30 days. This number is scribbled on the stamp in your passport as well as on your Immigration Card.
Every day you spend over the limit will cost you $1. You’ll have to pay this in cash before you receive an exit stamp and are permitted to leave.
In the good ole days the price was, like most things in Peru, negotiable, especially if you had a large amount. The Ecuador border used to be the canteen on Mos Eisley, but now it’s cleaned up its act. Jorge Chavez airport runs a tight ship these days. Little birds chirp that your best bet to dodge a big bill is on the Chilean border or the border with Bolivia, though you’ll need a visa for that one. Speaking of other countries, let’s talk about your second option.
Border hop before you overstay
Big thanks to reader Tristan for pointing out that new laws limit your tourist visa to 183 days per year. This post has been updated to reflect this.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing wrong with crossing the border and turning right around to get a new visa. It might raise an eyebrow or two, but there’s actually no established law against it. The problem is that if you’re in Lima the borders are far away, and it may not be as effective anymore.
Peruvian laws are in a constant state of flux as Peru tries to get its collective crap together. Last year, a new rule was implemented that makes tourist visas cumulative with an upper limit of 183 days per year. So if you got a 90 day visa, you could border hop, but you would not be able to get more than 93. Now, in Peru many things are flexible. Laws are little more than suggestions, but keep this in mind if you consider border hopping.
The cheapest option would be to take a bus to border towns Tacna (Chile) or Tumbes (Ecuador). You can shoestring it for about $40-50 each way, urinating in the hot sand as your bus has no bathroom. But honestly flights are roughly the same price as a good round-trip bus and take 1/12th the time.
Once you’re there you can take another bus to the next city over, stopping at the border. Another option is to find a taxi driver that can take you there and back. This can be a great way to get things done, as they will often know people at the border and facilitate the whole process for you. Hotel concierges are good resources for this sort of thing. One thing I love about Peruvians is that they love nothing more than hooking you up with their web of contacts.
To overstay, or not to overstay?
Ultimately this is the question you have to answer. There aren’t any consequences outside the financial ones for overstaying your visa. Some fear that overstaying might cause immigrations to deny you entry if you returned to Peru, but I have never heard of a single case of this, and it seems unlikely given the need for your tourism dollars.
So do the math: How much will a border hop cost versus the $1 per day? Then decide what’s best.