Last Updated on September 10, 2020

The Low-Down

The CA-4 visa allows visitors 90 days in 4 Central American countries; Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. That is 90 days total, in one of the countries, or 90 days total in any combination of the 4 countries, regardless of which CA-4 country one enters first.
If you plan on spending enough time in these places – we recommend you do – then it may become crucial that you leave the CA-4 bloc in order to return again in a few days, along with a fresh 90 day allowance. Yes, it is that easy! We did it and we are here to tell you how.

Our Plan

This post will deal with our route into Tapachula, Mexico (Non CA-4 country) from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (CA-4 country). In a few hours we made our way from Quetzaltenango, via Retalhuleu, to the border between Mexico and Guatemala. This brings you to the frontier town of Tecun Uman, Guatemala, which bakes on the banks of Rio Suchiate.

Your reset button on the CA-4 visa is just across the bridge. We did read online that you could do this in a day if you wanted to, owing to the lack of concern from border officials. Our timing was such that Mexico was coming up on their celebrations for Day of the Dead, and quite frankly we missed being in Mexico. Our choice was to stay for 3 days, which we recommend in order to avoid any possible hassle.

A bicycle towing a wagon while crossing the bridge from Guatemala into Mexico.
The Border Bridge Between Guatemala and Mexico

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Border

To save further bother, keep in mind that Guatemala must stamp you out of the CA-4 bloc. Your Drifters did not realize that and as a result we were in Mexico illegally for about 20 minutes! Now there is a story for back home in the States! Mexico was fine with this and sent us back over the bridge to Guatemala for the proper stamp. Guatemala did not seem at all shocked that we were walking back into the country for a few minutes to receive the exit stamp they should have given us and we should have known to ask for.

As all of this was happening, we noticed makeshift rafts being launched across the river, just below the bridge and those ever-so vigilant border officials. These rafts seemed to be smuggling gas from one country to the other. Due to all these smuggling operations going on, it seemed perfectly normal that nobody would have any problem with our illegal status while we were between those 2 countries at that moment!

Two makeshift rafts crossing the border river between Mexico and Guatemala.
Smuggling Operations Between Guatemala and Mexico

Order Is Now Restored

Once across you present yourself to the officials in Mexico (Again!) and step out into the central square of Ciudad Hidalgo, where you will find a few hotels and services should you choose to hole up for a few days in order to let all that fresh ink in your passport dry out.

Ciudad Hidalgo is very clean and tidy compared to what is on offer across the river in Tecun Uman. Our choice brought us to the big city of Tapachula, which was about 45 minutes away by bus. We were hoping this would be a better place to enjoy the Day of the Dead celebrations.

Another 90 Days

We had a blast in Tapachula for 3 days, but it was time to head back to Guatemala. This crossing back over the river was looking to be much more smooth, up to the point where the Guatemalan border agent asked us for the unofficial border fee of 10 Quetzales. Just ask for a receipt and the fee will suddenly become dropped. The agent will stamp you in to Guatemala for 90 days, which means 90 days in any CA-4 country. Keep in mind there should be a handwritten notation of 90 days within the Guatemala stamp in your passport.

Should you find yourself crossing from, say, Guatemala into Honduras, make for certain that the border bosses in Honduras give you the remaining days you have left in the CA-4, based on when you entered the CA-4 region. So, if you enter Guatemala on November 1st and then you enter Honduras on November 15th, after spending 15 days in Guatemala, you should be given a total of 75 days in Honduras. That is your 90 days minus the 15 days in Guatemala.

If you visit other CA-4 countries, keep an eye on how long each of the other border agents give you, which will again be handwritten in your passport. This needs to be figured out based on when you entered the CA-4. So in our example of November 1st, that will be the basis for how long you have left in any of the CA-4 countries. Sometimes the agents at the borders will make an error in their math, either by design or mistake.

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