Guatemala Traveler Information - Travel Advice
Travel Advice with a Travel Advisory overview from the US State Department. Here we cover Visa, Safety & Security, local Laws and Insurance in our Guatemala Traveler Information guide.
At AARDY we can’t recommend travel insurance enough. Whether you are just traveling a few hundred miles from home to see family, or traveling to the other side of the world, travel insurance should be considered an essential part of your holiday packing. The hope is that you won’t have to use your travel insurance, and that you’ll have a fun and enjoyable trip. The following Guatemala Traveler Information should help you make the most of your trip to Guatemala.
Note: Always check that your destination country is one approved for travel by your travel insurance provider.
PASSPORT VALIDITY: 6 months beyond date of entry.
BLANK PASSPORT PAGES: One page per stamp.
TOURIST VISA REQUIRED: Not required for stays of 90 days or less.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY: $10,000.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT: $10,000.
Embassies and Consulates
Avenida Reforma 7-01, Zona 10
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Telephone: +(502) 2326-4000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(502) 2331-2354
Fax: +(502) 2331-3804
Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements
To enter Guatemala you need a U.S. passport with at least six months validity remaining beyond date of entry.
- If your passport is lost or stolen in Guatemala, you must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible and present it together with a police report on the loss or theft to the Guatemalan Immigration Agency (Dirección de Migración) in order to obtain permission to depart Guatemala.
Guatemala is part of the “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Under that agreement, U.S. citizens who legally enter any of those four countries may travel freely among the other three countries for up to 90 days.
If you wish to remain in the CA-4 region for more than 90 days, you must request a one-time extension from local immigration authorities in the country where you are present. If you are, “expelled” from one of the four countries, you are expelled from the entire CA-4 region.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Guatemala.
Safety and Security
Crime: Theft, armed robbery, and carjacking are the most common crimes against U.S. citizens.
- Travelers have experienced carjackings and armed robberies upon leaving the airport. Victims have been violently assaulted when they resisted an attack or refused to give up money or valuables.
- Reports of sexual assault remain high. Support for victims of sexual assault is lacking.
- Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are prevalent in major cities and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts of Zone 1 in Guatemala City. In a common scenario, an accomplice distracts the victim while an assailant slashes or simply steals a bag or backpack.
- The Guatemalan border with Mexico, in particular the northwestern corner of Petén, is a high-risk area due to large scale drug and alien smuggling. There have been instances of narco-related homicides in this area, especially along CA-13.
- Visitors are urged to fly to nearby Flores when visiting Tikal. Travelers should remain in groups, stay on the principal trails leading to the Central Plaza and the Temple IV complex, and avoid remote areas of the park.
To decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim:
- Do not use public ATMs. Only use ATMs inside secure bank lobbies or hotels. Scams involving attempts to acquire a victim’s ATM card and personal identification number (PIN) are common. U.S. citizens have been victims of credit card scams where the card is copied and used improperly.
- Do not display signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive jewelry or watches. Refrain from using a cell phone on the street. A common crime against foreign citizens in Guatemala is robbery of cell phones.
- Carry a photocopy of your passport in case you lose your passport.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Report any crime incidents promptly to the police.
- Do not use local public buses. U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to use any local buses. Public buses are subject to frequent attacks by armed robbers and often are poorly maintained and dangerously driven.
- Do not hail taxis on the street in Guatemala City, instead use radio-dispatched taxis (Taxi Amarillo), INGUAT approved taxis from the “SAFE” stand from the airport or hotel taxis. Uber is also generally safe to use in Guatemala City and Antigua.
- Avoid low-priced public inter-city buses (often recognizable as recycled and repainted U.S. school buses). Travelers also have been attacked on first-class buses on highway CA-2 near the border areas with both Mexico and El Salvador, on highways CA-1 and CA-9 near the border with El Salvador, and in the highlands between Quetzaltenango and Sololá.
Tourist groups are advised to request security escorts. Security escorts for tourist groups are available from INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourism Institute).
- Requests should be directed to the attention of the Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance Program, and should provide the itinerary, names of travelers, and model and color of the vehicle in which they will be traveling.
- 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.
- INGUAT might not be able to accommodate all requests.
- Visit INGUAT’s web site.
Beware of Scams: Extortion calls and grandparent scams are common in Guatemala. For additional information, read our information on International Financial Scams. If in doubt whether a caller is legitimate, call the U.S. Embassy at 011-(502) 2326-4501.
Water Safety: Basic safety measures and precautions for swimming, boating, and other outdoor activities may not be observed in Guatemala.
- Beware of strong currents, riptides, and undertow along Guatemala's Pacific coast beaches, as well as at Lake Atitlan. Lifeguards are rarely present.
- Signs warning of treacherous surf are rare and confined mostly to private beaches owned by hotels.
- Multiple boaters in the Rio Dulce area of the Department of Izabal report having been victims of violent armed attacks while aboard boats.
Potential for Natural Disasters:
- There are four active volcanoes in Guatemala. Volcanic activity has forced evacuations of nearby villages. U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to visit the Agua volcano due to the high incidence of robberies on the volcano.
- Be aware of the possibility of earthquakes at any time and make contingency plans.
- Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Guatemala are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms from mid-May through November.
- Mudslides and flooding during the May to November rainy season often kill dozens of people and close roads.
- Consult Guatemala’s National Disaster Reduction Coordination Office (CONRED) for updates on natural disasters or tropical storms and hurricanes.
Demonstrations: Large demonstrations occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no advance notice, and can cause serious traffic disruptions. Although most demonstrations are peaceful, they can turn violent, and travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place.
Indigenous Areas: Be mindful of local traditional practices when visiting indigenous Mayan communities as tensions can rise quickly and locals occasionally take the law into their own hands.
- Particularly in small villages, residents are often wary and suspicious of outsiders.
- Avoid activities that might unintentionally violate a cultural or religious belief.
- In the past, Guatemalan citizens have been lynched for suspicion of child abduction. Keep a distance from local children and refrain from actions that could fuel such suspicions.
Victims of Crime: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police using 110/220 and the U.S. Embassy at (502) 2326-4000. Victims of crime can also contact the fire department at 122/123 or the tourist police at 1500.
Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
See our webpage on help for U.S. victims of crime overseas.
- help you find appropriate medical care
- assist you in reporting a crime to the police
- contact relatives or friends with your written consent
- explain the local criminal justice process in general terms
- provide a list of local attorneys
- provide our information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.
- provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution
- help you find accommodation and arrange flights home
- replace a stolen or lost passport
Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.
Tourism: The tourism industry is unevenly regulated, and safety inspections for equipment and facilities do not commonly occur. Hazardous areas/activities are not always identified with appropriate signage, and staff may not be trained or certified either by the host government or by recognized authorities in the field. In the event of an injury, appropriate basic medical treatment is typically available only in/near major cities. First responders may encounter obstacles to accessing areas outside of major cities, and/or be unable to provide urgent medical treatment. U.S. citizens are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.
Local Laws & Special Circumstances
Criminal Penalties: You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Arrest notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately.
Faith-Based Travelers: See the following webpages for details:
- Faith-Based Travel Information
- International Religious Freedom Report – see country reports
- Human Rights Report – see country reports
- Best Practices for Volunteering Abroad
LGBTI Travelers: While there is no legal recognition of same-sex partnerships or marriages, private same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults is legal.
- Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- There is general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing.
- According to LGBTI rights groups, gay and transgender individuals often experience police abuse. LGBTI rights groups allege that police officers regularly engage in extortion by waiting outside clubs and bars frequented by LGBTI persons to demand that those engaged in sexual activities pay protection money or pay to avoid jail.
- A lack of trust in the judicial system and a fear of further harassment or social recrimination discourage victims from filing complaints.
- See our LGBTI Travel Information page and section 6 of our Human Rights report for further details.
Travelers Who Require Accessibility Assistance: Except for major hotels, some government buildings and major museums that have access ramps for people with disabilities, most buildings remain inaccessible. Mayan ruins such as Tikal do not provide access for disabled people.
Women Travelers: Women should be especially careful when traveling alone. See our travel tips for Women Travelers.
Customs: Guatemalan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Guatemala of items such as antiquities and other cultural property.
- Declare any amount of cash exceeding 10,000 USD that you bring into the country or the money may be confiscated by the authorities.
- Contact the Embassy of Guatemala in Washington, D.C. or one of Guatemala’s consulates in the United States for specific information..
The full range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside of the city is limited. Guatemala’s public hospitals frequently experience serious shortages of even the most basic medicines and equipment. Care in private hospitals is generally adequate for most common illnesses and injuries, and many of the medical specialists working in them are U.S.-trained and -certified.
We do not pay medical bills. Many hospitals in Guatemala require payment prior to treating patients, even if personal insurance will cover the treatment. They do not typically enter into payment plan agreements. Be aware that U.S. Medicare does not cover you overseas.
Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage. We strongly recommend supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.
Carry prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor’s prescription.
The following diseases are prevalent:
Vaccinations: Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Further health information:
Travel and Transportation
Road Conditions and Safety: Road hazards are common. Be vigilant of pedestrians who unexpectedly dart across roads due to the lack of defined crosswalks.
Secondary and rural roads have little to no illumination. U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from outside the city at night. Embassy employees are also prohibited from driving from or through Mexico to Guatemala for transit purposes.
- Robberies of occupied vehicles are common in Guatemala City. Often two assailants on motorcycles pull up alongside a car stopped at a traffic light.
- There have been numerous reports of violent criminal activity along Guatemala’s main highways, including the Carretera a El Salvador (Inter-American Highway CA-2). The Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast (CA-9) are especially dangerous both day and night, due to heavy traffic, including large trucks and trailers.
- Stay on main roads when traveling to and from Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Secondary roads in those areas are poorly maintained and have experienced higher incidents of robbery, rape, and armed assault.
- Armed attacks have occurred on roads between Guatemala City and the Petén region as well as between Tikal and the Belize border.
Roadside Assistance: PROVIAL, a roadside assistance force, patrols most of the major highways in the country. PROVIAL can be contacted by calling 2419-2121. Travelers may also call the police for roadside assistance by dialing 110 or 120 or the fire department by dialing 122 or 123. However, patrols are sporadic.
Traffic Laws: Valid U.S. driver’s licenses are accepted for the first 30 days of a visit, and international driving permits are accepted for extended stays.
Laws and speed limits are often ignored, turn signals are rarely used, and passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common.
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.
All drivers involved in accidents resulting in injury may be detained and held in protective custody pending investigation or payment of alleged damages.
Public Transportation: The most common form of public transportation is the system of bright red recycled school buses. Criminal activity and frequent fatal accidents, however, make these low-priced local and inter-city buses particularly dangerous.
Use of radio-dispatched taxis is far safer than hailing taxis on the street. In Guatemala City several radio taxi companies operate.
- Taxi Seguro can be reached at 2312-4243.
- Taxi Amarillo Express (yellow taxis) is a radio-dispatch taxi service reached by dialing 1766.
- A Green Cab radio dispatch service operates in the suburbs near zone 15 and the Cayala entertainment and shopping destination.
- The Guatemalan tourist assistance agency, PROATUR, may be able to provide additional information and can be reached by dialing 1500.
Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Guatemala’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Guatemala’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
Maritime Travel: Mariners planning travel to Guatemala should also check for U.S. maritime advisories and alerts. Information may also be posted to the U.S. Coast Guard homeport website, and the NGA broadcast warnings.
For additional travel information
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Call us in Washington, D.C. at 1-888-407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1-202-501-4444 (from all other countries) from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
- See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution and Travel Advisories.
- Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
- See traveling safely abroad for useful travel tips.
International Parental Child Abduction
Review information about International Parental Child Abduction in Guatemala. For additional IPCA-related information, please see the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (ICAPRA) report.”