An Illegal Border Crossing into Paraguay

“It wasn’t intentional.  I always learn about learning the entry requirements for every country I visit.  I always mail away my passport or wait in line for hours at the Consulate to get the required visa.  So I am sorry, Paraguay, that I snuck into your country and blatantly disobeyed your border patrol officers.  Sorry.  But everyone else was doing it.

Friendship bridge going to Ciudad de Este in Paraguay

The unchecked masses heading to Paraguay from Brazil

Our trip to Brazil brought my husband and me to Iguazu Falls at the border of Brazil and Argentina.  The plan was to explore the Argentinean side of the Falls for one day, then the Brazilian side the next day.  In trying to map our driving route, we noticed that the border of Paraguay was just a few miles away.  The three countries meet at a “triple frontier” in the middle of the Río Paraná.  To get to the second largest city in Paraguay, Ciudad del Este, all we had to do was cross the Friendship Bridge from Brazil.  How could we not take advantage of being so close to Paraguay?  Why not go to Paraguay for lunch? It would take an hour, tops.

 Triple Frontier: Brazil Paraguay and Argentina Map

 We did a limited amount of research for our little excursion to Paraguay.  We were surprised to find that Ciudad del Este is a tax-free shopping destination for Brazilians.  Paraguay capitalizes on the high cost of goods in Brazil by basically opening their border for the deal-seeking masses.  From what we read, the Paraguayan side of the border was effectively open.  It seemed that customs officials were rarely present at the crossing and if they were there, they were asleep.  The thought of obtaining a visa didn’t even cross our minds.  If they didn’t even care enough to protect their borders, why would they ever require a visa?

After hiking on the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls, we drove back into Brazil, drove to the Friendship Bridge and parked our car about 100 meters from the Immigration checkpoint.  We nodded to man sitting on his stoop to watch our car.  The unspoken agreement here was that he would ensure our car stayed safe while we crossed the border, and in return we would pay him upon our return.

Leaving Brazil was a joke.  The masses just walked on through the border, not even entering the Immigration booth to have their passports stamped for exiting Brazil.  Well, we thought, we’d better play it safe and officially exit the country.  We were in Brazil on a visa – better to not mess this up.  Inside the small office, we were completely alone.  The immigration officer seemed generally surprised to see us.  I bet ours were the first passports she had stamped that day.

The walk across the Friendship Bridge was beautiful.  The river was blue, the trees were a lush green and the wind kept us cool in the 100 degree weather.  Ahead of us, the aesthetically displeasing Ciudad del Este loomed.  It was the scar on the otherwise beautiful landscape.

Río Paraná between Paraguay and Brazil

The beautiful Río Paraná

Husband (in Brazil) on Friendship Bridge with Ciudad del Este

Husband (in Brazil) on Friendship Bridge with Ciudad del Este in Background - Ew

Entering Paraguay, the crowds again just walked right by the immigration office.  Well, we would take this border seriously!  We marched straight up to the counter, presented our passports and chatted to each other about where we could eat lunch.  Was the token KFC too far away?  Did the Americana Mall have a food court?  Should we check out the shopping, too?

“Necesitan visas,” barked the official.  Huh?  Why would we need visas?  No, no, there must be a mistake.  My husband pulled out his American passport in place of his Italian passport, thinking that perhaps being Italian was the issue.  “No!” shouted the official.  He explained to us that we must go to the Paraguayan Consulate in Brazil and obtain a visa for entering Paraguay.  The cost was $55 for each of us, or only $30 for the husband if he used his Italian passport.  What?  So if we had just kept walking and entered like everyone else, we would have been fine, but since we had decided to do the right thing, we could not enter Paraguay?  This didn’t seem fair.

We asked the official what we should do.  The three of us all seemed equally annoyed that we had attempted to enter Paraguay legally.  The official gestured towards the other side of the highway, meaning we should just cross the road and walk back to Brazil.  Well that seemed lame.  Was he going to actually watch us to make sure we left Paraguay?  It didn’t seem likely.  Outside of the office it was chaos: thousands of people, a maze of cars and alleyways filled with stalls selling everything from lighters to flatscreen TV’s.  We could easily get lost here.

So we ignored the immigration official and walked right into Paraguay.

Once inside Ciudad del Este, it didn’t really seem worth it at all.

Shopping and Traffic in Ciudad del Este Paraguay

Shopping and Traffic in Ciudad del Este Paraguay

Shopping stalls in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

More shopping...

Electronics Billboard in Ciudad del Este Paraguay

And lots of billboards ABOUT shopping...

It was crowded, hot and filled with nothing but shopping stalls and malls.  Images of Locked Up Abroad flashed across my mind.  Was seeing all of this crap worth ending up in a Paraguayan jail?  We walked a few hundred feet, trying to locate a restaurant.  Just a quick lunch and we would leave.  No one seemed to be selling food; cheap electronics was more the rage here.  Finally we found the Mona Lisa mall which promised both lunch and air conditioning!  We climbed to the fifth floor, past the designer perfumes, sunglasses and watches, and found a small restaurant serving some strange variation of “European” food.  We shared a delicious meal of beef stroganoff.  The entire time I felt like I was doing something wrong.  We quickly paid the check, which was quoted in US dollars like everything else in the mall, and left.  I found it annoying that they were freely using American currency yet made it so difficult for Americans to get into their country.

Enjoying Lunch in South America

This lunch could have been anywhere...

Walking back to the bridge, I insisted we get our story straight.  You know, in case border police separated us and questioned us.  Should we explain that we hadn’t known to stop at immigration?  That we didn’t know Spanish and didn’t understand the officer on our way into the country?  We were still deciding on our story when we realized we’d accidentally walked behind the immigration office and were already well past the exit checkpoint.  Yes, we had accidentally snuck out of Paraguay!  In this case, sneaking across the border is MUCH easier than doing things legally.  Back in Brazil, we passed through Brazilian customs and immigration.  This was the first required checkpoint of this entire journey.  We were the only travelers entering Brazil without armfuls of tax-free goods from Paraguay.

So was it worth it?  Well, maybe.  I doubt I’ll be extradited back to Paraguay to face charges, so I guess the story alone was worth the stress of “sneaking” across the border.  I also doubt there are many areas in the world where the border is such a joke yet a visa is required.  I also doubt I’ll make it back to Paraguay anytime soon, so I guess something is better than nothing.  Also, it was cool to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different countries that day!”

This is the account of a fictitious traveler who illegally entered Paraguay.  Fascinating story, but as the title suggests, still illegal.  The traveler will remain anonymous in the unlikely event that said traveler wishes to go to Paraguay one day and the immigration officials subscribe to Style Hi Club’s RSS.

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12 Responses to “An Illegal Border Crossing into Paraguay”

  1. Fernao
    February 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Hi. Just found this article by chance on a ramdom search. Had fun reading it!! I’m Brazilian and had some US friends doing somewhat the same. One came into Brazil, without a visa. After a few weeks here, he exited through the same border cross, no to run into trouble here. And 2 other did just like you wrote: went into Paraguayan side w/o its visa. I was along this time… We went in for a few hours and, unlike the above, didn’t even bother stoping at the Paraguay immigration booth. Did coming back into Brazil since thay were with the visas, and were leaving by plane from São Paulo.

    Just as curiosity (and free time) I looked into the Italian issue. I guess the Paraguayn officer was misinformed. Italian passport holders need no visa into Paraguay since the 60’s!!! Checked at the Paraguay Embassy in Rome and its Foreign ministry websites.

    • Anonymous
      February 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments! I find it so fascinating that no one is stopping this, but I guess Paraguay must rely on this crossing for their economy. Still, I am surprised that Brazil does not seem to care so much either.

      I found the same info as you about Italians, so I’m not sure what the problem was. The computer at the immigration office indicated that he would need a visa with an Italian passport, so it must be their whole system is mistaken (or, they are trying to just get money from everyone they can).

      • al
        February 15, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

        Quando a Roma vai, fa’ come vedrai.

      • PaulaRO
        September 16, 2014 at 1:46 am #

        They’re just trying to get money, for sure! The guy at Ciudad del Este (the ferry crossing from Argentina) looked at his computer and claimed that Romania wasn’t an EU member (despite it being written in capital letters at the top of our passports in two languages 😉 ), and so we needed visas, but after we argued for a bit, I guess he gave up on the hopes of getting a bribe, stamped us in, and off we went.

        • StyleHiClub
          September 18, 2014 at 8:36 am #

          Wow, that place is ridiculous!

  2. John
    March 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    Here’s a video of the Puente de la Amistad bridge to Ciudad del Este:

  3. Steve Larkin
    August 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    For those who need a visa to get into Paraguay you can skip the whole process by taking the bus from the main terminal in Foz do Iguacu and taking the “Ciudad del Este” bus directly across the bridge

  4. Micharl J Perry
    December 27, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    Same thing in the Ecuador-Colombia border

  5. dutchpy
    February 4, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    With a lot of amusement, I read your Little story. I am a Dutch engineer living in this beautiful area for some time now. You had a nice experience, and I am very happy for you. Most of all, because you were not caught! Although it seems that border control is not very active, I can assure you that passing the border nearly every 2 km there is a police control. If a police officer would have stopped you, you probably would have ended in jail. Every tourist knows this, or at least is informed. So mostly at the border, people are considered NOT to take such a great risk.

    • StyleHiClub
      February 6, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      I definitely agree with you! We were quite lucky! In this case though, it took a great amount of effort to even find a customs officer or police control.

  6. naquino
    February 6, 2014 at 6:07 am #

    The reason you were the only people to go through the immigration office has to do more with the fact that Brazilians are the vast majority of people crossing the bridge…and they do not need either a visa or a passport. Second, you have to pay for a visa because the international law concept of reciprocity and are lucky it would have cost you only $55 since the US charges a lot more than that for visas. The US dollar is used at Mona Lisa because it is a high-end shopping mall with legal and expensive brand name goods plus its stability as the international reserve currency in comparison to the Brazilian Real, Argentine Peso or Paraguayan Guaraní make it more desirable in all three countries for certain transactions. AS far as beef stroganoff, Brazilians eat a lot of it and again Ciudad del Este caters to the Brazilian market…in fact the majority of entrepreneurs in the area live in Brazil and just work in Ciudad del Este to avoid Brazilian taxes and regulations. Lastly, just like any other border town anywhere in the world the culture is very different than the rest of the country.

    • StyleHiClub
      February 6, 2014 at 9:19 am #

      Thanks for reading! We were definitely lucky, I’ll admit, although there were plenty of non-Brazilians walking across the bridge, too and we were the only ones who stopped. It took a decent amount of time for us to even find the customs official within the office. We would have been happy to pay the reciprocity fee (although as a rule I think such fees will eventually hurt these countries because it makes them unaffordable for Americans, but I do see the point)…but it was actually not possible to pay the fee there – we would have had to obtain a visa at the consulate.
      We did later learn that beef stroganoff is quite popular in that area after we kept seeing it on menus in Argentina and then later in Uruguay! Delicious everywhere.