Double check before you cross

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The above photo (our own by the way, just like all the other photos on this website!) is of the surprising modern bridge connecting the towns of Posadas (Argentina) and Encarnacion (Paraguay) over the impressive Rio Parana. The Photo was taken from the Paraguayian side.

Before you leave on a long trip to South America or similar, it is essential that you double check whether you have everything you will need. The following was written for someone doing the same as what we did, i.e. a South African going to South America travelling with a South African registered vehicle.

  • Credit Cards
    • Visa is accepted just about everywhere, Mastercard is not so popular.
    • Make sure you have at least 2 Visa Cards, just in case you loose one, or it becomes inactive. In my case the ATM in Buenos Aires Aiport gobbled my card a few minutes after we landed from South Africa at the start of our 2nd trip. If we only had one card we would have been in serious trouble. When we were camped in Salta in Argentina the Dutch couple next to us had been in the camp site for almost 2 weeks waiting for their replacement card to arrive from the Netherlands. Therefore both Hanlie and I each take 2 Visa Credit Cards.
    • Let your bank know before you leave South Africa where you will be travelling so that they can activate you card for those countries.
  • Cash
    • Take sufficient cash in USD as a back-up. There will be instances where your card will either not work or not accepted.
    • You also need to take the transaction slip from the bank where you have bought the USD with you. Customs often insists that you declare the amount of foreign currency in your posession and, although we have not eperienced this, they may want to see the slip.
  • Passports & Yellow Fever sertificates
    • It does not happen often in South America, but you are sometimes asked for your Yellow Fever Certificate. When departuring from Lima for South Africa at the end of our 3rd trip, the lady in front us in the que at the check-in counter was refused because she did not have a certificate with her. No amount of crying or shouting could convince the airline staff to let her onto the flight.
    • Check you certificates from time to time to make sure they are still current.
  • Car Registration Papers and insurance
    • You obviously will require your car registration certificate.
    • Make a few colour copies and use these, keep the original in your car’s safe. We have made almost 30 border crossings and passed through numerous police checkpoints in South America. Up to now no-one has asked for the original.
    • Also take the most recent licence certificate. When crossing from Brazil into Uruguay customs insisted on seeing a proof of address and this one can find in the top left hand corner of the licence certificate (the A4 size paper from where you cut out the round disk itself). There is no address on the vehicle registration certificate.
    • Know where the chasis, engine and number plate numbers are located on the certificate. The custom official at the boder post will never have seen such a strange certificate and will in all probability also not be able a word of English. So when he/she asks you for the “Matrícula del vehículo”, you will have to point to the place on the registration paper where the number for the number plate is shown.
    • One cannot insure a South African registered vehicle in another country (or rather we have not found out how to do this). So our vehicle is uninsured, except for a third party insurance that you must take out locally and which covers the other vehicle incase of an accident. This 3rd party insurance is compulsory.
    • You must get an intenational driver’s licence (AA licence) before you go, this applies to both of you – see self-suffiency below.
  • Cell phones, data and staying in touch
    • Nowadays a cell phone is such an integral part one’s survival kit (see here for the various apps that we use), that it will be almost impossible to complete your trip without one. Therefore it is preferable that you take at least a spare cell phone between 2 people, just in case you loose it, it gets stolen or you drop into a river like Hanlie did during our first trip.
    • It is also essential that you have a plan B for your doing your banking should something go wrong with your phone.
    • You will probably not be able to access voice messages when out of the country, it is therefore essential that you change the recorded message on your phone accordingly before you leave.
    • Let your cell provider know that you will be in a foreign country and request that they activate roaming on your package. Remember to do this before you leave South Africa, you cannot do this once you are out of the country already.
    • Roaming data costs are prohibitive. You will therefore have to disable data roaming for the duration of your trip. But in case of an emergency you can obviously enable this feature for a short while.
    • In most of South America Wifi is more readily available than what we are used to in South Africa. Virtually all hostels, hotels, restuarants and most filling stations will have free Wifi. In many towns you can find free Wifi on the town square, although this is often very slow. Most travellers therefore rely on Wattsup to stay in contact with friends and family at home. If you have registered for roaming with you cell provider you will also receive sms’s on the go.
    • It is a very good idea to have a phone that allows you make Wifi-Calling (the phone must have this feature and so must the provider – not all providers do). This is very handy when you have Wifi for making at call to a landline number back in South Africa, e.g. for stolen credit cards, your bank etc. The cost of such a Wifi-call is the same as for a normal cellphone call in South Africa.
    • In South America the ability to purchase a local sim varies from country to country. In some countries it is very easy, you can do this over the counter without any questions being asked. In other countries it is more difficult. We purchase a local sim whenever possible and insert this into a portable 3/4G Wifi dongle so that we have Wifi in the car while within cellphone reception. We then take this sim card out and put it into one of cellphones when we need to make a local call, e.g. to make a reservation or in case of an emergency (although we have not yet needed this).
    • For this reason it is also a good idea to have a cellphone that can take dual sim cards.
    • Also remember to install enough charging points for all devices in your car so that you can charge on the go.
  • Self-sufficiency
    • It is essential that both travelling partners are able to travel and operate on their own. In Monte Video, while celebrating the end of our 3rd trip with a big steak (those steaks are biggg and juicy) and some wine, I had a black-out and literally fell off the bar chair ending up on the floor. Luckily I regained consciousness after about 10 seconds, but had this not been the case and had I ended up in some Spanish speaking mortuary (or hospital if I was luckier) Hanlie would have had to make do on her own. Therefore, your travelling partner must:
      • Know the pin numbers for all credit cards.
      • Know how to access all bank accounts and how to transfer money from one account to another in case of an emergency, e.g. from a savings to a current account.
      • Know where all papers are kept and what they entail, such as medical insurance, car registration papers etc, and what the procedures and contact numbers are in case of an emergency.
      • Both partners must have international drivers licences and must be comforatble with driving in those circumstances. Driving with a right hand steered vehicle on the wrong side of the road while keeping one eye on the navigation device takes some getting used to, especially in heavy traffic, so it is best to for both to practise this during the trip.
    • Other
      • South Afican’s do not need visas for most South American countries. Bolivia, French Guiana and recently Columbia are the exceptions.
      • you must take out medical insurance and have the certificate available.
      • Make a few copies of all your travel documents, insurance etc and keep them in the safe. of your car.
      • Although not often asked for, take a few passport photos.
      • You must buy your travel adaptor/s in South Africa. to accommodate a variety of electrical plugs that you will encounter over there. An “all-in-one plug adaptor” works best.
      • Remember all chargers and cables!

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