Drive In Latin America

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I really liked the idea of buying a 4WD so that I could Drive In Latin America with all of the extra freedom that this would provide.

However, it fell into the “too hard basket”. The perceived freedom of movement may not be a reality… It is a lot harder than Driving In Europe.

It is all over the internet that the roads and the drivers are “unpredictable”. I come from a country that drives on the left and I didn’t want to have to take on driving on the right as well as those “uncertainties”.

It would seem travelling Central America in your own car only really seems to work if you are from the USA / Canada.

You cannot drive from Panama through to Colombia; there is no road yet.


It may work if you are from elsewhere but unless you buy in the USA, do a “round trip” and sell in the USA it starts getting too hard.

You can buy a car in the USA  and get the title in your name but this takes about 4 weeks. Title must be in exactly the same name as on your Passport. Then you need to register the car and get plates for it and pay applicable taxes (every state is different). Then you need to get insurance for the USA (Mandatory).

You will need to check whether or not you can get car insurance with the a foreign or international drivers license. You, may need to get a new one in the USA while waiting for Title.


Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama.

Each border will be a process. The vehicle will be in your Passport, so you need to leave each country with the vehicle, or face astronomical taxes, duties and fines, that will be in the thousands of dollars.

Basically, at  each border, you will be temporarily importing the vehicle. Then, when leaving, you will be export it. Then crossing to the next border station/immigration/customs, and temporarily importing it again…

The vehicle will be granted the same amount of time as your Tourist Visa, which is;

  • Belize 30 days;
  • The C-4 Countries (Guatemala-El Salvador-Honduras-Nicaragua) 90 days Total;
  • Costa Rica 90 Days;
  • Panama 180 Days.

So if you plan to dump the car, you can’t.

If you plan to sell it, be prepared to engage a lawyer, spend a few weeks on paperwork and to pay 50-100% of the car’s value in taxes (which they determine the value of – not you… and it won’t be in your favour!).


It’s not safe for a gringo in a USA / Canada plated car. You are inviting trouble.

You must not leave the car unattended with anything in it, it will be stolen. The car must be parked in secure parking at night. You don’t drive at night (as it’s all two lane mountain roads on the main Pan Am Hwy). You need to avoid major cities and capitals as they are congested, confusing and dangerous.

Also, fuel is expensive by USA standards.

It is also best to get an Asian make (like a Toyota) as USA brands are not very common in Latin America and if you have a breakdown you will need parts (unless you are prepared to take spare parts with you of course).


Transport is very cheap in the countries that I am going to. The bus & shuttle network is meant to be cheap, safe and efficient. You really don’t want a car, its a pain, and it makes you a target.

I decided to use Public Transport in Latin America this time.

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