COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Guatemala is a developing country characterized by wide income disparities. Violent crime is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence, and weak law enforcement and judicial systems. Spanish is the official and most commonly spoken language. Please read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Guatemala for additional information on U.S. – Guatemala relations.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Guatemala, please take the time to tell our embassy about your trip. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
Embassy of the United States in Guatemala
Avenida Reforma 7-01, Zona 10, Guatemala Ciudad, Guatemala
Telephone: (502) 2326-4000 during embassy business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Thursday and 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 pm. Friday).
Emergency after-hours telephone: (502) 2331-2354
Facsimile: (502) 2331-3804
Internet website: http://guatelama.usembassy.gov
Other emergency numbers:
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A valid U.S. passport is required for all U.S. citizens to enter Guatemala and to depart Guatemala for return to the United States, regardless of age. Even if dual nationals are permitted to enter Guatemala on a second nationality passport, U.S. citizens returning to the United States from Guatemala are not allowed to board their flights without a valid U.S. passport. Certificates of Naturalization, birth certificates, driver's licenses, and photocopies are not accepted by Guatemalan authorities as alternative travel documents. While in Guatemala, U.S. citizens should carry a photocopy of their passports with them at all times due to the high rate of passport theft and leave the original passport in a safe place.Visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (Spanish only) website for the most current visa information.
An exit tax must be paid when departing Guatemala by air. The exit tax (currently $30) is generally included in an airline ticket price, but may be charged separately. There is an additional airport security fee (currently 20 quetzales, or approximately $2.60) that all travelers must pay at the airport.
Minors under 18 years old traveling with a valid U.S. passport do not need special permission from their parents to enter or leave Guatmala.
U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less. That period can be extended for an additional 90 days upon application to Guatemalan immigration. (If the initial period of stay granded upon entry is less than 90 days, any extension would be granted only for the same number of days as the initial authorization.) There is a fine of 10 quetzales, or approximately $1.30, for each day that a traveler overstays his/her permission to be in Guatemala, which must be paid directly to the Guatemalan Immigration Agency. (U.S. citizens born in Guatemala are currently exempted from this fine.)
In June 2006, Guatemala entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at immigration checkpoints. U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals who legally enter any of the four countries may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries. Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days. Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required either to request a one-time extension of stay from local immigration authorites in the country where the traveler is physically present, or to travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region. Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countires are excluded from the entire CA-4 region. In isolated cases, a lack of clarity in the implementation of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to travelers. U.S. citizens who are also citizens of another country and who choose to travel within the CA-4 region using their non-U.S. passport should consult in advance with the appropriate regional authorities regarding visa requirements within the CA-4 zone.
A U.S. citizen whose passport is lost or stolen in Guatemala 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), Sub-Director for Migratory Control ( Sub-director de Control Migratorio ) in order to obtain permission to depart Guatemala. The agency is located in Guatemala City at 6a Avenida 3-11, Zone 4. Office hours are weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; the telephone number is 2411-2411. No fee is charged by Guatemalan immigration for this service.
For further information regarding entry, exit and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Guatemalan Embassy at 2220 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 745-4953, extension 102; fax (202) 745-1908. Visit the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry website, or contact the nearest Guatemalan consulate. (Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Providence, Phoenix or San Francisco).
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Guatemala. Neither a medical certificate nor an HIV test result is required when entering the country. Foreigners with a known HIV infection are not subject to specific residence regulations. There are no regulations regarding the control, deportation or expulsion of those concerned.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on the U.S. State Department’s travel website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The U.S. Department of State rates the risk/threat of violent crime in Guatemala as “critical”. The Embassy has no reason to believe that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted, although criminals in Guatemala may assume that U.S. citizens and their relatives have more money than average Guatemalans. Longer-term residents and dual nationals are more likely to become victims of serious crimes, as they are more likely to venture outside of predominantly tourist areas. Tourists seem to be largely shielded from the worst of the violence, and instead are targeted principally by pickpockets and purse-snatchers. HoweverU.S. tourists have also been victims of rapes, physical assaults, armed robberies and murders. For example, in February 2013, a female U.S. citizen reported being attacked by two men armed with a machete while walking on the road from San Pablo to San Juan at Lake Atitlan at 11:30 a.m.
The number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners has remained high and such crimes have occurred even in areas of Guatemala City once considered safe, such as Zones 10, 14 and 15. Additionally, the Peace Corps has designated areas of the country with particularly high incidents of crime “off-limits” to Peace Corps volunteers. Due to large scale drug and alien smuggling, the Guatemalan border with Mexico (and in particular the northwestern corner of Petén) is a high-risk area. The border areas including the Sierra de Lacandon and Laguna del Tigre National Parks are among the most dangerous areas in Guatemala. The U.S. Embassy takes extra precautions when U.S. government personnel travel to the region.
HOMICIDES: The Government of Guatemala’s official release on crime statistics for the period January through June of 2013 showed a total of 2,736 murders, compared to a total of 2,449 over the same period in 2012, for an increase of 11%. This comes to a projected total of 5,472 murders for 2013 and makes Guatemala one of the more dangerous countries in the world. While the vast majority of murders do not involve foreigners, the sheer volume of activity means that local officials find it difficult to cope with the problem. Since December 2008, 31 murders of U.S. citizens have been reported in Guatemala, including six in 2011. In 2012, six U.S. citizens were the victims of murder or attempted murder, three of which occurred in November and December.
MISSING PERSONS: At the same time the murder rate has decreased, the number of reported missing persons’ cases increased 156 percent from 2009 to 2012. In separate incidents in October and November of 2012, the families of two U.S. citizen males reported them missing. To date, their whereabouts have not been determined.
KIDNAPPING: During the first six months of 2013, there were a total of 24 reported kidnappings, compared to a total of 44 during the same period in 2012. Gang members are often well armed with sophisticated weaponry and have been known to use massive amounts of force to extort, kidnap and kill. Such events have occurred in Guatemala City and rural Guatemala. There have been “express” kidnappings in recent years, primarily in Guatemala City, in which kidnappers demand a relatively small ransom that they believe can be quickly gathered. U.S. citizens, although not specifically targeted, have been kidnap victims. Some kidnapping gangs are known to kill their victims whether or not the ransom is paid. In January 2012, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Santa Rosa and was reportedly killed when kidnappers did not get the demanded ransom. In August 2012, kidnappers seized a 17-year-old in Chiquimula; the child was eventually returned. In September 2013, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped while visiting family and was held for ransom for approximately two weeks before she was able to escape. In February, 2013, a 19-year-old dual U.S.–Guatemalan citizen female was kidnapped in a suburb of Guatemala City; she was released after 5 days in captivity. In total, six U.S. citizens were reported kidnapped in 2012, compared with three kidnappings in 2011, though it is important to keep in mind that many kidnappings are not reported to the authorities.
SEXUAL ASSAULTS: According to Guatemalan crime statistics, reports of sexual assault have increased dramatically in recent years. Women should be especially careful when traveling alone and avoid staying out late without an escort. Support for victims of sexual assault is lacking outside of major cities, and there are not enough trained personnel who can help victims either in the capital or outlying areas. Several U.S. citizens have been raped in Guatemala in recent years. Arrest and prosecution of assailants in sexual assault cases is uncommon at best and can be more difficult without private legal assistance.
CELL PHONE ROBBERIES: Reports of cell phone robberies received by the Guatemalan Telecommunications Superintendency (SIT) increased 40 percent from 2011 to 2012, with most of these robberies taking place by force or the threat of force. That translates into 142,745 cell phones in 2012, or one cell phone taken every four minutes. It is likely that some of the increase is due to an increase in reporting. Current data from the Government of Guatemala indicates that from January through July of 2013 approximately 10,500 cellular phones were stolen per month. In response, in September 2013 the Government of Guatemala passed new legislation punishing the theft of cellular phones by up to 15 years in prison and up to a $30,000 fine.
PERSONAL ROBBERIES: Theft, armed robbery, and carjacking are the most common problems encountered by U.S. citizens who visit Guatemala. No area of the city is immune to daytime assaults, including the upscale shopping, tourist, and residential areas of zones 10, 14, 15, and 16 in Guatemala City. Street robberies of pedestrians and motorists occur daily; in most instances these result only in the loss of cell phones, other small electronics, or cash, and do not turn violent unless the victims resist.
Robberies from occupied vehicles are becoming more common. A particularly troubling pattern is the use of motorcycles for armed robbery. Typically, two men on a motorcycle accost the driver of a car and demand the driver’s cell phone. Guatemalan law now mandates that only the operator is allowed on the motorcycle. The law also says that the motorcycle license plate must be printed on a sticker which is affixed to the back of the motorcycle driver's helmet. However, criminals in Guatemala have adapted tactics to include more than one motorcycle..
Leaving cars unattended in parking lots of fast food franchises can also invite break-ins in spite of the presence of armed guards. Make sure you leave the car just long enough to complete the meal.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are prevalent in major cities and tourist sites. Those who offer no resistance when confronted by armed thieves are usually not hurt. There have been numerous reported incidents of bank patrons being robbed outside banks after withdrawing large sums of money, suggesting possible complicity of bank personnel on the inside.
Some recent reports of highway robberies include accusations that police, or assailants dressed as police, have been involved. A few have included sexual assaults of victims.
RESIDENTIAL BREAK-INS: Home invasions by armed groups occur from time to time in upscale neighborhoods. Thieves gain access by enticing a resident to open the door for a delivery or by rushing in when family or staff open the door. Residential crime rates for the first four months of 2013 were down 8 percent compared to the same period in 2012.
FINANCIAL SCAMS: Extortion calls are commonplace, and many times originate within prisons. In recent years, the number of extortions has risen dramatically. In most cases, reporting the attempt to the police, changing the phone number and not responding to the threats will resolve the matter. However, cases involving gang members must be taken seriously as many gang members will not hesitate to back up their threats with violence.
GRANDPARENT SCAMS: There has been a recent increase in scams in which grandparents or older people receive phone calls claiming that their grandchildren or other young relatives have been arrested and are in custody in Guatemala. Typically the caller will claim that the grandchild (or other relative) urgently needs money for bail or for bribes (usually about $2,000). Before sending any money, recipients of the calls are urged to contact the grandchild in question (who most likely is not in Guatemala and may never have been) or the child’s parents to make sure you are not being scammed. If in doubt, call the U.S. Embassy at 011-(502) 2326-4501. Do not call the number the callers give you, as it will only help them reinforce the scam by having fictitious embassy officials answer the phone. For additional information, please read our information on International Financial Scams.
VEHICLE THEFTS: Carjackings and vehicle thefts continue to be a serious problem. There has also been a marked increase in commercial vehicle robberies over the past several years. Particularly attractive to thieves are trucks carrying shipments of electronics or gasoline.
DEMONSTRATIONS: Large demonstrations occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no 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. The use of roadblocks and/or blocking of public facilities, including the international airport, has increased and demonstrators may prevent tourists caught behind the blockades from leaving. When acts of violence are particularly severe, such as those caused by drug traffickers in the Petén region, a state of siege can be declared by the authorities. That likely means a curfew will be set and increased police patrols in the areas affected. Public gatherings and permission to carry weapons also may be restricted. U.S. citizens traveling through these places should be very cautious, cooperate with the authorities and stay indoors after the curfew.
COUNTERFEIT GOODS: U.S. citizens are advised not to purchase counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
SUSPICION OF OUTSIDERS: Guatemala is a country with many different and firmly held local beliefs and customs. Particularly in small villages, residents are often wary and suspicious of outsiders. In the past, Guatemalan citizens have been lynched for suspicion of child abduction, so we recommend that U.S. citizens keep a distance from local children, and refrain from actions that could fuel such suspicions. In addition, U.S. citizens are advised to be aware of and avoid activities that might unintentionally violate a cultural or religious belief. The following recommendations will help residents and visitors alike to increase their safety:
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The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.
CRIME AND SAFETY TIPS: To decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim, do not display items of value such as laptops, iPods, tablet computers, cameras, or jewelry and refrain from using a cell phone on the street. Carry a photocopy of your passport when out and about to avoid losing it during a robbery. The Embassy discourages its employees from carrying large sums of money. Do not resist if you are being robbed. Victims have been killed when they resisted attack or refused to give up their money or other valuables. Assailants are often armed with guns and do not hesitate to use them if you resist.
Emboldened armed robbers have attacked vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Travel on rural roads increases the risk of being stopped by a criminal roadblock or ambush. Widespread narcotics and alien-smuggling activities make remote areas especially dangerous. There is no evidence that U.S. citizens are specifically targeted, although an appearance of wealth could increase the chances that you might become a focus of attention for criminal gangs. Criminals look for any opportunity to strike, so all travelers should remain constantly vigilant.
U.S. Embassy personnel observe heightened security precautions in Guatemala City and throughout the country:
A number of travelers have experienced carjackings and armed robberies after just having arrived on international flights, most frequently in the evening. In the most common scenario, tourists or business travelers who land at the airport after dark are held up by armed men as their vehicle departs the airport, but similar incidents have occurred at other times of the day. Private vehicles, taxis and shuttle buses have all been targeted. Typically, the assailants steal money, passports, and luggage, and in some but not all cases, the assailants steal the vehicle as well. In some cases, assailants have been wearing full or partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating that some elements of the police might be involved. Armed robberies have occurred within minutes of a tourist’s vehicle having been stopped by the police. Recently, many of these attacks have taken place far from the airport, just as travelers were arriving at their homes, or in less busy areas of the city. Victims who did not resist the attackers were not physically injured.
Security escorts for tourist groups and security information are available from the Tourist Assistance Office (PROATUR) of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourism Institute) at 7a Avenida 1-17. Zona 4, Centro Civico, Guatemala City. INGUAT’s PROATUR division has 24-hour/seven days per week direct telephone numbers for tourist assistance and emergencies. You may call them at (502) 2421-2810, fax them at (502) 2421-2891, or simply dial 1500 in Guatemala to reach INGUAT Tourist Assistance. You can also contact INGUAT by e-mail. PROATUR also maintains regional offices in all major tourist destinations in Guatemala, and the regional delegates provide rapid and appropriate assistance to crime and accident victims. Travelers may also wish to visit INGUAT’s web site (Spanish only). Tourist groups are advised to request security escorts from INGUAT. There have been no incidents of armed robbery of groups escorted through the Tourist Protection Program. 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. 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. Travelers should be aware that INGUAT might not be able to accommodate all requests.
Taxis: Hailing taxis on the street in Guatemala City is discouraged. Taxi Seguro can be reached at 2312-4243, but may not always be available, especially late at night. Taxi Amarillo Express is a radio-dispatch taxi service, and can be reached by dialing 1766. The Guatemalan tourist assistance agency, PROATUR, may be able to provide additional information, and can be reached by dialing 1500. Some best practices for travel safety include:
Buses: Avoid low-priced intra- and inter-city public buses (commonly recycled U.S. school buses). They are often attacked by armed robbers and are poorly maintained and dangerously driven. In the first three months of 2012, nine bus drivers were killed and in 2011, 91 bus drivers were murdered in robberies staged by holdup gangs targeting public transportation, both urban and inter-city. Outside the capital, shuttles and buses carrying tourists have been stopped and robbed, including incidents on the road to Tikal. Do not hail taxis on the street in Guatemala City. For shorter trips, the safest option is to take radio-dispatched (Taxi Amarillo) or hotel taxis.
The use of modern inter-city buses somewhat improves security and safety; however, several travelers have been attacked on first-class buses on highway CA-2 near the border areas with both Mexico and El Salvador, and on highways CA-1 and CA-9 near the border with El Salvador, and in the highlands between Quetzaltenango and Sololá. Be cautious with personal items such as backpacks, fanny packs, and passports while riding buses, as tourists’ possessions are a favorite target of thieves.
Highway Safety: 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). In addition, travelers using alternate routes out of Antigua have reported armed assaults in recent years. There has also been an increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents on this same road at night. Embassy employees are discouraged from driving at night. Due to the dangers of travelling Guatemalan highways with an abundance of valuables, U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from driving from or through Mexico and Belize to their assignment in Guatemala and must have their possessions shipped in.
The main road to Lake Atitlán via the Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and Sololá is safer than the alternative secondary roads near the lake. Specifically, the main road is preferable to the alternative road through Las Trampas and Godinez to Panajachel (RN-11) where robbery, rape, and assault are known to have occurred in the past. Armed attacks have occurred on roads between Guatemala City and the Petén as well as between Tikal and the Belize border. Visitors to the Mayan ruins at Tikal are urged to fly to nearby Flores and then travel by bus or tour van to the site. Violent attacks have occurred in the Mayan ruins in the Petén, including in the Cerro Cahui Conservation Park, Yaxha, the road to and inside Tikal Park, and in the Tikal ruins, particularly during early morning sunrise tours of the ruins. However, tourist police (POLITUR) patrols have significantly reduced the incidence of violent crime inside the park and there have been no reports of armed assaults on tourists there in the past year. 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.
Flat-tire Scam: In one popular scam, robbers place a nail in a parked vehicle’s tire. The vehicle is then followed by the robbers who pose
as “good Samaritans” when the tire becomes flat and the victims pull to the side of the road. While “help” is being rendered,
the contents of the car are stolen, often without the knowledge of the victims. However, in some cases, the robbers have threatened
the tourists with weapons. Parking areas in and around the Guatemala City International Airport are particularly prone to
Parking Lot Scam: Victims are approached in a hotel, restaurant or other public place by an individual claiming that there is some sort of problem with his or the would-be victim’s automobile in the parking lot. On the way to investigate the “problem,” usually in a remote or concealed area near the parking lot, the robber pulls a gun on the victim and demands cash, credit cards and other valuables.
Swimming and Boating Safety: Travelers should be aware that basic safety precautions commonly required in the United States for swimming, boating and other outdoor activities may not be observed in Guatemala. Multiple boaters in the Rio Dulce area of the Department of Izabal have been victimized in violent armed attacks while on their boats.
Indigenous Areas: Indigenous activists have taken foreign tourists hostage in the Rio Dulce and Livingston area. Although all hostages have
been released unharmed, tensions between indigenous activists and authorities remain. In January 2012, a group of National
Geographic explorers, including U.S. citizens, were detained in Quiche by local residents when they jumped into a pond considered
sacred in the Mayan tradition. They were released unharmed but the incident serves as a warning to be mindful of local traditional
practices when visiting indigenous Mayan communities.
Armed robberies are common in all areas of the country; persons carrying laptop computers and expensive cell phones are often targets. Areas that offer wi-fi computer services have been targeted. Several individuals have been killed and their laptops taken upon departure from these establishments after they were seen using their computers in public. Avoid carrying laptop cases or anything that resembles one, even if they do not contain laptops.
Pickpockets are active in all major cities and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts of Zone 1 in Guatemala City. Pickpockets also are common throughout the country. For security reasons, the Embassy does not allow U.S. government employees to stay in hotels in Zone 1 and urges private travelers to avoid staying in this area. In a common scenario, an accomplice distracts the victim while an assailant slashes or simply steals a bag or backpack. The Embassy advises tourists and residents to be very vigilant of their surroundings and report any crime incidents promptly to the police.
Use of ATMs: We strongly encourage you not to use ATMs. Scams involving attempts to acquire a victim’s ATM card and personal identification number (PIN) are common. Some sophisticated criminals have even placed electronic boxes outside ATM kiosks to record the PIN of unsuspecting victims who believe they must enter their PIN to gain entry to the ATM foyer. After recording the PIN, robbers then steal the owner’s ATM card to complete their crimes. There have been a number of incidents in which foreigners have been robbed immediately after making a large withdrawal from local banks. While complicity by bank employees is strongly suspected in these crimes, the police have only arrested credit card forgers. There are dozens of techniques scammers can use to rob victims of money and possessions. While most people mean no harm, always be cautious when strangers approach you for any reason or make unusual requests. Dozens of victims (mostly foreign tourists) have had their bank accounts emptied remotely from places such as Bogota, Lima, Caracas, and the Dominican Republic shortly after using their ATM cards at banks in Antigua and other places. Recently, U.S. Embassy employees have had money fraudulently taken from their accounts due to the theft of their ATM card information and passcode.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates ). We can:
Victims of crime in Guatemala should contact the following phone numbers for assistance:
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, you are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
If you break local laws in Guatemala, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go. Persons violating Guatemalan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guatemala are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Pseudoephedrine is banned in Guatemala since it can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamines. Possession or distribution of drugs containing pseudoephedrine is illegal and can result in arrest of violators.
Arrest notifications in Guatemala:
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas. If you are arrested in Guatemala, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy or Consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
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. You should declare any amount of cash exceeding $10,000 that you bring into the country or the money may be confiscated by the authorities. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Guatemala in Washington, D.C. or one of Guatemala’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Enforcement of laws to protect intellectual property rights in Guatemala has been inconsistent. As stated above, in Guatemala, counterfeit CDs and DVDs are openly sold on the streets of major cities in violation of copyright laws. A number of raids, cases, and prosecutions have been pursued; however, resource constraints and lack of coordinated government action impede efficient enforcement efforts. Piracy of works protected by copyright and infringement of other forms of intellectual property, such as trademarks, remain problematic. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Access for the disabled: Travelers who are disabled and need to use a wheelchair will find access for the disabled limited in Guatemala. Except for major hotels, some government buildings and major museums that have special access ramps for the disabled, most buildings remain wheelchair-inaccessible. Visitors in wheelchairs to Mayan ruins such as Tikal are advised that these sites do not provide special access for the disabled.
Marriage: Non-Guatemalan citizens who wish to marry in Guatemala are required to provide proof of identity and civil status (indicating whether they are single or divorced). Prior notice of the marriage must be given in the Diario de Centro América (Guatemala's Official Record) and any large-circulation daily newspaper for fifteen days. The marriage must take place within six months of the publication of the notice or the publication loses validity and a new one is required with additional expense.
Pacific Beaches: Beware of strong currents, riptides, and undertow along Guatemala's Pacific coast beaches. They pose a serious threat to even the strongest swimmers. In July 2011, a U.S. citizen drowned as a result of the undertow in this area and two U.S. citizens drowned in the same area in February 2012. Signs warning of treacherous surf are rare and confined mostly to private beaches owned by hotels. Lifeguards are rarely present on beaches.
Volcanic activity: There are currently four active volcanoes in Guatemala. Volcanic activity has on occasion forced evacuations of nearby villages. In September 2012, increased activity of the Fuego Volcano caused the evacuation of several villages. Past eruptions of the Pacaya Volcano near Guatemala City have briefly closed Guatemala City's international airport.
Tourists planning to climb the Pacaya and/or Agua volcanoes during Guatemala's rainy season (May through October) should plan their climb for the morning hours when thunderstorms are less likely to occur. Climbers should monitor the weather situation and return to the base of the volcano as quickly and safely as possible if thunderstorms gather. INGUAT has organized an active community-based tourism program in San Vicente Pacaya to minimize the risk of armed robbery on Pacaya. Climbing volcanoes in groups is still highly advisable to reduce the risk of assault. ( Inguat website)
Earthquakes: Guatemala is a geologically active country. Visitors should be aware of the possibility of earthquakes at any time and the need for contingency plans. Typically, the country experiences minor earthquakes on a fairly reguar basis, every few months. On November 7, 2012, an earthquake registering 7.4 on the Richter scale struck the northern region of the country. The earthquake’s epicenter was just off the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, near the Mexican border, where widespread damage was reported. More recently, on September 6, 2013, a 6.5 earthquake struck, again with an epicenter located in the northern part of the country, near the border with Mexico, no injuries were reported in that earthquake.
Storms: 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. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available locally from the National Disaster Reduction Coordination Office (CONRED) and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Please consult CONRED for updates on natural disasters or tropical storms and hurricanes.
Women Travelers: If you are a women traveling abroad, please review our travel tips on the Women Travelers page on Travel.State.gov.
LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER (LGBT) RIGHTS: While there is no legal recognition of same-sex unions, private, adult, consensual homosexuality is legal. Antidiscrimination laws exist, but they are not widely enforced with respect to LGBT individuals. LGBT rights groups alleged that members of the police regularly engage in extortion by waiting outside clubs and bars frequented by LGBT persons to demand that those engaged in sexual activities pay protection money or pay to avoid jail. Police often harass male and transgender individuals they believe to be sex workers, many of whom are minors. According to LGBT rights groups, gay and transgender individuals often experience police abuse. A lack of trust in the judicial system and a fear of further harassment or social recrimination discourage victims from filing complaints. There is general societal discrimination against LGBT persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing.For further information on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: The full range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside the city is limited. Guatemala's public hospitals frequently experience serious shortages of 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.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Guatemala.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
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. Travelers should be aware that they may have to pay in advance and
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TRAFFIC SAFETY ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Guatemala is provided for general reference only, and may not apply to all locations or circumstances.
Driving in Guatemala requires one's full attention, and all drivers must take extraordinary efforts to drive defensively to avoid dangerous situations.
Traffic rules are only casually observed. Many drivers do not use their turn signals to alert other drivers. Instead, a common custom is for a driver or passenger to stick a hand out the window and wave it to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Speed limits, lane markings, and stop signs are frequently ignored. Passing blindly on winding and/or steep mountain roads, poorly designed surfaces, and unmarked hazards, including frequent landslides and precarious temporary highway repairs, all present additional risks to motorists. Lethal head-on collisions are common.
All drivers involved in accidents resulting in injury may be detained and held in protective custody pending investigation. In several instances, police officers have been posted outside hospital rooms of drivers who were injured and they were not allowed to depart the country without judicial intervention. Such cases require the assistance of private local attorneys.
Common public transportation is by local brightly-painted recycled school buses, which serve almost every town in the country. Criminal activity and frequent fatal accidents, however, make the low-priced inter-city buses particularly dangerous. Modern inter-city buses offer some security from highway violence, but armed attacks are increasing, indicating that all buses are vulnerable. (See additional information in the CRIME section.)
Although city streets are lit, secondary and rural roads have little to no illumination. Driving outside of urban areas at night is dangerous and not recommended. The Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast (CA-9) are especially dangerous due to heavy traffic, including large trucks and trailers. There are no roadside assistance clubs; however, a roadside assistance force (PROVIAL) patrols most of the major highways in the country. PROVIAL can be contacted by calling 2419-2121. Their vehicles are equipped with basic tools and first aid supplies, and their services are free. Police patrol the major roadways and may assist travelers, but the patrols are sporadic and may be suspended due to budget constraints. For roadside assistance, travelers may call the police by dialing 110 or 120 or the fire department by dialing 122 or 123. Cellular telephone service covers most areas frequented by tourists.
Cars and trucks are often stalled or parked in the middle of the road. Tree branches are sometimes placed in the road a hundred meters or so before the stalled vehicle to warn approaching traffic of the hazard. While driving in or near large cities, be vigilant of pedestrians who unexpectedly dart across roads, even in heavy traffic due to the lack of cross walks.
Valid U.S. driver's licenses are accepted for the first 30 days of a visit, and international driving permits are accepted in Guatemala for extended stays. Guatemala's road safety authorities are the Department of Transit and the Joint Operations Center of the National Police. Drivers use the right-hand side of the road in Guatemala, and speed limits are posted (in kilometers) depending on the condition of the road. Speed limits are rarely enforced, and drivers often drive at the absolute maximum speed their vehicle can handle at that particular time. These drivers share the road with slow vehicles, some barely able to manage 20 miles per hour, creating a hazardous mix of velocities. Turning right on red is not permitted unless otherwise posted, and drivers must yield when entering a traffic circle. Seat belts must be worn in Guatemala, but there are no laws regarding the use of child safety seats. It is against the law for drivers to operate cellular phones while driving but cell phone usage while driving remains commonplace.
People found driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs are arrested and may serve jail time. For accidents resulting in death, every driver involved is taken into custody and the vehicle(s) impounded until a judge determines responsibility following a re-enactment of the accident. For accidents resulting in injury, the non-injured party may be taken into custody until a judge determines fault and financial responsibility.
In April 2009, Guatemala passed a new transportation law primarily aimed to limit the number of individuals on motorcycles and mopeds. Under this new law, motorcycles and mopeds may carry only one person, the driver. In addition, motorcycle and moped drivers must wear a helmet and a vest. The helmet and vest must each have a reflective band that displays the motorcycle or moped’s license plate number to be visible from five meters away. The law is applicable in Guatemala City and the seven municipalities of the Department of Guatemala: Villa Nueva, Villa Canales, Mixco, Chinautla, Santa Catarina Pinula, San José Pinula, and San Miguel Petapa. It does not provide exceptions to tourists and non-residents. All individuals are subject to the law and non-compliance could result in fines ranging from approximately $65 to $3,125. The law also has provisions limiting the number of passengers in any vehicle to the number stated in the vehicle’s registration papers. Bicycles may only carry one passenger unless designed for more.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, we suggest that you visit the website of Guatemala’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety, or contact them via e-mail.
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.
CHILDREN’S ISSUES: Guatemala is a signatory of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Guatemala dated March of 2013 to update the sections on Safety and Security and Special Circumstances.