Most countries require a tourist visa of some kind for visiting foreigners. Commonly you’ll get a stamp in your passport and a set number of days you’re allowed to remain before exiting. For those of us traveling with a vehicle, there’s an extra step at the border and an extra piece of paper with its own, often different, time allowance.
This extra little token of bureaucracy is commonly known as a “TIP”, or Temporary Import Permit. Countries with import duties on vehicles want to be sure and collect their precious cash from anyone intending to bring one in from outside with the intention of permanent use or sale. Kindly, though, they’ve also created the TIP system for those of us who are only traveling through.
Ordinarily the TIP is nothing more than an extra step at borders and an extra sheet of paper to keep track of. What happens though, if we want to fly home for a while? Some countries have systems in place for suspending the time on the TIP. This is what we did in Costa Rica. It almost always requires a great deal of hassle, visiting multiple government offices for a multitude of meaningless stamps as well as finding a government approved storage location.
Another solution is to find a country who grants a long enough period of importation that you’re able to leave the country and return before your TIP is expired. This is of course, much easier than suspension in most cases, but comes with it’s own risks. Usually, it is technically illegal to leave the country without the vehicle you’ve entered with. However, even in more developed countries, the TIP doesn’t seem to be attached to your immigration documentation in any way. There really is nothing in place to keep you from hopping on a plane and leaving your rig in a friendly and secure overlander campsite.
After considering our options, we decided on Argentina as our final destination for this leg of our trip. We were assured that getting an 8 month import permit would be no problem, and I made arrangements to store our truck on a small farm in the desert, a few hours outside Salta. Dry air, rural surroundings, and proximity to wine country seemed pretty good to us. Once decided, we purchased our flights home about a month in advance and happily crossed “arrange storage for truck” off our list.
At this point, it should be mentioned that Taylor and I have inordinately good luck. Many of our friends have been plagued by breakdowns, paperwork snafus, road closures, and protests. We simply flit from place to place drama free. Border crossings are always smooth, police always friendly, and the truck goes where we point it without protest.
Our luck began to shift as we crossed into Bolivia though. The very first police officer we encountered in the country attempted to get a bribe from us. No big deal really, we didn’t pay and were able to shrug it off. A few hours later, I lost my beloved orange water bottle on a small mountain overlooking Copacabana. Again, bummer, but no big deal. We’d be going home soon and it would be easily replaced.
Not long after, we got our second flat in over 20k miles of rough roads. This too, was easily remedied in minutes with a plug, though my inflator hose blew apart during the repair. At this point both of us began to feel the winds of luck shifting.
The next day, I picked a beautiful campsite in the middle of the Bolivian desert. Nothing around and nobody there to care, right? I’d just popped the camper (and a beer) and Taylor hadn’t even made it out of the truck before a slightly cranky Bolivian man appeared and informed us it was illegal to camp in the area. This is the first time we’ve ever been asked to move camp, and certainly didn’t expect it in the wilds of Bolivia.
In quickly packing up, I forgot to stow our beloved built-in ladder and promptly backed into a boulder, snapping it right off and destroying the aluminum mounts in the process.
Shortly after, we managed to lose a sway bar link on the Salar de Uyuni, I backed into a concrete pole in town, and just before undertaking the Lagunas Route, a front wheel bearing began to growl ominously.
In the meantime, we received messages from a couple friends ahead of us, warning that they were unable to convince the Argentine aduana to grant them any TIP longer than the 90 days allotted on their passports.
At this point we were growing a bit concerned, considering our newly rocky relationship with luck.
Still, the Lagunas Route was beautiful, and our short time in Northern Chile was stunning. Since the very early planning stages of this trip, we’ve been telling people that we’re driving to Argentina. Part of our inspiration behind Running From Monday sprouted from the initial planning stage of a shorter, rental car supported, trip to Mendoza country.
Crossing that Chilean border and entering Argentina, after having left our home so many months earlier was pure elation.
We’d finally made it!
Despite the nagging reservations we found our spirits soaring as we aired down for the rough Argentine gravel road and made our way across the altiplano toward the border post.
We were physically in Argentina but had yet to be officially checked out of Chile or granted permission to stay. We had no reason to believe things wouldn’t go smoothly, we’ve never had troubles before, but our truncated timeline and rash of worsening luck had us nervous.
We had all our paperwork ready and were incredibly impressed with the combined border office. Both countries had representatives lined up behind their desks, ready to go, processing our paperwork in an experienced and organized fashion. Everyone was very friendly, probably because we’d be one of the very few cars they’d see that day, and we were feeling pretty confident.
Argentine Aduana was the very last desk, and the only one not staffed. Just as we were getting to it, a sour looking older man ambled from a corner office to his post. My carefully practiced greetings in Spanish were met with grunts, but I kept a smile on my face, even as our spirits began to waver.
I dutifully explained that we wanted an 8 month TIP. We’d been told it was common and that all we’d have to do was ask. He immediately asked why and I made a fateful, split second decision to tell the truth. In some of my best Spanish of the trip, I explained that we were going home to work for a few months and that we’d be storing our truck in a secure campsite with friends.
At that time I didn't know what we were planning to do was illegal.
Unfortunately, because of my particularly proficient Spanish that day, I was unable to back peddle or pretend there had been a misunderstanding. We tried begging and cajoling. Taylor tried crying. We explained that we had already purchased tickets out of the country, but he wouldn’t budge. Refusing us anything but 90 days.
We'd made plans, paid deposits, and purchased tickets that would put us in the US much longer than the 3 months he was allotting. He informed us that if we simply stored the truck anyway and tried to leave the country after the TIP had expired, it could be seized at the border.
The other, more junior employees looked on with apologies in their eyes, but there was nothing we could do.
Dejected, we climbed back into the truck after a short inspection and made tracks down the lonely road for Salta. Our excitement at finally reaching such a momentous goal crushed under the weight of one border official’s bad day.