No one can deny that I am a Type-A planner, but I really have no intention of being unprepared at border crossings, especially Bolivia.
I had read crazy stories about everything: being asked for all types of paperwork to simply paying and getting a stamp. We were nervous about being asked for something and not having it, so we prepared for the worst.
The US Embassy states the following:
"To apply for your visa upon your arrival to Bolivia, you must pay the visa fee of $135.00 in cash to immigration authorities in Bolivia. In addition to the $135.00 visa fee, you must present a passport with a validity of not less than 6 months beyond the date of your proposed entry, evidence of a hotel reservation or a letter of invitation in Spanish, proof of economic solvency (credit card, cash, or a current bank statement), and an International Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever. Upon arrival at the airport, you will be given a visa application form which you need to complete. Please be sure to have the address of where you will be staying in Bolivia handy to complete this application."
Needless to say, this information was inconsistent at best. My research also led me to a Bolivian Visa Application
Turns out this was a very good thing to stumble upon, because we needed it.
Here is what we needed for the border crossing for each of us:
2. Visa application
3. 1 color passport photo
4. 1 color copy of passport
5. 360 Bolivianos each (Not crisp $135 CRISP USD we had been protecting for the previous 3 weeks, which was also a savings of roughly half.)
6. Immigration declaration form (provided by Tour Peru on bus) including where we were staying, who was our in-country contact, information about our contacts back at home, home address and where we had traveled our last 30 days
7. Entry form (provided by Tour Peru on bus)
We were not asked to show but were prepared with all of the above plus:
1. $135 CRISP USD each in exact change
2. Copy of our bank balance
3. Copy of our hostel reservation
4. Copy of our onward travel out of Bolivia
5. Yellow card
We are still uncertain if there are differing rules for air entry versus land crossings or if each border is different.
One of the most surprising things was the difference in entry fees. We had never read about not having to pay in USD, but our tour guide insisted we would pay in Bolivianos. We ended up having both prepared just in case we were asked for either.
The guide on the tour made it very clear the process and also kept track of the bus group. The bus let us off at a cambio to exchange soles and dollars into bolivianos. Here it was a mad house but went very quickly with a charge of around 20 soles per transaction.
Once we had changed money, we were pointed to cross the street to the Peruvian immigration office. There are 4 windows, so line up at any window and have your passport and immigration paper ready. They give you your exit stamp and then you proceed to walk up the hill, through the stone arch into Bolivia.
At the top of the hill you will see the Bolivian immigration on your left with a line out the door that gets longer with each tour bus that arrives.
If you know your country must pay a reciprocity fee at the border, send someone to the front the line and check if there is anyone in line for the far left window where you need to pay. For our trip, the tour guide pulled us out of line and walked us right up to the window and said, "Pay here." The visa agent was so bored he was playing games on his phone.
We handed over our paperwork as mentioned above, got our visa sticker in our passports and then were transferred to another window to have our declaration papers collected.
Once everyone is through immigration, the bus pulls through the gates and you pile back on the bus. Your luggage never leaves the bus for examination and the bus is locked while the group goes through the process.
Be mindful to be prepared. We did leave 2 girls at the border because they didn't have their paperwork in order and did not receive entry into Bolivia. The guide provided them with instructions, but this is not a situation you want to be in this border town.
Once you arrive in Copacabana (the closest town on Lake Titicaca), the guides will unload your luggage and point you to another connecting bus to take you into La Paz. Peruvian bus companies aren't allowed to operate in Bolivia, so you have to switch there to a local company. Our bus left an hour later, so we left our luggage (locked of course) at the bus office and walked down to enjoy the waterfront.
Successful entry into Bolivia!