7 October 2009: It alarmed me not a little to see on the news tonight that two Brazilian nationals were stopped by Interpol police who asked them to show them their documentation. As they were not carrying their passports or documents with them, they were detained. In this case one of the women they stopped is a Brazilian student, legally studying here and just didn't happen to be carrying her papers.
The officer said, on the the news, that Interpol, Immigration and the Police are doing "an operativo" (an operation) together in which they will be stopping foreigners randomly on the streets and asking them to show their documents in an effort to find and deport illegal aliens.
Just last week a friend of mine was stopped and asked for his documentation too. Apparently this is something they will be doing for a while. Of course for those of us who have lived here for years it would help if they announce these things or something so we can be sure to be carrying our documentation so there aren't any mix-ups.
Most foreigners who live here don't carry our important documents on our person every day for fear of having our purse or belongings stolen and losing them. I make it a habit to carry a photocopy of my passport and carnet (Bolivian ID card) in my wallet at all times. Even though they are asking to see the originals, I usually recommend people AT LEAST carry copies with them to show as this may encourage the police to give you a chance or extra time to show them the originals. I've only been stopped once like this and it was about 10 years ago. The police officer was happy to see my photocopy and that's it. He thanked me and walked away. I'm not saying they will consider this sufficient though. Just my experience.
I don't personally recommend carrying your passport with you on the street wherever you go, but it seems that for the time being we may all have to as they are apparently going to just randomly pick people to stop on the streets and they gave no indication as to how long this will continue. So be forewarned. If you are a tourist, carry documents at all times. If you are a foreign resident, you should have your carnet on you at all times.
If you do get stopped request the officer show you their identification. The problem is, there have been recent cases of thugs posing as police officers and stopping foreigners, and then robbing them. So how can you know if the police officer is real or not?
Definitely try to avoid getting frustrated, nervous, angry or disrespectful. If they are real police officers, you'll most likely get arrested for aggression against an officer (which is what happened with the Brazilians today). And they were arrested.
There is another reason you should carry your documents with you at all times, at least for the next few months: because elections are coming up on the 6th of December, and registering to vote is obligatory here, voters must carry their voter registration card with them at all times because for at least the next three months banks and other institutions will require they show them or they won't be able to do any transactions, documentation, or withdrawals from their accounts. It's sort of Bolivia's way of saying if you don't register to vote, this is your punishment or fine. Those who do not register by the 15th of October deadline will be in trouble because they won't have the registration card to show at their banks and other places.
Because as foreigners most of us don't (or can't) vote here, it's important to carry your documentation (or at least copies of it) so that when you go to a bank you can prove to them that you are a foreigner and thus not required to register to vote. Avoid problems like these if you can. Carry your documents or copies with you whenever you can and feel it's safe to.
But don't rely only on my suggestions or personal experience. Contact your consulate or embassy and ask them what they advise.Travel Planner    Travel Forums    Travel Map Shop
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