carry your identification at all times

(Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia)

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.

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Comments for carry your identification at all times

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Jan 16, 2010
by: Jim

> 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.<

Go to a photocopy place near where they issue the Bolivian carnets. These guys are artists at making a color copy and enclosing it in plastic. The copy I have is indistinguishable from the original. I keep the orginal at home and use the copy everywhere.

A friend of mine had an appointment with Evo. When one enters the Palacio Quemado, one has to leave their ID with the police guard. As he was leaving, the police official told him as he was returning the ID, "In the future, when visiting the president, bring your original carnet." :)

This won't work with dups of the driver's licences because they enclose it in an imprinted plastic. Carnets from Migraciones, however, are encased in just regular plastic so copies look genuine (except, perhaps, at the Palacio Quemado).

Jan 08, 2010
Happened to Me
by: Jim

There's a bar in Cochabamba that's located in an old church. It's popular the first Friday of the month. A while back, while I was there, the immigration police swept in and requested identification of everyone. A friend of mine didn't have her carnet, but there were enough of us willing to attest to her status (including her husband) that they agreed she should bring her carnet to their office the following day.

Hint to Bolivian residents: Make a color copy of your carnet to use for everyday use and save the original at home.

Dec 01, 2009
by: Jamie

This article surprised me. But then something happened 2 weeks ago that made me a believer.

After living here for 2 years, I look confident when I go somewhere, I speak the language now and I always know where I am going and how to get there.

But 2 weeks ago, 2 police officers stopped we when I was walking to work. I was carrying a plastic back with my lunch in it - 2 sandwiches and some cupcakes. They stopped me and asked me what they had in the bag and I told them "My lunch". Then they asked to see identification. Having been here 2 years, I've fallen out of the habit of carrying a copy of my passport around. I politely asked why they needed it, and they very quickly became agitated. So I offered for them to follow me to my house where I could show them my passport and they told me they would take me to the nearest police station instead, and confirm my identity from there.

I told them this was ok, but I was going to call the British Embassy first. Upon hearing this, they let me go. I don't know if they let me go because they thought I was from the US and were surprised to find out I was English, or because they wanted money. But I was never rude to them, I remained confident but polite and the matter was resolved.

This is something to keep in mind when dealing with the police here. It comes down to common sense in the end and my situation "could" have gone a lot worse. But never be rude to the police here, and never assume they will get scared or let you go just because you are foreign, it could more likely be the opposite.

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