Travel Magazine

New Tourist Visa Procedures on Roatan

By Cubiclethrowdown
I had mentioned the new-ish Honduran visa procedures in a previous post, but I am getting asked a lot of questions from readers planning to visit, move to, invest in, or retire to Roatan.
Let me first be VERY CLEAR that I am not an expert, a lawyer or any other kind of official. I am simply someone 'on the ground' who has been through the procedures and has seen how it has been working since it's been put in place (late August 2014). I am also not making any sort of statement of what I personally have been doing one way or the other, this post is for informational purposes only. You should consult a Honduran immigration lawyer for advice.

So - here are the changes.
Previously: when you entered Honduras as a tourist you were granted a 90-day tourist visa. While on the record you should have had to leave the country every 90 days for at least 72 hours before re-entering and (maybe) being granted a new 90-day visa, it has been a common practice for years to pay immigration officials around $100 for an extension every 90 days. With residencies and work permits costing $1800-$3000 USD and taking up to a year to complete, they simply were/are not viable options for most tourists wanting to stay longer term on Roatan. (I am not here to debate the legality or ethics of visa or immigration procedures so do not comment on this post or email me if you want to argue about it.) 
Now: the government has implemented fingerprint scanners at airports and some land border crossings and your fingerprints will be scanned at entry and exit. Apparently the info will be shared with the US Department of Homeland Security, which the US expats are in an uproar about but I'm not exactly sure why. Anyway, visa 'extensions' from within the country are no longer permitted and you must leave Honduras for at least 72 hours before re-entering to get a new visa. Overstaying your visa comes with some hefty fines... there is no 'official' number anywhere but I have heard of people 1-5 days over being charged around $160 and up.

New Tourist Visa Procedures on Roatan

(source)

 
Short story: tourists (I'm using that as a general term for those people without residency) are now going to have to do visa runs. You need to stay out of the country for 72 hours every 90 days.
Reality: people are already leaving because of this, especially in the dive instructor community. With wages as low as they are, frequent visa runs or residency applications are out of reach for a lot of people who would like to stay here long term.
With Roatan being an island that's not exactly cheap to get in and out of, the cost of doing visa runs every three months ($400-$600) to neighboring countries like Belize or Guatemala will end up being about the same in a year as a residency or work permit ($1800-$3000). Catch: you still have to do visa runs while residency paperwork is in progress, and there's no guarantee that the government will grant your residency. There is also a ton of paperwork to do for a residency application, and citizens of some countries like Canada are not able to obtain some of the documentation abroad - they will need to factor in the cost of a trip home to get certain documents for the residency application.
I am sure those who are familiar with SE Asia visa runs are feeling very little sympathy, but remember this is a new thing for Roatan. There are no 'visa run' companies set up who take care of all the documentation for you and arrange transportation (although that could be a new niche market here I guess!), and Honduran visa rules state that you need to stay out of the country for at least 72 hours before re-entering... it's not a matter of touching down in another country, getting a stamp and turning around and going back. There are going to be flight costs as well as accommodation & food for 4 days, so it's not a quick cheap trip.
Hopefully Honduras will come up with some sort of extension program again or a realistically-priced work permit that people can apply for. Everyone I know here would prefer to work legally and not have to do visa runs, but when you make $5-$30 a day you're not going to pay $2500 and wait a year for a work permit, especially the current ones that tie you to one employer (if you change jobs, it's another $2500 work permit application) - that's just ridiculous, which is why hardly anyone does it. It would benefit the government to create an easier and cheaper process, so I hope they figure that out before more people leave and dive centers, restaurants and hotels start folding.
I'm still not sure how this will all play out - as with most things in Honduras, you kind of have to sit back when a change happens and take a 'wait and see' approach. I already have questions that no one seems to be able to answer... like how I just entered the country and was fingerprinted at the Roatan airport, so I am in the system as entering the country... but if I leave through Utila and then come back in through Utila, a neighboring island that hasn't received fingerprint scanners yet, I won't be on the record in the system as leaving. So we'll see, but for right now those planning to travel to Honduras for longer than 90 days should be sure to budget for visa runs when planning their trip.
Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start pinching pennies for a Belize trip pretty soon. So there's that.

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