Van driving along an empty road covered with trees
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5 Easy Tips for Crossing the Colombia Ecuador Border by Van

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There is something about crossing a border that is both exciting and overwhelming. Crossing a border such as the Colombia Ecuador border signifies the start of a new adventure in a foreign land, new memories to be made, and new places to explore. But, while border crossings represent all of these amazing opportunities they can also be, well, overwhelming.

Crossing the Colombia Ecuador border by bus means that you only need to worry about yourself. Add a vehicle into the mix and crossing the Colombia Ecuador border by van means that you also need to make sure you have the correct paperwork for your car.

What we have found out on our South America van life adventure is that every border crossing by van is a little bit different. In some countries, you need to show proof of insurance at the border while at others you need to have certain copies of documents.

That is why we put together our five tip tips for crossing the Colombia Ecuador border by van that we wish we would have known before crossing the border between Ecuador and Colombia.

Tip #1 | Check the Travel Advisory Warnings

Van driving along an empty road covered with trees
On the road again…

Before we cross any border overland, we check both the Australian and US government travel warnings and register for alerts in the countries we plan to visit. While traveling in Peru, we found ourselves, or our car, stranded for 12 days in Santa Teresa with the road blocks in a protest over coca leaves. If we would have been registered for these travel warnings then, we would have known about the impending protest and would have left our car in Cusco on our way to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, we didn’t follow our own advice then, but we do now!

When we crossed the border between Colombia and Ecuador, both the Australian and US government declared the Colombia Ecuador border to be high risk. But this does not mean you shouldn’t go.

We chose to drive straight through from Quito to Cali with one overnight stop in Pasto. Limiting our time in the area decreased our chances of any unforeseen circumstances. The drive between these two cities is well-traversed and we did not stray off the main road.

Check the advice. Sign up for alerts. Pay attention to your surroundings. Let loved ones know where you are. And, be safe.

Tip #2 | Carry the Required Documents to Cross the Colombia Ecuador Border by Van

While many border crossings require the same paperwork for entry, it is not uncommon for there to be just one extra thing that you need to supply to the customs agent. Making sure you have an up-to-date list of all of the necessary paperwork is important for a smooth entry process.

No one likes waiting hours for border crossings and being prepared will only help to get you back on the road and to your next destination!

Paperwork Required to Enter Ecuador by Van:

  • Evidence of car ownership
  • Passport with entry stamp indicating the number of days allowed in Ecuador
  • Driver’s license

There is no longer a requirement for car insurance in Ecuador, unlike other South American countries.

Paperwork Required to Enter Colombia by Van:

  • Evidence of car ownership
  • Passport
  • Copy of stamp entering Colombia in passport – these can be made at one of the nearby shops
  • Driver’s license

There is no requirement to provide proof of the obligatory SOAT to the customs agent when crossing the Colombia Ecuador border, but as you read in Tip #4, it is highly recommended!

Tip #3 | Exchange Your Money at the Border

This is an easy tip to follow. Make sure you bring enough US dollars to exchange into Colombian pesos at the border. Yes, you may not be getting the best rate, but it is always good to have some cash on hand in South America.

And since you are not traveling by bus from Quito to Cali and are crossing the Colombia Ecuador border by van, you are going to need those pesos that you just picked up before you even leave the border!

Tip #4 | Buy Vehicle Insurance at the Border

Insurance known as SOAT is obligatory in Colombia. While there is no requirement to provide proof of insurance at the Colombia Ecuador border, we cannot stress enough how important it is to buy the insurance at the border.

Pro-tip: Completing Tip #3 is crucial in making this happen as cash is king at the border!

I wish someone would have given us this piece of advice when we crossed from Ecuador to Colombia. We, unfortunately, did not have enough US dollars to exchange into Colombian pesos, so we set off into Colombia to find an ATM. This was a mistake. By the time we managed to find an ATM, we were no longer at the border, and buying the obligatory insurance became a headache.

At the Colombia Ecuador border, an international traveler can purchase SOAT for a foreign vehicle for the number of months you will be in Colombia. Once you leave the border, this is not the case, but this is the least of your problems.

Once you leave the border, no one will sell you the obligatory SOAT. We stopped in to at least ten stores from the border to Cali without any luck. It was only after reaching Cali and visiting one of the insurance carrier’s headquarters, that we were able to purchase insurance.

But, however, since we had already left the border, we had to purchase a minimum of three months’ insurance which was longer than how long we intended to stay. Plus, the extra stress of crossing the numerous police checkpoints from Ipiales to Cali did not make the already extremely long drive more relaxing.

No one ever asked to see proof of our obligatory SOAT in Colombia, but I wouldn’t risk being caught without it in the unlikely chance.

But probably our best piece of advice for crossing the Colombia Ecuador border. BUY THE SOAT AT THE BORDER!!!

Tip #5 | Don’t Get Sick Before Crossing

Enjoying coffee in bed after a gloomy sick morning as part of our journey crossing the Colombia Ecuador border
Eddie making me coffee in bed trying to cheer me up from my gloomy sick mornings.

My last piece of advice is not to cross the border sick. Our first experience of the Colombia Ecuador border by van was horrific. The only worse way to spend a day (or days in my case) sick while traveling in a van, is to do it while driving 13+ hours from Quito to Cali.

In Ecuador, I became ill to the point where I would rollercoaster between high fevers and profuse sweating to severe chills. The rollercoaster ride could last anywhere between 2 to 4 hours before abating. That was until we decided to make the dash to the Ecuador Colombia border.

The morning we left for the Colombia border crossing, I started to feel a bit better. I managed my first four-hour window of feeling pretty good, and we took this as a sign that I was on the up and up. Little did we know.

Two hours later, the illness was back with a vengeance, and the next 11 hours of driving, crossing the border to Colombia, sleeping in a car park in Pasto were terrible. I was luckily able to keep my act together long enough to actually cross the border and not draw attention to my weakened state. But it was awful.

So my last and final tip for crossing the border between Colombia and Ecuador by van is to stay healthy. And if you do get sick, stay put.

It was literally one of the worst experiences of my van life, and I would not wish it upon anyone!

Bonus Tip: Clínica Fundación Valle de Lili in Cali is Amazing

Being sick on any van life trip is not ideal. But, if you are going to be sick, try to do it in Cali Colombia. After six days of being sick, I finally broke down and went to the Clínica Fundación Valle de Lili in the south of Cali. The hospital has a dedicated office for international patients who can assist you in English.

During my visit, a nurse accompanied me to other departments, such as the lab, to assist with communication. The doctor was able to quickly identify my illness, prescribe medicine, and have me fitting fit only a few days after my visit.

I could not recommend the hospital more. If you are going to get sick (as we all do on an extended holiday), plan to do it here!

Other Useful Information

How Long Is the Drive from Quito to Colombia?

The drive from Quito to Colombia is four and a half hours. The first city safe enough to camp was approximately 13 hours with a border crossing thrown in the mix. The first leg of the drive from Quito to the border is approximately four and a half hours.

How Long Does It Take to Cross the Colombia Ecuador Border?

The Ecuador border crossing by van took us approximately 2 hours to complete. The Colombia border crossing from Ecuador took us approximately 1.5 hours before we were on our way.

The waiting times, however, could (and probably will) vary depending on the time of day, the season of the year, and the civil unrest in Venezuela (many of the people were seeking refuge from Venezuela).

We hope our five tips for crossing the Colombia Ecuador border will come in handy as you explore these beautiful countries. If you are interested in our own Colombia and Ecuador adventures, check out one of the links below!



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