Although this topic has been mentioned many times and probably read even more on the internet, based on our own personal experience and after reading a similar article by tuckstruck.net we decided to put together this tip post about foreign vehicles & fuel in Bolivia. We spent in total the allowed 30 days in Bolivia and we had absolutely no problems refilling Voukefalas at the local price. One of the things that have a significant impact on foreign registered vehicles in Bolivia is the availability of fuel and its price,specially when it comes to diesel engine driven vehicles. Keep in mind that by law the only vehicles allowed to use diesel in Bolivia are the farming related ones as well as the big trucks. That in a way justifies the poor quality of fuel that in many cases causes a lot of problems when we talk about cold temperatures at high altitudes. Note here that the Bolivian diesel has high sulphur which in some cases can permanently damage the vehicle’s diesel filter.
But let’s take things one step at a time:
PRICING & AVALIABILITY
Fuel at the pump of any gas station for Bolivian registered vehicles is subsidized heavily by the government of Evo Morales. “El Presidente ,(as Marcus mentions) though, doesn’t believe that foreigners should benefit from this and should therefore pay the full ‘Gringo Rate’ of 8.88 Bolivianos per litre “. Locals, on the other hand, pay 3.70 Bolivianos per liter only”. Taken the above as given and before we even started our Bolivian adventure entering from Argentina in Tupiza, we found out that very few people in reality pay that Gringo Price. As we pulled up at the first gas station for refill, we realized that fuel in Bolivia is not as simple as back home, since the Gringo Price can be a)negotiated or b) refused. When we suggested discreetly 50 Bolivianos to the lady that pours the diesel she had no problem getting paid to fill Voukefalas up at the local price. After our next attempt further north, we figured out that only one chain of fuel stations – the ‘YPFB’ that is government owned – is authorized to sell fuel to foreign vehicles. Through our course and after random attempts, we also noticed that some of the other non-YPFB stations, with a lot of Spanish speaking persuasion and mostly in the most remote areas, could be persuaded to sell to foreigners.In our case we came across two different variations.In the first one you will need to approach the pump and wait to see which of the employees looks more “open minded”, then ask him for a better price. Some of them look around to see if the boss is looking. How does it work? You negotiate a price for fuel pumped into the vehicle tank without a receipt (sin factura).The negotiated rate will be somewhere between the Gringo Rate and the local rate (5-6 Bolivianos per liter). When you have agreed, he punches the sale in as a local price sale and then pockets the difference. In the rare case that he declines your offer, you just move to the next fuel station further up the road.The second and most politically correct option now is to enter the station and bypass the pumps.Park a bit further and walk back with a jerry can or just a bucket and fill up at the local price. Since the fuel is technically not going into a foreign vehicle, it is fine and absolutely legal. In some cases they even provide you with the bucket to do so. It’s all a bit surreal in reality and messy!!!
On the occasion that you are someone who obeys the law, then you don’t need to worry. There seemed to be plenty of YPFB fuel stations around, so no problem, right? Well, the next thing that we found out first hand in our attempt to refill in a YPFB was that not all YPFB fuel stations that have a YPFB logo are YPFB and therefore are not officially permitted to sell to foreigners. In order to confuse you even more, there are two types of YPFB stations in Bolivia: YPFB brand logo sitting alongside a local name and fully branded YPFB stations, with no additional local name on the signs. The last ones are the only fuel stations officially permitted to sell fuel to foreigners, with a ‘factura’ (invoice) and at the full Gringo Rate. Lastly, if you want our advice, in order to be ready to face the Bolivian bureaucracy and the rare case of an official asking you to demonstrate any fuel invoice, pay at least once the Gringo Rate and keep the receipt. (They will not be able to tell how much you have driven around the country, so one or two would be enough).
Bottom line: Make sure your tank is full at all times as you never know what lies ahead.If you pick the local or the Gringo Price we leave it to you!!
THE HIGH-SULPHUR DIESEL
Unless you’ve got a tank so huge that enables you to drive through Bolivia without refuelling, bad quality and high sulphur is a problem you will face eventually ,specially at the high altitudes and the low temperatures that Bolivia is known for. If you have a diesel engine and you’re exploring areas of high altitude , you may have to deal with fuel freezing up (also cold waxing-up) in cold temperatures. As we were parking in the hotel park in Uyuni the local owner advised us to park our vehicle in such a way that the fuel tank is facing east.When we question it, he explained that in that way, it will get sun as early as possible resulting into helping the fuel not to freeze up.Locals always have the solution!!!! For the ones of you out there now, that are travelling in a modern new-diesel engines, as we read in Marcus article and confirmed from a Belgium Camper Van owner in Sucre, your only choise is to refill only from the YPFB brand stations, as they seem to have higher quality (lower sulphur) than the other fuel stations. Therefore fewer problems may be caused at high altitude.
Inspired by the article written by tuckstruck.net together with the additions of our own personal experience ,we think we have summed it up for you.As questions may rise about the ethics of bribing ?We will like to clarify that the above were personal choices and not a guide on how to bypass laws.The choice is yours!!!