Traveling with a Drone to Peru and Bolivia

For our roughly one-month trip through Peru and Bolivia, we took along a Drone, or to be more precise, a DJI Phantom 4. The fact that the legal situation is different in every country and that we in Switzerland are lucky in this way didn’t exactly facilitate our plans. In this posting, I’ve written about our experiences and the steps we took in Peru and Bolivia, but you should still be aware that the laws in each country can change and that things can become easier or even harder. If you’ve had similar experiences in other countries, you can of course feel free to let us know.

Preparation

Am I even allowed to fly a drone in Peru and Bolivia? Do I need a certificate or a permit? What airline and airport regulations do I need to know to be in compliance when transporting a drone? We asked ourselves these questions at the very start and got going on finding the answers.



 

Taking Your Drone on the Airplane

If you use these exact words in a Google search, you get all kinds of answers from the drone forums and blogs. Some people will tell you that you can take the drone along in your carry-on baggage. Others claim that it has to go with your checked luggage. Taking a closer look at the luggage situation, we can see that frequent flyers and diligent news readers will already know that since April 2016, the battery can only go along in your carry-on luggage, which means that a part of the drone cargo is already consigned to your hand luggage.

Watch out—Propellers!

Since drone propellers are considered stabbing weapons, they’re not allowed to go in your carry-on luggage and belong with your checked baggage.

Airport Shipol Drone in Hand luggage

Every Airline Has Its Own Rules

As Schiphol Airport already informed us on Twitter, it’s best to ask the airline, which I did for our flight with Swiss from Zurich to Amsterdam, and again for our KLM flight from Lima to Amsterdam.

Swiss
After checking with Swiss International Airlines on Twitter, I was told that you’re not allowed to transport drones in your carry-on luggage. I consequently paid on extra 55 francs online to be able to transport another piece of luggage one way.

Be sure to do this online before the flight so that you can save money, because an additional piece of luggage often costs twice as much if you pay at the airport.

KLM
Royal Dutch Airlines is a bit more open and lets you transport them in your carry-on luggage. But their answer still mentions the transport of batteries.

KLM Drohne im Handgepäck

Drone Case

Since I had to check the drone with Swiss, I obviously also had to find a real drone case. Brack.ch offers several packs, and I decided on the Lowepro DroneGuard BP 450 AW. (Warning: the backpack diverges in two places from the permitted carry-on dimensions by about a 1 cm.

When the bag is transported as checked baggage, you need to ask at the counter if there’s an option for having the bag handled with extra care when being brought onto the plane. According to Swiss on Twitter, the Zurich airport has “Fragile—Handle with Care” labels, but the people at the counter had no idea about this. Next time, I’ll check the bag and carry it to the gate (it doesn’t contain any prohibited items, and they’ll screen it at the security checkpoint). Once at the gate, I’ll ask a Swiss employee nicely if he could still add the case to the checked baggage, as they’ll often do for other carry-one luggage.



Drones in Peru

Through my research on drone laws in South America at, I found out that bringing a drone along to Peru is not that easy. A couple of people even suggested that you’d be better off leaving the drone at home. After several lengthy discussions with Daria, in which we were uncertain whether we’d be able to use the drone at all in the end and consequently be lugging it around for no reason, I decided to take the drone along. Worst case, I would just have to leave it at the airport for 27 days.

Peruvian Law

On inquiring at Peru.Travel, I was informed that a drone in Peru would be no problem. You just had to obtain a permit and do a temporary import at the airport so that you have to deposit the sales tax.

Order of Events

On the airplane, you indicate the drone on the entry form, including its approximate value in dollars.
On arriving at the airport, you go directly to customs and hand in the form. Smuggling won’t work, since the case will be scanned on leaving the airport (watch out, or you’ll be fined). We had a competent, English-speaking official on site who knew exactly the best way to deal with a drone in Peru.
Once the serial number and model of the drone were recorded, my pack, which I handed over, was weighed and I left it there.
The next day, we made our way to the Ministry of Transport and Communications to get a permit. Be aware that here they really do speak only Spanish, so it’s very helpful to take along a Google Translator or Spanish-speaking colleague.
After going from counter to counter, we were told that we could pick up our permit five hours from then.
Five hours later, we had our permit and drove back to the airport. At the airport, you show your permit and pay the sales tax. Once you’ve paid, you get your drone back and are notified that you need to be at the counter three hours prior to your flight to get back the sales tax money. This is where it’s important to bring the same drone with you, since the serial number is rechecked.

Tips:

  • Be sure to include one day in your plan for dealing with the authorities and the airport.
  • Mention to the authorities that you’re in Lima for only one day. Otherwise, it can take 3–5 days to get your permit.
  • If you want to save time, fill out the form at home: Download Drone Form Peru.
  • Bring along the receipt for the drone, since you have to prove that the drone is from your native country (or that you got it there).
  • ALWAYS carry your permit with you.
  • In Peru, we met quite a lot of locals who had never seen a drone before and would studiously watch us, but we never had any difficulties with the police or whatever. You should still be careful to not fly it around airports, military installations, or religious sites (Machu Picchu).

Drone Red Beach Paracas National Park

Drones in Bolivia

Figuring out drone laws for Bolivia was a bit difficult, since according to the Internet, there aren’t any. When I asked at the embassy and the Bolivian tourism office and got no answer, I decided to risk it for our trip, during which we’d only be spending seven days in Bolivia, and I just took the drone along across the border.

After we’d flown around on the Isla del Sol and then later arrived by boat at a police checkpoint, where everyone had to empty their pockets and show their contents, we quickly lost our fear when the policeman said nothing on seeing our drone. Later, we also flew in Copacabana, Salar de Uyuni, and La Paz with no problem.

Summary

Drones are not yet that well known in either country, which is why there are often no laws or regulations. In Peru, we were really surprised at how well informed the officials were about drones and the local laws, which made the process relatively easy for us. In Bolivia, either the police may just not have cared at that moment or there aren’t any laws in Bolivia.

Our Tips for Traveling and Flying with Drones:

  • Check the Internet for individual experiences and laws.
  • Ask the airlines and airport about drone regulations.
  • Inquire at the embassy and tourism office, or check with colleagues who live locally.
  • Always be sure to be present when starting and loading your drone so that it doesn’t get stolen.
  • Don’t fly around airports, religious sites, government buildings, and military installations unless the local law states something else.

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15 Comments

  • Reply David L 13. September 2016 at 13:31

    Thanks Kevin! Very useful.
    I’m heading there in October. So not much time left to do this.
    How much was the permit? anyway we can apply electronically?

    • Reply Kevin 16. September 2016 at 21:09

      Hi David! Glad you liked it. The permit doesn’t cost anything – we just payed for a pass copy. There’s no web possibility to apply for a permit yet. You have to go through the whole procedure upon arrival. You can also download the form from this blogpost and fill it in in advance. Please plan a day, to complete the paperwork and get your drone – and have a great time in Peru!

  • Reply David L 1. November 2016 at 13:42

    Hi Kevin,
    So we (the drone and I) made it to Lima, Cusco, Puno.
    They confiscated the drone at customs as you said they would, and I had a mad rush to the ministry of transport as my flight was in 6hrs time, got it back in 4.5hrs. Traffic was horrendous so I just made the flight.
    Here are the videos from my trip. Thanks to you this was possible. Cheers.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN2QT4mtd8U&feature=youtu.be
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDooTc7QyCM

    • Reply Carsan 8. November 2016 at 1:09

      Hi David , good to hear that you managed to bring your drone into Peru to take some ariel shots. I’m planning to go to Peru next year with my drone, and I would like to find some information regarding this topic.
      I’m planning to enter Peru from Bolivia by a tour bus. I’m sure the tour bus would not wait for me to get a permit from the ministry of transport. Is it possible for me to apply for a permit first before leaving my country? I live in the U.K.
      Second question, once you have a permit from the ministry of transport, do you just show it to the custom, and the custom will tax you with import duty? After that everything will be cleared. Is that the whole procedure?

      Thank.
      Carsan

    • Reply Daria 12. November 2016 at 20:20

      Hi David, glad you made it! Thanks for sharing your videos, it’s always such a pleasure to see places we’ve also been to again 🙂 best, Daria

      • Reply Daria 12. November 2016 at 20:42

        Hi Carsan – i’ll try to answer your question and hope David can confirm it.
        We also went to Bolivia and back by bus. It was a rush indeed and nobody seemed to control our luggage in the bus. I also don’t think you’ll find there someone from the Ministry of Transportation 😉 You’d have to register your drone in Lima later.
        Prior to our trip we tried everything to get a permission in advance – we contacted the Ministry, asked their official tourism office but the only chance to get it in advance is to have someone who can get the paperwork done for you in Lima. This person would need an official authorisation from you. So it’s not less complicated. The only thing you can do in advance is to download and fill in the drone form (link in blogpost) so you save some minutes filling it in at the airport.
        With a permit from Ministry you go to customs and they charge you with import duty. You can use your credit card, but will get it back in cash. Then you can leave with a drone.

        Best, Daria

  • Reply Carsan 19. November 2016 at 21:57

    Thanks Daria for your reply. If you travel on a bus into Peru, the customs don’t scan your luggage?

    • Reply Kevin 29. November 2016 at 14:30

      Hi Carsan, no – our luggage was in the bus, and i haven’t seen anybody checking the bags. also our hand luggage was not screened. It was more of getting into the building, get stamps and get on the bus again.

  • Reply Stig 11. January 2017 at 15:22

    Hi everyone.
    I asked application for permission to bring my drone to Peru via e-mail.
    A MTC agent told me that I don’t need anything to bring A drone to Peru (it’s limited up to only one).
    Is this true? As far as I could search on the internet, I dought it.
    I’ll stay in Lima only two nights, and I won’t back Lima again.
    For that reason, I’m concerned that if my drone is confiscated once, I can’t get back it.

    If you have informations about number of drone, let me know.

    I thank you in advance of your help.

    • Reply Kevin 30. January 2017 at 15:12

      Hi Stig,
      as you can read on our blog, we had to go through a long procedure to import the drone. If you fail to gather all documents in Lima, your drone will stay at customs and you can pick it up on your flight back home.

    • Reply Carsan Choong 18. February 2017 at 18:24

      Hi Stig,
      I’ve read one of the post on TripAdvisor and the drone law in Peru has changed, you DON”T need a permit any more to bring in a drone into Peru.

      According to the post, the customs don’t bother any more when they see a drone in the scan, but that guy still declared and paid import tax $126 , just to be safe. But you can get this tax back 3 hrs before your flight home.

      Thanks
      Carsan

  • Reply Brian 29. January 2017 at 14:25

    Dear Stig,
    I wonder if you succeed bring your drone to Peru or not.
    Could you share your experiece?

  • Reply Chris 7. February 2017 at 17:11

    Hey Stig,
    it would be great if you will share your experience here with us, because I want to fly to Peru too in May.
    I will go there from Panama City and will fly over Bogota to Cusco in Peru. So I am not at Lima. I hope it will work… Still have no answer from the german embassy in Lima (I am German).

  • Reply Kostya 21. February 2017 at 22:11

    Just sow this post of Mike L at
    https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/ShowTopic-g294311-i818-k10044689-Bringing_a_drone_into_Peru_permit_not_required-Peru.html

    Can we say yeahhh!!! hope it will work also in March, when I’m going there 🙂
    Good luck and Safe flights
    ————————————————————————
    Bringing a drone into Peru – permit not required
    06 December 2016, 17:47

    There has been a bunch of discussion about the complication of bringing a small camera drone (e.g., DJI Phantom 4) to Peru. I’d like to share our experience from today’s arrival into Lima.

    Spoiler: it was easy.

    Background: for some reason, Peru is uptight about drones. Customs and regulations make it unusually complicated to bring a small camera drone into the Lima Airport, traveling internationally. Arrival to Lima was the last leg of a multi-destination travel – and we had the drone with us the entire time; we had taken many amazing shots all over the world and, while we didn’t have any special plans for Peru, we chose to keep the Phantom with us and see what happens.

    Peru’s “official” rules state that you have to declare the drone (amongst many other items) on your customs declaration form. We did that, but we obfuscated it by declaring a bunch of other personal-use stuff such as batteries, cameras, a portable speaker, and an e-cigarette. The person at the X-Ray scanners told us that we don’t need to declare any of that as it’s personal-use items, so we then were instructed to fill a new, empty form, with no items declared, and place our bags through the scanner.

    Lo and behold, the X-Ray techs then had the fun and joy of spotting our Phantom 4 going through the scanner. We didn’t think they would, but they are clearly well-trained to catch smugglers. The belt was halted with an excited exclamation “Ah, you brought a drone??? Open it up!”. We gladly complied, then we were politely asked to pay the 18% tax on the $1000 estimated value. (we didn’t get slapped with a 50% “smuggling fine” because, technically, we had declared it voluntarily in our first form).

    Whereas it has been stated previously that your drone is kept at the airport while you hassle around Lima for to obtain some permit, then come back to the airport again and wait in more lines to get the drone back into your hands, this process appears to have been changed.

    Today, we simply had to pay the tax ($180 on the $1000 estimated value of the Phantom 4), record the serial number, and given instructions on how to collect the $180 back on our departure in 10 days. We left the airpot with the drone in our hands. According to the customs official, we invoked the “Temporary Operations” provision which allows “tools and equipment” to be imported by a non-resident traveler for up to 12 months. Perhaps it’s new.

    In any event, don’t hesitate to bring your drones to Peru. It’s not that scray. You can’t fly it at Machu Pichu, obviously, but there are many other places and photo/video ops that we’ll take the opportunity to explore.

    Good luck & fly safe!

  • Reply Grace 2. July 2017 at 17:59

    Hi Kostya and Stig,

    Anyone of you successfully entered without a permit in 2017? I am going in September, and it will be good if there are some updates (:

    Thanks in advance for any help!

    Regards,
    Grace

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