Border #6: Nicaragua to Costa Rica via Peñas Blancas

Grumpy Police Officers, Friendly Clerks and Pura Vida Style Lunch Breaks

This border took us a lot longer than we expected. Luckily we were staying in San Juan del Sur which was only a 45 minute drive from the border. From there to Playa Samara (our first stop) was only another 3 hours… so we had time.

Leaving Nicaragua

Nearing the exit buildings, we begin to see all of the men rushing around the car per usual. Keep going, this border is definitely the most developed one we’ve seen so you’ll notice a large parking lot off to the right with women selling food and souvenirs. This parking lot is the “back” of the customs office so it can be a bit confusing if you enter through the back doors. I recommend walking around to the other side of the building.

Keep an eye out for an official who will provide you with a customs declaration form. We missed this and it made it a little difficult later.

  1. As soon as you enter there is a kiosk to your left where you need to pay the $1 fee (not sure what for). If you miss it don't worry, she’ll find you in the customs line, you’ll pay and get a receipt. We did not have small bills and it was very difficult for them to break a $20.
  2. The official was very friendly. After he stamped our passports, we paid the $2 exit fee and were on our way in about 5 minutes.
  3. Canceling the Temporary Vehicle Permit (TIP) was really confusing so just be patient; you may have better luck.
  • A customs agent needs to inspect the vehicle, so head to the lot behind the customs office where you parked and keep an eye out for a guy with a clipboard.
  • Take the stamped/signed paperwork he gives you to the aduana desk

You passed it on your way out the back door to the parking lot, it’s VERY unclear and if you ask around you may be directed to another small office up at the front – this is NOT the right place.  No one seemed to know where to tell us to go and we felt our communication in Spanish was fairly clear. The women behind the desk didn’t take very long to process our work but she wasn't incredibly friendly.

  • Find a policeman back across the parking lot, most hang out in the food stall. They will stamp the paperwork and apparently you are then free to leave. They also weren’t terribly friendly but our Spanish is still sub-par. 

Leaving Nicaragua, we weren’t convinced we had everything we needed but this probably had a lot to do with us having been directed to so many wrong places.

But we hopped in the car anyway and tried to head out. We were stopped due to some kind of border closure for a brief period. All of the policemen left their stations and blocked all cars, trucks and pedestrians for about 10 minutes. We’re still not sure what that was about.

4. When exiting Nicaragua, the guard will keep the stamped TIP paperwork.

Entering Costa Rica

1.     Fumigation is always a little unclear it seems, and we’ve never once been asked for proof that our car was fumigated… entering Costa Rica was no different. We planned to get out and pay at the booth before driving through but we were waved forward. We tried to pay again but they just kept waving us away. In fact, I can’t even remember if the machine ever actually sprayed us. So we just kept driving, oh well.

2.     You’ll see a big white immigration building on the left. JUST past it, are parking spaces out front (both to the left and little further ahead on the right).

  • At customs, one woman was visibly irritated after having been asked to show proof of onward travel (maybe this is more difficult for backpackers because we didn’t have any issues once we explained we were driving our own car to Panama).

3.     Go directly across the street for TIP part 1 (you’ll see an Aduana sign). Hand them copies of your Title, Passport and Driver’s License (hopefully you’ve begun to always have copies of these things). Complete the short form they give you, they will stamp the form and check your vehicle. Very friendly lady here :)

4.     Get back in your car and drive down about 300 meters to the second Aduana building. You'll see a small building on your right with a road immediately after. Turn right, it will feel like you are going back towards fumigation. You'll see the Aduana building on your right. Park and walk up the ramp to the insurance window facing the parking lot and purchase insurance here for $36.

  • When we walked up to the window it was 11:40am. The guy at the desk wouldn’t even look up at us, he just pointed to a sign on the window above his head and then got back on his iPhone. The sign said "Cerrado 12-1pm” (closed for lunch). Okay… so they took their lunch break 20 minutes early – guess we're eating snacks in the car and playing 20 questions to kill time until 1pm. Pura Vida!

5.     You’ll see a copy shop off the right. Make copies of the insurance and the entry stamp in your passport. If you need more copies of your title,  passport and driver’s license now is a good time because you’ll give more of those at TIP part two ($1.50)

6.     Back up the ramp and through the glass doors on the right, hand over all of the documentation and copies. They will process the paperwork and hand you the Temporary Import Permit.

7.     Show all of your paperwork upon exiting.

  • We had another really quick car check here from a big macho man who looked very serious and stern ;) But he ended up being very nice after we answer his questions in our minimal Spanish and waved us on!

DATE: September 26, 2016
TIME TO CROSS: 3 hours (10:30am – 1:30pm)
TOTAL FEES: $43.50

See you down the road!
Meg + Tyler

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