Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

Border Crossing: Honduras / Nicaragua

July 7th, 2013 | Posted by Brianna in Border Crossings | Dogs | Honduras | Nicaragua

We cross borders by land in a CR-V with US passports and our two dogs. We do not carry drugs or weapons or disallowed fruit (usually). These articles are not a definitive guide to crossing borders nor should they be used as a sole source of information. They are our experiences.

When, Where, and Which Direction: June 29, 2013 – Los Manos, Yuscarán, Honduras > El Paraiso, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua

What We Needed: To be honest, we’re not entirely sure what we actually needed, what we should have needed but were never asked for, and what we didn’t really need but had to supply anyway. We again referenced the 30forthirty blog and made extra copies of all of our typical paperwork before leaving. In our experience, we needed:

  1. Passports,
  2. Driver’s license(s),
  3. Vehicle title and registration,
  4. Certificates of vaccinations for the dogs,
  5. Certificate of good health for the dogs (in English and Spanish), and
  6. Copies of all of the above.

The Process: This border was a giant cluster. It wasn’t a negative experience per say, just a relatively unclear one. I’ve attempted to clarify how we completed the steps required to pass below.

  1. Drive past many, many 18-wheelers parked along both sides of the road.

    Trucks

    Trucks along road out of Honduras. Click to enlarge.

  2. Park in front of the building on left side of the road.
  3. Be aware of helpers. They come in all shapes and sizes, some trying to exchange money, others offering forms, most trying to follow you around from one step to the next, butting in to “help” and then expecting something in return. If you want the assistance, just be prepared to offer a nice “voluntary” tip for the services and probably also some additional or higher fees along the way. PanAmNotes recommends travelers be prepared with the phrase, “No necisita ayuda. Por favor, dejame in paz, no voy a pagar. Vaya!” to say no. We were later inadvertently directed to the customs window and handed forms by a money changer who we thanked by exchanging some cash with.
  4. Go into the middle-ish, right-ish office door. Some uniformed officials may be around. Answer questions asked by the migración agent regarding where you’re coming from and where you’re going. He’ll take passports into a room in the back where they will be stamped for exit. No fee charged.
  5. Go to windows left of migración but in the same building to get auto import permit cancelled. We gave the official our temporary permit, Ian’s passport (which had the car stamped in it), and customs forms that were given to us by a helper. The official didn’t look at the customs forms or the car, but processed the cancellation quickly. No fee charged.
  6. Get back in car and continue down the road through the narrow pathway between the large trucks. The official line between the Honduras and Nicaragua is marked by a chain between poles with a sign nearby on either side welcoming you to each country. The chain may be down, but the crossing can also be spotted by the snack shack on the left followed immediately by a small, unmarked office. A uniformed officer looks at passports here.
  7. Pull off to the right to go to the fumigation station. Go up the stairs and into the office on the far right to pay fee.

    Honduras from Nica

    Looking back into Honduras from Nicaragua. Click to enlarge.

  8. Return to unmarked office next to snack shack where vehicles can park nearby. Read “Our Experience” below for some observations and thoughts on helpers on the Nicaraguan half of the border.Get passports stamped. This was a strange step for us. The officials (in blue collared shirts with DGA embroidered on lapel) behind the window filled out our immigration forms for us and then walked them to a second office further down the road with a very long line where they were stuffed with a stamped tourist card each, but not stamped themselves. The official also took our cash to the office and returned our change to us with a receipt that indicated that he had pocketed 80% of the fee and then changed the price. He then said something to me indicating that he expected a tip for expediting the process, but I played dumb and in retrospect, the $20 he stole should probably cover it. It might be worth checking to see if the fee is cheaper by waiting in the line in the last office to the left, but we really don’t know.

    Unmarked Building

    Unmarked building by snack shack. Click to enlarge.

  9. At the same time as the passports were being processed, we also started our vehicle import permit process. This means handing a photocopy of the vehicle’s registration to a DGA official sitting outside of the unmarked building next to the snack shack with a clipboard. He will write down some information onto the photocopy with his initials and maybe look briefly at the outside of the car.
  10. This form must be taken to the customs office with title, registration, owner’s passport, and driver’s license. That office is on the left side of the road, a bit further down from the unmarked building next to the snack shack. It is the same building that our passports were stamped in, but the window is on the far left rather than the right. Your spot in line is not really yours, so think defensively. Stand wide and move forward immediately when space is available. The person in the office will spend many, many minutes typing and helping others who wedge their way in. The owner of the car will need to sign the permit.

    Nica Side

    Further into Nica side of crossing. Click to enlarge.

  11. When she does hand you your paperwork back, return to the unmarked building next to the snack shack where the official who originally looked at your documents will write your information onto a clipboard and sign off on your new permit.
  12. To import dogs, which may or may not be necessary depending on who is paying attention, return to the right side of the road near the fumigation station. The office is up the stairs and to the left of the office where payment is collected for fumigation. We supplied a health certificate, vaccination certificates, and Spanish translation of the health certificate. An official accepted the forms without looking at the dogs, filled out a few carbon copy forms, accepted our payment, and then sent us on our way with permit in hand.
  13. Get back in your car and drive a short distance further where a police officer will look at copies of your documents and examine the car at a building on the left. Purchase insurance at that building from a non-uniformed person sitting in a chair in front.
  14. Get back in your car to drive out of the border area. Another official may need to see all paperwork before allowing exit.

Costs: We read on multiple blogs that a fee of 140 lempiras ($7 USD) would be charged per person for an exit stamp from Honduras, but we were not asked at any point to pay a fee. There was also no fee to cancel our temporary auto import permit, meaning there was no cost for us to leave the country. This may not always be the case. The cost for fumigation was 74 córdobas ($3.65 USD). The fee for entrance stamps to Nicaragua was $12 USD per person, something we had read from multiple sources before crossing despite the fact that the actual tourist card says $10 USD. This fee could be paid in córdobas, but was quoted to us in English. We gave the official $25 USD, received change in córdobas equivalent to about a dollar, and were given a receipt showing that we had paid 88 córdobas ($4.35 USD). So… ?? Moving on… There was no fee for our temporary vehicle import permit, but Nicaraguan insurance is required and can be purchased at the border. Most online resources say that the insurance should cost $12 USD. We were told 300 córdobas ($15 USD) and then actually charged 400 córdobas ($20 USD) because I let a teenager confuse me. For our pet permits, we were charged $28 USD, which we were allowed to pay part in USD and part in córdobas. The receipt read relatively close the price we paid. We also spent about $18 USD in various currencies for our helper and his recommended bribes. See below for thoughts on this.

Dogs: No one paid much attention to the dogs, except for the helper who made sure all of the officials knew that we had dogs and made sure that they all required us to get our permit before moving on. Actually getting the permit was quite easy. The agent simply reviewed our health and vaccination certificates, collected our money, filled out a form, and sent us on our way. He did not ask to see the dogs.

Our Experience: Our experience was largely dictated by Antonio, our helper. We have mixed feelings about this system, which we had avoided until this border crossing. For the most part, we vastly prefer to move through the process on our own, at our own pace, asking our own questions, learning our own lessons. In fact, even as I write this post, I find myself irritated at Antonio for butting in and bothering us, for causing us to spend more money than we might have otherwise.

Antonio was standing at the first unmarked building when we arrived and tried to tell us where to go. We ignored his assistance, but were urged to use his help by the DGA official processing our import permit. I kindly refused multiple times, clearly irritating the border agent. That was when he decided he needed to look at our car, and Antonio of course went right along with him. While looking at the car, Antonio noticed Maya and Olmec, clearly seeing his way in. “Dogs, dogs!” he kept saying. The official didn’t seem to care, but this wonderful helper made sure that we were told we had to go get a pet permit. Having no clue where that happens at, we had to ask to be pointed towards the right office, at which time we were instead directed to Antonio. We continued to try to ditch him and his services, but he followed along begrudgingly, eventually helping us get our vehicle paperwork processed faster, and then finally urging us to pay a bribe, allowing his friend the insurance salesman to price gouge us, and accepting a pretty decent sized “voluntary” tip for his services. This is frustrating in that we work hard to make our money and also to spend it wisely, and because he wanted us to pay him for help, we ended up paying for help and for bribes and for extra-large fees and, I like to think, for pet permits that we wouldn’t have had to get had he not pushed it to make himself useful. I felt taken advantage of and disorganized.

All that said, I’m not convinced that we would have had a better experience without Antonio. The officials and officers seemed less than amused that we wanted to enter Nicaragua without the help of a local. They seemed unwilling to help and disinterested in doing their jobs unless we were with the helper. I’m sure we could have gotten through fine. In fact, without a potential helper there at all, the officials may not have seen a reason not to be amiable and forthcoming. But he was there, and they wanted us to use his services, so even if it was frustrating and felt forced and unfair, in some ways, it was our best choice. Except for with Antonio, we didn’t have to play games or shoo away helpers at every step or wait in any lines. We actually made it through the crazy cluster of tasks faster than we usually do. In retrospect, we still have an unpleasant view of border helpers, but we also see their value – a value not so much based in their knowledge or speed, but rather in that having them pleases the people who you really need to be on your side. Manipulative, huh?

Vangabonds Border Crossing Number: 8

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4 Responses

  • Clark Jordan says:

    I lived in Nicaragua and believe me it was easier with the helper. They at least know the correct order in which to do things, and not knowing that creates a giant mess and confusion backtracking and trying to “fix” everything. Nicaragua is very unorganized, to say the least, and dealing with any government agency can be maddening. Yes, it cost you some extra cash, but it is well worth getting through relatively easily. Nicaraguans consider saying “no” to be rude, so even if you ask someone if you are in the correct queue and you are not, they will say “yes”.

    I enjoyed meeting you guys so much in Playa Zancudo! I look forward to following your journey!

    • Ian says:

      Thanks for the perspective! If you are ever in the neighborhood, just give us a shout.

    • Brianna says:

      Interesting to hear someone else’s perspective and experience, and that makes a lot of sense. We definitely also got the feeling that saying “no” was going to set us back much further than just not having help in the way of having offended someone (and his friends whose stamps we needed). Thanks for the support, Clark!

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