Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Border Crossing: Nicaragua / Costa Rica

July 12th, 2013 | Posted by Brianna in Border Crossings | Costa Rica | Dogs | 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: July 4, 2013 – Nicaragua > Costa Rica at Penas Blancas

What We Needed:

  1. Passports,
  2. Driver’s license(s), and
  3. Vehicle title and registration.

The Process: Driving south near the border on the Pan American, veer to the left to go through a fenced complex. A group of helpers may be there to help guide (We, questioning their motives and thinking the fenced area was solely for making duty free purchases, continued straight only to find the road blocked a couple of blocks later by some semis and a taxi, where we were again told that we needed to go through the fenced area.), and a 10×10 tent should be set up on the far side of the gate. Here, passports are reviewed and travelers are sent on to migración and customs. There are helpers in the area and the buildings are not well marked, making first timers easy to spot. For exit stamps, go to the building that is connected to an outdoor pavilion space that looks like a bus station. There is a stand alone box office type window where visitors must buy a ticket/slip before proceeding to the numbered windows of the main building for processing. A short form will also need to be filled out; they are available at the windows or from helpers. Another fee must be paid to actually get the exit stamp. Next, take your import permit to the nearest border official (ours was standing near a food stand on the bus station looking pavilion) for their initials. You probably won’t get questions or your car noticed or even eye contact for that matter. Then, take your permit inside of the building through the door at the end of the pavilion thing (or if you’re looking at the migración windows, it is around the left side of the building). An officer sitting just inside the door will also need to initial the permit. He may want to see drivers’ licenses and title or registration prior to doing so. The officer will then send you across the small room to another desk where a staff member will officially cancel your permit. There is no fee. The process itself was quite quick and painless, but we did wait on staff for a few minutes here and there.

Driving out of the Nicaraguan side of the crossing, passports will be checked again by an officer. At a fork in the road upon entering Costa Rica, signage directs cars to the right through a giant car-wash looking fumigation machine. Other travelers indicated a highly varying fee here, but we were not stopped and cruised right on through without any cost. The road then leads to the Costa Rican border area with a bigger building in the middle and smaller ones on the right. Drive past them to park, and then walk back to the bigger, nicer building that had been to your left while driving past for an entrance stamp. There was no line when we arrived earlier in the morning, but a system of barricades was set up in a way that looked like they were used at times to organize a long, winding line of people. There was no fee for the entrance stamp; it was quick and easy. Getting the import permit was a little bit more convoluted, but still not difficult.

The first step is to purchase insurance, which must be done at an office next to the second customs office. There is a customs office across the road from the migración building where officials may point you if you ask where to get an import permit, but they will send you on for insurance before processing your paperwork anyway, so it’s not worth wasting time in there until you’ve got your ducks in a row. To get to the second customs office, get back in your car and drive just a bit further, pulling off to the right into a fenced area full of semis. It looks like a warehouse or 18-wheeler parking lot of some sort, but this is the right way. Money changers will be at the gate, and the insurance office accepts only USD or colones, so exchange some cash here if you’re only carrying córdobas like we were. Driving past the semi-trucks, there is a ramp leading to an office on the left side. The window for purchasing insurance is on the far side of the second customs office when walking up the ramp. There is a sign above the window. Here you will need to show the title, registration (or license plate number), and driver’s passport and license. After paying the fee, the agent directs purchasers of insurance to a window in a building at the bottom of the ramp where copies can be purchased. Though the agent told me what I needed copies of, the person making copies seemed to know the drill as he quickly made all of the appropriate duplicates in an organized fashion. The photocopy station requires/requests “moneda” only, which I was told meant coins rather than bills.

Next, get back in the car, park in the spot you started in, and head to the first customs office. The official will take the stack of photocopies and attach them to a form for the driver to fill out. Once that is done, he will review them and stamp them and send you to the second customs office, back by the insurance window. Climb back in the car, drive back to customs office 2, and then hand your nicely stapled packet of information to the agent behind the desk. He will keep your packet and provide you with the official temporary vehicle import permit. On the way out, an officer reviews passports, and then visitors are free to enjoy Costa Rica!

Costs: The cost to leave Nicaragua is $3 USD total per person, or 24-25 córdobas per person for the ticket/slip and an additional 48-50 córdobas per person for the actual exit stamp. There is no fee to cancel the temporary auto import permit, nor is there a fee on the Costa Rican side for an entrance stamp. Insurance must be purchased in Costa Rica, and we were automatically given a three month policy for a fee of 17,216 colones ($35 USD). Perhaps shorter policies are available, but we had read from other travelers that they weren’t allowed to purchase them and we went through the process without thinking to ask. Photocopies cost 200 colones ($.41 USD). After purchasing insurance, there were no further charges for the vehicle import permit to Costa Rica.

Dogs: No one came anywhere near our vehicle, except the last officer who checked our passport. He smiled kindly at the dogs, barked at them, and then sent us on our way. We did not pursue a permit or pay any fees.

Our Experience: Over all, this crossing was very hassle free, but did include a few counter intuitive steps in terms of order of operations. At the time we crossed, there were no helpers trying to show us around on the Costa Rican side which made a big difference. In fact, we found the crossing quite peaceful. Great experience!

Vangabonds Border Crossing Number: 9

Costa Rican Temporary Auto Insurance

Costa Rican Temporary Auto Insurance

Costa Rica Temporary Auto Import Permit

Costa Rica Temporary Auto Import Permit

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