Trying to decode the CA-4 (again)

I remember being told that a resident gets all the rights of a citizen except the right to be involved in politics and vote. I have found out that is not really true but, until today, I thought the rights granted by the CA-4 agreement were included. Now I am not so sure. Some months ago I asked someone in the government of Honduras (I will look up the message) if one could travel to Honduras from Nicaragua on a resident cédula. I was assured, because of the CA-4 agreement, you could. Today, I went to book a bus ticket*, and was told by both Del Sol and TicaBus that I could not. I was told some interesting things.
  • I could leave Nicaragua with a Nicaraguan resident cédula. (I guess that was supposed to be news.)
  • I can travel if I have both a Nicaraguan resident cédula and my passport.
  • With both bus companies, they asked where my Passport was from before answering the question. Even though this sounds strange, it sounds like that if you passport is from some(yet to be determined) country than you don't need it to travel.
I would like to find the real answer. This seems pretty important for extranjeros living in Nicaragua.
* For those who think I am being cheap, the "economics" are different when you live in northern Nicaragua. Instead of a 2+ hour trip to the airport, I have 2+ less hours on the bus to get to a counry north of here. Add in times for plane changes, airport lead time and such and a bus trip is not that much more time and a lot less stressful.

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Real answers from Nicaragua immigration

Earlier today I had a good discussion about how CA-4 travel really works with three immigration people at Sandino Airport. They had the time and so did I. There was disagreement among them on some issues and I asked some "but, what if" questions to try to clairify. Ultimately, everyone agreed and what I was told made sense.

Note that there are still some unknowns related to border crossing fees but, at least for air travel, this all seems to play out correctly.

First, and probably most important, if you are a legal resident of a CA-4 country (only tested with Nicaragua) and are traveling to another CA-4 country you don't need to get an exit visa. With today's new prices, that saves you C$200. To verify this, they might want to see your ticket(s).

Now, what happens if you say, travel to El Salvador and, at some time later, you decide to fly to Mexico? Well, you are already not in Nicaragua (having exited legally but without an exit fee). You would, of course, need a different travel document (for example, a Gringo passport for some flavor of Gringo). You would not have to pay the Nicaraguan leaving the CA-4 fee for this new trip and, as El Salvador has no legal contract with you, you would not have to pay any similar fee that they might have.

That left one final mystery -- the one that started this whole quest for truth by me. That is the need for a passport to travel. They all agreed that if you were not a Nicaraguan citizen, any time you traveled outside Nicaragua, including to another CA-4 country, you needed your passport. In addition, the passport you were traveling on needed to match (as in be from the same country as your cédula said it was from) and, probably, they would look at your residency stamp in your passport.

There are still some unanswered travel mysteries (such as entering the CA-4 on one passport and traveling in or leaving it on another) but, at least, this seems like a good start.

Eligible countries

Yes, your passport does matter. CA-4 does not remove the visa and tourist card processes from the 4 signatory countries when it comes to entrance of outside nationals, nor does it prevent tourist fees from being used on outsiders. There is a shared CA-4 list of countries whose citizens do not need a visa in advance of arriving at any CA-4 border, just as there are (probably 4) country lists for whose citizens do need that visa in advance. There is also a list of countries whose citizens are required to buy a tourist card upon arrival in CA-4, or a particular CA-4 country, if that CA-4 country requires a fee. For those nationals from countries who are not on the above lists, they might not be treated the same by each of the CA-4 countries. Just a guess, but the reason the bus company asks you your passport country is to insure yours is on the uniform or other CA-4 list. Whether they still exist, I am unsure, but when CA-4 came out quite a few Embassies had travel warnings like this older U.S. one: "U.S. citizens who are also citizens of another country and who choose to travel within the CA-4 region using their non-U.S. passport should consult in advance with the appropriate regional authorities regarding visa requirements and access within the CA-4 zone." Good luck to anyone trying that, but the passport identity part is key to your question. Another warning includes the operative phrase "other eligible": "U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals who legally enter any of the four countries may similarly travel among CA-4 countries without obtaining additional visas for the other three countries". Not everyone is eligible for this. Since CA-4 is a product of the Central American Integration System (SICA: Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana), and as of July 2012 Ortega is the acting President of SICA, and Nicaragua has the best residency setup in the region and they are trying to promote this, it is likely in their interest to make the answer to your question known via tourism and residency offices.

Um, almost clear but ...

Ignoring the cédula part for a moment, my understanding was that the CA-4 is treated as a single entity as far as visas are concerned. The down-side for PTs is that they can no longer reset their tourist visa by traveling to another CA-4 country such as the old Nicaragua to Honduras run. If this really is the case then once you are legally in the CA-4 (that is, have an entry stamp from one CA-4 country) you should be free to travel in the CA-4. The cavet here is, of course, if your passport country is on the OK list for one CA-4 country but not another, there is an issue. That all makes sense.

Now, enter a cédula from a CA-4 country, say Nicaragua. Having the cédula alone indicates that one has jumped through the right hoops to be legally in Nicaragua. A visa stamp in a passport offers no additional information. Thus, the only remaining question would seem to be whether one's country of citizenship is on the OK list for each other CA-4 country. On a Nicaraguan cédula, that information is included. Thus, it seems like all the necessary information is available with just the cédula.

Works vs. law

Per a related CA-4 post (http://www.nicaliving.com/node/20574), border hopping does renew tourist visas if Honduras is your base. Immigration officers have discretion to do this. Why is unclear. I have seen it done repeatedly (and twice we received a new 90 days upon return from 20 days in Nicaragua even though my original Honduran slip was only 30 days) in 2012. This did not work right after the CA-4 change or during the coup, but does again for unexplained reasons. But, I am also unsure any of this really sorts out anything per CA-4. After all, were it really a serious international agreement insuring specific legal rights to non-citizens, then it is hard to explain why the signatory countries differ in application, why there is no clarification offered (in any language?), why air and land borders are handled differently, and why just getting the document and in-country application rules is such an ordeal. It is, after all, a nearly 7 year old agreement with a corresponding treaty, yet no one knows the actual rules; not really. Even if you encounter someone who actually has a copy of the rules and understands them, you have no recourse if/when you do not get what you want, even if what you wanted is what you are entitled to. How it "works" and what the law is, are not necessarily the same thing, which is partly why you get a different answer at every border and a different story to go with it.

Airlines can impose rules too

I was flying to the US from Canada as the Gulf War broke out and there was suddenly an airline requirement for passports. It was later removed and became permanent later yet. This was long before the rules changed at the border.