This page is being replaced by a set of pages located here as there is just too much information for a single page. Last updated: 8 June 2008 adding the new section "Additional Information on Permits"
Entering and leaving Nicaragua can be by air to Managua or via the border crossings with Costa Rica and Honduras. There are two border crossings with Costa Rica--one on the Pan American highway at Peñas Blancas and the other by boat from Las Chiles, Costa Rica.
As Nicaragua is part of the CA-4 group of countries, there is no drill to travel to Honduras. Armed with your cédula or passport with a current Visa from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua gets you free (and stamp-free) passage to the next country. The same will go for your vehicle.
Peñas Blancas to Sapóa
I have made this crossing many times. That includes with a Costa Rican registered car, a Nicaraguan registered car and on foot. Most of the information will be useful no matter how you are crossing the border.
As you approach the border from the CR side you will likely encounter a long string of big trucks. That is, the single lane headed into the border area will appear to have a huge line but you should only see trucks. Commercial vehicles have to do through a different customs process and these vehicles are waiting in the line for that process. I used to think that process was very slow but I now understand that in many cases they are waiting for their paperwork to catch up with them. Just drive or walk past this line (yes, you will have to go down the wrong side of a 2-lane road) and into the border area. The road splits into one road in each direction with a building between the two halves. This is the Costa Rican immigration building (plus a restaurant) and non-free toilets.
If you have a car, you can park it on any of the four sides of the building. There are parking lots on two sides and a row of parking on the other two sides near the road. At this point you should be surrounded by people willing to help you (for money). Even if you know the drill, hiring one to watch your car and possibly help you with "express service" may be worth it.
Picking the right person is not necessarily easy. I had one that clearly knew a lot less about the process than I did. But, here are some guidelines:
- If your Spanish sucks, get one who knows English. They are there and asking in English is a good way to weed them out.
- Some have ID cards, some don't. I am not sure of the certification process but the feeling I get is if they have an ID card then they at least have been through the drill a few times.
- See if you like them. If they are just pushy, they are probably not the right person.
If you are walking (the first time we did this by having a cab take us to the border from La Cruz) the process is very simple and there are no fees unless you are a CR resident. If you are a Costa Rica resident, you need to get a $20 stamp which will be in a plastic bag. Leave it in the bag--the guy at the window has to put it in your passport.
You just fill out (or your helper, armed with your passport, will fill out) a simple form. It asks your name, passport number, country, where you are headed and why. If in doubt, Managua and tourism are two good answers here. You then take this to the "para Nicaragua" window. That's it. You are ready to head to the Nicaragua immigration.
If you have a vehicle, you have some additional steps. You need an exit permit (issued by the national registry) and the car registration. (Note that if the car is owned by a corporation you will need a Persona Juridica that shows you are the President of the company that owns the car. This must be an original but it will be returned--unlike at the registry where they keep the original). You take this paperwork to a little building across the "return side of the road". A person in that building might go look at your car or might not. In any case, they enter you on the computer and possibly a log book, stamp the paperwork and send you on your way. Note that you used to need copies. This is no longer the case.
The Nicaraguan immigration is a set of buildings a few hundred meters from the CR side. It is an easy walk or, if you have a car, you can drive and park amongst the buildings. You need to make a decision on your helper. If he was great and claims to know the Nicaraguan side, you can keep him. On the other hand, there will be lots of Nicaraguans there willing to help as well. I have usually had better luck getting a Nicaraguan helper. Getting someone who knows the ropes is a big win. They also will likely cost less. $2-$3 is a a lot of money in Nicaragua.
This process has been revised and is now much easier. Everything now happens in one building with one window stop. If you have a car, there are two additional outside steps first. Before you enter the building someone might look at your luggage but probably not. Once inside you go to the first (left-most window), give them your passport, a little entry form like the one of the CR side and $7. You then walk past all the other windows to the right-most one. They process your paperwork through about five steps and return everything to you. Then you just walk to the border, show your passport and you are on your way.
If you have your car, there are more steps. Not hard or threatening but the steps are there. Here is a basic outline.
- Between the CR and Nicragua sides there is now a spray booth. You pay about $3 to have the car sprayed. They accept US$, cordobas and colones.
- Park your car outside the building. A customs person will come over, look in your car and give you a slip of paper. If you have nothing exciting in your car (like a computer) this is about all you have to do. Otherwise, you will likely have to get a technical customs dude to look at the stuff and decide what sort of duty you owe. Careful planning can avoid this step.
- Somewhere (and I do mean that, they tend to get lost) will be a police officer who needs to authenticate the slip of paper you just got. Ask around. He will eventually show up.
- Show the car paperwork at window and get the next form.
- Pay $10 at the bank (in the same building) for your road tax.
- Pay $12 for one month of insurance (at a table right near the row of windows--you will likely have a choice of two companies).
- Go back to the police window and with this form and get it signed off.
- Drive to the border, show your passport and give them the approved car paperwork. You are almost in Nicaragua.
- Pay $1 to a guy who asks for it and will get you a receipt. This is a tax for the local jurisdiction.
You made it. Note that all the transactions had to be in US $ but there will be money changers around. Just know the rates and all should be ok. My average time at the border with a car owned by a corporation has been about 1 hour. On foot, you can likely make it in 30 minutes or less.
If you are on foot, you travel options are a bus or shared cab to Rivas (about C$30) or various buses further on. If you are going to San Juan del Sur, you can take the Rivas bus, get off at La Virgen (a glorified intersection) and wait for the San Juan del Sur bus.
My biggest discomfort used to be giving my passport, car registration, driver's license and such to someone I didn't know that spoke little English. I have never heard of this being a problem, however.
Sapóa to Peñas Blancas
This is very much like the drill above only in reverse. The Nicaraguan side will be virtually identical other than you wouldn't be paying for insurance on your car. You will need an exit permit from your car which you needed to obtain at Transito where your car is registered before heading to the border. Otherwise, same lines, same place.
If you are a Nicaraguan resident but not citizen you, just like your car, need a permit to leave the country. The difference is that it comes from immigration, not Transito. You will need a copy of your passport picture page and residency stamp page on one piece of paper and a copy of your cédula on another. There are immigration people at the border crossing that can do this so you don't need to go to an immigration office.
Moving on to the Costa Rica side, the main difference is that you get in the para Costa Rica line--which is just next to the para Nicaragua line. If you have a car, you get to do quite a bit of hoop jumping at this point.
First, once you get your passport stamped, go to the "insurance" place just beside the other lines. They will sell you 90 days of insurance and make copies of the needed documents. Figure around $15 and they will expect it in colones. But, good news, there are lots of money changers around.
Next, walk across the road to the little building. This is where you apply for an entry permit. The person there needs all the copies. You fill out another form. He might go look in your car or, more likely, ask if you have anything in the car and saying "just my clothes" or something usually avoids this step. He gives you two things: the stamped forms and a exit slip.
Drive toward the Costa Rica border. There will be a building on your right. Park and walk in. There will be two lines on the left--one for truckers and one for individuals. You give them the paperwork you just got. They type it into a computer and give you an official form. You keep this form with you to show the police if you get stopped. Upon returning, you hand this in to exit back into Nicaragua.
If you are on foot, once you get your passport stamped on the CR site, head across the road (that is, on the incoming from Nicaragua to Costa Rica side of the building). But, instead of crossing directly, head a bit back toward Nicaragua. There is another small building where you can purchase bus tickets. You can get an express bus to Liberia or even onward to San Jose there. Decent buses. Note that they will only accept colones so see a money changer first.
Additional Information on Permits
There are an assortment of different permits you may need. It's safe to assume you will always need photocopies of all sorts of documents obtain anything from the Nicaraguan government. With your cédula, an enlarged photocopy is generally required.
- If you have a resident cédula in Nicaragua but not citizenship, you need to get a Visa de Salida from Immigration. You can do this at the Sapoa border crossing and (probably) at the airport as well as Immigration offices.
- If you are a Nicaraguan citizen but don't have your passport, you can get a "Salvo Conducto" from Immigration in Managua to travel to Costa Rica. This is basically a temporary passport.
- If you are taking a minor out of the country, they need a Permiso de Salida. You can (only) get this at an Immigration office.
- To bring a Nicaraguan-registered car to Costa Rica, you need to get a Permiso de Salida de Nicaragua from Transito. You need to pay for this in BANPRO, then go to Transito. In theory, you need a current vehicle mechanical inspection as well. You need photocopies of your cédula or passport, driver's license, circulacion of the vehicle and insurance card.
- If you are traveling to Costa Rica on a Nicaraguan passport you need to get a Visa from the Costa Rican consulate in Managua. It usually costs $20 but, sometimes, Costa Rica decides not to charge for it. Legally, you have to go in person. At times, it seems this can be done by someone else but don't bet on it.
- If you are leaving Costa Rica with a Costa Rica registered car you need to obtain a permiso from the Public Registry. The closest office to the border is in BCR in Liberia.
- If the Costa Rican car is not registered in your name (for example, in the name of a corporation) you need two notarized statements from the owner that you have permission to take the car out of the country. One is turned in at the Public Registry, the other is shown at the border along with the permiso. Yes, even if you are the owner of the corporation, you need the notarized statements.
Nicaragua/Honduras Border Crossings
I have no experience here but the border is open. That is, there is no passport stamping happening here. The same is true for a properly registered car.