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Nicaragua to Costa Rica Border Crossing

Written by Jessica on May 5, 2012

Nicaragua and Costa Rica flags

This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.

Border name: Peñas Blancas
Closest major cities: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua and La Cruz, Costa Rica
Cost to exit Nicaragua:  C$67 Cordobas ($3 USD) per person ($1USD tax, $2USD for the stamp)
Cost for vehicle: CR$2175 colones ($4.50 USD) fumigation, CR$8365 colones ($17 USD) insurance
Total time:  2 hours
Date crossed: Saturday, April 23, 2012

Update September 2013: Please see the notes in the comments from Patrick & Marijke for the latest info on this border crossing. Thanks guys!

The steps:

  1. Stop at the small booth on the left side of the road. If it’s busy, park just past the booth.
  2. Give your passports to one of the guards out front. They will look at them, but not do anything.
  3. Give the vehicle permit to another man near the booth, he will scribble something on it and hand it back.
  4. Get back in the car and drive a short ways. Go past the set of buildings ahead and turn left. Then drive past the customs/immigration building and turn left again. Park here. 
  5. Walk around the other side of the building to the exit immigration. At the small booth pay the $1 per person exit tax.
  6. Proceed to the immigration window. Fill out your tourist exit card. Pay another $2 fee to the official and he will issue a receipt. Keep all receipts!
  7. Head back to the other side of the building, and find an official in a while shirt with the DGA Logo. Hand over your Nicaraguan vehicle permit. He may want to check your car and/or verify the VIN. He will then stamp/sign/scribble on your permit.
  8. Next stop is to find a police officer, possibly in the building, possibly wandering around outside. The officer will add another signature and stamp to your permit. They may also inspect the car.
  9. Proceed to the small window on the corner of the building. Here another official with a DGA polo shirt will take your permit again. She will enter a few things in the computer and hand your uber stamped-up permit back to you.
  10. Get back in your car and haul it to Costa Rica before they ask for more stamps.
  11. When leaving the border area, an official at a small shack will ask to see all the passports and the vehicle permit. He will keep your uber stamped-up import permit.
  12. Stay to the right and stop at the fumigation booth. Pay the CR$2175 fee, and then proceed through the fumigation station.
  13. Continue to the big white immigration building on the left. Just past it, also on the left, is a good place to park.
  14. Go to immigration, fill out your entry cards and present the card with your passports to the official. Your passport will be stamped and returned. Now for the fun part.
  15. Look across the street at the small yellow building that says “aduana” on front. I know you want to go there. But don’t be fooled. This is not the aduana you are looking for (at least not yet). Get back in your car and drive about 300 meters to the “other” aduana or walk if you can stand the heat.
  16. Go to the insurance window on side at the far end of the building. Hand over the vehicle title, the drivers passport and license. Pay the fee, about CR$8365 ($17 USD)
  17. Go to the copy shop. Make sure you have one copy of the title and insurance paper. You will also need one copy of the passport photo page, immigration stamp, and driver’s license for every person that intends to drive the vehicle in Costa Rica. 
  18. Now, get back in your car and drive back to the first aduana booth. The official here will take all of your copies and originals. He’ll ask you to fill out a form, and return your original and your copies with the form on top all neatly stapled together. He may verify your VIN or search your car.
  19. With the paperwork you have from aduana #1, drive back to aduana #2. Go through the doors at the very end of the building. Hand over the pile of paperwork you received at aduana #1. Enjoy the air conditioning.
  20. The official will enter more info into the computer and hand back a new piece of paper, this is your vehicle import permit.
  21. Stop at the small exit booth and show your vehicle permit to the guard. Get out of Dodge.

Our Experience

Note: Costa Rica is a very expensive country by Central American standards. We recommend that you stock up in Rivas, Nicaragua on all the basics, and even some extras before you leave.

We left our camp spot near San Juan del Sur around 8:30am. After stocking up on groceries we hit the border around 10:30am.

A long line of trucks outside the Costa Rican border.There was a huge line of trucks at the border that were parked on varying sides of the road depending on where the trees were planted. We dodged past all the trucks and tried not to hit oncoming traffic.

On the left we noticed a small blue shack and an entrance gate. We parked across the street and walked over. The guards explain that they “were” immigration and we should drive over. We handed all the passports to one guard. He looked them over, handed them back and explained that we needed to proceed to the next immigration to get our stamps. Sweet.

Another official at the same booth took our vehicle permit and scribbled something on it. He told us to continue to the aduana. We got back in the car and headed to the big building ahead. We drove around the back side and parked near the immigration area for those entering Nicaragua.

At this point, some very pushy tout was shouting at us and kept taking our paperwork, he walked us to an official who was busy sorting through some bus passengers luggage. When this official was done he took our vehicle permit and walked to our car. He took a quick look inside, then stamped the paper and told us to see a police officer. We ditched the tout and headed over to immigration in hopes of losing him.

The customs building on the Nicaraguan border.Immigration for people leaving Nicaragua is on the other side of the building. There was a big open area surrounded by a fence. It was packed with money changers and touts. We went inside and the guard quickly waved us back to the entrance. Before we could go to the immigration window, we had to visit the small booth with big glass windows, present our passports and pay the $1 USD municipality tax. The lady gave us each a receipt for the tax.

Next we walked to the immigration window and filled out our exit cards for Nicaragua. We gave the official all of our passports and our exit cards. He reviewed the information, stamped our passports and collected C$132 ($6 USD) exit fee for all three of us. He issued an official receipt.

At this point we took a small intervention to check out the duty free shops and spend up some of our cordobas. The shops here were more expensive than Nicaragua, but cheaper than Costa Rica. Out of duty free we split up briefly. I went back to the immigration area to change the rest of our cordobas into colones. They guys went back around the other side of the building to look for a police officer to inspect the vehicle. Unfortunately what they found was our car with a blaring alarm.

We’ve been having car alarm problems for the last few weeks. We think the system is just too hot, and somehow short circuiting and setting off the siren randomly. So, we took a little intermission amongst some annoyed Nicaraguans to cool off and disassemble our alarm. Fun times.

Stress level significantly higher, we went back to find a police officer. A nice lady inside the aduana building, took a break from her lunch, opened the window, took our vehicle paperwork, stamped it, signed it, handed it back and promptly closed the window. She pointed haphazardly at the lady sitting at the other window just next to her. So, we stood in line at the next window for another 15 minutes.

At the second window, another lady took our vehicle permit with all the stamps. She entered some information in a computer, stamped our permit yet again, and handed it back. She said we were done.

On the way out of the border area, an official stopped us and asked to see everyone’s passports. He also took our uber stamped up vehicle permit.

And now, to Costa Rica.

The fumigation drivethrough when entering Costa Rica.First stop was a small shack on the right of the road marked “fumigation”. Kobus and I jumped out of the car and paid the CR$2175 ($4.50 USD) fee. Note that cordobas, colones and US dollars are accepted here. Fumigation was straight forward, roll up the windows and drive through.

We continued forward to the immigration area. There was a huge, well signed, white building on the left, so we found a reasonable place to park and went inside. The official at the counter handed us each a tourist card to fill out. We came back to the counter with our passports and completed tourist cards. He swiped and stamped each passport and kept the tourist cards.

The first aduana building on the Costa Rican border.Then we wandered across the street to the small yellow, clearly marked aduana building. We waited in line here for a while and a nice guy with a big cooler of cold drinks sold us two bottles of water. Good business model.

The official at this booth here explained that we needed to buy insurance first and make a pile of copies. He rattled off a long list of paperwork and said we could walk to the insurance area. Fifty meters after the immigration area was a sign that said “aduana” pointing off to a road on the right. However there were probably 200 semi trucks that seemed to block every possible route. We continued walking straight, but after a good 5 minutes we decided that having the car close by would be a good idea. Kobus returned to get the car, Jared and I walked on. 

About 300 meters after the road to the right, there was a place to pull off. Kobus parked and together we took the small path to the right leading to a cluster of buildings.

The insurance sales counter near the second aduana office.There was an aduana office inside the big building and a copy shop across the path way. We asked around several times to find where we could by insurance (seguro). There is a small window around the side of the aduana office. The lady asked for the title and the driver's passport and license. We paid her CS$8375 colones ($17 USD). She issued us a half sheet of paper.

Then we went to the copy shop. We made sure to have copies of our title, the new insurance paperwork, and a copy of the passport photo page, passport page with the immigration stamp, and drivers license for both Jared and Kobus, because both intended to drive in Costa Rica.

Copies in hand, we went back to the car and returned to aduana #1 across from immigration. We presented the official here with all of the copies we just made, as well as all of the originals. He gave us a form to fill out with some standard vehicle information.

He entered some information into the computer and handed back our originals and a stack of papers that included all of our copies. The official then followed us to our car where he inspected the VIN number and poked around in a few things. With the stack of papers in hand, he sent us back to aduana #2.

The final exit shack into Costa Rica.This time, feeling a little adventurous, we took the road to the right and weaved through the mass of semis to find a good parking spot just outside of aduana #2. We went in and delightfully sat down in the air conditioned room. The man took our stack of papers and both drivers licenses and passports and entered a bunch of information into the computer. He kept the pack of papers from aduana #1 and returned all of our originals and gave us the vehicle permit.

Back to the car, we weaved through the semi-trucks again and then stopped at another road booth. The officer took a quick glance at our vehicle permit and waved us forward. Wahoo, another border down.

Best part about this border: Nice dudes with coolers deliver refreshing chilled beverages while you’re standing in line sweating.

Worst part about this border: Stupid car alarms. But also, things are very spread out and having two aduana offices doesn’t help.


#4 John 2013-12-25 14:31
(My family of five foot crossing on December 24, 2013 experience: We arrived at 8:30 A.M. before the buses and it was a very easy crossing. There was a five minute line on the Costa Rica side and we were not required to pay an exit tax. We paid $5 for a man on a bike to take our suitcases to the Nicaragua border. An easy walk through passport inspection with no line and we paid a guy with a cart $5 to take our suitcases to the passport stamping office and then to the exit. I paid a $60 cash entry fee into Nicaragua. A quick walk to the exit. Done. Then, I hired two taxis for $110 to take us to Granada. Total crossing time was 45 minutes and was very easy for two adults and three children)
Patrick & Marijke
#3 Patrick & Marijke 2013-09-19 02:38
We did the border crossing today (18 September 2013) and we noticed the following changes

1) We did not have to pay a fee for fumigation. There was a guy writing down our licence plate and waving us through
2) It was not so easy to find the big white building as there are road works going on in the border area.
3) We did not have to get insurance first before going to aduana #1. We could fill out the paperwork straight after leaving immigration and then head to insurance and aduana #2
4) The insurance and aduana #2 are on what looks like a gated parking lot for trailers next to the aduana #1 building. Still in the same place as for you guys, but maybe this will help other people find their way

We loved the distance between the 2 aduana desks and the fact that our backpack was x-rayed leaving the immigration building!
#2 Hans 2013-02-07 14:28
Thanks for detailing out the steps. We were pleased to have crossed both borders in under 2 hours.
#1 James 2012-05-06 00:34
ugh, nice timing Car Alarm, you bastard!

That A/C'd room was awesome. You know its funny... you never really appreciated an A/C'd ATM room or small office when your in the states...

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