We took our first trip across the Nicaraguan boarder this week. You are allowed to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days at a time before having to exit and re-enter the country restarting your 90 days. This isn’t like crossing the Canada/USA boarder where your biggest stress is admitting how much you ACTUALLY spent on clothes and booze. It’s 2 different countries who are a bit corrupt, have their own ideas of “organization” and of course it’s all in español.
First the Details:
We booked transportation with Tamarindo Transfer and Tours (I highly recommend them) – they take you to the boarder, wait for you and bring you home. They cost $45USD/person which includes a $7USD land transfer tax you have to pay at the boarder.
After a 2.5 hour drive we arrived at CR customs and filled out our immigration papers (you get these at the window, you don’t have to pay anyone for these forms although you will be asked many times to do so). Tamarindo Transfer and Tours had already taken care of our land tax so we payed nothing here. We walked about 400 meters through “no man’s land” past the health stations set up to scan us for Ebola. We continued towards the Nicaraguan Customs office where we payed a $1USD/person “public service fee”. We again filled out the immigration forms and waited in line. At the window we payed $12USD/person, $10 for a “tourist card” and $2 for “the Government”.
Once in Nicaragua you have to wait at least 2 hours before you can cross back into CR. You can shop at the duty free, grab a drink and sit in the waiting area or cross into Nicaragua officially and check out the bazaar/market area (which is supposed to be CRAZY aggressive). We did option #1 and ate lunch.
After 2 hours we entered Nicaraguan Customs and again payed the $1USD/person “public service fee”. We filled out another immigration form (again free at the window) and again payed $2USD/person to “the Government”. We walked the 400 meters back to Costa Rica, filled out a third immigration form, cleared customs, showed our exit ticket (you always need an exit ticket when you enter CR), went through the baggage x-ray machine and found our shuttle.
All this with the twins who were … amazing and playful right from their 6am wake-up call to our 5pm drop off.
In total we payed $58USD/person ($23USD if you arrange your own transportation). Note: They don’t accept CR Colones, only USD or Nicaraguan córdobas
Of course our story had a few fun “bonuses”. Everyone is trying to sell you the damn customs forms. They walk up to you, tell you that you need the form and that it costs $1 – seems straight forward. What you are actually supposed to do is cut into the customs line and ask the officer behind the glass for a form before even getting into line – not as straight forward.
Next our line at customs took 2 hours compared to the line beside us which took about 35 minutes. This was due to multiple locals cutting in. The first few times we thought it must be due to special circumstances (ah naive North American rule followers) but once the guy with 12 passports jumped ahead, the 20 or so of us “Gringo’s” kinda lost our shit and built a human wall… talk about “us vs them”.
Our final fun of the day came just as we were about to re-enter CR when we were stopped by Nicaraguan health officials (OFFICIALS I SAID) who took our passports and told us we couldn’t leave because we hadn’t stayed long enough (up to 7 hours he said). However if we paid $10USD/person we could go no problem. We argued and ended up agreeing to $5USD/person. I’m not sure what advice to give on this because at this point you really just want to get the F home – so we chose to pay the money and take it as a lesson for the next time because next time (aka in 90 days) we will know exactly where to walk and when to call B.S.
All in all our scary Nicaraguan Boarder Adventure wasn’t that scary.