08 Jun

Nicaragua-Costa Rica Border Crossing @ Peñas Blancas

One final overland border cross on our southbound journey. We’re about to enter Costa Rica and the suspense is unbearable. We are finally here! A few… more… line-ups… and dealings with people who seem to hate their jobs. Just let us in! Here’s our experience at the Peñas Blancas border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

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Leaving Nicaragua – Sunday, May 24, 2015 @ 10:30am.

Border 4km/3mi southeast of Sapoá.

Objective: Cancel temporary vehicle import permit (TIP), and receive Nicaragua exit stamps in our passports.

**NOTE: After our crossing, the Nicaraguan government opened a brand new all-in-one Immigration and Customs building at Peñas Blancas. The process to enter Costa Rica with a vehicle remains unchanged, as of 08/28/15. More up-to-date info can be found here from Janice & Gregor at Live.Travel.Play. 

As we entered the border exit area for Nicaragua, an official handed us a Customs Declaration Form before even parking. You’ll want to fill this out as soon as you can, since you’ll need it to cancel your temporary vehicle import permit (TIP).

Drive in and park in front of the Aduana building (Google Maps link here).  As you get out of your vehicle, some unofficial-looking guys will try to hand you a piece of paper, which is actually helpful. It’s a form that is needed to get your exit stamp. We recommend you politely take their forms (one needed for each passport exit stamp), then tell them to take a hike.

Migracion – if you parked in front of Aduana, Migracion is behind you.

  • Get your Exit Stamp (Salida section of the building was closed, so we had to use the Entrada area to get exit stamps). Enter the area, pay the lady sitting at an outdoor desk $1 USD/27 Cordobas per person for the Municipal Exit Tax. She will provide receipt.
  • Next, take the forms you received from the unofficial-looking guys above and fill them out while waiting in line at the window. Hand them in and pay $2 USD/50 Cordobas per person in exchange for exit stamps in your passports. Receipt also given.

Aduana

  • Find the young lady with the clipboard. She may be wandering around in front of Aduana, or sitting nearby in the shade with a friend. She’ll want to see originals of the car’s registration, drivers licenses, passports, and the Customs Declaration Form that you’ve already filled out, thanks to reading this post. God, you’re good! Do not line up for the Aduana until she puts her stamp on the Customs Declaration Form.
  • Next, line up for Aduana. You want them to cancel your TIP. They asked for the Customs Declaration Form (CDF), the TIP, passports, drivers licenses. They’ll keep the original TIP and give you the CDF with their stamp and signature.
  • Go find a police officer who should be wandering around somewhere, likely in the shady spots. He’ll do a thorough search of your vehicle, check every single door, and touch your luggage. He’ll stamp and sign the CDF then hand it back.

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You’re now free to drive away – you’ll hand over the Customs Declaration Form as you exit the area and head towards the Costa Rica entrance area!

Entering Costa Rica – Sunday, May 24, 2015 @ 11:30am.

Border at Peñas Blancas

Objective: Receive temporary vehicle import permit and entry stamps in passport.

Here is a satellite view map of the area:Costa Rica Border at Peñas Blancas

Migracion (1 on map)

  • You must do this before you talk to the Aduana. There may or may not be a bus load of tourists in line in front of you, and they’ll likely already have immigration forms filled out. In your most friendly Canadian manner, you politely excuse your way to the front of the line and mime to the lady behind the glass that you need a blank immigration form. She stops what she’s doing and obliges. Many people do this. We ask ourselves numerous times why the forms are not made available at the back of the line… Once your turn arrives, hand the lady the filled out immigration form with your passports. She will stamp your entry and you mooove along.

First Aduana (2 on map)

  • Go across the street to the small Aduana shack. Hand over the usual paperwork for vehicle entry: title, registration, drivers licenses, passports, along with photocopies of each. The nice lady will give you two forms to fill out. Upon completion, she’ll walk with you to visually confirm your car’s existence. She’ll hand back all of your original documents, as well as a package consisting of your photocopies with a tiny 2″x2″ square paper stapled to the corner. She will not make a big deal or explain to you what this is, but we find out later it is the only thing that physically allows you to leave the border area and enter into the country! Don’t lose this small paper.

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You must now drive around the area, looking for the Second Aduana (4 on map) and the place to purchase mandatory Costa Rican car insurance (3 on map). They are on neighboring corners of the same building.

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Insurance, or Seguros is first. A grumpy young woman will ignore you at the window for a good 5-7 minutes, while you bore holes into the top of her head with your eyes. When she’s good and ready, she will ask you to hand over the package you received from the First Aduana. Pay $35 USD or 18160 Colones. Your package of photocopies will be returned to you, along with a receipt for payment of insurance. The receipt is your only proof of insurance. No other formal document.

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The Second Aduana is right around the corner of the building (4 on map). In addition to the package of photocopies received at the First Aduana, you will need copies of your passports showing the entry stamp and a copy of the vehicle insurance receipt. There is a copy shop right behind me (5 on map), as I take this picture.

You will hand over all paperwork in the humid office and wait while many things are typed into a computer by another unfriendly lady. Originals will be returned to you, and she will keep all copies. She will hand you back that tiny piece of paper stapled to your package of photocopies. Do not crumple with the intent to throw away, as we did.

Receive Temporary Import Permit for vehicle, and proceed to drive out of border area. Finally, hand over that uber-important scrap of paper at the border exit. They may check your vehicle permit and passports one last time. Then, get the hell outta dodge and towards Costa Ricans that actually smile. Pura Vida!

  • Flyingaway

    Thanks for the detailed first-hand information.

    • Travis

      You’re welcome!

  • sara m

    Thank you so much for posting such great info — we’ve been using all of your border crossing entries for Central America. They’ve really helped us out!!

    • Amanda

      Glad to hear it, Sara. We used so many other blog posts for info, so we’re trying to pay it forward! Hope you’re having a great trip.

  • Steve Welland

    Thanks so much for the detailed write up (and pictures!)
    My question is about proving one’s intent to leave costa rica within the 90 allowed days… pretty obvious if you intend to leave by plane or bus… however, when you drive to their border, how do you prove your intention to leave? What counts as official proof if you’re not buying a bus or plane ticket?

    • Amanda

      Hi Steve! We entered Costa Rica on two separate occasions (once by land, described above, and once by air) and neither time were asked to prove our intent to leave. I checked on a couple of our friend’s blogs as well and they didn’t mention being asked for anything… They may have asked verbally about our plans, but were satisfied to hear that we would be leaving within the approved time frame. I hope you have the same experience, let us know if you find otherwise!