This post was updated October 7, 2019.
Costa Rica Nicaragua Penas Blancas Border Crossing Guide
In this guide, I’ll take you through the entire process of crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, Penas Blancas border by foot. You will find everything you need to know about exiting Costa Rica, entering Nicaragua, exiting Nicaragua and entering Costa Rica at the Penas Blancas border.
Find out exactly where the offices are, how much the fees are and our own personal safety tips.
Click on the section to skip to it.
- Getting to the Border
- What You Need
- Leaving Costa Rica
- Entering Nicaragua
- Leaving Nicaragua
- Entering Costa Rica
- Safety Tips
How to get to the Penas Blancas Border Crossing in Costa Rica
- Car – You can drive your car to the border but that is as far as you can go. Costa Rican rental cars are not allowed to cross the border so you will need to leave it at the house in the front. The family that lives there will watch it for you for a ~$3-5 a day. Do not leave any valuables inside!
- You’ll start seeing a huge line of trucks when you get close to the border. Don’t stay in this line. Keep going and you’ll be able to cross the over and park by the Costa Rica exit office.
- Private shuttle or taxi – You can book a private shuttle in Costa Rica to take you to the border. Depending on where you are traveling from, this can be an expensive transfer (~$150 from the Guanacaste beaches). You will need to cross the border on your own.
- Bus – You can take the public bus to the Penas Blancas border from Liberia (5 AM – 6:30 PM every 45 minutes with Grupo Transbasa) or San Jose (3:20 AM – 7 PM every hour with Caribenos), get off and cross the border by foot. You can also take a bus like Ticabus that goes from San Jose to Managua and to the rest of Central America. You will do the border crossing with Ticabus.
What You Need for Crossing the Border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua
- A valid passport that is not within 6 months of expiring
- Costa Rica Exit Tax Receipt (if you are leaving Costa Rica)
- You must not have overstayed your tourist visa
- Check if you need a visa to enter Nicaragua. USA and Canada does not
- A printed plane ticket out of Costa Rica if you are entering Costa Rica
- Small USD bills. All taxes are paid in USD.
- You don’t need to fill out ANY forms anymore!
Leaving Costa Rica
To leave Costa Rica, you first need to pay the exit tax. You can easily do this at the border, you don’t have to do it before you arrive.
Costa Rica Exit Tax
Costa Rica charges an $9 exit tax for all land crossings.There are buildings right when you enter at the border to pay your exit tax with lots of signs. With the Costa Rica exit office ahead of you, all the exit tax offices are to the right.
You must pay this before you get in line at the Costa Rican exit office. Keep the receipt for the exit tax. I always pay in cash.
Costa Rican Exit Office
As you walk towards the border, you’ll see lots of trucks. Costa Rica is the only country who didn’t sign the Central America Marchamo so you will see tons of big rig trucks waiting in line to cross. If you’re driving, you can go around them. Every time I’ve been to the Costa Rican exit office, it’s fairly empty with no line.
Go inside with your passport and exit tax receipt and hand your passport to the officer who will check it. They didn’t ask me any questions but they asked the lady in front of me where in Costa Rica they were staying.
There is a bathroom outside to the left of the exit office (free).
Now, walk outside and follow the buses and groups of people towards Nicaragua.
After a few hundred meters, you’ll reach the office to enter Nicaragua. You’ll go through one main check point at the border where they will check for your Costa Rican exit stamp. However, any officer can stop you on the road to check your stamp.
Sometimes the officers will ask questions, sometimes not. They’re pretty friendly in all my experiences and don’t worry if you don’t know Spanish. Just show them your passport if they ask for it.
Nicaragua Entrance Office
Continue after this checkpoint and follow the signs to the Nicaraguan immigration office. You’ll see lots of people selling souvenirs, clothes, food and asking if you need change.
The Nicaragua immigration office is quite new and very nice with air conditioning. When you get inside (look for Entrada), get in line.
In this line, you will need to pay a $12 tax to the immigration officer who takes your passport. When he has stamped it, he will write out a large receipt which you can keep. He will normally ask you where you are going in Nicaragua. Let him know the city and if you booked a hotel, tell him the first hotel you’re staying at in Nicaragua.
Then put any luggage or belongings through the scanner.
After that, woo hoo! You are now officially in Nicaragua!
If you continue walking outside, there are some restaurants and taxis if you need one. It’s about a thirty minute taxi ride to San Juan del Sur which costs around $25. Also just in case, here is the bus schedule to Rivas and Managua below.
Leaving Nicaragua is about the same process. The exit office is the same office as the entrance, just on the other side.
When you get inside, you have to pay another $1 municipality tax (to the small booth to the right) and $2 to exit to the officer who takes your passport. Put the location as your hotel/hostel in Costa Rica. If you need the bathroom, it is to the left of the immigration office building and costs $1.
After you get your Nicaraguan exit stamp, walk back on the main road towards the Costa Rican side. Like before, you’ll be stopped a couple times by officers to check your passport. Once you reach the Costa Rican side, head to the right side of the building to go through immigration to enter Costa Rica.
Entering Costa Rica
You’ll see a bunch of orange blocks making a line for the entrance. Try to go fast because this office is small and throughout the day, there are many tour buses that pass by the border and everyone in the tour group has to come down. There has only been one time entering Costa Rica that I didn’t have to wait for more than twenty minutes. One time Yeison and I waited for three hours!
The next part is very important for foreigners.
Your Ticket Out of Costa Rica
You must present a return ticket home or a ticket out of the country within 90 days. Costa Rica is fairly strict about this in all of my experiences. I’ve been lucky a couple times and was able to show them the ticket on my phone without too much questioning.
If you don’t have a plane ticket, there is a bus ticket booth right outside so you can buy a ticket out of Costa Rica just to show you have something. For Ticabus, it’ll cost around $25 for a ticket from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. I usually reserve a flight (American Airlines lets you reserve for free or Fly Onward is a good site for tickets) if I don’t already have one.
Of all the times I have crossed the border, I’ve been asked for my flight out every single time except once. The time I wasn’t asked, the line was super crazy long and I was with a group of people doing visa runs so they didn’t pay us too much attention.
Getting Your New Costa Rica Stamp
Give the officer this proof when you give them your immigration form and passport. They don’t ask too many questions and should give you a stamp for 90 days but make sure to check. Immigration is cracking down though so check your stamp to make sure it is 90.
And there you go! Exit the building, put your luggage or backpack if you have any through the machine and you are good to go! That is the complete guide to crossing the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua at Penas Blancas.
Penas Blancas Border Crossing Fees
To sum up, here are all the fees you need to pay when you are crossing the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. These prices are quoted in USD so pay in dollars but bring small bills. Please note that Costa Rican currency is not accepted in Nicaragua and Nicaraguan currency is not accepted in Costa Rica. USD works in both countries. Since prices are quoted in USD, it’s best to pay in USD.
- $9 Costa Rica exit tax (this can be paid at the border)
- $12 Nicaragua entrance fee (to the entrance immigration official)
- $1 Nicaragua entrance municipality tax
- $1 Nicaragua exit municipality tax (in the small booth of the exit office)
- $2 Nicaragua exit tax (to the exit immigration official)
Safety Tips for Crossing the Penas Blancas Border
I’ve heard about some people having trouble or being scared at the border but I, as a young Asian-American female have never had a problem. As long as you use your common sense and check a few things before you head out, you should have no problem. It is true however, that if you are a foreigner you might run into some people who will target you and try to scam you. Here are our tips and things to watch out for.
Do not accept any offers from people trying to help you.
These people will pretend to help you for free and then try to charge you something ridiculous when you’ve crossed over. They are persistent and will follow you too.
Also do not accept any offers from someone claiming they can do the border crossing for you. It’s tempting but never let anyone walk away with your passport. You don’t know what condition it will be when it comes back or what they did with it meanwhile.
If you have questions or are lost, ask the Costa Rican immigration officers or the police.
If you’re a solo traveler, look for other travelers and talk to them to see if you can cross together. You may need to write down some Spanish phrases because not all the officers speak English, especially on the Nicaraguan side. Check our Costa Rican Spanish guide for travelers to learn them.
No more custom forms.
Some people might try to sell you these so walk away and find an immigration officer. I stopped a woman once who was about to pay $20 for a form! That is one of the common Costa Rica tourist scams.
Bring small USD bills.
It will be very hard to find change so when you are paying your fees and taxes, it is better to have small bills ($1 and $5). Never pull out a huge wad of cash either.
Do not leave your passport hanging out.
You do need to show it several times when crossing to the officers, but always put it away in a safe secure spot each time.
If you’re a solo traveler, try to find another group of travelers to join.
Usually officers will bother you less if you’re in a group. If you go by yourself, they tend to bother the solo travelers more.
What to do if you overstay your visa
If you overstay, your passport will be marked and you will need to talk to your country’s embassy to figure out what to do. Usually if this is a one time occurrence, you have no plans to return and the overstayed time wasn’t very long, they can help you sort things out. However, if you overstay for a long time or multiple times, don’t think you will go undiscovered. Immigration will find out. Once immigration finds out, you will be kicked out of the country and be denied entry for an undisclosed period of time (depends on your situation).
I know people who have been kicked out and not allowed to return for 5 years for overstaying too long. Do not overstay your visa, Costa Rica immigration does take this seriously.
Read more Costa Rica travel tips below!
Driving in Costa Rica: In depth guide with tips and advice for driving in Costa Rica. Includes safety tips, information about how Costa Ricans drive, road sides, and more.
Renting a car in Costa Rica: Tips for renting a car in Costa Rica. What you need to know about car rental insurance, reputable companies, recommendations if you should or shouldn’t rent a car and more. You can also get our Costa Rica car rental discount.
Planning our trip from Panama to Costa Rica: How we traveled from Playas del Coco, Costa Rica to Panama City/San Blas Islands/Bocas del Toro, Panama all by bus and on a budget.