**NEW LAW AS OF DEC 2013**
According to Diario la Gaceta, starting on Dec. 2nd, there is a NEW $5 exit tax + $2 service fee for all land crossings. You can pay this tax at the Banco Credito Agricola before you cross. You can also pay this fee at Coopealianza.
UPDATE July 15th 2014: There is now a machine in the Costa Rican exit office where you can pay this $7 tax. You do not have to stop at the bank before anymore. Card only.
UPDATE April 19th 2015: Nicaragua immigration office has moved. You will go to the white building on the left now for entry and exit. You pay the exact same taxes (the $2 and $1 will be to a lady sitting on a chair outside the back)
Costa Rica Nicaragua Border Crossing Guide – Penas Blancas
Crossing the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is not very difficult. Many backpackers and expats who need to do a visa run cross this border by foot and although it may seem intimidating at first, it’s fairly simple and straightforward.
In this guide, I’ll take you through the entire process of crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua but I’ll go over the entire process of exiting Costa Rica, entering Nicaragua, exiting Nicaragua and entering Costa Rica at the Penas Blancas border. You will know exactly where the offices are, what to write on your forms, 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
1. Car – You can drive your car to the border. 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!
3. Private shuttle – 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).
2. 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 Deldu), get off and cross the border by foot.
What You Need to Cross the Penas Blancas Border
- 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
Leaving Costa Rica
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. You’ll need to fill out an immigration form and make sure to bring a pen with you. Also if you need to use the bathroom, the one on this side is much nicer.
This will be pretty much the same form you get on airplanes but you don’t need to declare items. You’ll have to fill out name, passport number, type, etc. For foreseen address, you can put down the name of your hotel/hostel in Nicaragua.
If you haven’t paid your exit tax yet, the machine is in the exit office and takes only card. You must pay this before you get in line since you need to show the officer the receipt.
After you get your exit stamp, go outside and walk on the main road.
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.
Now walk to the Nicaragua entry office and you’ll see a booth where you have to pay a $1 municipality tax.
After that, fill out another customs form and at the window you have to pay $12 to enter Nicaragua (they take dollars but try to have small bills). Make sure to keep the small square papers they give you.
Exit and then continue on the main road. You’ll go through a couple passport checks so keep your passport in a place where it is easy to take out.
After that, woo hoo! You are now officially in Nicaragua! If you continue on the left side of the road, there are some sodas and taxis if you need one. It’s about a thirty minute taxi ride to San Juan del Sur which costs $25.
Leaving Nicaragua is about the same process. Walk back onto the main road and head to the exit office. Fill out another customs form and you have to pay another $1 municipality tax and $2 to exit. 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 so grab another immigration and customs form from the guard to fill out while you wait. Throughout the day there are many tour buses that pass by the border.
Everyone in the tour group has to come down and personally go through immigration and customs so try to get ahead of these huge groups if you see a bus coming. 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. 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 ticket (American Airlines lets you reserve for free or Fly Onward is a good site for tickets) if I don’t already have one.
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.
Immigration is cracking down though so check your stamp to make sure it is 90. They’ve started giving stamps according to how long you will be here. I’ve had friends who were only given 60, I myself was given 30 once when I was only going to be in Costa Rica for a week so make sure to check.
Penas Blancas Border Crossing Fees
To sum up, here are all the fees you need to pay. You can pay in dollars but bring small bills.
- $7 Costa Rica exit tax (this can be paid with card at the kiosk)
- $1 Nicaragua entrance municipality tax
- $12 Nicaragua entrance fee
- $1 Nicaragua exit municipality tax
- $2 Nicaragua exit tax
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.
If you have questions or are lost, ask the 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. Check our Spanish guide for travelers to learn them.
Immigration forms are free. 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!
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.
What to do if you accidentally overstay your visa
If you overstay your visa, you have to pay a $100 fine 48 hours BEFORE you leave the country at the Banco de Costa Rica (BCR). If you do not pay, you will be prohibited from entering the country for 3 times as long as you overstayed. For example, if you overstayed one month you will not be allowed to come back in for 3 months. It is the traveler’s responsibility to show proof of payment when they leave the country or else immigration will mark your passport to deny access.
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