This post was updated March 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. 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 but that is as far as you can go. 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!
2. 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).
3. 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.
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 the custom form. Make sure to bring a pen with you.
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.
Costa Rica Exit Tax
There is a $5 exit tax + $2 service fee for all land crossings. You can pay this tax at the Banco Credito Agricola or Cooealianza before you cross. If you haven’t paid your exit tax yet, you have two options to pay at the border. You can use the machine in the exit office that only takes card (pictured below).
The second option is to pay the exit tax at the other building outside the exit office. You can pay there in cash.
Whichever option you choose, 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. Walk on this road for a little bit and if you have a lot of luggage or kids, you can pay someone to take you in a rickshaw for about $5.
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 form and at the window you have to pay $12 to enter Nicaragua (they take dollars but 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. If you want to visit the duty free, it is towards the right where the old Nicaragua office used to be.
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 around $25. Also just in case, here is the bus schedule to Rivas and Managua below.
Leaving Nicaragua is about the same process. Walk back onto the main road and head to the exit office. Fill out another 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 custom 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.
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 ticket (American Airlines lets you reserve for free or Fly Onward is a good site for tickets) if I don’t already have one.
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. 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. One guy even gave me 68 days, the exact number of days until I left Costa Rica.
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.
- $8 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. 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.
Custom 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! 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.
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.
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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.