Land Border crossing as foot passengers, Nicaragua to Costa Rica
People have been asking what the border crossings are like now during times of Covid. Well, let’s just say that Covid has definitely complicated border crossings. From health screenings and covid tests to timing of border crossings within the window of covid testing, and potential quarantine without the tests or straight up refusal of entry, many things have changed, but surprisingly a lot has remained the same.
Now that the Costa Rican land borders have opened to travelers that are Visa-free, it’s fairly easy to come and go between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The only hitch, is that if you are entering Nicaragua, you have to have a PCR covid test. This is non-negotiable. They will not allow you entry without it and Costa Rica has been very diligent in asking passengers for their covid test results prior to leaving Costa Rica. This way, they don’t stamp you out without having the ability to get in to Nicaragua, therefore stranding you in “no-man’s land” the area between the borders without facilities, unable to enter back to CR because you don’t have an exit stamp from another country, but you can’t get in to Nicaragua because you lack the proper covid test results.
That said, it’s pretty easy to cross the borders in both directions. At least on foot it is. Kaden and I had to go back to the USA for a family emergency back in April. Thankfully, the land border to CR had just opened two days prior to us having to cross to fly out. In Managua, the minimum cost for covid testing is $150.00 USD per person for any of the tests offered. The flights one-way to the US were $1048.00 USD per person and only one airline was flying and the total elapsed time would be 19-23 hours with a 9 hour layover. No thank you. I checked prices from Liberia, which is just over the border. Literally takes roughly the same amount of time to get there as it does to get to Managua from San Juan Del Sur. The cost break down is as follows:
One way ticket, 2 people from Libeira to Sacramento $430 USD ($215 ea)
Antigen covid testing for entry to USA $130 USD ($65 each)
Hotel one night $97 USD
Bus ride from Peñas Blancas border to Liberia bus station 1.5hr: $6 USD ($3 each)
Taxi from Bus station to hotel: $20 USD
Sagicor Costa Rica insurance Min 3 days $66.60 ($33.30 each)
Exit fee: $6 USD ($3 each)
Alcaldia Municipal tax $2 USD ($1 each)
Total: $757.60 USD
Note, there is a $3.00 fee to leave Nicaragua per person, and an additional $1 for the Alcaldia Municipal. There’s no reason for you to hire any tramite personal. The process is very easy and straight forward. Just walk up to the terminal de pasajeros on the Nicaragua side, there will be someone checking your passport prior to getting to the terminal. When you walk in, an immigration officer will call you up and start processing your exit. You will have to pay $3.00 per person in Dollars. They do not accept Cordoba. Another person will approach you and tell you that you have to pay $1.00, this is for the Alcaldia Municipal. This is a tax they use to maintain the few paved roads that Nicaragua has, you may pay this in Cordoba.
Note that as of August 1, 2021 if you are fully vaccinated and upload your vaccination card for verification when you fill out the pase de salud, you will not be required to have the mandatory insurance in Costa Rica. If parents are vaccinated and traveling with children, the children are not required to have insurance. Also note that as of January 8, 2022 Costa Rica will be implementing a “green pass” mandating that anyone wanting to go anywhere or do anything other than go to the grocery stores or pharmacies in Costa Rica must be vaccinated for everyone 12 years old and older. There is a petition from lawmakers to postpone this requirement through May 1, 2022. You can read more by copy and pasting the link below for more information.
Lawmakers petition to delay Costa Rica vaccine QR code
Leaving Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas for entry INTO Costa Rica:
From Nicaragua, you have to drive to Peñas Blancas, you can hire a taxi service, or a shuttle service or ask a friend for a ride. You can take Tica Bus or Nica Expreso that will pretty much do everything for you as well. I’ve never used them, but it sounds like they are pretty efficient from what I hear from other travelers who have used them. You do NOT have to be in Managua to get on the bus. They can pick you up from any of the stops along the way. If you are going by car on your own, make sure to pass the miles long trucker lane. You will be driving into oncoming traffic, but don’t worry. This is perfectly normal and expected. Just pull off to the side of the road and yield right of way when someone is coming at you. Easy peasy.
Have your ride drop you off at the pasajero building. It’s a huge white building with a blue guard post in front of it. It says Pasajero and Migracion salida de Nicaragua on it. You can’t miss it. There will be someone standing past the guard post on the sidewalk, checking your temperature, passports, pase de salud and validity of insurance for Costa Rica if needed. If you don’t have one of those things, you’ll have to do it prior to this person allowing you passage. Also note *there traditionally is no wifi or cell service at the border, it is often hot or miss, mostly miss. Try to make copies of all of your paperwork or screenshot it on your phone. The pase de salud can only be filled out 72 hours prior to your entry into Costa Rica and it will ask you for your insurance company (if needed), once it validates your information it will give you a QR code. I print everything so that the workers at Immigration and Customs don’t have to thumb through my phone. It’s easier for them and peace of mind for me.
Once you pass this person, go into the white Pasajero building and an immigration officer will call you up. You will pay $3.00 exit fee per person and another person will approach you asking for $1 additional per person for the Alcaldia Municipal which is a municipal tax. I pay the Alcaldia in Cordoba (local currency) and the exit fee in USD. In my experience, Nicaraguan Immigration has never accepted local currency for the exit or entrance fee, only USD.
They will then take your picture, give you an exit stamp in your passport and then you’ll walk past some TSA-like scanning machines and out the doors to “no-man’s land” You are now not really in Nicaragua, nor are you actually in Costa Rica.
There will be men on bicycles with passenger seats that will offer to give you a ride to the immigration office in Costa Rica. It’s not necessary, the walk is about a quarter mile. So if you aren’t in very good shape, have a ton of luggage, suffer from injury, or just don’t want to walk, it’s an option. We walked, it took about 15 minutes to get to the immigration office in CR. Along the way we saw military personnel and police around everywhere. I wasn’t sure if the building was going to be easy to find. It was obvious once we had arrived at the immigration office of CR. There was NO line. Not a single person. We walked up, handed our passports, insurance, and pase de salud QR code to the immigration officer. They entered our information asked a few questions and sent us on our way with entry stamps good for the amount of time on our insurance policy. We headed out to an area where they scanned our bags, I asked where and when the bus to Liberia would arrive and they told me the bus comes every hour and will arrive just outside. The whole immigration experience took less than an hour and we were officially in Costa Rica. We picked up our bags, went outside and within 20 minutes, the bus, sporting a sign “LIBERIA” in the front window appeared. We hopped on, paid in USD a total of $6 and received change in Colones. The bus ride took just over an hour and a half and we arrived at the Municipal Bus station in Liberia. From the bus station in Liberia we took a taxi to our hotel. The next morning, we arrived at the covid testing tent and got our antigen tests for $65 each and the results were back within 45 minutes.
If you’re looking to enter Costa Rica, this page has all the requirements needed:
There are a few companies out there offering “Costa Rican Insurance” but don’t specifically state that they do NOT meet all of Costa Rican insurance requirements. I’ve heard of some people getting lucky and getting through, and others that paid a ton of money, and were not allowed to enter until they provided a different policy that covered all insurance requirements.
These three companies are actually approved by the Costa Rican Government (I use Sagicor for short stays):
We have not taken our vehicle across the border to Costa Rica, however, if you plan to, you will be allowed 90 days in Costa Rica and then your vehicle will need to leave Costa Rica for 90 days to be granted additional time. You will need to purchase insurance from Costa Rica, cancel your import permit from Nicaragua and your visa to Nicaragua or the CA-4. Traditionally, there has been no cost for the import permit nor will it cost you anything to enter Costa Rica and get your 90 day tourist stamp. The immigration office is air conditioned and it doesn’t take too long unless someone in front of you didn’t fill out their pase de salud or didn’t purchase insurance due to not being vaccinated. (The last time I passed, it took me 15 minutes the first two times I was the only person in line and I was in and out in less than 5 minutes, including scanning my bag, however, I was a foot passenger not going by vehicle).
I hope this helps anyone trying to border-hop during these confusing and rapidly changing times!
Great information! I will not be doing this but it is really fun reading all of your adventure stories. Thank you for sharing!
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Friends, could you tell me, please, in San Juan Del Sur, in which hotel did you stay? We have to go to Nicaragua and return to the Costa Rica in three days to renew our visa. We do not want to go far from the border. We’re not looking for a very expensive hotel, but we’re afraid of crime. Maybe you could give us some advice. Thank you, anyway, for your very helpful report.
We stayed at hotel la estrella. It’s a hostel right across the street from the beach in downtown San Juan. We have been here for almost a year and we haven’t experienced any crime beyond some petty theft of rash guards. That being said, right now Nicaragua is rated as the safest country in central america. Most places you’ll stay are very safe. Are you returning to Costa Rica for your border run? Or are you returning to nicaragua from Costa Rica? Is there a readon you want to stay 3 days? You don’t have to. You can come to the border, pay the entrance fee, go to the other side of immigration and get stamped out and pay the exit fee anf head right back to Costa Rica. Just know that you do need a PCR covid test to even enter Nicaragua.