Border Run Chronicles: Nicaragua Style
For people who have been living in our little part of Guanacaste for a while, the quick border run to Nicaragua for a visa renewal is old hat, but for me, it is a new experience. I am here to share it with you so if you’re considering it for you or your family, you will have an idea of how it goes. There are a couple of ways to go about this adventure.
You can hire a tour company who will organize all the paperwork for you, pick you up, drive you to the border and walk you through the process, and then bring you home. Some of the tour companies used to offer a bit of an excursion into Nicaragua while you were there, but since Covid restrictions, that is not happening much, at least as an add-on to the visa run.
For some, it will be more appealing to do the run on their own, particularly if you have multiple family members and you don’t want to rideshare with strangers. If you have never done it before, no need to stress. Do your research, know what to expect, have all the right documentation and count on waiting in line for long periods of time. It also helps if your Spanish is passable.
So, because my Spanish is still in the beginner phase and there are new restrictions and requirements during Covid, and because I am doing this singularly, without family in tow, I elected to hire a local tour company.
Native’s Way is doing one run per month and this run was definitely full. I booked about two weeks out. Check their schedule online and book early. It costs about $65.00US.
You will need a Covid negative PCR test, so figure out your timing and make sure you have results in hand on the day of travel, that are no more than 72 hours old. I walked into the Clinic in Villa Real and they figured out the timing for me and made the appointment.
Not only do you need to consider the requirements for entry into Nicaragua, but you will need to also get your Costa Rican re-entry requirements organized. If you are vaccinated you can upload that into the med pass that you have to fill out before you can come into Costa Rica.
Alternatively, you need to purchase insurance that will cover Covid and an extended stay for as many days as you want them to stamp your passport. In other words, if you want to stay the full 90 days, you need to have insurance for 90 days.
I carried with me passport, residency paperwork, vaccination card, and PCR results. I forgot to fill out the med pass until I was on the bus about 20 minutes from the border. Thankfully, because I’d taken a photo of my card, I was able to upload it quickly from my phone. Phew!
How It Works
We arrived at the border and piled off the bus to wait in line on the Costa Rica side to get our individual exit stamps. Once everyone had been through that line, we regrouped and took the bus closer to the Nicaragua side and parked.
We filed out, walked by a checkpoint where they examined our Covid test results on one side and passports on the other. Our Covid tests were examined once more at a small building just outside the immigration office in Nicaragua.
Walking into the Nicaragua immigration building, the floor was soaked and there was a small gallon size jug on the floor with the top cut off catching drips from the air conditioning system. There were several agents on duty. We were the only ones there for about 10 minutes.
We were quickly followed by two more groups and an international bus, so you can imagine the lines that formed. Although our guide took our passports and handed them collectively to the Nicaraguan agent, we still had to be processed individually.
This means you wait in line, and when it’s your turn, you answer some questions, get your photo taken and then step aside. They asked if I was married and what I do for a living. Easy enough.
After that, we walked through customs and ran our bags through an X-ray system. Out the door, loop around, and enter on the Nicaraguan exit side. One by one, we grabbed our exit stamps, ran our bags back through the customs machines and walked out of the building.
Back across the border, we processed through the Costa Rican re-entry, but this was the longest part. The line was really long and moving super slow. Bring your sense of pura vida. Once inside with the agent, it was quick and easy. I did have to give my address and show my vaccine card. I got a 90 day stamp.
We loaded back on the bus and headed for Liberia where we stopped for food and bathroom. When they told us we would stop, I was psyched for something like the awesome patacones place that Eduardo likes to stop by, but I was disappointed to instead stop at Jardin, a touristy trap of souvenirs, cafeteria food, ice cream and liquor.
Bummer. This is your reminder to pack healthy snacks and plenty of water.
I arrived home by late afternoon, thankful for the driver who navigated through a shitstorm of rain on our way back. It felt like a whirlwind of sitting, riding, and waiting in lines, but I now have my 90 day stamp and am in full compliance with my residency requirements and driving privileges. Easy Peasy.
If you haven't done your visa renewal this way or you’re concerned about doing it this way during Covid restrictions, don’t stress. Grab a spot on one of the tour trips and go, or plan accordingly and take yourself. It is doable and pretty straightforward.
We also made a tiktok about it.