Every 90 days we need to renew our Nicaraguan tourist visa. We have been living in Nicaragua for the last 4.5 years as perpetual tourists. These quarterly junkets to the border are uneventful and rather tedious. The alternative is to leave our paradise so we don’t complain too much.
An obvious question is, “Why don’t we have residency?” The short answer is, “We don’t qualify.” The long answer would significantly side track this post, so we will get to that another time.
Step by Step Instructions on How to Renew Your Nicaraguan Tourist Visa
When you enter Nicaragua from Canada, the USA or many other countries you automatically receive a 90 day tourist visa. This visa covers all CA4 countries. These countries include Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
If you want to stay in Nicaragua longer than 90 days you have a few options.
Apply for residency, apply for an extension of up to 90 days or leave the CA4 and return with a shiny new 90 day tourist visa. The details of the first two options are extensive, so we will cover them in a separate post.
Today we will only discuss the infamous border run to Costa Rica.
We ride my trusty steed and park it at this store to be watched ($2 USD once you return) by one of the many border “helpers”. Those without a vehicle can use the plethora of taxis and busses running back and forth to the border. They are easy to find and provide a cheap mode of transport.
Nicaragua has a new immigration office. The new office is easy to find (directly in front of the entrance gate) and you no longer need to complete any paper work to exit the country. You will need to pay a $1 USD tax to the city of Peñas Blancas at the entrance to the building. Once inside you wait your turn to see an officer, pay your $2 USD departure tax and get stamped out of Nicaragua.
From here you walk a couple hundred meters to the check point in the area we refer to as “no man’s land”. It is just past the vehicle fumigation station. A representative from Nicaragua will check to see you have an exit stamp in your passport. Then 20 meters later a Costa Rican representative will repeat the process. Be friendly because you will be back here repeating this process in reverse very shortly.
Entering Costa Rica
200 meters further down the road you will find the Costa Rican Immigration office. The line to enter the country is on the right side of the building. The most important thing is you will need proof of onward travel. We have done this enough times to fill a passport and twice we were not asked. You can buy an open ended (12 month expiry) bus ticket from a vendor on site for $20 USD. You can also show a flight itinerary leaving Costa Rica (not Nicaragua) within the next 90 days.
You complete a small exit form and get into line to be stamped into Costa Rica. There is no entrance fee. Extremely welcoming as long as you can prove you are leaving soon.
Leaving Costa Rica
Enjoy a little stroll into Costa Rica but don’t enjoy it too much. Less than 50 meters down the road on your left you will find a few not especially official looking offices to pay your $8 USD Costa Rican exit tax. Once you have your receipt turn around and walk back to the Costa Rican Immigration Office. Just make sure you go to the opposite side this time.
Obtain another immigration form and complete it before stepping up to the officer. They will need to see your form, passport and exit tax receipt. Once you are stamped out of Costa Rica start walking back to “no man’s land”.
Going Back Home to Nicaragua
The small, white building in the above photo is the check point at “no man’s land”. The Costa Rican official will check to see that you have stamped out of Costa Rica. The Nicaraguan official will do the same with one addition.
This is the place where we often hear about the “shakedown”. Often the officer will say you need to be out of Nicaragua 3 hours before returning.
First of all this is not true and they will not be able to show you any regulation. Secondly your passport is not time stamped so the whole thing is ridiculous and a ploy to inconvenience you just enough to pay a bribe.
Just remember these are government officials and they are in control. To get angry, loud or demanding is considered disrespectful and you may have a really long day.
I have handled this a few different ways that were all successful but took varying amounts of time.
- Once I sat cross legged beside the officer and asked him to tell me when the three hours was up. (5 Minutes)
- A couple of times I just kept repeating “I don’t like Costa Rica that’s why I live in Nicaragua. Why would I go to Costa Rica when I love Nicaragua. (2 Minutes)
- Once I said “We do this dance every 90 days. Sometimes we dance for five minutes and sometimes you don’t want to dance at all. How long would you like to dance today”. Then I took up position to lead a Waltz. (Zero Minutes)
Each time it seems like less of an issue. In fact, on our last border run the officer waved us to the front and said welcome as he shook our hands and sent us on our way.
On the way back to the Nicaraguan Immigration office you will have lots of opportunities to grab a drink or a snack. You can also stop at the duty free stores to stock up on inexpensive wine or any other vice you may have. The duty free shops are next to the old immigration office which is 150 meters east of the new office. If you aren’t looking for them you won’t see them which would be a crying shame.
Renewing Your Tourist Visa
Now that you have your bounty from duty free walk over to the Nicaraguan Immigration office. You will need to pay another $1 USD tax to Peñas Blancas at the door. We always show our receipt from earlier in the day and half the time they accept it.
You do not need to complete any paperwork to enter Nicaragua but you do have to pay $12 USD for a 90 day tourist visa. The officer may ask things like where are you staying, how long you are staying, what is your profession, etc. Our passports are littered with Costa Rican and Nicaraguan stamps so they know we are living in Nicaragua. They sometimes ask if we are working in Nicaragua and how we support ourselves.
Since the new Immigration office opened, the officers have been quite friendly and professional. Sometimes they recognize us, smile and reach over the glass to shake hands.
This is always a the best part for us. We have our wine and more importantly another 90 days in paradise with a fresh tourist visa. We celebrate by stopping for an ice cold Toña at the little restaurant/store where we park our vehicle. Door to door round trip including our duty free stop and Toña pitstop is usually takes just over 3 hours.
Tips for First Timers
We have done border runs so many times that it is easy and relatively stress free. If you have never been to the border to renew your tourist visa the experience can be confusing and a little stressful. There are very few signs and no way to know where you need to go next.
We encourage first timers to post on the Life in San Juan del Sur Facebook group asking if someone with experience is going around the same date. You can offer to pay for gas or lunch or something in exchange for their guidance on the trip.
Once you have completed your first border run you will be ready to help out the next newbie that needs some help.
We have an updated post for this topic. Click here to view.
Although Elisha and I have lived in Nicaragua for more than a year now we have not yet applied for residency. Compared to many countries the process is relatively easy and inexpensive. That being said, there are still numerous hoops to jump through to obtain residency in Nicaragua.
Elisha and I are currently living in Nicaragua on a tourist visa that we are required to renew every 90 days. This 90-day visa can actually be extended for an additional 90 days at most immigration offices in the country. The cost is approximately $60 USD.
Just before our visas expire we leave the country and re-enter. This restarts our 90 day clock. Luckily for us we live less than an hour from the Costa Rican border, so renewal is only a small inconvenience.
We get a lot of questions regarding tourist visa renewal and border crossing so we decided to document the details of our most recent “border run” so that we could share it with you.
The time line below summarizes a typical border run for us. Well, kind of…
This particular time we took a little longer than usual because Elisha took approximately one hundred photos and jotted down about three pages of notes. I too held up the process a little trying to decide on my alcohol purchase from the Duty Free store.
We left home with our itineraries in hand. Costa Rican immigration requires that you show proof of onward travel from their country; so it’s important to have proof of onward travel.
Gas tank topped up. Check! Windshield washed. Check! Fluid levels checked. Check!
Our Hyundai Galloper is safely parked just 50 meters outside the border entrance at Comedor Mayra. The dude shown in the picture below will hang around and watch your vehicle for you for a small fee. For a few extra cordobas, he’ll even wash it!
It’s a short stroll to the first gate. If you’d like can get a meal or do a little shopping on the way.
We pass through the first gate. A Nicaraguan immigration officer looks at our passports to check the date of our last entry into Nicaragua, then we are on our way to the Nicaraguan immigration office.
On the way to the immigration office we must stop and pay $1.00 USD for tax to the city of Peñas Blancas.
With our tax paid we enter the immigration area and get in line and fill out our customs forms. An agent checks our passport and forms and then keys some information into the computer. At this gate we paid a $3 USD exit fee. The friendly agent stamps our passports and we’re off.
We are officially stamped out of Nicaragua and approaching “No Man’s Land” as we like to call it. We are now walking between the two countries.
Yet another check point. This photo friendly agent was checking for the stamp that showed our exit out of Nicaragua.
We are now entering Costa Rica. It’s about a 200 meter walk from the Nicaraguan Immigration office to the Costa Rican equivalent.
We enter a line up for the Costa Rica immigration office. Thankfully we arrived just before of a group of 60+ people who were traveling on a Tica bus.
After a short wait we enter the immigration office with our completed customs forms and itineraries in hand ready to show the immigration official.
Not suprisingly the agent asks for our boleta (ticket) showing proof of onward travel out of Costa Rica. This is a fairly new practice and seen by many as a money grab.
To avoid hassle most expats simply purchase a $25 open-ended bus ticket – which is good for one year – but never actually use it.
Unlike Nicaragua, Costa Rica does not charge an entrance or exit fee. However, it seems to us that the government is trying to compensate for that revenue by requiring you to purchase the bus ticket.
We start walking back the way we just came from and get in line on the opposite side of the immigration building.
We enter the building that we just left and fill out another immigration form. This time it’s to leave Costa Rica.
Our passports now have three stamps and we are out of Costa Rica and on our way back into Nicaragua.
There is a misconception that you must leave Nicaragua for a period of three days before you can re-enter and renew your tourist visa. This is not the case at all. There is no law indicating how long you must be out of the country before you may re-enter.
In fact, on this particular border run we were only in Costa Rica for a period of 16 minutes.
On the other hand, if you are living in Costa Rica on a tourist visa you are required to leave the country for a minimum of three days prior to entry back in.
Check point back into Nicaraguan frontera.
We are back at the Nicaraguan immigration office and pay a $1 USD tax to the city for the second time that day.
Entrance forms are completed. We pay $12 USD for our 90-day tourist visa and entrance back into Nicaragua.
Since we are here we might as well get some cheap duty free treats. We haven’t actually left long enough to qualify, but no one ever cares or even checks to see if you have duty free.
The shops are setup after you clear customs and are right next to where we park the truck. In truth you wouldn’t even need to leave the country to shop at the the duty free store. In fact, we have friends that own a bar and they used to shop there regularly.
We are good to go for another 90 days and ready for a snack before making our way to a Rivas for some shopping.
We pay our parking attendant C$40 cordobas for his services. He’s happy and so are we!