Category Archives: Travel & Transportation

Another 90 Days in Paradise

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.

9:02 am
We left home with our “itineraries” in hand. 

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– These United “itineraries” may or may not be authentic. Shhhhhhhh!

Costa Rican immigration now requires that you show proof of onward travel from their country.  

9:10 am
Gas tank topped up. Check! Windshield washed. Check! Fluid levels checked. Check!

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– UNO Gas Station – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

9:54 am
Our Hyundai Galloper is safely parked just 50 meters outside the border entrance at Comoder 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!

Another 90 Days in Paradise

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– A chicken bus leaving the border and heading to Rivas

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.

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– Shoe Shopping at the Nicaraguan Border

10:00 am
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.

10:01 am
On the way to the immigration office we must stop and pay $1.00 USD for tax to the city of Penas Blancas.

Penas Blancas tax collection booth.

– The town of Penas Blancas getting their tax money

Penas Blancas Tax receipt

– Penas Blancas tax receipt

10:09 am
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.

Central American Customs form

– Nicaraguan Customs form

10:13 am
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.

10:20 am
Yet another check point. This photo friendly agent was checking for the stamp that showed our exit out of Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan Immigration official

– This Nica Immigration officer thinks taking pictures at the border is cool

10:20 am
We are now entering Costa Rica. It’s about a 200 meter walk from the Nicaraguan Immigration office to the Costa Rican equivalent.

Welcome to Costa Rica

– Bienvenido a Costa Rica

Taxis to take you to Costa Rica from the immigration office.

– Taxis to transport you from the immigration office to your Costa Rican destination

10:27 am
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. 

Lining up at the Costa Rican Customs and Immigration building.

– Lining up at the Costa Rican customs and immigration building

The Costa Rican Immigration office after a Tica Bus arrives.

– Sometimes it’s all about timing!

10:44 am
After a short wait we enter the immigration office with our completed customs forms and “itineraries” in hand ready to show the immigration official.

Costa Rican Customs and Immigration form.

– Costa Rican Customs & Immigration form

10:49 am
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.

Costa Rica entry requirements.

– These signs went up recently when they started to require proof of onward travel from Costa Rica

10:54 am
We distract a police officer by asking him if we can take a photo. In exchange for a quick little chat we avoid having to walk further into Costa Rica.  We walk back the way we just came from and get in line on the opposite side of the immigration building.

10:59 am
We enter the building that we just left and fill out another immigration form.  This time it’s to leave Costa Rica.

11:05 am
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.

Nicaraguan and Costa Rican Exit and Entry Passport Stamps

– Nicaraguan and Costa Rican Exit and Entry Passport Stamps

11:16 am
Check point back into Nicaraguan frontera.

Checkpoint at the Nicaraguan Frontera

– Check point at the Nicaraguan Frontera

Nicaraguan Immigration

– Nicaraguan Immigration straight ahead

Shoe shine at the Nicaraguan border.

– Need your shoes shined?  No problem – get it done before returning to Nicaragua!

11:24 am
We are back at the Nicaraguan immigration office and pay a $1 USD tax to the city for the second time that day.

11:25 am
Entrance forms are completed. We pay $12 USD for our 90-day tourist visa and entrance back into Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan Immigration office

– Finally…our last passport stamp of the day!

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– Sandals anyone?

11:29 am
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.

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– A border run wouldn’t be complete without a quick stop at the Nicaraguan Duty Free Shop

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– Lots of goodies at Duty Free!

11:36 am
We are good to go for another 90 days and ready for a snack before making our way to a Rivas for some shopping.

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– A couple of snacks for the drive to Rivas

11:40 am
We pay our parking attendant C$40 cordobas for his services. He’s happy and so are we!

Another 90 Days in Paradise

– Our truck (and our parking attendant) are safe and sound exactly where we left them! 

Learning to Drive in Nicaragua

I’ll begin this post by saying that I am no expert in the subject of learning to drive in Nicaragua.  We bought our truck a month ago and even though we rented vehicles while vacationing in Nica, we only used them to go from one city to the next.  Even now that we live here Elisha and I only drive the truck when we make our once a week trip to the Maxi Pali supermarket or when we go on the occasional road trip.  I should also be forthright about who the actual driver of the vehicle usually is – Elisha.  

You are probably wondering why I am I one writing this post.  Well, to be honest Elisha asked (i.e. told) me to and as some of you already know my moto is “Happy wife, happy life”… so here I am.

Driving in Nicaragua is not for the feint of heart.  It’s important to stay focused at all times.  In my opinion distracted driving laws really aren’t necessary in Nicaragua because if you become distracted while driving you wouldn’t make it 5 minutes without causing an accident.  

On any given road you will encounter cars, trucks, busses, ox carts, horses, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, herds of cattle, chickens, dogs, kids selling iguanas for meat and let’s not forget – the police.  All will be moving unpredictably and at various speeds – except for the police.  They will be standing at the side of the road waiting to see if this roadway circus causes you to step out of line.  Once you do (and you will) it’s pretty much a guarantee that they will be there.  This is especially true at the entrance to any town and most certainly so near the airport.  I’m not sure if it’s more feeling than fact but it would appear as though the local police are set up in places where it’s that much easier for them to extract money from you.

The ticketing system in Nicaragua is interesting.  Generally the police will write you a ticket for an infraction and the costs is usually around 200 cordobas, which is just under ten bucks.  They will give you a copy of the ticket and keep a copy for themselves while attaching a copy to your license which they keep.  When their shift ends they will take your driver’s license (and any others they have collected) to the police station where it awaits your visit.  For your fun and excitement you must take a trip to the nearest bank to pay the fine and have your your ticket stamped.  You must then return to the police station of the town that issued the ticket to pick up your license. You have 15 days to do this or I’m not sure what, but I suspect it’s probably a lot less fun.

We have a friend who lives near Granada. When he gets a ticket he simply waits the 15 days to pay it and proceeds to drive without worry of receiving additional infractions during that period of time.  When the police ask for his license he shows them his pending ticket and he’s free to go.  It seems as though additional tickets are not issued when you already have one and with no license to threaten to take they have no bargaining power over you.

This ticket paying process isn’t terrible unless you are only passing through a town.  In this case you would need to make a special trip back there to retrieve your license.  I’m quite sure there is a possibility that the police understand this all too well.  In all of our travels in the past three months luck has been on our side and we’ve rarely been pulled over.  The couple of times we were no tickets were issued.  That all changed when our friends came to visit and we were traveling with luggage on the roof rack. It seems as though this is the symbol of a foreigner on a road trip.

During the two weeks we spent traveling with our friends we were  pulled over 3 times.  The 1st infraction occurred just as we were leaving Leon.  Elisha made a left hand turn across two lanes instead of one.  When she realized what she had done she immediately moved into the correct lane.  Even though no cars were near and she caused no issues this slight oversight was the result of not one, but two infractions.  One for the improper turn and one for an improper lane change.  According to the book the fine was 600 cordobas or if we paid the officer directly it would be 400 cordobas. Luckily we were able to settle on 200.

The next infraction was really weak.  A slow moving car applied the brakes and made a right hand turn into a driveway.  Elisha signalled and went around him as he pulled in.  Because she crossed a solid yellow line the police officer stepped out onto the road about 100 meters up the highway and motioned for use to pull over.  He gave us a long drawn out lecture about driving safety. To avoid the hassle of paying at the bank he was gentlemanly enough to allow us to pay our 200 cordoba fine directly to him.

The 3rd infraction was almost too much to take. Coincidently about 5 minutes from the airport we were pulled over after we drove through a traffic circle.  The police officer wasn’t even looking in our direction until we were driving past and then he walked out toward us.  He said that we lane changed in the traffic circle without signalling.  This was very far from the truth and even if it was  he would not have known anyway because he wasn’t even looking.

I got out of the truck and told him the ticket was a piece of shit.  He said it wasn’t.  Then I told him that he was a piece of shit. He didn’t agree with that statement either. I then proceeded to tell him I didn’t have time for his games and tried to push some cash into his hand. He started yelling at me and instructed me to get back in the car. I thought maybe I had really pissed him off and pushed a bit too far so I did as I was told and got back into the car. I looked over at Elisha to tell her this might be bad, but I didn’t have the chance.  The cop was standing beside her window with his hand in the truck waiting for the cash.  Apparently the only thing that upset him was my uncultured attempt to bribe him in plain sight. I guess I still have a lot to learn about driving in Nicaragua.

We Now Have Wheels!

2 bank cards, 2 credit cards, 18 ATM withdrawals over two days, 90 minutes at a lawyer’s office, followed by the exchange of 350 twenty dollar bills, just 74 days after we arrived in Nicaragua we are now the proud owners of a fully loaded 2001 Hyundai Galloper 2.5L Turbo Diesel 4 X 4.

This tank should get us ANYWHERE we want to go in Nicaragua!

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