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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! 

Playas del Coco, oh how you’ve changed!

As non-residents of Nicaragua every 6 months Elisha & I are required to leave the country to renew our tourist visas.  Since Elisha’s parents were here visiting and we had friends from Calgary staying at Ocotal beach in Costa Rica the timing for this renewal was great. 

Entering Costa Rica on foot!

Playa Ocotal is the beach where we got married 5 1/2 years ago and Playas del Coco was the place that inspired Elisha & I to move south – so as you can imagine we were quite excited about a return visit.  

Father Rooster Restaurant where we held our wedding 5 1/2 years ago!

When we arrived the changes we saw in the town of a Playa del Coco were more than we had expected.  Once a quaint one-road fishing village with a few restaurants and shops Coco now has a luxury gated community that resembles what you would see in a Canadian or American golf course community.

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Although many of the same restaurants from our last visit are still there, most have been “gringo-ized”.  Gone are the rough support posts and corrugated roofs that used to be the norm for beach bars.  Everything is more polished now, including the waterfront.  The row of buildings that used to be on the beach has been demolished and replaced with a boardwalk and park area.  The changes are nice, but Coco now lacks some of that rugged charm we so fondly remember.

The new Malecon

The Lizard Lounge by day…

…and by night!

While in Coco we saw more tourists and expats than locals and with the prices in the area I understand why.  Food and drink costs are pretty much on par with what you expect to pay in Canada.

One afternoon we had lunch at Father Rooster.  It’s the one and only beachfront restaurant in Playa Ocotal and the place where held our wedding reception.  We had an appy to share, 4 meals and 6 beer and our bill came to a whopping $96 USD. 

The portions were large, but unfortunately so was our bill!

Two days later we had a similar lunch at Henry’s Iguana Beach Bar & Restaurant in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.  The damage for this one?  Just under $40 USD. I noticed a pizza place in Coco advertising $2.50 USD beer – like it’s a deal. Hardly!  I rarely pay more than $1 USD for beer in Nica.

Oddly enough the prices of accommodations in Playas del Coco and surrounding area are similar to those in Nicaragua.  I suspect it’s probably due to overbuilding and subsequent saturation of the rental market.  We chose a large, beautiful two bedroom apartment over looking Ocotal Bay as our place to call home for 3 days.  We were very comfortable at La Loma del Atardecer.

Pools at La Loma del Atardecer

The view of Ocotol Bay from our apartment

It was a 200 meter walk down the hill to the beach where we spent some time relaxing and snorkelling.

Sharing the beach with a lizard.

One thing that hasn’t changed  in Playa Ocotal is the snorkelling.  Right off the shore, a few feet into the water you can see a plethora of fun sea creatures.  3 out of the 4 times I went into the water I was lucky to be able to swim with some eagle rays.

Unfortunately the one time I didn’t see the rays was when I took our friend Beverly out for her 1st ever snorkelling adventure. Although we weren’t able to see the eagle rays we still saw a good assortment of sea life.

A speckled eel

The six of us sitting around our apartment in the evening playing Scrabble felt a little surreal to me.  It was almost like being back in Canada…until I looked out the window.  

Elisha’s parents take the game of Scrabble very seriously. Since her arrival in Nica Elisha’s mom, Rose had been trash talking about winning the first game on our new Scrabble board.  To her surprise Beverly handed out a crushing defeat! Wanting to go out on a high note, Beverly didn’t play the next night which meant Willard and Rose didn’t even have a chance to vanquish their defeat.

Torey pulled out a big pointer – oh & ho!

Good times with friends & family

It was a good trip.  It was great to see Beverly & Torey and nice to check out the area again, but I have to say it sure feels great to be back home to Nica!

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