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 now requires that you show proof of onward travel from their country.
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 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!
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 Penas 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 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.
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!
1 small bottle of water – $3
18 bottles of beer – $40
Haircut, color & brow wax – $170
Sushi – $40
A few groceries – $57
It was day 4 of my 1st trip home to Calgary when I officially started to freak out about how much money I was going to spend during my 5 week stay. If I continued at this pace the MasterCard was in for a serious beating.
After spending 8 months in Nicaragua it didn’t take me long to figure out what I had missed most in Canada.
1. My Nephew Aiden – How sweet it was to be reunited with my adorable 11 month old nephew Aiden. From camping, to going for walks, to seeing Aiden through his 10 & 11 month birthdays, to reading “Llama, Llama Wakey Wake” over and over again and being there as he learned to crawl the time I spent with him was definitely the highlight of my trip.
2. My Girlfriends (especially my sister) – Getting together with my special gang of girlfriends and being able to pick up right where we left off was a great feeling. Heart to heart talks with my sis was something I think we both needed.
3. Shopping – I know my stores and I know my sizes. I know where to find the best deals on my favorite products and I love a good sale. Planning my visit at the end of the summer season was a good move – EVERYTHING was on sale. I so miss being able to get good quality clothing and the products I love at great prices.
4. The Food – $40 on sushi (for one sitting) was a bit expensive, but I gotta tell ya, it was worth every penny. Strawberries, blueberries and Activia yogurt were part of my daily diet. And although not technically classified as food, I couldn’t seem to get enough 5 cent candy from Mac’s.
5. My Hairstylist – Cassidy from Ca Va Bien rocks! After 8 months without a real haircut it felt great to have my hair cut & colored by a professional I trust. Now if only I could convince her to move to Nicaragua.
6. TV – Specifically the Slice channel. I have to admit I watched quite a few episodes of Say Yes to the Dress and What Not to Wear and even caught a couple of episodes of Intervention Canada while I was home. Hey – don’t judge me!
As we pulled into the driveway at my sister’s house on July 26th I felt like I had never left. Aside from Aiden, not much had changed.
But after spending two months in Calgary – 10 months after departing on a Nicaraguan adventure with nothing but a couple of suitcases, and my husband Gord – I realized I’ve changed.
I’m thrifty now. I’m more laid back. I’m less concerned or caught up in the minor details of day to day and I’ve realized not everything has to be perfect. I don’t need a fancy house, or a designer handbag to make me happy. More importantly, I realized just how special time spent with family, friends and loved ones is and how much it means to me.
Unfortunately all good things must eventually come to an end.
Saying goodbye sucks, but as the plane left the runway in Calgary – 285 days after my Nicaraguan adventure began – I was more excited than sad. This time I wasn’t leaving home – I was going home.
Were on our way out of the town of San Juan del Oriente when we spotted this woman walking up the road. Dressed in a bright blue dress and frilly white apron she carried a bag of watermelons on her head. I thought she’d make a good subject for a photo so I hopped out of the truck and approached her.
“¿Puedo tomar su foto?”
Like many Nicaraguans she appeared a bit shy about having her picture taken.
As she waved her arms around and spoke to me in Spanish I click, click, clicked down on the shutter button of my camera. I had no idea what she was saying so I nodded and smiled. Confident that I had the shot I reached into my pocket for my lens cap.
I walked towards her, took her soft and weathered hand in mine and kissed her on the cheek.
“Muchas gracias!” I said.
I watched as she dug through her canvas bag that she held on her lap. She took out her bible and placed it on her lap. It looked well used. She eventually found what she was looking for – two Watchtower pamphlets. She handed them to me and smiled.
She took advantage of this moment to spread the word and I got another great photo to add to my collection.
Since Elisha and I arrived in Nicaragua 8 months ago we’ve managed to live in 5 different towns. Our Nicaraguan expat adventure began in Poneloya and from there we moved to Leon. The next city we called home was Granada and then we were off to the spend some time at Apoyo Lodge in Laguna de Apoyo. And finally here I am in San Juan del Sur searching for yet another rental.
A couple of months in each location has allowed us the time needed to see past the tourist scene while figuring out the true flavour of each town. That being said 2 months (or less) in a each place was not nearly enough time for any one place to feel like home. Eventually we both want to settle down in one place, but for now we’re looking forward to spending some time in Nicaragua’s tourist playground.
The fact that San Juan del Sur is a tourist hot spot means that there are lots of places to stay, but unfortunately there are few options that actually meet our needs. Most monthly rentals here are vacation homes with rates starting at $100 plus per night or Nica style homes that are quite “rustic” and somewhat undesirable.
With Elisha back in Canada visiting family for a month I’m left to house hunt in San Juan del Sur all on my own. Lucky for me our friends Jon and Quinn have been living in San Juan del Sur for the past three months. During that time they’ve come to know the little ins & outs of the town and were more than happy to fill me in on all they’ve learned about Nicaragua’s favourite beach town.
When I arrived in town Jon & Quinn introduced me to the family that owns Elizabeth’s Guest House. They helped me get set me up in a private and comfortable room so I could take some time to find an apartment.
Just as they had done with Jon & Quinn, Elizabeth and her family took me in like one of their own. In fact, it was my first night in town when Elizabeth’s husband Orlando decided to get me drunk on rum.
The next day I woke up feeling a little rough, but fortunately Elizabeth fed me and nursed me back to health. I’m sure glad she did because I had some work to do – it was time to begin my San Juan De Sur house hunting mission!
…with our good friends the Dueck’s!
In case you’ve been wondering what we’ve been up to we wanted to let you know we’ve been living it up with our friends Marnie, Chad & Olivia who are here visiting from Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada. They are here on a 2 week vacation and we’re having a fantastic time acting as their personal tour guides.
Stayed tuned for pictures and stories of our adventures together in Nica!
If you’ve ever thought packing for a 1 or 2 week vacation was difficult try packing your whole life into a few bags; it’s not easy task!
We left with 2 large suitcases, 1 large backpack, 1 hockey bag and two carry on suitcases. Continue reading below to find out what we managed to squeeze into our bags.
- 10 pairs of jean shorts
- 11 t-shirts
- 10 camis
- 16 tank tops
- 1 pair trouser jeans
- 3 cotton skirts
- 2 beach dresses
- 1 boyfriend blouse
- underwear & socks
- 5 bikinis
- 1 rash guard
- 3 belt3 hats
- 4 lightweight scarves
- 2 pairs of Flojo flip flops
- 1 pair Reef flip flops
- 3 pairs of leather sandals
- 1 pair of Converse Chuck Taylors
- 1 pair of running shoes
- 2 long sleeve t-shirts
- 2 lightweight cardigans
- 2 pairs of capris
- Lululemon yoga capris
- Lululemon yoga jacket
- 1 hoody
Her “Other” Items
- hair straightening iron
- hair dryer
- curling iron
- hair products
- hair accessories (brush, comb, elastics, bobby pins, headbands)
- toiletries (deodorant, toothpaste, razors, etc.)
- perfume & make up
- 4 bottles of nail polish
- costume jewellery
- 2 watches
- 3 pairs of sunglasses
- 3 purses
- 6 months worth of prescription drugs
- 19 t-shirts
- 5 tanks tops
- 6 button up shirts
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 1 pair of cotton pants
- 4 long sleeve t-shirts
- 1 hoody
- jogging pants
- light rain jacket
- 2 workout shirts
- 2 pairs of workout shorts
- 6 pairs of swim trunks
- 5 pairs of walk around shorts
- 2 belts
- 6 pairs of socks
- 12 pairs of underwear
- hiking boots
- 1 pair of runners
- 3 pairs of Vibram FiveFinger shoes
- 2 pairs of sunglasses
- 2 ball caps
- 1 duvet
- 3 pillows
- 4 medium size bath towels
- 2 hand towels
- 4 face cloths
- 2 mosquito nets
- 1 set of queen size bed sheets
- clothes iron
- stovetop espresso maker
- pump and hardware for misting system
- framed photo of our dog Levi
- Pentax Digital SLR with extra zoom lens
- Pentax Underwater Point & Shoot Camera
- MAC laptop
- Sony MP3 Player
- cordless telephones
- 2 – 3g Kindles
- electric toothbrushes
- hair clippers
- 4 beer huggies
- 1 set of dominoes
- 2 sets of snorkel equipment (mask, snorkel and fins)
- 2 small backpacks
- swiss army knife
- screwdriver set
- TRX training straps
- 4 bottles of sunscreen
- Over the counter medications (Advil, Immodium, Gravol, allergy pills etc.)
- 8 pack of AA batteries
- travel pillow
- bug spray
- ear plugs (lots)
- 2 queen size mosquito nets
- 3 re-usable nylon shopping bags
- Globejotting – How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals – Dave Fox
- Moon Living Abroad in Nicaragua – Randall Woods & Joshua Berman
- Moon Nicaragua Handbook – Randy Woods & Joshua Berman
I know … the list seems long, but aside from a few pieces of winter clothing and footwear we left behind in Canada this list includes pretty much all of what we own right now.
For those of you planning a similar move hopefully this post will help you with your decisions on what to bring and for those of you that are curious about what we brought … now you know.
Stay tuned for a future post – “What We Should Have Packed in our Suitcases & What We Should Have Left Behind”. We’ve already started a list and it’s growing every day!