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.
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.
…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!
To celebrate my 37th birthday Gord and I decided to take a vacation from our vacation. We packed our bags, hopped on the micro bus and made our way to Laguna de Apoyo.
Rated #1 on Trip Advisor for Specialty Lodging in the area we opted to stay at Apoyo Lodge & Camp. As soon as we put our bags down and got settled into our room I knew we made the right choice for accommodations. Our room was spacious, airy and super clean.
Sleeping with the windows and doors open all night was the best! We had our own private balcony that overlooked the laguna.
We unpacked our things and freshened up a bit before I helped myself to a cold Tona from the fridge and took a seat in one of the hammock chairs.
Apoyo Lodge’s refreshment station works on an honor system. Basically you help yourself to whatever beverage you want and then mark it down on your tab. Whether you’re in the mood for a mojito or champagne they have it all! Non-alcoholic drinks are also available.
Although we brought some of our own food we opted to have Sasha cook lunch for us. After all, we were on vacation! The Cabbage Ginger Wraps with Peanut Sauce were slightly spicy, a bit crunchy and extremely tasty! The Almond Cranberry Feta Salad that came with our wraps offered the ever so good sweet and bitter combo. This healthy, vegetarian lunch was a welcomed change from the typical Nicaraguan food we’ve been eating for the last two months. Before we were even finished our meal we knew we wouldn’t be doing any of our own cooking for the remainder of our stay because it would be better left to the professionals.
In the morning we woke up to the sound of the howler monkeys and tropical birds and the best continental breakfast ever. All you can eat fresh fruit, whole grain toast and coffee, good coffee that is, was included in our nightly room rate. The display you see below was prepared by Shamus.
In addition to the the clean, clear refreshing waters of the laguna amenities at Apoyo Lodge include a floating dock…
…a Hookah Lounge and…
…a private rancho with kitchen for guests to use.
Apoyo Lodge also has a BBQ, a skate park, inner tubes, paddle boards, a paddle boat and a sailboat and hammocks for guests to use.
The moment we arrived at Apoyo Lodge we felt comfortable and at ease with our hosts Shamus & Sasha. Over the course of the weekend we enjoyed great conversation and shared lots of laughs. We look forward to hanging out with this fellow Canadian couple again later this month when they’ll be in our neck of the woods. In addition to Shamus & Sasha’s company we also enjoyed the time we spent with Apoyo Lodge’s furry friends Do, Kongo and Maude.
My birthday weekend at Apoyo Lodge was an all-around awesome one. We can’t wait to go back!
To view more photos of our weekend at Apoyo Lodge and Laguna de Apoyo click here.
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!
It seems as though most of our vacations use Houston as a jump off point and Sky Box becomes our home away from home for a few hours…anyway. Today, as we begin our Nicaraguan Adventure we find ourselves back here with our friends Nadia and Steve.
Nadia was at our wedding in Costa Rica when Elisha and I first discussed this crazy adventure. Now she’s here with her guy Steve who is taking his first trip south. Steve tells us he doesn’t like heat or the water, so we will see if we can win him over after some time at our little beach house in Poneloya.
We are excited and a little nervous to get to Nicaragua and get started with our adventure, but I think that’s a good sign.