Every 90 days, expats in Nicaragua must leave the country for a minimum of 72 hours before re-entering. Quinn and I knew our time was coming up, so whilst Quinn’s dad and step-mom were visiting Nicaragua we figured we would hitch a ride to Costa Rica to renew our visa for another 90 days. Fortunately, Costa Rica is conveniently only 40 minutes away from San Juan del Sur so the road trip was a quick one.
When we arrived at the boarder we dropped off the rental car and walked towards the Nicaraguan “Exit/Enter” building. We were immediately approached by multiple men attempting to “assist” us with the process for a small fee. We decided to forgo paying these guys and complete the process on our own without any help. The first step was obtaining and then filling out the papers for exiting Nicaragua and entering Costa Rica (same papers when coming back into Nicaragua from Costa Rica) and every traveler must have two copies filled out for each country. They are free and readily available for people to take, but many locals will try to sell them to you. It’s best to get them from the official behind the window who stamps your passport, but this can be sometimes take a while as the lines are usually long. The wait can be much longer then any wait at the DMV, but we were lucky and got right up to the officer in only 10 minutes.
While waiting in line, locals will also attempt to convince you that you must pay $1 per person for a little piece of paper with a stamp on it. They’ll be persistent and tell you that it is mandatory for you to have in order to go to Costa Rica, but it’s not. Unfortunately, we know this from personal experience. Right after we paid the Nica man $2 for us both, another local man standing behind us told us that those papers were trash. The official behind the window nodded his head when we asked him if this was true. Oh well. We paid our exit fee, got our official exit stamp and started walking towards Costa Rica. Just before crossing the Costa Rican boarder, we had to show another government officer that we had an exit stamp. If you do not, then you must walk back and wait in line again. Again, we unfortunately know this from experience. If approved, your next step is to walk just 100 yards in Nicaraguan/Costa Rican limbo to the boarder patrol office at the entrance of Costa Rica.
Once we got to the Costa Rican boarder building, we entered the right hand side of the building to officially check into Costa Rica (the left side is leaving). Along with a passport, the Costa Rican government official was insistent on seeing a plane ticket or some other proof that we were exiting Costa Rica. We assumed this was because there are no fees to enter their country (unlike the many fees you must pay in Nica), so they want to see that you are planning on spending money in Costa Rica. We definitely didn’t have a plane ticket as we bought a oneway from SF back in May, so the man said we must stay for a minimum of 10 days. I had a feeling he was lying as many of our expat friends who had been living here for years told us that the law is that one must stay in Costa Rica for only 3 days. Our confused faces must have given our feelings away as he later passed our passports back to us with only 8 days written on it. If this new random 8 day rule was in fact true, then it posed a bit of a problem for us because my sister Caira was flying into Managua in just 7 days.
We knew there wasn’t much we could do at that point, so we just said thank you and got out of there as fast as possible. We walked over to the car rental place near the building, thankful that it only took us 50 minutes to get through the other side. Even though it was a short period of time, it wasn’t exactly a fun experience. Regardless, we were happy to be in a new country (it was Quinn’s first time) and we couldn’t wait to see what Costa Rica had in store for us.