Costa Rica,  Nicaragua,  Planning,  Wandering

Penas Blancas border crossing by car

On 14th October 2018 we hit the Penas Blancas border crossing by car. This was a Costa Rican car in my name.

We were a bit nervous about this border crossing, as we had heard it is a rather difficult procedure to get into Nicaragua, especially with your own car. We had done some research, but we basically equipped ourselves with a big dose of patience (come what comes) and kept our fingers crossed. This turned out to be a rather good strategy, as we needed our patience for the 3 hour long procedure and the crossed fingers probably made sure everything went pretty smoothly and we had no “big” problems….

When you arrive at the Penas Blancas border crossing itself (Costa Rican side):

  • Drive past the long line of trucks (2km when we were there, which meant driving in the wrong lane for 2km!!!)
  • Stop at the end of the truck line to pay your exit fee if you haven’t done that already:
Penas blancas border crossing by car exit tax
  • Drive to the customs building, park your car and go inside:
Penas blancas border crossing by car - Main Building Costa Rica
  • Get your exit stamp in your passport
  • Walk around the building (like if you would be entering Costa Rica again) to the Aduana office to get the exit stamps for your car:
Penas blancas border crossing by car - Aduana Costa Rica

  • If you don’t have a copy of the registration papers and the exit papers, there a copy machine next to the customs office.
  • Go back to your car and leave Costa Rica!

Paperwork needed on the Costa Rican side:

Paperwork to get the car out of Costa Rica:

  • Official proof that the car is registered in my name (Registro Nacional document)
  • Exit permit for the car. This can be obtained from the Registro Nacional office.
    • The lady at the reception counter fills in the DSE-05 document for you if you show her the registration documents and your passport. You take that paper to the stamps lady to get a 8000 colon stamp. Then you wait in line until you can hand the paperwork over to the man or lady at the counter. They process the papers and print you your official exit permit.And you’re done! It took us about 30 minutes.

Paperwork you need for yourself:

  • Your passport (of course)
  • Proof that you paid the exit fee of $8 per person. If you didn’t do this before, just like us, you can do this at the border (see above).

Time to leave Costa Rica at Penas Blancas:20 minutes!

We were almost euphoric! But then comes the tricky (Nicaraguan) part…..

At the Penas Blancas border crossing Nicaraguan side :

Drive over to the official at the Nicaraguan side of Penas Blancas. He’ll check your exit papers and let you drive on. You have to drive through a disinfection car wash like machine.

Penas blancas border crossing by car - going to Nicaragua

Then you’re off to the Nicaraguan customs.

  • Park your car outside the customs building:
Penas blancas border crossing by car main building Nicaragua
  • Enter at the far left, to get an entry stamp in your passport.
  • For this, you need to pay $1 per person to the person it the small booth at the entrance of the customs building (inside, on the right)
  • Remember: you have to pay $12 per person at the official to get your entry stamp. In cash! We had to help out another couple who didn’t have the money on them.
  • If you’re driving your own car,people will flock to you to try and ‘help’ you. Use their help! We wouldn’t have been able to do it without it. Or maybe we would have been able to, but it would have taken us probably more than double the time….and our dose of patience wouldn’t have lasted for 6 hours, especially not in the Nicaraguan heat and with 3 children in the car…
  • You need to have all your luggage checked through the scanner. All of it! For us, that meant unloading the whole car plus getting everything off the roof and walking it to the scanner.
  • For some reason all our bags looked suspicious except for the two surfboard bags. So we had to open all of them to have them meticulously checked.
  • Things that were a problem:
    • Food that was past consummation date (yes, they checked every package…)
    • Walkie talkies (apparently that is forbidden, even if they are just toys for the kids. The kids were kind of impressed that their spying gear was taken so seriously). Drones are forbidden too, but we’re not that fortunate to own one 😉
  • Things that were not a “problem”, but needed to be mentioned explicitly on the customs paper:
    • Laptops (and all accessories)
    • Inflatable SUP
    • Inflatable Kayak
    • Surfboards
    • Body boards
    • Photo tripod
    • Binoculars
    • Walkie talkies (see above and below)
  • We had to take this customs paper over to the customs office at the other side of the street (where all the trucks are parked) to get our walkie talkies in.
  • When this was set, we had to hand the customs declaration to the man at the counter in the far left corner of the first building (with the scanners, in the back of the picture) to have our official customs declaration papers. All the items above are clearly stated on that paper. We were told that we needed to be able to show all the items when we leave Nicaragua. If not, we would have to pay customs tax on them.
Penas blancas border crossing by car - customs
  • The Nicaraguan man who helped us said to us, a bit apologetic, “Yes, things are a little different in Nicaragua…..” I think he would have rolled his eyes if he had dared…. We thanked him for his help and gave him a tip. Everybody happy.

That’s all for us and our luggage.

To get our car into Nicaragua:

  • We needed copies of the official registration paper and my driving licence (there’s a copy machine opposite the customs building, see the red Fotocopia sign)
Penas blancas border crossing by car
  • You need an official entry registration (we got this paper from an official who approached us, he was walking around)
  • At the other end of the customs building, where you leave the building, there is a small booth where you need to buy an insurance for the car for $12.
Penas blancas border crossing by car - Insurance booth
  • Inside of the customs building in the middle, behind the scanners you need to pay $5 at the OIRSA cashier.
Penas blancas border crossing by car - customs
  • With all this and your customs declaration, you head over to the police officers at the opposite side of the square where you parked your car, under the Pepsi tent)
Penas blancas border crossing by car

When you’ve got all this paperwork sorted it out, you’re good to go and try your luck entering Nicaragua. Drive over to the border itself (we drove past the trucks standing in the middle of the road).

Hand over every paper you have to the official standing between you and Nicaragua. And if you’re lucky, you made it across the Penas Blancas border crossing from Costa Rica into Nicaragua!!!

Time to enter Nicaragua: 2,5 hours!

Welcome to Nicaragua. You completed the Penas Blancas border crossing by car! Find yourself a little soda and have a fresh drink. You have deserved it!

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