Crossing the Border into Costa Rica

This is a continuation of the series reporting from our Panamerican roadtrip on what to expect when crossing the border by vehicle in Mexico and Central America. For more articles on crossing the border (including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) click here.

In Nicaragua the roads outside of León, through Managua, and towards the Costa Rican border were well paved. Yet we still managed to get lost, this time in Managua. We could not find the turn off for the CA-1 so we turned onto a probable highway, hoping for the best. Of course it wasn’t the right highway, but it took an hour before it dawned us, so with a bit of map sleuthing and road maneuvering we got ourselves back on track. The rest of the drive to the border was smooth sailing.

Entry Point: Sapoa, Nicaragua to Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica


  • Passport
  • Driver’s License (DL)
  • Vehicle Title
  • Copies of: passport and DL for all drivers, title, insurance, passport page with stamp


  • $3 exit fee for Nicaragua
  • ? fumigation (Costa Rica)
  • $35 for insurance (Costa Rica)

Leaving Nicaragua:

  • Before reaching the border you will stop at a small booth towards the middle left of the road. Present passports and vehicle permit to the guard. The guard will sign the vehicle permit and return along with a declaration form to fill out.
  • Continue driving past a set of buildings, turn left and park in the lot on the other side of the buildings.
Parking lot and customs building
Parking lot and customs building
  • Outside of the building an official with a DGA shirt will ask for your vehicle permit and declaration form. She will sign and return.
  • An old man outside of the building, not an official DGA, but some sort of guide will give you a Sistema de la Integracion Centroamerica form to fill out.
  • Then go to the window on the left side of the building (the middle of the building has a sign that says Banjercito) with a sign that says “DGA Direccion General Servicios Aduanos.” Give vehicle permit, declaration card, and vehicle owner’s DL. The official will sign and stamp the documents before returning them.
DGA Direccion General Servicios Aduanos office with DGA officials standing to the left
DGA Direccion General Servicios Aduanos office with DGA officials in white
  • Next walk to the police office to get the declaration form stamped.
Police office
Police office
  • Then walk around the police office to a booth with a sign that says “Despacho de Entrada.” Pay the $1 exit fee and you will receive receipt and slip of paper with a stamp.
Office for "Despacho de Entrada"
Booth for “Despacho de Entrada”
  • Next walk across to the window with a sign saying “Todo Despacho Migracion.” Present passport and Sistema del la Integracion Centroamerica form. Pay $2, receive a passport stamp, and receive a receipt.
Office for “Todo Despacho Migracion”
Office for “Todo Despacho Migracion”
  • Return to your car, pull out and drive towards a small shaded table on the left. A guard will ask to see the sign and stamped declaration. Then further on at a second shaded booth a guard will ask to see your passport.

Entering Costa Rica

  • When entering into Costa Rica, stay to the right and enter the fumigation booth to be sprayed. Before entering into the booth a fumigation official will collect the fee, however we only had US dollars which the official would not accept. Happily an aduana (customs) official came by to see what the situation was and just waived us through without payment. I can’t imagine that always happens so be prepared with Costa Rican colones.
  • Continue driving until you reach a large white building on the left and a little row of buildings to the right. Pass through and park to the right past the row of buildings.
Big white building
Large white building where you get your passport stamped and luggage screened
  • Walk back to the large white building. A guard outside will give you a declaration form. Fill out the form, enter the building and stand in line. The official will ask for your passport and declaration form before stamping your passport. *Please note that Costa Rican policy requires that you have a return ticket, either by air or bus, before allowing you to enter the country. If you fly into Costa Rica the airline agencies will not let you board the plane without a return ticket. But since we drove in we were able to circumnavigate the policy. When the official asked for our return ticket we explained that we drove in and would be driving back out so we had no airplane ticket. That explanation was accepted. However, if it had not been, we were advised that simply purchasing an inexpensive bus ticket would have sufficed.
Sign to follow to find the insurance office
Sign to follow to find the insurance office
  • Next you will need to purchase insurance at the Seguro Obligation para Vehiculos office. To get there you walk past the row of small buildings to the right, and enter through a gate where many semi-trucks are parked. There is a large gray building with a window at the far end to purchase the insurance. You will need to present title, driver’s passport and license. Pay the fee and receive the insurance document.
Building with insurance office
Building with insurance office
  • Then go to the copy shop down the ramp and to the right of the building. Make a copy of the insurance and passport page with stamp.
Copy office
Copy office
  • After, go back to the little row of buildings, find the little white building with “aduana” sign and present all copies and originals (passport, passport page with stamp, DL, title, and insurance). The official will give you two forms to fill out. Complete the forms, return to the official and she will keep the declaration form and return a packet of documents.
Aduana office
Aduana office
  • She will ask you to remove your luggage, which you need to take back inside the large white building. Inside are luggage scanners where you will put the luggage through. Return to the aduana office and show the official your luggage. The official will then go with you to your car to have a look inside.
  • After the official approves your car take the packet of paperwork back to where the insurance office is. Around the corner from the insurance office is another office with a sign saying “Oficinia de Atencion Turistas y Vehiculos.” Enter the office and give the official behind the counter the complete packet of paperwork. She will process the paperwork and give you back a vehicle permit.
Oficinia de Atencion Turistas y Vehiculos
Oficinia de Atencion Turistas y Vehiculos
  • Return to your car, drive a few meters and stop at small exit booth to present the vehicle permit. Continue on.

Have any questions or comments – let me know in the comment section below.

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