Nicaragua to Costa Rica Border Crossing – Penas Blancas – La Cruz

My Overland Adventure

Around the World in a Land Cruiser
Staff member
May 29, 2014
On The road

We found the Nicaragua to Costa Rica border crossing quite time consuming. Normally an exit is quick and easy, but when a few coach loads of tourists turn up and it’s lunch time, you can end up waiting and waiting….. The Costa Rica side was quite straight forward especially if you follow the steps below. We were held up at the insurance office as the only person working had “gone to the bank”.

Nicaragua Exit

  1. Park in one of the spaces here 11.218199, -85.612790
  2. Immigration The immigration office will be behind you. On entering the building you may be asked to pay a dollar and then another $2 per person exit tax at the immigration window. 11.218232, -85.612629
  3. Cancellation of Temporary Import Permit (TIP) On entering the border area you would have been given a customs declaration to complete. To complete the exit paper work you need to:
    1. Have customs inspect the vehicle; you will find someone in the car park with a clip board checking cars. They will not help you at the customs window until this is complete!
    2. Go to the customs window with the stamped/signed paper work. They will then also add their stamp. 11.218199, -85.612790
    3. Find a policeman hanging around, they are normally near the food stall 11.218503, -85.612673-They will also need to stamp the paper work. You are then free to leave.
  4. On exiting the border area, they will take the complete paper work.

Customs windows

Where you are likely to find the police

Entering Costa Rica

  1. Park here 11.211942, -85.611448 (if busy, park up past the huts)
  2. Immigration – First go to immigration here 11.211921, -85.611302.
  3. Temporary Import Permit (TIP) This process is completed in two parts. Part 1: The office is opposite immigration here 11.211942, -85.611448 , you will need the following: Vehicle Registration, Passport and Driving Licence with copies of the same. Complete the forms they give you. Once complete they will stamp and then check your vehicle.
  4. Insurance Turn right into an area where you will drive past lots of trucks. Park here 11.210213, -85.612173 and firstly go to the window on the left. Purchase the insurance $36.
  5. Copy shop Take a copy of your Vehicle Registration, Passport, Driving Licence, Entry stamp and the vehicle insurance.209977, -85.612115
  6. TIP Part 2 Go to the second customs office here 11.210153, -85.612141 and give them a copy of all the documentation. They will process it and provide you with the TIP.
  7. Keep hold of all the documentation you have been given as you need to show this when exiting.


Customs 1 (on the right small white hut)

Insurance Window & Customs 2

Customs 2 & Copy Shop


  • Carnet is not required to enter Costa Rica with a foreign vehicle
  • Insurance is required
  • Fill up on fuel, food, alcohol in Nicaragua, it’s expensive in Costa Rica!
  • Avoid 12-2pm, most people are on lunch…
  • Beware at traffic lights and petrol stations in Nicaragua, people are trying to rob foreigners by cutting their tyre and then pretending to help them with the flat!
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Freedom With Bruno

New Overlander
Oct 26, 2015
On the road
We’re about to enter Costa Rica and the suspense is unbearable. We are finally here! A few… more… line-ups… and dealings with people who seem to hate their jobs. Just let us in! Here’s our experience at the Peñas Blancas border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Leaving Nicaragua – Sunday, May 24, 2015 @ 10:30am.

Border 4km/3mi southeast of Sapoá.

Objective: Cancel temporary vehicle import permit (TIP), and receive Nicaragua exit stamps in our passports.

As we entered the border exit area for Nicaragua, an official handed us a Customs Declaration Form before even parking. You’ll want to fill this out as soon as you can, since you’ll need it to cancel your temporary vehicle import permit (TIP).

Drive in and park in front of the Aduana building (Google Maps link here). As you get out of your vehicle, some unofficial-looking guys will try to hand you a piece of paper, which is actually helpful. It’s a form that is needed to get your exit stamp. We recommend you politely take their forms (one needed for each passport exit stamp), then tell them to take a hike.

Migracion – if you parked in front of Aduana, Migracion is behind you.

  • Get your Exit Stamp (Salida section of the building was closed, so we had to use the Entrada area to get exit stamps). Enter the area, pay the lady sitting at an outdoor desk $1 USD/27 Cordobas per person for the Municipal Exit Tax. She will provide receipt.
  • Next, take the forms you received from the unofficial-looking guys above and fill them out while waiting in line at the window. Hand them in and pay $2 USD/50 Cordobas per person in exchange for exit stamps in your passports. Receipt also given.
  • Find the young lady with the clipboard. She may be wandering around in front of Aduana, or sitting nearby in the shade with a friend. She’ll want to see originals of the car’s registration, drivers licenses, passports, and the Customs Declaration Form that you’ve already filled out, thanks to reading this post. God, you’re good! Do not line up for the Aduana until she puts her stamp on the Customs Declaration Form.
  • Next, line up for Aduana. You want them to cancel your TIP. They asked for the Customs Declaration Form (CDF), the TIP, passports, drivers licenses. They’ll keep the original TIP and give you the CDF with their stamp and signature.
  • Go find a police officer who should be wandering around somewhere, likely in the shady spots. He’ll do a thorough search of your vehicle, check every single door, and touch your luggage. He’ll stamp and sign the CDF then hand it back.

You’re now free to drive away – you’ll hand over the Customs Declaration Form as you exit the area and head towards the Costa Rica entrance area!

Entering Costa Rica – Sunday, May 24, 2015 @ 11:30am.

Border at Peñas Blancas

Objective: Receive temporary vehicle import permit and entry stamps in passport.

Here is a satellite view map of the area:

Migracion (1 on map)

  • You must do this before you talk to the Aduana. There may or may not be a bus load of tourists in line in front of you, and they’ll likely already have immigration forms filled out. In your most friendly Canadian manner, you politely excuse your way to the front of the line and mime to the lady behind the glass that you need a blank immigration form. She stops what she’s doing and obliges. Many people do this. We ask ourselves numerous times why the forms are not made available at the back of the line… Once your turn arrives, hand the lady the filled out immigration form with your passports. She will stamp your entry and you mooove along.
First Aduana (2 on map)
  • Go across the street to the small Aduana shack. Hand over the usual paperwork for vehicle entry: title, registration, drivers licenses, passports, along with photocopies of each. The nice lady will give you two forms to fill out. Upon completion, she’ll walk with you to visually confirm your car’s existence. She’ll hand back all of your original documents, as well as a package consisting of your photocopies with a tiny 2″x2″ square paper stapled to the corner. She will not make a big deal or explain to you what this is, but we find out later it is the only thing that physically allows you to leave the border area and enter into the country! Don’t lose this small paper.

You must now drive around the area, looking for the Second Aduana (4 on map) and the place to purchase mandatory Costa Rican car insurance (3 on map). They are on neighboring corners of the same building.

Insurance, or Seguros is first. A grumpy young woman will ignore you at the window for a good 5-7 minutes, while you bore holes into the top of her head with your eyes. When she’s good and ready, she will ask you to hand over the package you received from the First Aduana. Pay $35 USD or 18160 Colones. Your package of photocopies will be returned to you, along with a receipt for payment of insurance. The receipt is your only proof of insurance. No other formal document.

The Second Aduana is right around the corner of the building (4 on map). In addition to the package of photocopies received at the First Aduana, you will need copies of your passports showing the entry stamp and a copy of the vehicle insurance receipt. There is a copy shop right behind me (5 on map), as I take this picture.

You will hand over all paperwork in the humid office and wait while many things are typed into a computer by another unfriendly lady. Originals will be returned to you, and she will keep all copies. She will hand you back that tiny piece of paper stapled to your package of photocopies. Do not crumple with the intent to throw away, as we did.

Receive Temporary Import Permit for vehicle, and proceed to drive out of border area. Finally, hand over that uber-important scrap of paper at the border exit. They may check your vehicle permit and passports one last time. Then, get the hell outta dodge and towards Costa Ricans that actually smile. Pura Vida!