Identidad, General

Myth-Busting the Nicaragua – Costa Rican Border Crossing

I read every article I could get my hands on regarding the new tax required to leave Costa Rica at the Nicaragua pedestrian border. According to news sources, I could pay the fee at any Bancrédito branch, myth. The fee was reported at $5, myth (it’s $7). I researched and found only two branches in all of Guanacaste. One at the Liberia Airport and one at Plaza Santa Rosa just behind the McDonalds (Highway 1 and Central Calle). My plan was to arrive close to 6am, when the border opens in order to avoid long lines associated with Christmas. More Nicaraguans return home from Costa Rica the last two weeks of December than any other time of year, resulting in.

An article informed me that I could pay the tax at Bancrédito’s ATM, which would allow me to work around their business hours, myth. I had a back up plan in case the ATM was broken or the information was wrong, I would drive an extra 20 minutes each-way to the airport in Liberia where the Bancredíto’s branch opened at 6am. That didn’t work either. While they were in fact open, they could only accept the tax for airport departures, $29. I asked if I could pay the extra $22 a person and bring the more expensive receipt to the border, and they said that wouldn’t work. They informed me that the only way to leave Costa Rica at the Nicaraguan border from Guanacaste was to drive back to Liberia and wait until 9am when the only branch in the province capable of accepting $7 to leave Costa Rica would open.

My wife and I woke up at 3:45am on December 16th, 2013 and were out our door in Nuevo Arenal by 4:20am in order to beat the lines. Happily on schedule, we arrived in Liberia just before 6am. The bank in Liberia was closed, as expected, but so was the ATM. It was out of service. Apparently, the bank personnel run the ATM the same hours that the bank maintains. So we moved to plan B and were off to the airport. While it was nice to not worry about checking bags and long lines, it was less that wonderful to find out that they also couldn’t send us on our way with our tax receipt. Our only remaining option was to loiter in Plaza Santa Rosa until 9am. About 50 games of gin later the bank opened and we were able to pay our taxes and knocked out our Marchamo while we were there!

This was our first crossing into Nicaragua. My wife and I paid too much to the “helpers.”  They help guide you through immigration process. After much negotiation we were supposed to pay a total of $30 per person for our immigration fees and a tip for our helper. Money spent at the border looked like this:

  • $7 tax receipt per person paid at Bancrédito branch
  • $1 per person for a ticket you need to proceed to the Nicaragua arrival window
  • $12 per person to enter Nicaragua (Paid in Dollars or Nicaraguan Cordobas and they will not make change. There are people in the plaza that will change money.)
  • $1 per person for a ticket required to proceed to the Nicaraguan departure window
  • Then even though we were told it would only be approximately $6 extra a person for their services the “helper” on the Nicaraguan side got us for $30 and his partner on the Costa Rican side demanded $40! My pride was absolved and I felt taken. All of the negotiations were conducted in spanish, but realizing that they were well connected I decided to pay and not make a scene. Now that I have seen the process I won’t use a “helper” again should I choose to visit Nicaragua again. Had we just walked down the road by ourselves we would have found everything we needed. 

Take home messages:

  • Go to and find your closest branch (I’m not sure why the government chose the bank with the fewest branches in Costa Rica).
  • Pay your tax prior to your departure day, if you hope cross the border early  (Guanacaste residents are out of luck if they don’t reside near Liberia).
  • Do not plan on using the branch at the Liberia Airport, they cannot take your money.
  • Don’t use a helper unless you think that they are worth $70+.

To learn more about how to move, live, work, and retire in Costa Rica, read Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica.

Shannon Enete

Author of Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica