I love and loathe the border run. For all of the perpetual tourists wanting to live the Pura Vida life here in Costa Rica it is a constant and now ever-changing-by-the-month with Covid dictating the rules and guide lines in place for everyone’s heath and safety. Now that tourists are able to cross at the land borders again my partner and I had to make “the run” six weeks before we were obligated to do with the extension given by the government as we have been in Costa Rica since February, 2020 along with so many other expats staying put as recommended. June 3rd was now a long way off as we had worry-some issues with our driver’s licenses, car insurance, and to boot the car in the shop with parts needed from out of country. Ok! I know these might sound like champagne problems and some folks don’t worry about these things, but this is not our idea of stress free living. So my partner and I made a last minute decision to head to the Nicaragua border.
So first step? Get an appointment to have a Covid test done. Depending on where you are traveling to will dictate what test you have to schedule. Nicaragua wants the Real-Time PCR test which at roughly $120 USD is the most expensive of the three offered if you plan on entering regardless of the duration of your stay. To make your appointment first you must go to the online questionnaire posted (https://mipruebacovid.com) and then contact the clinic of your choice with your “record ID number” sent to you almost immediately after completing the form. The government asks you to not fill out the online form more than a week prior to leaving Costa Rica.
Swabbed and feeling positive the next day (results showing negative) we planned to head out early the following day with printed results and proof of our mandatory health insurance that covered Covid treatment and hotel expenses if we came down with the dreaded disease. It’s at this point you begin to try and do as much research about the border itself as possible, IE “how busy is it? Will we be in line with potential Covid carriers? What if we can’t get through the many steps?” Even more than usual as we were about to learn with our first run in over 14 months.
This article is written because I couldn’t find the information I was desperately hoping for online. Blogs? Chat boards? Nothing had been written that was giving me hope and confidence to “do the run”. In fact, both my partner and I had people saying we were crazy to cross the land border…better to “just wait until June 3rd” or “just fly out to Mexico, Florida, Texas” or wherever we could go for a quick vacation. That was what most folks did in the past and will probably do in the future given the option. We did not have that option this time ’round with the needed car repairs. And besides! We had done the run many times and even took pride with navigating the to and fro often trying to best our previous time to get back home. Surprisingly our best time was just under six hours leaving home at 6 a.m. and making it back by noon. What would it be this time?
The drive to the border is 143 kms (89 miles) from our house and usually takes two and half hours with the obligatory stop for “clown food” and that damn secret sauce or any of the other fast food joints at that intersection in Liberia. If you miss the turning lane to the north you end up in the drive thru. Clever! But hard not to stop, right?
Heading out of Liberia is the nicest part of the day. The scenery is great and the road, smooth. My phone always has no service under the canopy shading the highway for some reason? No se? But lovely drive none the less.
As always the litter along the road as we approach the frontier is abundant and sad. Truckers spend days living, washing, refueling, urinating and trying to make a living in these extreme times. The line up was not as long this time. A sure sign of the pandemic. Before the closing of the borders the never ending snake of rigs was backed up for miles. Thankfully as a tourist we drive past the commercial line up to the parking lot in front of the “Impuestos” (departure tax) offices and pay our $10 exit fee in the tiny shops down below. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered a car wash and someone to watch your car. Both optional by the way, but we always ask they take care of our car and we pay them upon our return. Usually 2000-3000 colones. You can take your car across the border but that requires more hoops to jump through and a spray for insects and such. Rental cars are not permitted to cross the border from Costa Rica so best to cross on foot and get back to the car without the hassle.
First thing we notice is it is very quiet except for the big rigs. We were the only two people in the Migracion building where we have waited as long as an hour to get to the counter. Things are good thus far. Along the walk in no-man’s-land, you can exchange money, get a rickshaw ride and even rent a car. Passing one last check point to leave Costa Rica and then you see the first check point to enter Nicaragua. Like I said: we’ve done this many times BUT this time was different. A nurse was there to check our paper work showing our Covid test results. An officer took our passports and asked why we were there. I always get nervous crossing the border and my Spanish goes to s**t especially with the mask in place (that’s my excuse anyway). On a previous run I was asked by the officer if I simply wanted to get my stamp and go back to Costa Rica with the perfect hand gesture, (index finger pointed upward spinning ’round and ’round.) “Si por favor?” we always answer with relief. This time the border officer had more questions while calling for back-up, but was having communication issues on his phone and with me of course. Cue the sweating. We seemed to be somewhat of a bother as so few people were crossing on foot. After ten minutes of smiling behind my mask a second officer drove up and took our passports then disappeared in to the fray of rigs spewing diesel exhaust at us. To our surprise he re-appeared from the smoke and asked us to follow him. Happily we headed toward the main building we were familiar with as he started to explain we had to first stop and go through a medical check point to show our Covid paper work. OK so this is new too, but given the pandemic not a surprise. The giant window on the side of the building open up and sure enough a doctor took our passports and file folder. We were asked to wait in the shade a few steps away then we’d be given a ticket allowing us to proceed. “Hey honey! Take a picture of this for posterity would ya please?”, I asked my partner. Wanting to document this I thought a photo showing the medical check point was a good idea. Wrong! The window flew open and all hell broke loose as the doctor began calling for the immigration officers to stop us from taking a photo. More sweating and the thought of “Oh c**p – did I just get us tossed out of Nicaragua?” Of course it was this point we said “Lo siento” at least twenty times between the two of us. Lesson learned; phones are ok to have in hand just don’t take any pics.
Ticket in hand we entered the main building and began the usual process of paying the $1 USD per person to the municipality (another ticket is given so be prepared for the redundant receipts) and then up to the booth where again I have the hardest time deciphering mask covered, plexiglass blocking Spanish. Passports, health ticket, Covid test results again, and the $13 USD entry tax for each of us. Be prepared to take off your mask momentarily for a mug shot. This is also a new thing and they do it again when you exit the other side of the building to leave Nicaragua. Chin up and don’t smile. Serious stuff. The facial recognition tech has no sense of humor I guess. Into Nicaragua past the X-ray machine and we waste no time cutting across the grass to the Exit counter once again paying the $1 USD each to the municipality. By the way if the yellow shirted ticket agent is not at their wicket to the left just pay the border officer. As mentioned another photo is taken of you and then you pay $3 USD each for the departure tax. More receipts and a very grateful “Gracias!” and we are walking back through the parking lot feeling pretty good I must say. It’s hot as Hades, but the truck exhaust doesn’t seem as bad crossing back through the same check points all smiles with stamps in place. Just a tip that good shoes are a good idea for the run as the walk is not far, but “Slip Flops” as we call them (especially when it rains) are a disaster for me along this stretch of road. Running shoes all the way.
A bus load of people being tested for Covid before entering Costa Rican immigration was a bit worrying at first sight as buses usually mean there’s a line but not so. There wasn’t anyone in line. Great! I could smell our rental car newness already as we sashayed up to the counter. “Health check code please and passports!” the officer said through that damn, but necessary mask and plexiglass. Handed over the same file folder and stepped back. “Health check codes please?” “On the paper work”, I reply. Nope! Not the code they are looking for. Taking pity on our confused look (the eyes say it all) a piece of paper showing the address (salud.go.cr) is slipped back across the counter for the online questionnaire to get a proper code. How on earth I forgot to do this is why I stay humble and try to remain calm (ya right!). We slink away to a table set up clearly for people like us who have not filled out the questionnaire. It is recommended you complete this form within 24 hours before returning to Costa Rica.
Me being pokey with my phone within a few minutes of getting my code it suddenly disappeared and I was having trouble logging back in so my better half raced up to the counter and showed her code to the border officer before it too disappeared. Turns out her code was rejected and she was back at the table with me only this time given a phone number for the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT ph#2666-2976).
I pretty much swore under my breath for the next five minutes as to how I missed this important step when my partner exclaims, “Done!” Not sure why the initial code sent to our phones was rejected, but with new codes to wave at the happy-for-us immigration officer, (no doubt happy because they don’t have to listen to us bicker and sweat all over the table), we found our guy who was “watching” our car as he was about a kilometer down the road, but gave him 2000 colones anyway as we felt the nice lady at ICT would want us to pay it forward.
Back into Liberia for a celebratory stop at Price Smart with our visas being valid, driver’s license valid and of course our car insurance legit once again all thanks to somewhat unnecessary and abundant red tape one encounters here in Costa Rica (like the aforementioned litter along the highway), but a huge sigh of relief is always felt after doing the run. And no! We did not come any where near our fastest time, but this one felt good to get behind us.
A lot of hand washing, mask wearing, and staying at home for a few days when you return will keep more of us healthy and safe if you choose to do “the run”. Buen Viaje y Pura Vida!
Costs in USD per person for the crossing not including the rental car:
Covid Test $120 (test price can vary)
Departure tax for CR $10
Taxes in and out for Nicaragua $23