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Meet the Border Dicks!

We’ve crossed 58 borders so far on our Trans-Americas Journey road trip through the Americas. And while 90% of the border officials we’ve come across have been pros, the other 10% have been, as we say in the travel business, border dicks. They come in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few of our favorites.

Meet the border dicks!

The Career Dick – Possibly the most common border dick of all, the Career Dick is usually old and fat (the truth hurts). He or she probably sleeps in his or her uniform and boasts about their authority to all who will listen, but lost any interest in actually doing the job many, many years ago.

Problems at Argentina border crossing

The Flaccid Dick – On the border between Bolivia and Argentina we encountered a Flaccid Dick, that is: a border official who talks a big game but, when push comes to shove, doesn’t have what it takes to follow through. Our Flaccid Dick insisted that we had to remove the entire contents of our truck and put said contents through an airport-style X-ray machine. We did that for about an hour until the Flaccid Dick was over ruled by another border official and the very real limits of his power were made clear. That’s when the Flaccid Dick usually turns into the even more offensive and potentially dangerous Frustrated Dick.

Peru border crossing wait

The Out-To-Lunch Dick – Not all border dicks are male (though the majority of border officials we’ve encountered are). The first time we entered Peru we were stuck at the border for more than an hour waiting for the woman in charge to return from her hours-long lunch break.

The Pompous Dick – The border official at a crossing from Honduras into El Salvador really was just doing his job and we really did inadvertently violate Central American border rules resulting in not being allowed to enter El Salvador. But did he have to be so obnoxious about it? Turns out, yes. That’s what made him a Pompous Dick.

USA border crossings

The Picky Dick – You will not believe the hoops we had to jump through (cash, forms, reservations, letters of recommendation, inoculations) to get past Picky Dick border officials in Bolivia because of our US passports…

The Know-Nothing Dick – It is alarmingly common that customs officials do not speak to immigration officials (and vice versa). That lack of communication, and a world-class Know-Nothing Dick customs agent, created infuriating chaos during a crossing into Ecuador from Colombia. After purchasing visas at the Ecuadorean consulate in a nearby Colombian border town, we headed for the border. The problem: the consulate agent, perhaps distracted by the strong earthquake which occurred in the midst of our transaction, failed to write the number of days on both visas after they were stamped into our passports. One visa clearly noted 90 days while the other had no days noted. Despite the fact that the visa we purchased is, by law, a 90 day visa, the customs official at the border would not let our truck into Ecuador with us, claiming he did not know how many days to give the truck because our visas were unclear. After hours of explaining Ecuadorean immigration and visa law to the Know-Nothing Dick we finally begged the extremely reluctant head of immigration at the border to intervene. In what may be a world first, representatives of these two agencies spoke (so awkward) and we were finally let into Ecuador with a glare for good measure.

South American border crossings

The Chicken Little Dick – Borders are tense places under the best of circumstances. Add in a Chicken-Little-Dick border official, like the customs woman we dealt with while exiting Peru and entering Chile where delays caused by TWO tire blowouts on the road to the border had resulted in overstaying our visa and truck importation permit by 14 hours. But surely there’s a way to overcome such an unavoidable and inadvertent breaking of the rules, no? Well, yes. But the Chicken-Little-Dick border agent had to make it as nerve-wracking as possible with her end of the world attitude, pointing out that under Peruvian law any importation permit overstay gives officials the right to confiscate our vehicle. Blood pressure rising, we spent two days rectifying the problem with Peruvian officials, employing a time-tested recipe of begging, Spanish language documentation, and the help of local businessmen. Unbeknownst to us, the Chicken-Little-Dick border official was reprimanded for her handling of our situation, so when we returned to the border with our papers in order she had transformed into a particularly sour Mopey Dick.

The Half-Hearted Dick – During a crossing from Peru to Chile, a Chilean customs official made a lot of noise about needing to see EVERYTHING in our truck. Lucky for us he was a Half-Hearted Dick and almost immediately lost the will to follow through on his threats and we passed without unpacking.

Have you come across other types of border dicks in your travels? Tell us about them in the comments section, below.

Central American border crossings

 

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Border Crossing 101: Corumbá, Brazil to Puerto Quijana, Bolivia

The border crossing out of Corumbá, Brazil and into Puerto Quijana, Bolivia is pretty laid back, unless you happen to have a US passport.

From: Corumbá, Brazil

To: Puerto Quijana, Bolivia

Date: December 12, 2016

Corumba Brazil to Boliva border crossing

The border between Corumbá, Brazil and Puerto Quijana, Bolivia and a pretty good argument against mini-obelisks.

Lay of the land: The Brazil side of the border is casual chaos with two (often very long) lines forming around one dingy concrete building. One line is for exiting Brazil, one line is for entering Brazil. Be sure you’re in the right line. Once you make it to the window, the exit formalities are quick and easy. FYI: If you over stay your visa in Brazil you are charged 8.5 R$ (about US $1.20) per day which you pay for when you return to Brazil. You are free to leave the country even if you have over stay fees on your record.

After crossing a very short bridge you are on the Bolivia side of the border where the immigration building is a dirty concrete box with a half-hearted air conditioner. If you hold a US passport, be sure to read the “Need to know” section below. For everyone else, immigration proceedings should be quick and easy.

The aduana (customs) office, which handles temporary importation permits for vehicles, is a block from the immigration office and it looks like a fancy new aduana building will soon be completed. The process of getting the necessary paperwork for our truck was quick, easy, and free and officials barely looked at our vehicle or cargo.

Elapsed time: Seven hours including two hours wasted in Corumbá at the Bolivian consulate and time spent submitting our visa application online plus 2.5 hours in line to exit Brazil plus 2.5 hours on the Bolivia side getting our visas and temporary importation paperwork for the truck. Note: if you already have a Bolivian visa, or come from a country who doesn’t need one your crossing time will be quicker, though there is almost always a line to exit Brazil at this border.

Number of days given: 30 days which is renewable in 30 day chunks for a total of 90 days in Bolivia per calendar year.

Fees: US passport holders pay US $160 per person for a Bolivian visa that’s good for 10 years.

Vehicle insurance needed: Bolivia does not require foreign drivers to carry insurance for 30 days or less in the country. We suggest printing out and carrying this document, in Spanish, with you so you can show Article 5, section a to any officials who are unaware of the law or are fishing for a bribe.

Where to fill up: Fuel is more expensive in Brazil than it is in Bolivia where we paid between 2.79 R$ (US $0.85)  and 3.58 R$ (US $1.08) per liter for diesel with the highest prices near the borders. However, we recommend filling up in Brazil before you cross into Bolivia. First of all, there are only a handful of stations on the 405 mile (650 km) highway from this border to the city of Santa Cruz. In addition, it can be difficult to find a station anywhere in the country that will fill your foreign-plated vehicle. That’s because there are two prices for fuel in Bolivia, one for locals and a higher one for foreigners, which for diesel was 3.72 Bs (US $0.54) and 8.8 Bs (US $1.28) per liter when we were there. Some gas stations simply won’t sell fuel to foreigners (often the case near the border), even at the higher foreigner price. Others will readily sell you fuel at the local price, as long as it’s not going directly into the vehicle’s tank. For example, filling up jerricans is quite common in Bolivia and many stations will fill your can(s) (called gallones in Bolivia), sometimes with your vehicle pulled right up to the pump. Other times you have to pull away and walk up with your jerrican. Other stations, or rather, attendants, will fill your tank for a small tip or for a negotiated rate between the local and foreigner price because they are willing to break the law for some extra cash. Sometimes you get lucky and get fuel at the local price. Tip: We had good luck getting stations to fill our Transfer Flow auxiliary fuel tank because, we argued, it’s an outside tank with a separate filling intake so, like jerricans, the fuel is not going into our foreign vehicle but into a separate receptacle.

Welcome to Boliva - Brazil Porto Quijano border crossing

The small bridge that connects Corumbá, Brazil to Puerto Quijana, Bolivia.

Need to know (for US passport holders): The following advice is for US passport holders and anyone else from countries in what Bolivia calls Group III which is an illustrious crowd that includes anyone from Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, the US, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, etc.

In an act of reciprocity for the hoops the US government makes Bolivian citizens jump through in order to get a US visa, US citizens must pay US $160 per person for a Bolivian visa. This must be paid in US dollars and they must be perfect dollars (no tears, holes or writing). Also, Bolivian immigration officials often don’t have any change, so you need exact cash. But paying is the easy part. 

In addition to the fee, US citizens must also provide extensive paperwork including:

  • months of bank statements
  • proof of hotel reservations in Bolivia or a letter of invitation from a Bolivian citizen
  • proof of yellow fever vaccination with copies
  • passport valid for at least six months
  • a travel itinerary in Bolivia (we simply typed one up)
  • a copy of your passport main page
  • a passport photo

We were urged by other travelers to visit the Bolivian consulate in Corumbá (Rua 7 de Setembro between Delomore and Avenida General Rindon, #47, 3231-5605, open 8:30am to 4:30pm weekdays only) to apply for the visa BEFORE going to the border, so we did, armed with all of the requirements.

The woman at the consulate told us to go away and file everything electronically including uploading all supporting documents, which we spent two hours doing. We returned to the consulate with all of the online work done but the woman was gone and two dudes at the consulate said they couldn’t do anything for us because they didn’t have any stickers (they meant the visa sticker that gets put into your US passport). They told us to go to the border to get our visas, so we headed to the border about 10 minutes from town. Frankly, we doubt the consulate ever has the stickers (and other travelers have said the same) so our advice is to just go to the border and tell Bolivian officials at the border that the consulate in town is out of stickers and that they sent you to the border.

The line was so long to exit Brazil that we waited in the sun for 2.5 hours to get checked out of the country. Then we drove across a very short bridge to the immigration office on the Bolivian side (open 7am to 5pm). We told immigration officials that we’d already completed all the paperwork online and they told us they didn’t care. At the border they need hard copies of everything.

All seemed to be in order, except our hotel reservation from booking.com which was made using our account which is in Eric’s name. Since Karen’s name didn’t appear on the reservation confirmation page we were told to go make a reservation in her name. Eric ran to an internet cafe and did that, but the confirmation page only displayed a number, not Karen’s name.

The back and forth over this went on for half an hour or so before they agreed to accept our original booking confirmation with just Eric’s name on it for both of our applications.

After more than an hour it was finally time to pay (see above). We were not given a receipt since the price is on the actual visa which is a full-page sticker with a protective clear cover. The Bolivian visa is good for 10 years and we were told that we would not have to provide the same paperwork when we re-enter Bolivia. We’ll see.

You can of course apply for your visa in the US before departing or at one of the many Bolivian embassies and consulates in the area including in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and others in Brazil.

Oh, and be aware that you gain an hour when crossing from Brazil to Bolivia between October and February because Brazil does daylight savings time and Bolivia does not.

Duty free finds: You’re kidding, right?

Overall border rating: Between the lines on the Brazil side and the time-consuming and sometimes baffling visa process for US passport holders who want to enter Bolivia, this border crossing was one of the longest we’ve had yet. However, now that we have our Bolivian visas, which are good for 10 years, future crossings into Bolivia should be quicker and smoother. We hope.

Here’s the online Bolivian visa application form to use if you are applying in advance in the US or at one of the embassies or consulates in Brazil, or just in case the Bolivian consulate in Corumbá is ever able to issue visas.

Given the very real possibility of delays at this border, here are some tips about where to sleep on both sides.

Sleeping in Corumbá, Brazil: We stayed at the Virginia Palace Hotel (180 R$ for a cleanish double room with private bathroom, WiFi, breakfast and large parking lot). The Santa Rita Hotel is a bit cheaper but their parking area can only accommodate small vehicles.

Sleeping in Puerto Quijano, Bolivia: We stayed at Hotel Silvia on the main drag which was brand new in December 2016 (220 Bs for a very clean double room with bathroom, cable TV with CNN, WiFi, a basic breakfast, and a large parking lot).

Money: The ATM at the Banco Bisa next to the Hotel Silvia operates in English and Spanish and you can choose to get bolivianos or dollars if you need them.

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Border Crossing 101: Paso Canoas, Panama to Paso Canoas, Costa Rica

Crossing international borders in Latin America is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across borders in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you travel from Paso Canoas, Panama to Paso Canoas, Costa Rica smoothly with or without a vehicle.

From: Paso Canoas, Panama

To: Paso Canoas, Costa Rica

Buen Viaje PanamaPaso canoas border

Lay of the land: It took about 15 minutes to exit Panama at well-manned offices with no hassles and no exit fees. Entering Costa Rica was equally painless.

Elapsed time: 1 hour.

Number of days they gave us: We asked for and got 30 days since that’s all that was left on our vehicle importation permit (see “Need to know” below). The standard tourist visa duration issued in Costa Rica is 90 days which is given without a fee to US citizens.

Fees: US$15.50 for three months of mandatory driving insurance and US$6 for vehicle fumigation.

Paso Canoas border station Panama costa Rica

The border facilities on the Panamanian side are larger and newer than those on the Costa Rican side.

Vehicle insurance requirements: You must buy local insurance to drive within Costa Rica. At this border insurance was only sold in three month blocks.

Where to fill up: Fuel was cheaper in Panama than it was in Costa Rica when we crossed the border, so we filled up before leaving Panama.

Need to know: Costa Rica is always one hour ahead of Panama so be sure to change your watch. Oh, and we recommend you just play dumb and drive through the fumigation station without giving them time to turn on the hoses and collect the US$6. That’s what everybody else was doing.

This border crossing tip is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FOR ANYONE DRIVING ACROSS: While Costa Rica will renew a tourist visa if you spend 72 hours outside of the country (and that rule is often not enforced) but foreign vehicles are only allowed to be in Costa Rica for 90 days out of every 180. This means that once you use up or cancel your temporary vehicle importation permit you can’t get a new one for 90 days.

Costa Rican officials can “suspend” your temporary importation permit when you leave the country which puts it on hold until you return at which time the clock starts ticking again with whatever amount of time you had left on your original permit. That’s what we did with our Costa Rican truck paperwork since we knew we’d be returning to the country.

Costa Rica's poor quality roads - Carratera en mal Estado

This sign on the Costa Rican side of the border says “Road in bad condition” and that pretty much goes for most of the roads in the country.

Duty free finds: There are two large “Mall Libre” facilities on the Panama side of this border but they were pretty shabby when we were there.

Overall border rating: Easy, breezy – just the way we like it.

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Border Crossing 101: Paso Canoas, Costa Rica to Paso Canoas, Panama

Crossing international borders in Latin America is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across borders in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you travel from Paso Canoas, Costa Rica to Paso Canoas, Panama smoothly with or without a vehicle.

From: Paso Canoas, Costa Rica

To: Paso Canoas, Panama

Welcome to Panama Paso canoas Border crossing

Lay of the land: Exiting Costa Rica was a swift process that took less than 15 minutes and involved no exit fees. On the Panama side our first step was to buy insurance which is mandatory for anyone driving in Panama. Then we got our Panamanian visa which was given without forms or fees. Then we went upstairs and had our insurance papers stamped before returning downstairs to a glass-fronted booth marked “Tursimo” where we handed in our paperwork and were told to wait for 20 minutes. Nearly an hour later we got our completed paperwork back.

Elapsed time: 2 hours

Fees: US$15 for 30 days of mandatory driving insurance.

Number of days they gave us: Humans get 90-180 days. We were given 180 days at this border. Vehicles, on the other hand, get 30 days which can be extended in-country up to two times for a total of 90 days. You can extend your vehicle importation permit in Panama City or in Divisa, a tiny town at a crossroads on the Pan American Highway about midway between David and Panama City. We extended in both locations and highly recommend doing it at the Divisa office if you can. Staff at the Panama City office did not know what they were doing and made mistakes that then had to be fixed by the very, very knowledgeable and helpful staff in Divisa. Even they seemed annoyed by the ineptitude of the PC staff.

Beware of accidents sign Panama

Vehicle insurance requirements: You must buy local insurance before driving in Panama and it costs US$15 for 30 days. They sell insurance in one month blocks with no discount for purchasing multiple months at the same time.

Where to fill up: Diesel was cheaper in Panama than it was in Costa Rica when we crossed so we waited to fill up on the Panama side of the border where diesel was US$3.81 a gallon.

Need to know: Though there is a tourism information office at this border it was locked when we were there. A lot of the agents at this border spoke English. It’s good advice for any border crossing, but be sure to check the facts on your vehicle importation permit at this border. We didn’t realize until much later that the authorities at this border had mistakenly listed Eric’s nationality as Costa Rican and this error had to be fixed later. **If you will be shipping your vehicle onward from Panama to Colombia your paperwork has to be perfect and this border is known for making careless mistakes that if not noticed at the time have to be corrected later. Panama is always one hour ahead of Costa Rica so you’ll need to change your watch.

This next border crossing tip is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FOR ANYONE DRIVING ACROSS: We were not aware until we arrived at the border that Costa Rica will renew a tourist visa if you spend 72 hours outside of the country (usually not enforced) but foreign vehicles are only allowed to be in Costa Rica for 90 days out of every 180. This means that once you use up or cancel your temporary vehicle importation permit you can’t get a new one for 90 days.

Luckily, Costa Rican officials can “suspend” your temporary importation permit which puts it on hold until you return to the country at which time the clock starts ticking again with whatever amount of time you had left on your original permit. That’s what we did with our Costa Rican truck paperwork when we left the country since we knew we’d be returning.

Panamerican Highway Panama

Duty free finds: We crossed near Christmas so the duty free shops were scenes of shopping chaos. We avoided them. If you do find bargains, remember that you’re allowed to bring US$200 worth of alcohol per person into Panama with you. However, alcohol is very cheap throughout Panama compared to prices in neighboring countries because taxes are lower (though there are nasty rumors that the Panamanian government may be increasing them soon).

When we were in Panama the country had the cheapest alcohol prices we’ve seen in any Latin American country from Mexico south and you could find things in Panama that were unavailable in other Latin American countries including our sorely missed bourbon (both Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark) at well-stocked and well-priced stores like Filipe Motta.

Overall border rating: Easy and relatively snappy, even during the busy holiday period.

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Border Crossing 101: Sixaola, Costa Rica to Guabito, Panama

Crossing international borders in Latin America is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across borders in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you travel from Sixaola, Costa Rica to Guabito, Panama on the Pacific coast smoothly with or without a vehicle.

From: Sixaola, Costa Rica

To: Guabito, Panama

Sixaola River - Costa Rica, Panama border

The Sixaolo River marks the border between Costa Rica and Panama.

Lay of the land: Private vehicles are allowed to pass the line of parked and double parked commercial vehicles lining the road leading up to the border. Before you reach the bridge (you’ll be relieved to know that the dilapidated, one-lane death trap we had to cross has since been replaced with a shiny new bridge), park your car and go to the Costa Rican immigration booth on the right hand side immediately before the bridge. Fill out the form and hand it in with your passport for a quick and easy exit stamp. Enter the aduana (customs) office immediately to the right of immigration to either cancel (if you are not returning to Costa Rica or have used up all your days) or suspend (if you are returning to Costa Rica) your Costa Rican temporary vehicle importation permit.

Once the easy and efficient Costa Rica formalities are taken care of cross over the bridge.

old bridge Guabito, Costa Rica - Sixaola, Panama border

We drove across this bridge between Costa Rica and Panama, but you won’t have to. A new bridge has since opened.

Scary old Sixaola bridge Guabito/Sixaola border crossing

We drove across this bridge between Costa Rica and Panama, but you won’t have to. A new  bridge has since opened and this old bridge is just used by pedestrians.

On the Panamanian side of the bridge you pass through an automated fumigation sprayer. The next set of windows is immigration where you hand off your passport and get your entry visa. Then travel two doors down to get your entry stamp. Between these spots is the aduana (customs) office where you handle the temporary vehicle importation paperwork. However, before they will do anything they will direct you to the one and only insurance office where you need to purchase the mandatory liability insurance.  Once we’d purchased our insurance, the vehicle importation permit process was fast and easy and after a customs agent took a cursory glance at the contents of our truck we were on our way.

Our video, below, gives you a sense of what it was like to drive our truck across the rickety old bridge between Costa Rica and Panama before the new bridge was opened. Hold on.

Elapsed time: Just over two hours but if we hadn’t had to wait for the lone insurance saleslady to get back from her lunch break this would have been our fastest and easiest Central American crossing by far.

Fees: There’s a US$3 stamp per person entering Panama, no fee for temporary importation of the truck, a US$1 fee to fumigate the truck entering Panama and it was US$15 per month for vehicle liability insurance. That’s a grand total of US$22 for both of us and our truck.

Number of days they gave us: Humans get 90-180 days. Vehicles, on the other hand, get 30 days which can be extended in-country up to two times for a total of 90 days. You can extend your vehicle importation permit in Panama City or in Divisa, a tiny stop at a crossroads on the Pan American Highway about midway between David and Panama City. We extended in both locations and highly recommend doing it at the Divisa office if you can. Staff at the Panama City office did not know what they were doing and made mistakes that then had to be fixed by the very, very knowledgeable and helpful staff in Divisa. Even they seemed annoyed by the ineptitude of the PC staff.

Vehicle insurance requirements: You must buy local insurance before driving in Panama and it costs US$15 for 30 days. This can be only done at this border at a small desk upstairs in the entrance to a department store (ask your immigration agent where it is). They sell insurance in one month blocks with no discount for purchasing multiple months at the same time.

Where to fill up: Diesel was about 40 cents cheaper per gallon in Panama than it was in Costa Rica when we crossed so we waited to fill up on the Panama side of the border where diesel was US$3.92 a gallon.

Need to know: Panama is always one hour ahead of Costa Rica so you’ll need to change your watch. This next border crossing tip is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FOR ANYONE DRIVING ACROSS: We were not aware until we arrived at the border that Costa Rica will renew a tourist visa if you spend 72 hours outside of the country (usually not enforced) but foreign vehicles are only allowed to be in Costa Rica for 90 days out of every 180. This means that once you use up or cancel your temporary vehicle importation permit you can’t get a new one for 90 days. Luckily, Costa Rican officials can “suspend” your temporary importation permit which puts it on hold until you return to the country at which time the clock starts ticking again with whatever amount of time you had left on your original permit.

Panama Costa Rica border

The new steel bridge between Costa Rica and Panama was under construction when we were at this border, just to the right of the death trap bridge which we had to drive across.

Duty free finds: The smattering of duty-free stores include a down-trodden department store and a couple of liquor stores that had limited selection but decent prices. You’re allowed to bring US$200 worth of alcohol per person into Panama with you.

Overall border rating: Excellent. This crossing point was smoothly run, hassle-free and relatively quiet–almost no commercial traffic and only a smattering of other foreigners.

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Border Crossing 101 – Las Manos, Honduras to Piedras Blancas, Nicaragua

Crossing international borders in Latin American is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across borders in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you cross from Las Manos, Honduras to Piedras Blancas, Nicaragua smoothly with or without a vehicle.

From: Las Manos, Honduras
To: Piedras Blancas, Nicaragua

Lay of the land: There were lots of 18 wheelers at this border and the crush of people going back home in both directions as the Christmas holiday approached was beginning as well.  There were also a lot of touts frantically offering to “help.” We refused them all, as we always do, but one wouldn’t take no for an answer. Frank (surely not his real name but that’s what he told us) was not aggressive, spoke great English and we’d arrived on the cusp of the lunch time break and we really, really wanted to get through before border offices shut down for chow time. We made it clear that we don’t pay border touts, but Frank walked us through the process anyway. Smart kid. In the end we gave him a few dollars and got across the border before the lunch break.

Honduras-Nicaragua-border

Elapsed time: It took us 1.5 hours to get through the Honduran side of this border even with “Frank”‘s help.

Fees: We paid US$4 for mandatory vehicle fumigation, US$12 for 30 days of mandatory auto insurance in Nicaragua, US$12 per person for our Nicaraguan visas (which is pretty pricey in comparison to Nica’s neighbors), US$1 per person for a municipal charge/tax imposed by the local town and a US$5 tax on tourist vehicles that goes to the Nicaraguan tourism department. There was no fee at all for the temporary importation permit for our truck. That’s a grand total of US$47 for the two of us and our truck.

Number of days they gave us: 90 day visas and 30 day temporary importation permit for our truck (see important CA-4 visa information below). The vehicle importation permit can be extended twice for an additional 30 days each time at the DGI (aduana/customs) office in Managua shown on the map below.

Vehicle insurance requirements: Nicaragua requires you to buy in-country insurance which costs US$12 per 30 days.

Where to fill up: Gas is cheaper in Honduras so fill up before you cross.

Need to know: At least some of the border officials here are actually paying attention. At our very last paperwork check point a Nicaraguan border agent noticed that Eric’s license had expired and Karen had to take the wheel instead.

Also, our ATM cards did not work in nearly all of the ATMs in Nicaragua.  Exchanging cash can be done safely and easily in Nicaragua at either the banks or with licensed money changers that are usually found outside of banks. The licensed money changers offer a better rate than either the banks or the ATMs so check what the official bank rate is then shop around.

In 2006 El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras joined together to create the so-called CA-4 (Central American 4) group of countries all honoring and enforcing one CA-4 visa governed by rules spelled out in the CA-4 Border Control Agreement. Tourists are allowed to spend up to 90 days in total in any combination of the four participating countries. The clock starts ticking on your CA-4 visa the moment you step foot in any of the CA-4 countries. Costa Rica is in Central America but it does not participate in the CA-4 Border Control Agreement so your time in Costa Rica does not count against the total allowed to you under CA-4 rules.

Duty free finds: There are two duty free shops on the Honduran side of this border with decent prices on booze, electronics, etc. Both take credit cards. We bought US$4 to US$6 bottles of wine. You are allowed five bottles of alcohol per person when entering Nicaragua.

Overall border rating: Easy and pleasant, though the fees on the Nicaragua side add up.

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