How to exit Costa Rica with your own car (and then come back!)

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EDIT: December 23, 2013: There is a new exit tax that you need to pay! Thanks to Sammi at mytanfeet.com for the info. You must pay this $7 fee at branches of Bancredito. Keep your receipts as you will need to show them when you cross. There are two locations in Guanacaste that you can pay it: in Liberia in the mall, and at the airport.

We will be doing this run at the end of January and I will update this post then.

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This is a ‘how to’ post that will (hopefully) help others who wish to exit Costa Rica for a stamp run with their own vehicle. We did this run on November 3rd, 2013 and was our second time through. We departed Tamarindo around 9am, had a late lunch in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, and were home by 9:00pm. We made a few stops on the way and saw some cool scenery. Isla de Ometepe’s twin peaks, and San Juan del Sur were really cool!

We planned for this to take the entire day so there was no need to be concerned with how long things were taking. Since we were not returning with merchandise, we only needed to be out of Costa Rica for 3 hours.

I have tried to faithfully record exactly what we did but there may be an omission, and you may experience slight variations. Here goes:

1. You need to go to the Registro Civil. We went to the one in Liberia. It is located here. You must have with you the ownership, your passport, and 7500 colones (about $15). Give the 7500 to the cashier, then wait for one of the clerks. They will print out, then stamp your Permiso de Salida. It’s good for 20 days. You probably ‘could’ do this the same day (Monday to Friday) , but we did it the day before just in case we encountered an issue.

2. Go to a branch of Bancredito and pay the new exit tax. Make sure you have your passport with you as you will need it to confirm your identity. Keep the receipt.

3. Make a photocopy of the Permiso de Salida. You will need it at the border.

3. Get your documents ready. Checklist for the border:

  • Permiso de Salida (exit permit from step 1)
  • A copy of the Permiso de Salida
  • Your INS insurance document for the car
  • Your ownership document
  • Marchamo certificate (inspection document)
  • Your drivers license
  • Your receipt showing proof of exit tax payment
  • an onward ticket or airline itinerary showing that you are leaving Costa Rica within 90 days.
  • US cash. Try to have lots of 1s and 5s. Make sure the bills are not ripped or they will be refused.

I also brought the car’s mechanical inspection document. Well, I brought everything just in case. But you MUST have the above.

4. Head to the border! When you head in, drive past all the trucks. See a truck parked? Drive past it. You will drive through a gateway. There may be someone here, they will tell you to keep going to the immigration building.

5. You will come upon the Costa Rican immigration building. Ignore ALL the guys who are standing around outside the gate trying to to get you to stop. Stay to the right of the building and park your car INSIDE the fenced area, on the right. Ignore the people on the other side of the fence.

6. Go into the immigration building, fill in your exit card and get your passports stamped. Present your receipt showing that you have paid the exit tax.

7. Go around the building to the other side (west side). Across the roadway is the small ‘Adunaus’ shack. Give this guy the Permiso de Salida, the copy, and your passport. He will enter your info in a book, stamp your original, and give it back to you.  Time to leave CR!

8.  Get back in your car and drive north. This is the so-called ‘no-mans-land’. You will come to a checkpoint where a guard will request to see your Permiso de Salida. He’ll check it out, then you are heading into Nicaragua. Be careful driving here as there are many pedestrians walking through in both directions.

9. You will drive 25 meters north and see an area on the right with tents and some other guys checking passports. Park somewhere on the right. Be prepared to be asked continuously if you want help. Ignore these guys. The Nicaraguan officials will ask to see your passports. Now drive just a few meters north to a green shack where you will pay $3 ($18 total so far) to have the exterior of the car fumigated.

10. Get back in your car and drive north to the Nicaraguan immigration building.

11. Park your car and ignore all the guys asking to help. Go to the east side of the building where you will see a cashier. You need to pay $1 for ‘something’ ($19 so far).

12. On the other side, you will see the immigration kiosks. Fill in your entry card, pay $12 ($30 total so far) and get your passport stamped.

13. This is where it gets confusing. Go around to the north side of the building (green arrow) where you will present your ownership, your drivers license, the INS insurance document, the Marchamo document and the Permiso de Salida to an official, who will create an entry document for the car. You then pay $5 for an entry permit and another $12 for insurance ($47 so far). Then one of them will come out with you to your car and inspect it. Then go back into the office with them where you will get a stamp on the entry document above.

14. Get back into your car, then drive to the exit point.  Your passports and the entry document from step 13 will be given a final check and you drive away. Congrats! You have made it!

We drove to San Juan del Sur, about 30 minutes from the border, and had a late lunch. The place we ate at was pretty touristy but we all ate for $50 total. We walked around for a bit. It’s a really nice town and the beach was really cool!

After a while, we decided to go. I filled the car with diesel, then we started heading back. Returning to Costa Rica was basically the reverse of the above, with the exception that you only pay $1 heading back in. Here are the steps:

15. Driving back into Nicaragua, keep to the left, and enter the same place you exit – do not stay to the right. Show your passports and the entry document you got in step 13 above to the same guys from step 14.

16. Drive back to the Nicaraguan immigration building. Park, and go to the west side of the building, pay $1 and complete your exit cards and get your passports stamped.

17. Go back to the door with the green arrow and get one of the guys to inspect the vehicle for re-entry. They will sign and stamp your entry document for the car (the one from step 13). This document should now have both an entry stamp and and exit stamp. A police officer will then inspect your document, stamp and sign it, then you drive towards the CR side. Make sure you have the both stamps!

18 Drive back to the checkpoint near the fumigation area (the place in step 9) where your passports and the entry document will be checked for both stamps.

19. Keep to the right where you will drive through an automated fumigation (like a small car-wash) – keep your windows up!

20. Park your car just south of the Aduanas shack. Go inside, fill in your Costa Rica entry form, present your onward ticket/airline itinerary and get your passport stamped – 90 days! Almost done!

21. Go to the Aduanas shack, fill in an immigration document, declaring nothing (assuming you did not bring anything back), get the Permiso de Salida stamped again. You will be given a small piece of paper with a stamp.

22. Drive back. When you get to the gateway from step 4, give the guard the small piece of paper with the stamp. Drive away.

We were back in Tamarindo by 9:00pm. Done!

As a family of 5, our total cost came to $88, which does not include the cost of gas (probably $20-$25 from Tamarindo) for a total of $113 not including food. Compared to last time ($300 and shady dealings) or what is charged by border run operators ($60 per person), I think we did alright!

You need patience when doing this as the time taken to navigate each side of the border can take an hour or two so if you have kids with you, make sure they have something to do – the border can be boring! And it certainly helps if you speak spanish. We are learning right now, however we had our spanish speaking friend Jen and her daughter Lola with us, which certainly helped out.

Anyways, I hope you find this post useful. As I mentioned earlier, it may not be 100% exact but it is exactly what I recall from yesterday. Save travels!

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6 Responses to How to exit Costa Rica with your own car (and then come back!)

  1. Adam says:

    Incredible post. We used it as a road map this weekend and it worked like a charm. We did succumb to a tout at the Nicaraguan border, but he was really helpful and definitely earned the $10 tip. We met up with him on the way back and he got us through in less than 30 minutes. We did the whole return crossing in less than an hour mid-day on a Sunday!

    Something that we needed that was not on your list was the Marchamo certificate. The only person I saw look at it was the Nicaraguan Tourism lady, though the insurance lady and the aduana officer may have looked at it also. Maybe you made it without or you didn’t realize you used it since it was already in your vehicle, but the couple we were with didn’t have it and it was a big problem. They ended up dumping their helper so our helper could give it a try. He got them through, but it took a lot longer and was in serious doubt.

  2. Mike says:

    Awesome .. glad it helped!

    I think you are right. We did have that document with us, but I cannot remember whether or not anyone looked at it. I think I’ll add it to the list above just in case.

    Thanks!

  3. Rich B says:

    I thought I had read somewhere that your car will be issued its own visa and is good for 6 months. Do you know anything about this?

  4. Alicia says:

    We are getting ready to come to Tamarindo this summer, and are hoping to stay for 12 months. Which will obviously mean leaving every 90 days. We are considering shipping our car, is the car you drive from the states, or did you purchase it in CR? If you did bring it, does the car automatically renew when your visa renews?

    Thanks!!

  5. Mike says:

    Hey 🙂

    I have no experience shipping a vehicle to CR. We purchased in CR and sold it 3 weeks before we left. We purchased for about 9K, then sold for 8K to insure a quick sale.
    Car purchases need to be done via a lawyer, total cost around $300 to $400. It was really simple. Nothing to renew when you leave CR every 90 days.

    We left CR at the end of January. You will need to double check this post’s instructions because government rules/fees change almost daily in Costa Rica and it is most likely out of date!

    IMHO shipping a car to CR for a year will be a pain in the arse.

    Just buy then sell. Get on two facebook groups: Tamarindo Used Cars and Tamarindo Garage Sale – you can find anything you need there and sell anything you want.

  6. Helen says:

    Well, in my case, I tried to part Costa Rica using a bicycle, but I ended traveling inside a car and with my bicycle back in the trunk.
    Anyway, it was a nice experience.

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