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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 11/01/2022

Border Runs to David, Panama

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

Border Runs.  As you know, you will be in Costa Rica on a 90-day tourist visa issued as you enter the country.  By law, you are required to be outside of the country for 72 hours before being reissued another 90-day visa.  Another popular destinations for this forced but welcomed vacation is David, Panama.

What is a Border Run?

Why David, Panama?

David is the capital city in the province of Chiriqui in the Pacific West of Panama, on the Pan American Highway.  There are a handful of casinos and bars.  There are also a couple of shopping centers:  The Plaza Terronal, which has some large stores with decent prices (compared to Costa Rica) and is close to big restaurants and the Mall Chiriqui,  which has a movie theater, some restaurants, a supermarket, and some stores with good prices.  If anyone was wondering, I found a cute GUESS dress for 16USD here at an outlet! 

You could also take a public bus to the beach, or take a day trip from to the Los Pozos de Caldera Hot Springs. To get there, take a Caldera-bound bus from the David bus terminal and tell the driver you want to go to the springs. About an hour later, you will be dropped off at a junction where you can walk 2.5km down a paved but bumpy road to the spring entrance, crossing a mini-suspension bridge on the way. From the "Bienvenidos a Los Pozos" sign, walk along the trail as indicated (wear sensible shoes and expect a little mud in the rainy season) until you come to a "private property" sign with a small house beyond. At this point you can pay the owners 2USD and pass on to the warm springs.

Getting to the Border & Crossing It

The easiest and cheapest way to get to David is via the Tracopa Busline.  It's around 10,000 colones for a one-way ticket.  You can buy an "open" ticket that lasts three months, and once you've decided the exact dates of your trip, go back to the station to notify them and save your seats.  Please note that there is nothing fancy about these buses:  no AC, no bathroom, etc.  Typically the driver will stop at a rest area about halfway through the trip.  There is a cafeteria, convenient store and bathrooms at the stop. 

It usually takes between five and six hours to get to the Paso Canoas border from San Jose, Costa Rica.  Once you arrive, you will get off the bus and quickly get stamped out of Costa Rica at the immigration office.  Then you will walk about 300 meters straight to the Panama immigration office.

Here you will need to wait in line to get stamped in to Panama.  While waiting in line, a worker will be walking around asking you for 1USD for your entrance fee and will put a sticker in your passport indicating you've paid the fee. 

Panama has a law requiring all visitors to show proof of 500USD as a prerequisite to enter, and as of late, the immigration officers have been enforcing it.  This means you either need to carry that much cash, or have a printed copy of your bank statement.  There are ATMS, even for the main Costa Rican banks, at the border, so you can print a statement there if in a bind, but I recommend bringing it with you.  You will also need to show your exit ticket (bus ticket back to Costa Rica).  Typically Panama checks all luggage as you enter and exit the country, so you will most likely need to go in the small room under the stairs with everyone else on your bus to pass the customs inspection.  Then you will load back on the bus and head to David!

From the border, it's around another hour to get to David.  There are multiple stops in David, if you know exactly where you are going, or you can just wait to get off at the bus station.   This is where you will need to get back on the bus when heading back to Costa Rica, so pay attention!  There are plenty of taxis and local buses here at the station to find your way to your destination in David.

Hostel Recommendations in David

Hostel  Bambu is where I've always stayed when in David.  I always take a taxi to the hostel from the bus terminal.  They usually charge 3USD or so.  Bambu is pretty clean and has a cute little backyard with a pool.  There is also a small bar and a restaurant that serves breakfast,  and the staff is friendly and helpful.  I've heard good reviews of  The Purple House Backpackers’ Hostel as well.

Getting Back to Costa Rica

So you will need to get back to the main bus terminal in David to catch the Tracopa bus back to San Jose.  Upon arrival at the border, you will get off the bus and need to get stamped out of Panama.  Like previously stated, you will probably have to go into the little customs room and get your bags checked again as well.  Then you will need to walk to the Costa Rican side of the border to get stamped back into the country.  You will need to show proof of exit within the next 90 days.  The last time I was there, they were asking specifically for a ticket back to your home country, so try to plan accordingly.  They also asked for proof of funds, so hold on to your bank statement you showed to the officials of Panama when you entered.  After being issued your new visa (hopefully for 90 days), you will need to get your bags checked by customs officials and possibly sniffed by the drug dogs.

Then you are ready to hop back on the bus and enjoy the ride back to San Jose.  The bus typically stops at the same rest area that it stops at on the way to David, so grab some food and hit up the bathrooms there!

Use your border runs as an excuse to travel more while you are living abroad!  And talk to us today to register for your TEFL-certification course in Costa Rica!  

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