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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | 04/24/2014

Border Runs to Nicaragua

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.  One of the most popular destinations sought for this three-day retreat is Nicaragua, mainly the city of Granada.


What is a Border Run?

Why Granada?

There are so many reasons that we love Granada:  the beautiful colonial architecture, the lake, the volcano, the history, the fun bars and restaurants (especially on the promenade), the great prices, and of course the friendly people.  It’s hot in Granada, but this small city has so much to offer that it’s worth it!  We like this list of things to see and do in Granada.

Getting to the Border & Crossing It

There are two major bus companies that can take you from San Jose, Costa Rica to Nicaragua:  Ticabus and TransNica.  I’ve personally only taken the trip with Ticabus, and I haven’t had any problems and have always felt comfortable.  It takes about six hours to get to the border, and the bus has air conditioning and a bathroom.  Toilet paper isn’t guaranteed, so you might want to bring some of your own!  Generally, they show movies, and usually a vendor gets on the bus to sell drinks and snacks during the ride through Guanacaste.  My understanding that the process , regardless of the bus company, is quite similar for the border crossing.

Just like any other international trip, you will need to fill out a handful of forms for immigration and customs, so bring a pen.  Before arriving at the Peñas Blancas border, one of the guys that works for Ticabus will walk up and down the aisle of the bus to collect 14USD (as of my most recent trip) to pay the Nicaraguan entrance fee.  Try to have the correct amount or as close as possible to avoid having to wait for change.

Upon arrival at the border, you will have to get off the bus (you can leave your luggage on the bus) and go into the immigration office of Costa Rica to get stamped out.  Before getting back on the bus, you will give your passport and one of the forms to the Ticabus workers.

As the bus pulls up to the immigration office and people start getting off the bus, you will notice a hoard of men crowding the door to ask people to change money (from US dollars or Costa Rican colones to Nicaraguan cordobas).    There will be just as many men, if not more, on the Nicaraguan side of the border as well.  I recommend checking the exchange rate before your trip to have a good idea of how much the cordoba is worth.   Please note that you do not have to exchange your money at the border.  You always have the option of exchanging dollars to cordobas in a bank in Nicaragua to avoid any counterfeit bills.  And actually, most hostels and restaurants will accept US dollars and give you change in cordobas

After everyone has checked out of Costa Rica, given their passports and forms to the Ticabus employees and gotten back on the bus, the bus will drive to the Nicaraguan side of the border.  The bus employees will take your passport and get you stamped into Nicaragua.  Nicaraguan immigration employees will also check everyone’s luggage at this point and take your customs declaration form.

While you are waiting, you will also have enough time to enjoy cold drinks and snacks.  The bathrooms are generally clean here as well.  They charge a few hundred colones to get toilet paper.  As soon as everyone’s passport has been stamped into Nicaragua, the guys from Ticabus will call your name to give you your passport and get you on the bus.  Don’t wander too far from the bus so you can keep your eye on the other passengers gathering to collect their passports and get on the bus.

Where to Get Off the Bus

Granada is not the only option in Nicaragua.  Another popular destination, especially for the beach lovers, is San Juan del Sur.  If this is where you are going, you will need to get off the Ticabus at Rivas, which is about 45 minutes after the border.   You will then need to take a public bus or taxi to San Juan del Sur.  Obviously a taxi gets you there quicker (about 40 minutes) but will cost more, so you can try to get a group together to split the cost.

Granada is approximately another 45 minutes after the Rivas stop.  You will be dropped off right at the Ticabus station.  Pay attention, because this is where you will need to get back to for your trip back to San Jose.  The capital city of Managua is approximately another hour after Granada.  Typically the attendants on the bus ask where everyone is getting off the bus, but in case they don’t, try to listen for the announcements of the stops.

Hostel Recommendations in Granada

Two of our favorite hostels in Granada are the Backpackers Inn and Oasis.  Backpackers is usually slightly more expensive but tends to be cleaner and quieter.  Oasis, on the other hand, has a computer lab with internet and a free pancake breakfast.  Both hostels have a pool to help relieve you of Granada’s glorious heat.   Both also have bilingual staff eager to help you plan your stay with information about tours, bars and restaurants.

Getting Back to Costa Rica

Make sure you realize that the time your return ticket states is actually the time the bus leaves Managua.  For example, if the ticket says 12:00pm, the bus will be at the Ticabus station in Granada at approximately 1pm.  Be at your pick up location with plenty of time, as you wouldn’t want to miss it.  Also, you need to wait for the bus at the terminal you indicated when you purchased your ticket.  For example, if you told Ticabus you would be getting back on the bus in Manauga, that's where you need to board the bus.  If you change your mind after you've purchased your ticket, you need to notify Ticabus so they don't sell your ticket to someone else.

As soon as you get on the bus, you will need to fill out all of the customs and immigration forms again and pay 4USD for the Nicaragua exit fee.  Once again, the Ticabus attendant will take the money, forms and your passport.   He will go into the Nicaraguan immigration office to get you stamped out of Nicaragua.  Once again, they will give you your passport back as you get on the bus and drive to the Costa Rican side of the border. 

At this point, you will need to get off the bus with all of your luggage to enter the Costa Rican immigration office.  You will need the remaining forms and your passport, in addition to a bus or plane ticket out of Costa Rica indicating that you will be leaving the country again within the next 90 days.   If for some reason you do not have this proof of exit, they will require you to buy another bus ticket out of Costa Rica.  

Finally you will need to stand in line at the immigration office to get your stamp back into Costa Rica with your 90-day visa.  Then simply run your luggage through the scanner, and you’re good to get back on the bus and settle in for the ride back to San Jose.

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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