Crossing the Border — not with a car!
Rental vehicles cannot cross the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, or from Costa Rica to Panama. Insurance coverage is void if vehicles are taken outside of Costa Rica and all costs for the paperwork, man hours and other expenses to return the vehicle if it is mistakenly allowed through customs, fall directly on the client. While we don’t want to be all doom and gloom, the inconvenience for the car rental agency to have a vehicle unavailable to rent, and the time needed to repatriate the vehicle shouldn’t be underestimated.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t rent a vehicle if you are planning to visit other countries in Central America though. There are several options available to the renter:
• If you are arriving at the border, or leaving to Panama or Nicaragua without plans to return, then a border pick up or drop off is the best option. Car rental agencies will deliver or collect your rental vehicle at the border points for a fee, or contact one with a border office location.
• Leave the rental vehicle in secure parking, or at a border car rental agency office. This is worthwhile if you are planning a day trip, or just a few nights across the border.
• Leave the vehicle at your accommodation and take public transportation or private taxi to the border. This is a good option if you are staying near the border.
Please remember when leaving the rental vehicle parked:
• No valuables should be left in the vehicle.
• The vehicle remains the responsibility of the renter.
• Windows and doors should be locked.
• Vehicles should only be left in a secure lot.
Requirements for border crossing
These requirements do change regularly.
• Two copies of your passport and the original
• Proof of onward travel
• Proof of $500 in bank statement or credit card
• Exit tax
Crossing the border to Nicaragua
This is the main boarder crossing between the two countries and so is often busy, especially at Christmas and Easter, when Nicaraguans working in Costa Rica return to visit family. Once at the office, you will need to fill in the departure form and pay your edit tax with the machine in the corner of the office (it only takes credit cards). Save the receipt to show the immigration officer.
After you get your exit stamp you will need to walk down the main road or take a rickshaw taxi for about $5 if you have a lot of luggage or small children. A few hundred meters down the road is the Nicaraguan Entrance office where they will check your passport for your exit stamp. At the entry office, you will pay a $1 municipality tax and $12 entrance fee.
Alamo/National and Sixt have offices at this location, and other car rental agencies will pick up or drop off for a fee. Vehicles can be parked in front of the police station, but there is no secure parking lot.
Until fairly recently, this border crossing could only be made by boat across the Rio San Juan, but now a bridge spans the river for easier access at nearby Tablilla. To date, there is no recommended parking lot at this location. Public buses run from San Carlos to the border.
Crossing the border to Panama
This is the main border crossing and so can be busy. Like other border countries in the country, take care to get the exit stamp before proceeding into Panama as it is easy to overlook the small office. This tiny town is thriving with shops, restaurants and even ATMs.
Alamo/National has an office at this location, and other car rental agencies will pick up or drop off for a fee.
This quiet and fairly unknown dusty crossing is near the town of San Vito. Buy your exit tax at the agricultural supply store before following signs for Sabalito to the migration office to get an exit stamp. It is then a short walk to the Panamanian side for the entry stamp. Consider staying in San Vito and arranging secure parking with a hotel here if it is needed.
The drive is about one hour from either Cahuita or Puerto Viejo to Sixaola, the border between Costa Rica’s Southern Coast and Panama. There is a secure parking lot near the crossing for $10 a night. After you have parked your car, head to the immigration office where you will pay a $7 Exit fee and a $1 administration fee before you can get your exit stamp. Keep in mind this a small office processing people entering and exiting the country, so expect at least an hour to cross.
Once you get the exit stamp you can cross over to a bridge which has been recently renovated to the Panamanian side. There is an office right after the bridge where you need to pay an entrance fee of $3 and will receive a sticker in your passport. Next, head down some stairs on the left-hand side of the office for your entrance stamp. Here you will need proof of onward travel.
Tips to speed up your boarder crossing:
• Bring your own pen
• Take the document from the official while in line and fill it in as you wait
• Make sure you have the exit stamp before crossing the boarder; it can be easy to stroll past the tiny offices
• Have paperwork ready
• Stay patient
• Have a few basic Spanish phrases ready
Enjoy exploring our neighboring countries by following our guide to getting through the border!