As I often do, I procrastinated planning my first border run. My process went something like:
Border run is coming up soon.
I should figure that out.
Derp around until two weeks before Easter.
Hey! Semana Santa. We’ll have to do some grocery shopping. I don’t know how much will be open next week.
CURSE WORDS. My border run weekend falls on Easter. That is NOT going to work.
Maybe I should just fly to Miami for a few days?
Ugh. Miami is expensive.
Okay. So Panama or Nicaragua? This weekend, or attempt Easter weekend?
NOT Easter weekend. Okay, this weekend it is. Take off Friday or Monday? I think Monday, with the work schedule.
Talk to friends.
Whimsically (based on random floating thoughts and one friend’s recommendation) decide on Nicaragua, find buses. Choose the city of Managua, because it looks extremely easy to buy tickets, which means they have express (ten hour trip) buses there every day, and even though it’s four hours longer than the typical trip to San Juan del Sur, I know I can totally make myself understood at the ticket counter for this bus. And we’ll go with executive class because it’s only about $10 more, and they provide your meal, A/C, movies, and no other stops. (They falsely advertised pillows and blankets, which would have been nice on the way back.)
Decision made, I made plans to go down to the bus station to purchase the tickets a few days ahead of time, just in case. Jonathan got sick (again), so I trucked off with his passport, hoping that I would be allowed to make arrangements for him as well.
I took the bus downtown, found a taxi and had them drop me off at the TransNica bus station. Then I waited in line for an hour, which was the hardest part of this whole process. It was seriously that simple. Waiting in that line was harder than going through immigration and customs either way.
The gentleman at the counter quickly processed my tickets, asked if I wanted to pay the exit tax here at the station or figure out how to pay it at the bank (here please!) and off I went, with instructions to show up 45 minutes early for check-in.
Saturday morning, we lazed around and still got to the station thirty minutes earlier than we were told. The staff took our meal orders, loaded us on the bus, and we were off in a timely manner.
The bus stopped and we all piled off, leaving our bags on the bus, to pass through Costa Rican immigration, handing over our proof of exit tax and getting our exit stamp, then piled back on the bus to roll over to Nicaragua’s immigration and customs process.
On our way over, the bus attendant gathered all our passports and immigration forms (as well as a $13 entry tax for Nicaragua that surprised me — not something I’d researched). This happened both times on the Nicaraguan side — the bus staff processed us through immigration without us setting a foot in line. This alone seems worth the bus ticket, because we ran into two Dutch fellows whose bus took off without them, leaving them in line, their bags still on the bus. (They hopped a ride on our bus and somehow found their backpacks on the side of the road on the way… so it ended well. Moral of the story, keep your bags with you and not under the bus if possible.)
We did have to pull our bags out and lay them on a table in Nicaragua. The officers came up, squeezed or poked the contents to show they were at least pretending to care if we brought illegal stuff in, and then sent us back to wait for our bus folks to finish our immigration for us.
I was more worried about our return trip. Getting into Nicaragua? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. No worries. Getting back into Costa Rica, I worried that we’d be turned around or given less than 90 days for our next visa, since we’d already been there 90 days previously. I reserved flights with Copa Airlines** and Jonathan and I saved the reservation document to our phones, as we couldn’t find a printer to use in the hostel.
I made an error of judgement, and we arrived an extra hour before check in at the bus station going back, so we played some cards. And then the bus left an hour late. If anyone wants to buy me presents, I need expansion packs for They’re Coming!
Going back to Costa Rica was possibly easier than leaving. The immigration agent did ask for our exit proof, and had no problem with it being on the phone. She did frustrate me a teensy bit. All the other agents had nicely stamped each exit and entry stamp in its own little square, next to the previous one.
She stamped on top of them.
I’m not even OCD and that bothers me still.
And that was the incredible easy border run. We did freeze on the bus on the way home (this is where blankets would have come in handy, but we were okay because I always make sure we each bring a towel), and got in about 11:30pm when I had planed on 10:00pm (because I had thought we left at noon, but we were supposed to leave at 1pm, and actually left at 2pm), but our bus driver was booking it. I have nothing but appreciation for that man’s speed.
* Jonathan’s first border run was to the US, and I don’t really count it.
** Note for anyone entering Costa Rica for an extended period of time and needing proof of exit: common advice is to purchase a flight that morning and then cancel it within 24 hours for a full refund, or purchase a cheap bus ticket that you’re okay loosing the money on. A better option is go go to Copa Airline’s website and make a reservation. They let you reserve a flight for 48 hours with no cost, and the reservation print off looks exactly like a purchase confirmation***. Just make the flight time for 90 days in the future, and then the reservation will automatically expire without you having to put any money down. Second note, this only works if you’re not flying in on Copa. Other airlines or via land is fine.
*** I’m not advocating illegally staying in the country more than your allotted visa time, just giving advice on how to follow the requirements for proof of exit at minimum cost when you’re not exactly sure how or what day you’ll be leaving the country.