Well after another 6 months in Nicaragua its time again for me to make a visa run to Costa Rica. Now that I am Married to a Nicaraguan, according to immigration I may apply for Residency after one year of marriage. In the meantime however, I must still make visa runs. This time I made plans to stay in La Cruz for the 3 days that I need to be out of the country.
Some say you can go back the same day, but there are conflicting opinions on this and I'll talk more about that later. Jean and I left Corn Island in the night on Tuesday, we were able to get a ride on a fishing boat headed for bluefields since the captain was a friend of some of the brothers. We arrived in Bluefields at sunrise, and made our way to the "panga pit". We parted ways temporarily at this point, since Jean obviously does not need to leave the country she will stay with her parents in Pearl Lagoon while I am in CR. After another boat ride and a few chicken buses I made it to Managua. The next morning, I was on the express bus to Peñas blancas.
Crossing the border on foot is actually very simple, at least it would be if not for the sharks. What I mean by sharks, are the people who accost you as soon as you get off the bus. As soon as you get off they swarm you with all kinds of schemes to try and make some money. Some offer to help with your bags for a tip, others offer advice. They are VERY persistent and will not take no for an answer, if you set your bag down they will take it. Worse yet however, are those that impersonate officials to try and get your money. Heres a few scams I've seen:
1: customs forms on the bus
If you're on the ordinario or express bus (not ticabus) someone will come and hand you a customs form, or even fill it out for you, asking for your information, destination etc. This form is legitmiate, but the scam is that they will then ask for 20 cordobas or more for the form. Customs will provide you with the form on the costa rica side of the border -free- and you can fill it out yourself right there. It does not need to be done in advance.
2: boleto de regreso
Sometimes, costa rican immigration will require you to show proof of onward travel. This can be many things, such as an itinerary or bus ticket. Before you reach the border however, and as you get off the bus people will try to sell you an open bus ticket for $30-$35. They wear uniforms, and insist that you must buy the ticket or you cannot pass or enter the border. They may sometimes admit that you can buy the ticket once you get to the border, but they claim it will cost more. That is a lie, it actually costs $10 less at the border. I went through the entire border crossing, and at the final stage at the costa rican customs office, they asked me for proof of onward travel. I was able to buy the same open ticket (its good for 1 year and can be used to cross multiple times) for $25 at a ticabus kiosk -directly- across the street from the office where it was needed. Theres also an ATM that accepts visa there, and dispenses colones and dollars.
Not really a scam, just a bad deal. They will take you to whatever town you're going to, but at about 10x the price of the air-conditioned bus waiting just a few steps ahead. Bus costs $2-3 from the border to managua, or the same to la cruz or liberia on the costa rica side.
4. Various forms and papers you dont even need.
Again, people in uniform will try to sell you all manner of documents. Heres what you really need:
Oh... thats it.
5. Fake immigration officials
Heres something that happened to me today. I had just exited nicaragua, and paid the exit tax of $2, and $1 for passing through. Both of these were paid at a -desk- with a cashier. The passage fee outside the door, and the exit tax inside the building at which point i recieved an exit stamp in my passport. As you walk through "no man's land" between the two countries, there is a shelter with two police officers waiting next to the road. They call you in and check your passport, nothing else. Just before entering however a man stepped in front of me, wearing a uniform that vaguely resembled that of the immigration department. He had some kind of ID card around his neck but I couldnt read it clearly. He asked for my passport and had a handful of costa rican immigration forms. I declined, but he insisted, and then showed me his id card again and explained that he worked there and that I was required to show him my passport, I reluctantly let him see it and he started filling out the form, after asking my destination and nationality he said the form would cost $10. I asked why, and he just said that that was the fee and I had no choice. I took my passport back, and politely told him to give me a moment while I ask the police officer inside the booth. The officer looked at my passport and told me to carry on. When i asked him about the document, he shook his head and said that I get that on the costa rica side. I turned around to see where the man who wanted $10 for the form was, but he was nowhere to be seen. Upon arriving on the costa rica side, the -real- immigration officer who was sitting at a desk inside the building gave me the same form for free and i filled it out myself.
In the end, it cost me exactly $3 to cross the border. $1 just before entering the building at a kiosk, this is apparently a local tax from the town of peñas blancas, and is legitimate. Second, $2 fee for exiting nicaragua, this is paid inside at the same time they put the exit stamp in your passport. Now, sometimes you will need proof of onward travel. I had an open ticket from 6 months ago so I didnt need to buy another one. I then took the bus to la Cruz, which costs 450 colones ($1) going back there is also an exit fee for costa rica, and then another $10 to enter Nicaragua. Anything asked of you in addition to this is a scam. I've found the best strategy to getting through it all is very simple. Ignore everyone. Thats it, be a jerk if you have to, don't make eye contact with anyone and dont stop moving untill you get to the door of the bulding. Only show your passport to police officers and people behind a desk. You can tell the police officers are real because they have machine guns.
Now, as for returning to Nicaragua the same day I'm really not sure. Immigration department in Bluefields told me that it has to be 3 days, but I've heard many people say they came back the same day. They claim its legal, and the shark who wanted $10 for the form also told me it was legal (wouldn't consider him a credible source though). Another shark offered to help me get back the same day if I gave something to "help out" the officials. I also read online of someone who went back the same day, but they were stopped by the police and asked for a bribe. It sounds sketchy to me, so I just plan on staying the 3 days.