Costa Rica Border Run

By Jason Mueller

So you have decided to move to Nicaragua, packed up all your belongings and shipped them along with your vehicle to your new home in the land of the Nico’s.  This will be the story for a lot of the people reading this article.  You should already know by now that you are only allowed to stay in Nicaragua with a tourist card for 90 days, there are taxes that need to be paid upon exiting and that you may apply for an extension but let’s assume you would rather take a little vacation away from paradise to another paradise down south.   Costa Rica will be the most popular country to make a border run and it is certainly a lot safer than Honduras.  The country has been named the happiest place to live from studies but the living costs in Costa Rica are more than in Nicaragua.  Having such a beautiful country to the south makes having to do a border run is not so bad.  If you have been doing this process for an extended period of time you know it can become a pain in the butt so you will want to get your residency.

If you can afford it, flying would be the preferred way and Nature Air offers a short 1 hour flight from Managua to San José and also Copa Airlines offers flights to San José and Liberia but the prices are almost double to Liberia, to fly to the closer destination you have to make a stop and it will take at least 3 hours.  A great tool to use for finding the cheapest flights is Google flights, it searches the web for all the flight options and lays it all out on an easy to understand platform.  San José is obviously the better decision if you plan to fly.  Once you arrive in San José renting a car to go see many of the beautiful locations Costa Rica has to offer is the best option but catching a taxi to Jaco, the closest beach town is a great option for a short holiday/visa run.

The asking price for taxi is around $120 but you can usually negotiate $100 if you walk just outside of the airport and talk with some of the other taxis that don’t have the proper permits to be inside the airport but you may be able to negotiate the deal inside the pick-up area.  There are also very cheap buses to get to Jaco, from Alajuela where Juan Santamaría International Airport is located you find the bus stop just outside the airport, you have to catch the bus to the central San José 7-10 terminal and then catch a bus to Jaco.  If you get lucky and time it all right it should only take about 2 hours but depending on how you catch the bus to Jaco it could take longer, the total cost will be around $7.

Border runView of Jaco from Miro Mountain







San José to Jaco Bus Schedule

Monday -Thursday:
7:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 3:00 PM, 5:00 PM, 7:00 PM

7:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 12,00 PM, 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM,  3:00 PM, 4:00 PM. 5:00 PM,  6:00 PM,  7:00 PM*

6:00 AM, 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 12,00 PM, 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM,  3:00 PM, 4:00 PM. 5:00 PM,  6:00 PM,  7:00 PM*

6:00 AM, 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM,  3:00 PM, 4:00 PM. 5:00 PM,  6:00 PM,  7:00 PM*

Jaco is a tourist town that has lots of options for hotels, shopping, dining and tours for everyone.  Costa Rica is known for the adventure type outdoor activities and Jaco has lots to offer such as canopy tours, ATVs, fishing, wildlife tours, waterfall tours, horseback tours, kayaking, neo-fauna and a ropes course is the newest activity in Jaco.  The surfing is good in Jaco but even better is close by Playa Hermosa and some close by areas to lodge or just hang out for the day are beautiful Playa Blanca, Manuel Antonio National Park is a must at some point in your life, you can also catch a boat over to Tortuga Island. Keep in mind that when you fly out of Costa Rica you will have to pay a $29 departure tax.

Arenal Volcaborder run 2no







For most, the flying option will be out of the budget so catching a bus will be the best option and a cheap one at that.  The exit tax is also cheaper if you go by land, only $7.  You will find information on the buses operating in Nicaragua here.  You can use the Transnica and Tica bus options which offer comfort and speed at a price or use some of the other buses that are cheaper.  No matter where you are coming from in Nicaragua you will make your way to Rivas and from there down to Peñas Blanca Costa Rica which is 35 km away.

Be warned that you may have to show proof of onward travel exiting Costa Rica, you may need to show proof of an airline ticket or bus ticket leaving the country.  This is enforced more at airports than ground crossings but it is still advised to have your proof of exit.  All buses will lead to Liberia where you can find buses that will take you all over the country.  For most, this will be a short visa run so the best beach locations to visit that are relatively close are Tamarindo, Playa del Coco and Playa Flamingo.  If you are looking for a mountain get away with cooler climates then take a bus to La Fortuna where you will find Arenal Volcano.

Jason Mueller


  1. Elisha MacKay

    April 30, 2016 at 11:50 am

    For myself and many of my Nicaraguan expat friends taking a holiday trip to Costa Rica every 90 days is not an option due to the sheer expense.

    The good news is if you’re crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica on foot you can simply turn around and come right back. For me a typical border run to Costa Rica from San Juan del Sur takes about 3 hours door to door.

    As an FYI there have only been 2 times in 3.5 years of border crossings every 90 days where I was not asked for proof of onward travel.

    • Already Said Too Much

      May 12, 2016 at 10:35 am

      I am an ex-pat with permanent residency and friends with the main Commandante of Visas and Cedulas Extranjeros in immigration…and I can say with absolute certainty that the days of tourists coming here for extensive amounts of time and doing “border runs” is coming to an end, and sooner than you think.

      Please people, respect Nicaragua and get your damn residency!

      • Elisha MacKay

        May 13, 2016 at 11:04 am

        Not having residency has nothing to do with not respecting Nicaragua and it’s people.

        Some of us “tourists” are here promoting Nicaragua as an amazing place to live and travel to but don’t quality for residency.

        The simple answer of “get your damn residency” is not so simple. If it was, we’d have it.

        Over half of the expats in Nicaragua that I have met do not have residency. Many own homes and businesses that employ Nicaraguans. Some work online and others live off of investments abroad. All of them love the country they live in and all of them inject revenue into the local economy.

        Many of them donate their time, money and energy to help in non-profit activities.

        What does the anonymous account “Already Said Too Much” bring to Nicaragua? We don’t talk about it often, but our website has brought in thousands of dollars in donations for local projects like supplementary school programs and animal welfare.

        As a side note I have been hearing the same old song about a change in immigration for nearly a decade. It is getting old.

        Maybe a new song — about making it easier for us that love Nicaragua and promote it daily to become residents — would be a bigger hit.

      • Darrell

        May 13, 2016 at 11:59 am

        Yes, this is a discussion that comes up from time to time. It would be nice if everyone would become a resident but they need to simplify the process for that to ever happen. I would say much more than half are not residents. The last time I checked there were less than 100 residencies given that year.

        They tried to tighten up a couple years ago but I think they discovered they would lose a lot of revenue and goodwill. The expats will simply go to another country.

        In meetings with government officials we have told them that to have more resident expats they need to set up an office which solely assists expats. Not only with residency but also, for getting driver’s licenses, buying vehicles, explanation of applicable laws, setting up NGOs, etc. While we love Nicaragua, sometimes various government offices are difficult to deal with such as immigration, customs, border officials, etc. Some expats argue they had no problem but it really depends on what day it is, the mood of the official, the various interpretations of the rules and so on.

        And non-resident expats living here bring in a lot of dollars, jobs and community goodwill though there are a few bad apples.

        One of the reasons Panama is so much more popular than Nicaragua is the ease of getting your residency.

  2. GringoLoco

    April 30, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    You can also catch buses to Jaco from Alajuela – the airport is actually in Alajuela NOT San Jose. No need to add the expense and wasted time in traffic to go into San Jose proper only to get on a bus and go right back by the airport!

    Tell the taxista you want to go to the terminal de buses or La Radial in Alajuela — shouldn’t be more than $3. Many, but not all, of the San Jose-Jaco buses stop in Alajuela.

  3. Marilyn Guest

    May 2, 2016 at 11:52 am

    would you recommend I apply for residential visa before moving to Nica?

  4. Horst Schwanz

    May 3, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    what is the cost for going over the border by foot in and out same time, other then cost of the bus,

  5. Horst schwanz

    May 13, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    I can,t get a birthcertificate from Germany ,because they can,t find it anynmore .I it absolute nessesary to need it to get the papers .I tried many times .I have all the papers from Canada