The Nicaraguan border

After two weeks in Honduras we felt it was time to go continue our journey South and go to Nicaragua. Now you can’t just drive up to border when it comes to Nicaragua. Ten days before you want to enter you have to fill out an immigration form. I don’t know if they will outright refuse you if you don’t do this (probably, given our experience), but we decided not to try. Ten days in advance is a lot if you are travelling by car and have no specific plan. Filling in the form wasn’t easy, first because the website, predictably, had some troubles and also because it is more meant for people who arrive by plane and stay at a certain hotel. They even wanted to know our jobs -and no, “traveller” wasn’t an option … We filled in the forms on a Sunday and noticed that we could chose to enter the following Friday, so less than a week away. We chose that option and after at least an hour we finally managed to successfully send both forms. We got an automated reply that we had successfully applied to be allowed to enter the country. Pfew, we’ve had job applications that were easier… But to our pleasant surprise, the following Tuesday we got a mail saying we were allowed to enter, so that was quick. So on Wednesday we went to the vet to get a new health certificate. It turned out we couldn’t just get a new paper, no this had to be send to Senasa and normally takes about five working days! We had already been told by several people and had read online about the strictness of the Nicaraguan border. Lots of people have to completely empty their car, one person even needed ten hours to cross the border. Lots of overlanders agree that the Nicaraguan border is the worst in the whole of North and South America. Fortunately the vet made some calls and we could, probably, have the certificate ready on Friday. The certificate is also really expensive: €160,-  

Heath certificate

Nicaragua demands a negative PCR test, whether you’re vaccinated or not. The results would take 12-24 hours and are valid for 72 hours. So we figured we’d take the test after we would receive Binkies certificate because if it wasn’t there on Friday, we would then have to wait until Monday and by then the results of our PCR test would no longer be valid. So we planned to cross the border on Saturday, hoping this wouldn’t be a problem as we had said on our immigration forms we’d cross on Friday. Well we got Binkie’s certificate on Friday morning. BUT meanwhile we had discovered that the Nicaraguan border is only open Monday to Friday 8:00-16.00!  So we got a PCR test (€40, p.p.) on Saturday afternoon and received the negative results on Sunday.

Now we only needed to print the PCR test results, and, while we were at it, the Nicaragua permission and the car insurance papers. just in case they would ask for it (until now that never once happened. So we finally headed for the border early on Monday.

The Honduras side wasn’t that difficult. We stood in line for about half an hour and got stamped out. Kilian then had to hand in the temporary import permit for the car and that went smoothly as well. We then exchanged our lempiras for cordobas and some dollars with one of the money handlers for a nice rate after some negotiation. Up to the Nicaraguan side.  

Standing in line to exit Honduras

We parked just before the barrier and had to hand our papers to an officers who took them in to a container, to do what we don’t know. We got them back and were allowed to cross the barrier to immigration. Where the border of Honduras consisted of a few old buildings, here it were several old containers. Fortunately there was no line. Getting through immigration took at least half an hour. First they asked all the questions that we already had to answer online and typed them in, so why the online form? We then had to pay the tourist tax. And those were demanded in dollars. I argued that we were in Nicaragua as we had a lot more cordobas than dollars but no. The tourist tax was $13 per person (this amount was also mentioned online, so at least that was correct). I gave the 50 dollar bill as that was all we had. But noooo…. it had to be paid with smaller bills. It was a good thing he couldn’t understand me anyway because I may have uttered a few bad words… So back to a money handler to get smaller bills. I gave $30 to the officer which was small enough. But then the arrogant asshole decided that one of the $5 bills wasn’t good enough as it had the tiniest rip where it had been folded. So he gave it back in exchange for a newer one. Honestly the small mindedness of somebody who is supposed to have at least some education is unbelievable. We had read about this online as some other people complained about it too, but it apparently also depends on the officer. And reading about it and dealing with it, are two different things. I have worked for the Dutch government for over 20 years and was taught and worked with the attitude that you are there to help the public as well, not just to uphold the law. So I take these things a little more serious than is wise probably. And we are both efficient, practical, no nonsense people so we struggle with this kind of inefficient nonsense. And our struggle wasn’t over yet.

We also had to give an address of a hotel even after explaining twice that we have a camper van (wild camping is legal). So we looked up an address online of a hotel we won’t be staying at. We then had to answer more of the same questions, including about our jobs. Even though we truthfully told them we’re not working currently and they have no way of checking if we are telling the truth about our jobs and what does it matter anyway?? For future border crossings I will make a list of the most absurd jobs, so I can at least have some fun with this nonsense. Anyway we finally got all our papers back including the four 1 dollar bills, which I exaggeratedly checked in front of the officer 😬 and could move on. Meanwhile a bus had arrived, so there were about 20 people waiting behind us, poor people. We also had to go in to the container of “salud” (health) to have the results of PCR test checked and also answer more of the same questions immigration had just asked, including about our jobs?!  Meanwhile the environmental health in the container was probably a bigger health risk than covid…. 

We were now allowed to drive our van past the barrier and went to the fumigation point (spraying something on the wheels of the van in order to kill bugs). Kilian then had to walk to another office (wooden shed) to pay, here they did accept cordobas. After that we were lost. We didn’t have an import permit for the van yet. There are no signs anywhere, only a lot of containers and sheds. The guy from the fumigation pointed us to the exit. We were hesitant about this information but it was all we had. Also nobody at the border spoke the tiniest bit of English. We mostly manage with our Spanish. But in a loud environment where people talk rapidly and with an accent and use lots of local words, we can’t really follow what is being said. We thought there might be another office near the exit so drove in that direction. Well that definitely wasn’t right. We were quickly surrounded by people who seemed to think we were going for a quick escape or something. And none of them took two seconds to listen to our explanation of why we drove there. Annoyed we just answered them in Dutch, if they weren’t going to listen anyway the language doesn’t matter. We then turned around and were basically lost again. Two uniformed officers (there are lots of people without uniform, yet they can be officials as well, or thieves…). They asked if we had a drone, those are illegal in Nicaragua. We don’t, I was now expecting a thorough search, especially we had just “tried to escape “But no, he asked what was on the roof and about the bikes and that was it. He then explained where to go. So Kilian took all the paperwork and left. He was back a few minutes later with two declaration forms, we each had to fill in. We truthfully declared that yes we have a live animal with us. Kilian went back with both forms, they then didn’t want mine since the car is only registered in Kilian’s name. He first stood in the wrong line by accident but quickly got send to the right line. And then it all went very smoothly suddenly. Yes it took about 45 minutes but he got the temporary import permit without any problems and without stupid questions .This time the bikes, including the colours were included on the permit. And the permit was free of charge, that’s a first. Kilian was so surprised by this that he double checked if he now indeed had all the right paperwork. And then we were apparently good to go. Even though nobody had checked the van, not even the VIN number. And even though we had declared Binkie nobody wanted to see his papers either!?

The declaration form

With some apprehension we drove to the exit. They confirmed we had the right papers except for the car insurance. However we have a car insurance for the whole of Central America. So we gave him the papers, but after a very quick glance at the first page he said the insurance wasn’t valid in Nicaragua. Kilian then pointed out the third page where all the countries, including Nicaragua, are listed. At this he at least had the decency to look a little ashamed about his hasty judgement. We paid the road tax ($2) and then after 3 hours we were allowed to go. 

Three hours at a border crossing in Central America isn’t bad. But the level of bureaucracy is. We have answered the same (irrelevant) questions three times and the whole insane thing with the money is almost unbelievable. Add the loud chaos and the lack of any direction signs in to the mix and the fact that nobody speaks English and you have one hell of a border! 

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