Border Crossings

Central America

Land Border Crossings

We hope that our notes will make your transition from one country to the next more pleasant and that you will enjoy your journey. Knowing what to expect is half the battle. The remainder is staying positive.


Mexico /Belize /Guatemala /El Salvador /Honduras /Nicaragua /Costa Rica /Panama /Documentation /Tips


Note: All costs are for the crossing of two people and one vehicle.

Mexico FlagUSA to Mexico, Nogales (cost $85)

We first went through a line to get our tourist cards issued. The man asked us if we had anything to declare and what our destination was. We tried explaining that we didn’t have a destination in Mexico that we were just passing through, but we must have failed. He insisted on a destination until we just threw out Puerto Vallarta. He wrote that on our tourist cards and stamped them. This did not seem to have a negative impact on us leaving Mexico but it did seem to confuse the people at the counter issuing the vehicle permit. We next took our tourist cards and passports to the counter to pay and ask for a vehicle permit. We paid $25 each for our tourist cards but were not issued a permit. We knew something was wrong so we asked a lady walking back to her car with what looked like a permit, to help us. She spoke Spanish fluently and cleared up the situation for us at the counter. We paid another $35 for the vehicle permit. We were given a document and a sticker to put on our windshield which we were supposed to turn in when we leave the country. Now that our Spanish is better, I don’t think we would have had the same problems. I wonder though if the people at the counter really couldn’t speak any English or if they just didn’t care.

Belize FlagMexico to Belize, Chetumal (cost $23)

It did not cost anything to exit Mexico. We had to peel off the permit sticker off our windshield and turn it into the Mexican customs window along with our permit paperwork. On the Belize side we had to purchase insurance for $17 for one month. Insurance is obligatory. We also paid $6 to fumigate our vehicle. Both of these fees may be paid in Pesos.

BGuatemala FlagBelize to Guatemala, Benque Viejo del Carmen (cost $55.23)

There was an exit fee for Belize of $75 Belize dollars or $37.50 USD. Entering Guatemala was relatively easy. The people at the counters tell you where to go and what to do. We paid 40Q equal to $5.33 for our visas and 40Q or $5.33 more for the vehicle permit. We paid $0.40 for copies and an erroneous charge of 50Q or $6.67 for crossing a very, very short toll bridge. We are sure that we were overcharged for the bridge. Someone told us it should be around $2, but the lady charged us almost three times that and accounted for it by tearing off and handing us three tickets. We sat and argued with her for a short time, but the cars behind us and in front of us starting honking. Then she threatened us with calling the police. At the time, we thought the police might be corrupt also, so we just paid and got out of there. If this happens to you, we suggest for you to wait her out. You may even consider asking for the police. Our experiences with the police in Guatemala have all been positive. Other then the bridge, our crossing went smoothly and we were on our way after obtaining our visas and permit for Mango.

El Salvador Flag Guatemala to El Salvador, La Hachadura ($5 cost)

The border crossing was honest and fast. They have signs posted clearly at the border asking tourists not to use tramitadors (local boys or men who want to take you through the border crossing process for a fee). They also have signs posted warning against corruption. The El Salvadorian workers were honest and answered all our questions. There was no fee for exiting Guatemala. The visa we received for Guatemala is good for 90 days and applies to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras as well. Chad had to get the stamp cancelled for the car entry he received in his passport when we entered Guatemala. The official initialed and dated the stamp for us at our request. We didn’t receive any new stamps in our passports on the El Salvador side. For the car registration in El Salvador, there was no charge. We only had to pay a $5 road tax as we pulled away from the border. I’m not sure if this tax was legitimate but we received a receipt for it and since it was the only charge for entering the country, we didn’t worry much about it. We got through the border pretty quickly in about 1.5 hours.

Honduras Flag El Salvador to Honduras, El Poy (cost $45)

The Honduras border crossing was not pleasant. Some of this was our fault because we arrived at the border at 4:45 and the bank was closed at this point. Also, we were misinformed about what is should cost us to register the car and we expected to pay much less. The lady at the window was very friendly but wanted us to pay $45 for the car registration and could provide us with no receipts since the bank was closed. When we asked her to break down the cost for us, she wrote down some random numbers which didn’t even add up to $45. When we challenged her on the price and requested a more formal receipt, she became a lot more short with us and was threatening to hold our paperwork until the morning so we would have to spend the night at the border. We weren’t real happy with this, so we requested to speak to a supervisor as politely as we could. She did some running around and talking to various people, then finally led us to a different building where her boss met us and explained the charges. Her boss showed us a piece of paper with all the charges broken down and they came to $39.50 all together for the car registration. So really we were only being taken for $5 instead of $25 like we originally thought. Her boss apologized for the confusion and was very professional (except that she didn’t seem to have a problem with her workers skimming $5 from car travelers). Additionally, we paid our entrance fee of $3 per person at migration. To get your car permit, you need all the usual copies: license, passport, title and registration if they ask. You also need the original title which they look at but obviously return to you after they complete the paperwork. You will need 3 copies of each. After about 2 hours of hassle, confusion and stress, things got worked out and we were on our way. Again, we did the crossing without tramitadors, so I recommend doing things on your own, it isn’t any slower and is much cheaper. Also, be sure to arrive while the bank is open, prior to 4PM.

Nicaragua Flag Honduras to Nicaragua, Las Manos (cost $26)

The border crossing was one of the best. Leaving Honduras the officer tried to charge us another $3/person exit fee, but we knew there wasn’t supposed to be one, so we showed him our receipts for the $3 we paid when we entered the country and he let us through without paying any more money. Entering Nicaragua was pretty easy. We had to purchase auto insurance for $12 and pay a $7/person entry fee. The car permit was free of charge. To get your car permit, you need all the usual copies: license, passport, title and registration if they ask. You will need 1 copy of each. You also need the original title which they look at but obviously return to you after they complete the paperwork. At the end after you get your insurance and car permit, you have to go make 2 copies of each which you turn in at the last checkpoint before entering the country.

Costa Rica Flag Nicaragua to Costa Rica, Penas Blancas (cost $26)

The border crossing was fairly easy. Leaving Nicaragua we paid $2/person exit fee and a $1/person municipal tax. Entry fees for Costa Rica consisted of a $15 manditory automobile seguro fee and $5 auto fumigation fee. We thought that the seguro was auto insurance for which we already had a policy. But I am not sure what the seguro actually is because it is different from just automobile insurance and there was no way around paying it. There were no other charges. As usual, we needed a couple copies of our licenses, passports, title and registration. In addition, we needed one copy of the seguro paper and the stamps received in our passports at the border. Each person who intends to drive in Costa Rica needs to make sure to put their names on the vehicle permit they will issue for each car.

Panama Flag Costa Rica to Panama, Paso Canoas (cost $13)

It cost nothing to exit Costa Rica. Panama charges us $5 per person for the tourist card, $1 per person for a sticker on the tourist card and $1 for the vehicle fumigation. There was no cost for the vehicle permit. The crossing was fairly quick and easy. On the Panama side of the border it gets confusing because there are lots of people walking around, there are lots of buildings, stores and restaurants. It looks like a small town. The building you are looking for is kind of a long building with cars parked on either side. The building is shaped kind of like an island with a couple windows in the middle separated by a set of round stairs. First visit the window closest to the Panama side. Here they issue the tourist card, it is the migration window. Don’t worry about where to get the sticker/stamp, because someone will approach you selling the $1 stickers. Then, go to the aduana (customs) window to get your vehicle permit. The aduana window is around the other side of the stairs. Look closely, there will be a very small sign saying aduana, but if you don’t see the sign, it is the last window on your right as you come around from the other side. After the aduana, an officer will inspect your vehicle briefly and sign/stamp your vehicle permit on the back side. The officer is located in a center room right under the stairs. From the aduana window just turn around and you will see the room where the officers hang out. Just go in there and hand them your permit, they will know what to do. Now after all this, you still need to get your vehicle fumigated. The office where you pay for that and they also will stamp the back of your permit, is located along the outside of the building, last door on the right side of the building as you face towards Panama. They will likely flag you down, but this was a bit confusing for us. You must go inside the office to pay and get stamped, then drive the vehicle through the car wash looking sprayer.