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  #1  
Old 31 Dec 2009
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Border crossings: El Salvador to Honduras to Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Leaving El Salvador & entering Honduras
We crossed from El Salvador into Honduras at El Amatillo at 7 am on a Sunday. We did not use ayudantes - there were many on the Honduran side and they hounded us a lot, but we showed some attitude, which kept them at bay.

About 1 km before arriving at official looking buildings, we were flagged down by a fellow (and various others!) who claimed to be the ES Aduana. After further discussion, we determined that he was legitimate (his little office & official stamp added to his credibility). He took our original ES import permit and gave us a signed, dated, stamped copy & told us to ride further and present this document to the ES Aduana up ahead. We rode to a building that we could ride into & went to the ES Aduana window & the paperwork was completed. No fees were paid.

In the same building, at a window further up, we went to Honduras Migracion where we had to pay US$ 3 per person (we paid in US$). A receipt was issued - keep this as you will need it when you leave Honduras. All of the above took 45 minutes, due to low volume on a Sunday.

We were told to ride over the bridge and into the infamous blue Honduras Aduana building & approach the window. Some of the shark-like ayudantes tried to get us to go ride our bikes to a nondescript building (no obvious signage) to the right hand side of the blue building, saying it was the Administration building. We did not budge initially. At 8 am (official starting time on a Sunday), a fellow came out of the Aduana building and told me that he would process our paperwork in that nondescript building, which was indeed the Administration building. I went with him, my husband stayed with the bikes.

His name is Senor Aguilare and he is the jefe (boss). He was polite, organized, and understood English, even though he could not speak it. He explained that 2 months ago he started processing extranjeros paperwork personally in an attempt to speed up the process. He apologized for the fact that Honduras was the only country that charged for the bike importation, but that was the law. He is also aware that many ayudantes cheat foreigners and he apologized for that, but he is not able to control this.

Since it was a Sunday, and the bank was closed, he told me I had 2 options: I could leave the money with him & he would give me an official receipt (he showed me a stack of similar applications, with the money attached to each one) & he would submit my payment to the bank on Monday; or I could choose to come back the next day. I chose the first option. I paid US$ 36 per bike in Lempiras (you can pay in US$). I found a couple of errors in the info he had to manually write in our passports, so do double-check all the data is correct. The process took 45 minutes. He had initially said he would check the VIN on the bikes at the end, but he must have forgotten because he said we could leave. We were lucky to have encountered him as it saved us much of the usual Honduras crossing difficulties.

Leaving Honduras and entering Nicaragua
As we approached the border, several people pointed to the place where we had to stop with our bikes on the left side, to show the Honduran Aduana guy our Honduran import permit, so that he could sign and date it. We then drove up to the building about 200m further up on the left side, which houses both the Honduran Aduana & Migracion. We parked outside the building, my husband stayed with the bikes. I had to walk around to the other side of the building. I first went to the Migracion window, showed our passports and was asked to show the receipts for the US$ 3 that we paid to enter Honduras. I was given a small piece of paper with a stamp on it. I then went to the Aduana window, showed him the paper from Migracion and checked the bikes out. No fees were paid. The process took 30 minutes due to the low volume on a Sunday.

We rode to the Nicaraguan side (about 0.5 kms away) and parked outside the Nicaraguan Migracion & Aduana building on the right side. We were immediately approached by insurance salespeople. They all charge US$ 12 (to be paid in US$) for one month (even if you leave & re-enter) and as we understood it, it is mandatory. You can buy this after you have gone through the Aduana & Migracion process, but we did it first (Aduana did ask to see the insurance certificate). Note that even though it was a Sunday, the bank in the building was open to change money and I was also able to get smaller US$ bills. As soon as you enter the building, there is a Migracion lineup. Foreigners pay US$ 7 each to enter (in US$) and after handing over US$ 14, I was calmly issued a receipt for $4 (oh well!). I then walked around the corner to the Aduana. No fees were paid. The process took an hour.

About 2 km after leaving the border, there was a policeman and a lady, stopping traffic (there were orange cones on the road) and they were collecting US$ 1 per vehicle for some reason. We had read about this on the HUBB and simply paid it and received our receipts meekly. He also asked to see our insurance papers.

Leaving Nicaragua and entering Costa Rica
When you arrive at the border (main border crossing on the Panamerican Highway), you stop first at a little building (everyone points you to it) and we had to pay US$ 1 each - it is some kind of municipal fee and all vehicles pay it & a receipt is issued. Then you enter a gate where we were each given a little receipt with our licence plate # told to go to Aduana ahead. We followed the signs that said 'Autos' and parked in the lot, where the Aduana building is on the left and the Migracion is on the right. I went into Aduana and went to the 'Saliendo Nicaragua' window and was told to go out to the lot and get 2 signatures on the receipt: one from the Aduana guy and one from the Policia. After doing this, I went back to the Aduana office and the bikes were checked out. No fees were paid. We rode the bikes closer to the Migracion building, so that we could see the bikes as we went through the Migracion process (each person has to process their own paperwork). We each had to pay US$2 to leave Nicaragua (no kidding!).

The first thing we had to do on the Costa Rica side was get the bikes fumigated for US$ 3 each. Then we rode up to where there was a big restaurant on the left side and parked outside it. This building houses Migracion, the bank and the insurance office as well. No fees for Migracion, however we had to purchase mandatory insurance for Colones 7,900 (roughly US$14) each and it can only be paid in Colones. It is valid for 3 months. Aduana is across the street for the first step of the process. They give you some paperwork to take to the next Aduana office - you ride your bike to this one, there are signs to follow. At this office they enter all the info into the computer and give you your import permit. No fees were paid.

These border crossings are time consuming and somewhat chaotic, but can be done with patience without the use of the ayudantes. Take a firm approach with them and they will, for the most part, leave you alone. We realize that this is just one way of making a living in places without a lot of opportunity, but they can be irritating and a bit aggressive. The main problem we found with them is that each one tells you something different (and much of it untrue) and all point in a different direction. I think they rely on this confusion to pursue their scams. The aduana and migration officers in all cases were professional and helpful. If you follow their directions, it makes it easier. For instance, Honduran Migracion specifically told us to drive right into the tunnel in the blue building and stay there throughout the process. However, the so-called ayudantes told us we could not stay there and wanted us to move. We had to get a bit stern with one of them and told him we were staying put. Anyway, it is an interesting process.
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Old 7 Jan 2010
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Costa Rica to Panama border crossing.

Well, that was an interesting ordeal. Crossed a couple of days ago on the Panamerican Highway. It became a 4 1/2 hour sweatfest. Had been under the impression that Panama was fairly quick. The main problem was that there was only one window open for Migracion and there was a huge lineup. Computer problems, or so the sign said. Had a chat with a Costa Rican who crosses frequently and he said it is always like this.

Maybe we hit a bad day. A bus had been waiting since 4 AM and finally got cleared at 1 PM. We got in line at 9 AM and 3 1/2 hours later we had a piece of paper from Migracion that allowed us to purchase a tourist card for $5 (dollars only) each from another office and then return to Migracion with the tourist card to get a stamp in the passports (not all nationalities have to buy a tourist card). If there are two or more of you, do not stand in line again. One of you needs to hold a place at the front of the line.

Buying obligatory insurance is next ($15 each payable in dollars only). Next is a trip upstairs to get the insurance stamped by the Transito office. Next is paperwork for the bikes (free of charge). Now the bike import paper has to be signed by an Aduana officer. He had to finish lunch first. Not done yet, though. Off to a small, unmarked window to pay $1 each for fumigation. With that receipt in hand we could progress to the fumigation stalls. These are made for big trucks and spray the whole truck. We were told to ride in, leave the bikes and come back out. We argued with the fumigation man saying we did not want the entire bike sprayed, only the tires. They had no way to do that. We refused to get off the bikes. Finally, he looked around, said that since his boss was not looking we should take off and go. VAMOS!!!! So much for mandatory fumigation.

One must always find the humor in it all.

Joel and Taz.
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  #3  
Old 16 Jan 2010
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Thank you, this info is very helpful and I have now saved it for future reference.
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Old 16 Jan 2010
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Great info! Thanks for the detail!
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  #5  
Old 16 Jan 2010
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Panama to Colombia por avion.

Leaving Panama by air is quick and expensive......$901 per bike, $370 per person. Made the arrangements a couple days in advance with GIRAG (cash only) and purchased tickets on Avianca for the same day as the bike shipment. As of this posting, GIRAG flies only Tuesday and Saturday.

We rolled up to GIRAG the afternoon prior to the flight, filled out the paperwork, handed over the cash (with tears in our eyes) and visited Aduana to get the bikes out of Panama. Aduana did not even want to check the bikes (I guess they take GIRAG´s word for it). A couple of stamps and a signature and the bikes were in limboland, property of GIRAG until landing in Colombia.

In Bogotá we collected the paperwork at GIRAG, crossed the road to Aduana and the fun began. First an official had to drive us back to GIRAG to physically check the bikes, then back to Aduana for the paperwork. It took 3 people 2 hours to laboriously fill out 2 documents per bike.....and they still made mistakes. Check your information closely after the document is done, especially the VIN number, as a mistake can make life miserable later. In the meantime, a long line was forming behind us for people waiting to import anything from a massive roasting oven to furniture. It appeared that the only 3 people working on imports were the 3 filling out our forms. They had to keep referring to a manual to properly fill in the lines on the forms. Finally success with the proper stamps and a final signature done with a flourish. You get a bundle of papers to carry with you (an entire tree had to die for all this paper).

It was after 5 PM by this time. We ran to GIRAG to collect the bikes. When we got the bikes out of the cargo area, a small crowd had gathered to stare at the crazy Canucks. It was getting dark and we needed to find a place to stay. The ride into Bogotá (something in excess of 10 million people) was an exciting and never to be repeated experience. We had to flag down a taxi to lead us to a reasonable hotel. Smart people would have made a reservation somewhere, but we have never been accused of being on the smart side.

The next day we tracked down insurance at Seguros del Estado, Calle 17 10-16. Cost was $15 for one month. Again check the VIN number and all data on the insurance form as a mistake was made and they had to do it over.

The next day we made a hasty, early exit from Bogotá and headed north. We were not impressed with Bogotá. As a side note as we headed north on the autopista, we discovered that motorcycles are exempt from paying the tolls. There is a special lane along the right side of the toll booth and bikes just pass on by....whoopee.... it gives you a feeling of power. Even on the smaller highways we have encountered toll booths, but so far there has always been a bike lane around the right side. I love Colombia.

Salud.
Taz and Joel
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  #6  
Old 16 Jan 2010
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Hi,

All my border crossings through central America were relatively painless with the exception of Nicaragua to Costa Rica. I heard a lot of horror stories and was prepared for the worst, but none of the issues really materialized. I think I know why. I stayed off the Pan-am. With Nicaragua to Costa Rica I had no choice, and it was chaos. But all the others I took a different more remote border crossing. Less people, and less hassle. Worth considering when traveling this stretch. Plus you get to see more of the country your passing through.

Just my two cents. Safe travels.

H
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