The Ultimate Guide to cross the borders of Central America in your camper van
Documents to travel through Central America
We have driven the three Americas from south to north, so we began to discover and explore Central America in Panama. If you want to find out how to ship your vehicle from Colombia to Panama without a customs agent, click HERE 😊 , and if you are interested in the border crossing guide, keep reading.
PANAMA – COSTA RICA
The first step is to go to Panama Immigration office to have our passport stamped as we are living the country and then go to the building or customs desk to hand in the (TIP) Temporary Importation Permit for your vehicle.
Once this is done you can cross the bridge to Costa Rica and go to the immigration window to enter the country and have your passport stamped.
To get the papers for the car (TIP) you must go to the customs window next to immigration but first you must have the following documentation prepared:
- Insurance of the vehicule. You can get it in the same border, we chose the INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE SEGUROS company, the price is 42 US dollars and the duration is 3 months.
- Photocopies of the vehicle registration certificate or ownership vehicle title.
- Photocopy of the passport; main page with all the details and the page with the stamp of entry Costa Rica. Also we need a copy and driver’s license of the owner of the car.
- A second driver can be added free of charge; you simply have to present the photocopy of that person’s passport.
With all these documents the customs agents will give you the certificate of Temporary Importation Permit with a duration of 3 months.
COSTA RICA – NICARAGUA
Peñas Blancas Border
The customs building of Costa Rica is on the left hand side on the same route, it is a blue building.
At the window, hand in the Temporary Importation Permit of the vehicles, a photocopy of it and the passport. The photocopy is returned to you along with a paper that you will need to show later on.
* If you do not have a photocopy of the TIP you can do it right there. Price 50 colones.
Drive a little further until you get to the Immigration building.
There the first thing you have to do is to pay the Costa Rica Exit Fee, it is 8 USD per person and the payment is made in the offices located in the same place. (There is a machine where this payment can be made with a credit or debit card and it is slightly cheaper, but when we were there it was out of service …)
Then, go to the immigration window with your passport and Payment receipt to probe you have just paid the exit fee and have your passport stamped.
It’s time to cross into Nicaragua
Right entering Nicaragua with the vehicle there are several agents standing on the road who check your passports, and just a few meters after an employee fumigates the van.
Drive a few more meters, and on the left hand side you find the immigration building where you have to pay a 12 USD fee per person to enter the country and where they stamp your passport.
Once this is done, you must go to the door of the same building and look for a customs agent who wears a blue shirt, he checks the van quickly and tells you to go to a police post that is just in front, under some blue umbrellas.
Right there they give you a paper. They do not check the van inside or anything, although it might depends on the agent. The same agents tell you to pay a roads tax fee for an amount of 5 USD, the payment has to be done at the tourist office, located right at the entrance of the immigration building. IMPORTANT: if they do not mention that when they give you the paper…. just go 😉
With that paper you go back to the immigration building and present it at a counter at the bottom left, where you are finally given the TIP (Temporary importation Permit for the vehicles).
Next to this counter there is an office where the fumigation fee has to be paid, if it is close the payment has to be done when you cross the last border control.
Last step, before leaving the building and next to the office mention above, there is a lady in a counter where you can get the obligatory insurance for the van. We bought it with Mapfre for 12 USD with duration of one month.
DONE! You can relax, you just entered Nicaragua.
* Despite going through quite a few procedures, it is a fast border. We crossed on a Saturday morning and in two hours everything was done 😊
* Remember that you are given 90 days in your passport to visit Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
NICARAGUA – HONDURAS
Las Manos Border
On the Nicaraguan side, go to the Immigration window and present your passport, fill out a form and pay 2 USD for the country’s exit tax per person. They do not stamp your passport, they give you a piece of paper that later on you must give to another custom agent.
In the customs building, which is right next door, hand in the TIP and then you can cross to the Honduran side to continue with the procedures.
Park the car on the right hand side, just in front of the immigration windows, where you have to pay 75 lempiras per person as entrance fee to the country.
* You already know that the exchange rate at the borders sucks, so if you already have Honduras currency you can pay 100 cordobas, otherwise you can pay 3 US dollars, of course, you have to beg a little at the window to pay with another currency.
The window right at the left of immigration is the customs window where you have to present a copy of:
- Permission of circulation or title of ownership of the vehicle.
- Passport of the owner of the car.
- Driver’s license.
In Honduras, the TIP has a cost of 33 US dollars, even though the customs agent asks you for 40,( they just want to keep the rest of the money). To safe that money you only have to pay yourself the amount in the bank office 10 meters on the right hand side. If you don´t care to be cheat… do as you please. We prefer to do it ourselves, so the agent gives you a receipt that you have to present in the bank.
Once the Temporary Vehicle Import Permit has been obtained, approach the barrier a little further along with the car and present the papers that you give us in the customs window. They look at them and raise the barrier.
Welcome to Honduras!
* In Honduras the insurance of the van or any other vehicle is not mandatory.
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HONDURAS – GUATEMALA
As soon as you arrive at the border you park your van on the left, next to the first building. In this you can find the immigration windows of both countries. (Honduras and Guatemala).
At this point you already have to know that you must first go to the immigration Honduras office to get the passport stamp as you are leaving the country, and then to immigration of Guatemala to have your stamped as you are entering the country.
Just behind, in the building that can be seen in the background, is the customs building for both countries. At the Honduran window, we will deliver the Temporary Import Permit for Vehicles, they will verify the data of the car and the process is finished.
Then go to the window next door, it’s Guatemala, and present photocopies of:
- Vehicle registration certificate or ownership vehicle title.
- Passport of the owner of the car.
- Driver’s license.
You also have to present the original documents and make a payment of 160 Quetzales.
Once this is done, they will give us the Temporary Import Permit for the vehicle, the payment receipt, and a sticker which must be put on the front windshield on the driver’s side.
Voila! Congratulations, you are in Guatemala.
* Once again car insurance is not mandatory 😊
GUATEMALA – BELIZE
Melchor de Mencos – Benque Viejo Border
Before arriving at the border, leaving the village of Melchor de Mencos there is a bridge, before crossing it there is a small toll or something like that where you are asked you to pay certain amount of money as an exit Guatemala fee, by then we did not have quetzals and we knew from other travelers that we could say that INGUAT, which is the tourism agency in Guatemala, had told us that it was not necessary to pay that exit fee, therefore, and after 3 minutes of chatting, we drove through and pay nothing.
Once at the border of Guatemala; park the van on the right hand side and in the building in front of the parking lot, go to the immigration counter and then to the customs counter. In this last one it is necessary to give back you TIP and the sticker that you carry in the windshield since you entered Guatemala. (if you are coming back to Guatemala, you MUST keep the sticker, since the TIP is valid for 90 days).
You’re ready! It’s time to say goodbye to Guatemala and welcome Belize
Drive in the bridge where your car is fumigated. At the exit of it you have to pay the fumigation fee; 4 American dollars or 8 dollars from Belize.
Take a picture with your vehicle with the Belize sign in the back ground 😉
Park your vehicule on the right hand side and walk to the greenish building on the left.
As soon as you enter the building there is the Belize tourism counter, with them you have to fill out a form they give to you and then go to the immigration window with it and you passport.
Continue to the next customs counter and present all the papers of the van. You do not have to present copies and they will tell you to take your luggage out for inspection, but calm, you just have to say that you are travelling in a motorhome 😊 and they will understand it.
Leaving the building there is a mini booth / office where a woman collects the 15 American dollars or 30 Belizean dollars that must be paid as a car fee to enter the country.
Once you have finished, drive to the barrier and pass the inspection. Ours was very light.
Welcome to Belize!
* It is forbidden to enter the country with fruits and vegetables. In case you have any with you, do not forget to put it in a bag and leave it in Quarantine. Or hide it.
* Everything in Belize is more expensive than in Guatemala so we recommend you filling your tank and Jerry can with diesel or gasoline, as well as taking groceries from Guatemala.
* Insurance in Belize is mandatory and can be obtained a few meters from the border. The best option is in the first small prefabricated house you see after entering Belize officially. All the insurance companies are in a gravel plot on the right hand side and costs 35 Belizean dollars for a month. You can pay in American dollars if you have the exact amount.
BELICE – MEXICO
Santa Elena Border
This border can make you nervous, but in fact it is the fastest one and with the most friendly staff, so be positive and go for it 😊
First you get to the border of Belize where you have to pay an exit fee of 20 US dollars or 40 Belizean dollars. The truth, it is a country to think twice before coming back, it is all about money, money and more money … right there you get the exit stamp on your passport.
On the other side of the building you will find customs, where all you have to do is give back the TIP.
Ready! It’s time to drive the 3 kilometers until you reach Mexico.
Remember to stop halfway and take a picture with the sign “Welcome to Mexico”
Park the camper van, enter the main building and go to the “banjercito” offices where you have to pay an entrance fee to Mexico of 530 Mexican pesos per person. This fee is paid as long as you stay in the country for more than 7 days, and the payment can be made in US dollars or with a debit or credit card. With this payment you can be in Mexico for a maximum period of 180 days.
The Temporary Importation Permit for the vehicle is processed at the same bank. Here there are several options to assess depending on the travel plans of each individual:
- The first scenario; in the state of Quintana Roo it is not necessary to process or get the TIP. Many travellers take advantage of it to leave their vehicles here and go to their country or some other places by plane.
- If in the vehicle registration certificate / ownership vehicle title or vehicle info document shows that the van or vehicle is qualify as casa rodante / motor home, the Temporary Import Permit will be valid for 10 years. Otherwise it will last 6 months.
- If you wish to stay for 6 months in Mexico and continue the trip to another country, process the Temporary Importation Permit once you reach the border and continue your stay in peace with all the papers in order. The “drawback” of this option is that the State of Mexico requests a guarantee deposit amount according to the manufacture year of the vehicle. This means that in the same border you have to pay an amount of:
- 400 USD if the car is from 2007 onwards.
- 300 USD if the car is between the 2001 – 2016.
- 200 USD if the car is from the 2000 or older.
This amount will be paid back when you leave the country. So it is not so bad.
The Temporary Vehicle Import Permit in Mexico has a cost of 51 USD plus VAT (around 59 USD in total). And in it comes a sticker that must be put on the front windshield.
Once it is done go to the immigration window, fill in the form that they give you and show them the receipt for the latest payment. Once you have checked the information, you will have your passport stamped and you will be free to go!
* You can not pass vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheese, milk, rice, seeds, meat and sausages.
Welcome to Mexico!
* Along the more than 4 years that we have been on the road we have always travelled with the international driving license, but in fact it is not necessary since we always show a photocopy of the Spanish driver’s license or the original one. Even so, you have the final decision 😉
* As you have seen, photocopies are needed at each border, so we advise you to have them ready before you arrive, since it is much more convenient than having to look right there for shop. Also, at the borders it tends to be really hot and the price for the copies much higher.
* Money can be exchanged at all borders, although the change rate is not very favorable. Change just enough to pay the paperwork and in the next destination go to the bank or to a exchange office, sure you find better deal.
* Take a pen with you since you always have to fill out forms.
So here it is the article of how to cross the borders of Central America with your own vehicle, we do not talk about the border of El Salvador because we didn`t go, so if any traveler wants to make a contribution with their experience, it is welcome 😊
What do you feel when crossing a border?
Tell us in the comments
We feel alive, we feel we are still chasing our dreams and leave the fears behind and that little by little the World opens in fornt of us. We keep travelling! New adventure! New Poeple! New culture and customs!
On the other hand the borders are chaotic, stressful … They are a world apart; full of life and empty at the same time … people everywhere, someone trying to reach their destination and others making up ways to get some money. “Entrepreneurs” trying to take advantage of the travelers. Those who sell food, those who exchange money, those who want to be your customs agent, those who make photocopies, the one who only ask for two coins, the onw who is just wandering around, the real custom agent who does not feel like wroking or his parnert who tries to charge you a few extra dollars … and thus a whole process that maybe can be done in 2 hours, but only if you are supper lucky.
8 comentarios en “Guide to cross the borders of Central America in your camper van”
How about telling us how a gringo drives from USA to Panama and back. Many will benefit from your wisdom.
Easy! Just follow the road
Now, seriously we think that the same way we did it. It is not complicated:
Just prepare your vehicle and international driving license
Pack your staff
Plan your trip
And hit the road
Honestly, tell us more about what you will like to know and we will reply to you!
A big hug from Spain!
Thank you so much for that excellent information.
I’m building out a new ProMaster van and will be heading down probably sometime in October. Through Mexico and hopefully to all seven of the countries in Central America.
Sounds great! Enjoy the journey 🙂
Thanks. We are about to drive down to Costa Rica from there States. This article has been very informative. Thank you for posting it. I hope our journey goes well. 🙂
Duncan from UK
Thank you so much.
Let us know if you need anything once you head to Costa Rica.
Have a fun and enjoy the adventure.
All the best
We are planning on driving from Panama to Mexico in a couple months. Once we arrive in Mexico, we would like to sell the van there, most likely in Cancun or in the area. Do you have any idea how the Temporary Importation Permit reimbursement would work in that case?
Another idea is that we drive from Mexico to Panama instead? Which direction would you recommend? North to South or South to North.
Thanks in advance!
That sounds like a nice trip 🙂
Maybe, when you change the papers the name on TIP changes aswell, but if you want to avoid any hustle, do the trip from Panama to Mexico. If you enter from Belize and stay in Quintana Roo, you DONT need to get any kind of TIP. As long as you stay in that state you are good to drive and sell the vehicle. Easy peasy.
Enjoy the trip