68. Another Stamp in Our Passports

Saturday 2/26 - Sunday 2/27 - Well, it’s that time again. We have been back from our trip to MN for almost 3 months. That means we have to do another border run to legally remain in Costa Rica and to continue driving on our foreign (US) drivers license. This time we are going to PANAMA.

Yes, we went shopping in Panama a few months ago with Loren & Nancy, and we’ll be going to the same place this time, except this time we will actually be going through the border, getting our passports stamped, and doing the whole process instead of just shopping in the stores that have one entrance on the Costa Rica side and one on the Panama side so you don’t actually have to go through immigration to go shopping there.

In order to make this learning process as painless as possible, for this first time we hired a tour company who does these border run trips with groups of people and walks you through each and every step in the process. Since we don’t want to mess this up, and an upset border crossing agent could reject you for doing something wrong, we figured for the first time we would take the safe way. Due to COVID, some of the procedures in Panama have changed, and where you used to be able to cross into Panama, stay for an hour or 2, and then cross back into Costa Rica, now you have to actually spend a night in Panama, so it was nice to have someone else who knew the area to plan the transportation, hotel, and things like that as well.

Since we’d be gone overnight, we had to find a place for Breeze to stay. Stuart and Gem graciously offered to watch her again since Breeze and Jet get along so well, so on Saturday morning we brought Breeze down to their house. We went back up to our rental to grab our things and close up the house, and within 5 minutes of bringing Breeze to their house, that little s**t had snuck back up to us.

So, we closed everything up, grabbed our backpacks, and brought her back to their house before we headed down the mountain to get picked up by the tour company. We parked our truck at the bottom of the mountain at Randall’s shop, and the tour bus would pick us up right there at the highway. It couldn’t get easier than that!

We got picked up around 11, by a comfy tour bus/van. There were maybe 6 people on before we were, all picked up along the highway in the last 10 miles or so, and we continued on down the highway for the next 10 miles or so and picked up a few more. 

By the time we had everyone, we were now a group of about 12 with the other people being from somewhere along this part of the southern zone and the driver. We had about a 2-hour drive from Uvita to the border. A little more than halfway there we stopped for lunch, to fill out the paperwork we needed to do before we got to the border, and to get some brief instructions on what had to be done when we got there. The driver makes this trip often, and there is a Chinese restaurant that they always stop at to do this. When we got there, everyone found a table, ordered some food, and filled out their paperwork. As we were waiting around for everyone to finish, a couple of pigeons started walking around the dining room. Man, I guess this place has really fresh food, I think they were fattening them up for tomorrow’s fried rice!

After lunch, we made our way to the border to do the actual crossing process and get our stamps, which will keep us in legal visa status for the next 3 months. The whole process to do this is several steps, and due to COVID it now takes an overnight to complete them all.

Step 1- on the Costa Rican side, stop at a little building on the side of the highway and pay your $9 exit tax. Every time you leave Costa Rica each person has to pay an exit tax. When you fly, many airlines include this in the price of your ticket so you don’t even know it’s there. Some of the budget airlines don’t, and you have to pay at a separate counter at the airport. When crossing by land, you have to pay at the appropriate place, which is NOT necessarily the same place that you get the stamp in your passport.


Step 2- on the Costa Rican side, you will walk across the highway from the building you just paid your exit tax to the immigration office and get stamped out of Costa Rica. This is also different from when you are flying- here they have to stamp you out of Costa Rica too, this doesn’t happen when you fly. Weird, huh? We are now officially checked out of Costa Rica

Ramie leaving after getting his exit stamp in Costa Rica

Step 3- We went to the hotel in Panama. Technically, we weren’t legally in Panama yet because we didn’t go through Panama customs and immigration, but this is how the tour drivers do it here I guess. Now, some immigration agents will require to see a hotel reservation in Panama to prove you are staying (some don’t require that proof, it’s a crap-shoot, and you don’t want to be caught without it). So, we all went to the hotel, got our receipt showing that we were staying there and dropped off our stuff, and then as a group we all walked from the hotel to the Panamanian immigration checkpoint. 

Step 4- On the Panama side go to the immigration office and turn in your COVID documents at window #1 and if all checks out they hand you a piece of paper. Our paper was a cut up manilla file folder, which just made me giggle because it was so official haha! In order to get into Panama you either need to have proof of a “full series” of vaccinations or a negative COVID test within the last 3 days. These COVID rules are constantly changing, these were the requirements as of 2/26/22. 

Step 5- Go to window #2 and get the Panama stamp in your passport. This is where they would ask you for your proof of hotel stay and proof of exit from Panama. Both Costa Rica and Panama have the 90 day visa restrictions, and some immigration officers will ask you for proof of leaving the country. For most tourists, this would be your return ticket back home. Since we don’t have a return ticket to leave, we buy a bus ticket that goes from Panama back to San Jose, Costa Rica to show that we are coming back to Costa Rica. The tour company coordinated with the bus company to meet us at immigration to give us our tickets which cost us $45 each. They explained that you can reschedule this bus ticket for up to a year, so every time we go to Panama for the next year we can just go to the bus station, ask for a new date 90 days out, and use this ticket again. So, in theory, we could use this for a whole year worth of border runs if we decide to go to Panama every time. They didn’t ask us for our hotel reservation, but they did ask us for our bus ticket. Another option that we have used when flying into Costa Rica is a service that you can buy for a reasonable price that books a real refundable flight with all of your real information and sends you a real confirmation of a ticket. It’s good for 48 hours, and then they cancel it. You show this to the immigration agent and it looks like you have a flight out of the country. (all of this sounds shady, but it’s completely legal and it’s how everyone who lives here but isn't a resident does it… And why doesn’t the country capitalize on people like us by allowing us to “buy” extensions to our visa? Then we could pay the country all of this extra money instead of paying the tour companies, the bus companies, and the ticket flipper websites. I guess Costa Rica just hasn’t caught on to the potentially easy source of revenue yet!!) All this and we can now officially be in Panama.

Dana getting her fingerprints taken to get the Panama stamp

That was all for today. It was late-afternoon, so we were left on our own to do whatever we wanted to until tomorrow morning. This is all happening right in the same area that we went shopping at the border a few months ago with Loren & Nancy, so we knew that we could do some shopping here. Our plan was to go buy some more of the super cheap liquor like we got last time. Ramie’s stash was running low and Dylan asked us to pick up a bottle for him for their visit here, so we headed out to find a nearby liquor store.

Another couple that was on the tour with us was interested in doing the same exact thing, however they had never been here before and only had heard about the low prices. When they heard about our plan, they asked if they could tag along. No problem! Follow us, we’ll show you the way! According to Loren, each place may have slightly different prices and different selections, and after you go a few times, if you try different places, you’ll find a favorite. We went to his favorite last time, which was a very nice store, but it was a couple miles away. Since we were walking (and carrying back our purchases) we weren’t willing to go that far. 

Some of the shops, trafffic and people at the border. Its very busy!

We knew there were closer ones, so we made our way down the road, which was strip of shops with very little walking room and no sidewalk. It was like an outdoor market. Vendors lined the street and there was barely enough room for passing vehicles and there were people walking everywhere. They sold everything along this section of road: name-brand knock off clothing & sunglasses, food, shoes, tires, auto mechanic shops, car parts, electronics, you name it you could probably find it here. We were just looking for a good liquor store. When we found one that looked like they had a good selection, we went in and started shopping. I had a backpack with me, but we would have to carry whatever we bought, so we were selective on our purchases. That meant no cases of beer, no bottles of wine, we were just going for the biggest bang- the hard stuff. Lol! We ended up with 7 bottles, some were even 1.75L bottles, of the good stuff. Mostly they were the same liquors that you would find in any US liquor store, plus a couple of local varieties that we wanted to try, all for only about $75. Those are even better prices than the US!! We helped out the other couple that was with us since they didn't know how the process worked. Then, we packed up our goods and headed back to the hotel for the evening.

A few of the couples from the tour bus got together for a pizza party out in the lobby, Ramie went but I stayed back in the room. The Chinese pigeon & veggies dish didn’t sit well with me and I wasn’t feeling the greatest (and pizza would make it 1000 times worse) so I tried to recuperate for tomorrow’s drive back and Ramie went to socialize and make friends.

Bright and early at 6am Sunday morning we were headed back out to start our journey back into Costa Rica. This was going to be similar to yesterday, just in reverse order. Fortunately today we only had to make 1 stop on each side.

Step 6- We started at the Panama immigration building and stopped at the exit window to get stamped back out of the country. This was very quick and painless. We then walked across the border and back to the Costa Rica immigration building. 

Step 7 - Getting stamped back into Costa Rica. Right now, Costa Rica’s COVID restrictions (also changing often) require you to fill out a health pass online and get a QR code that you need to present at immigration. In this health pass you have to confirm that you either are fully vaccinated OR have approved COVID insurance that covers your extended stay if you test positive and have to quarantine. This is really only relevant for tourists here for a short time and wouldn’t be able to fly back to wherever they came from and needed to spend extra time in a quarantine hotel, but it is still required for people who live here, without residency, if you aren’t vaccinated. Here they will scan your QR code and check for that ticket leaving the country, so we had our (temporary) flight documents ready to present at this window as well. They checked to make sure everything was in order, and then we got our stamp back into Costa Rica. On your passport stamp the immigration officer will hand-write the number of days your visa is good for. Costa Rica allows a maximum of 90 days, but you aren’t GUARANTEED 90 days, so we always make sure to check that they give us the full amount of time. Once you leave this office, there is no getting it changed (or at least not without a LOT of hassle), so if they don’t give you the full 90, you might just be better off doing an extra border run in the meantime (This is exactly what happened to one of the ladies on our tour bus, they only gave her part of the time and she actually does have a real ticket booked back to the US 90 days after her last border run, but she ran out of days and had to do an extra border run to stay legal). We checked for our 90 days, and then waited for the rest of our group to finish their checking in before moving on.

There was a little soda across the highway from where we were, so the group headed over there to stop for breakfast before our long drive back up the coast. Ramie had an empanada for breakfast which was delicious, and I just stuck to coffee. After breakfast we got on the road for our 2-hour drive back to Uvita, stopping at the same gas station as on the way down for a potty and stretch break. They dropped us off right where they picked us up, right about 11am. We finished our full border run in 24 hours! No hiccups, airplane problems, or unexpected delays. This was our smoothest traveling experience yet!! Plus- now that we know the ropes, we think we would be comfortable enough to do it on our own again in the future, as long as things don't change too much. We made friends with a few people from the group who live fairly close to us, so maybe, since our border runs will be due at the same time, we can join up with them and do a border run with another couple to split the cost of gas. 

Now that we have another 90 days in our passport, we will continue with our regularly scheduled programming ;)

Oh, and PS…. When we got back up to our rental house, Breeze was already sitting on the balcony waiting for us. Stuart said she spent most of the time after we left at the house and he had to go get her to have her sleep at his house the night before. What a little S**T!! 


 Once Again:  For all of you who follow our adventures in Costa Breeze, have you ever had questions for us? Do you want to know more about something specific? Is there anything that we haven't explained well enough? Now is your time to ask!! If you have any questions for us, let us know!! Once we have enough questions, we will make a full blog post with just Q&A.  You can leave a comment here on the blog, on one of our social media accounts, or any other way that you know how to get a hold of us!