overview of central america's border crossings: fees, visas, requirements and scams

Update January 2016: This post is used by thousands of travellers every month, so help us to keep it relevant. If, on your crossing, you find that prices have increased, or new fees have been introduced, let us know in the comments so we can update the post. Safe travels!

Throughout 2014, we crossed the borders of every country from Guatemala to Panama by land and sometimes by sea. 

Here is our overview on the entry/exit fees, standard tourist visas, documentation requirements and possible scams you'll encounter at the borders of each. If you're looking for more in-depth guides on the routes and transport costs cross between specific countries, you'll find links throughout the article. 


entry fees: None

exit fees: $30 BZD ($15 USD) charge plus $7.5 BZD ($3.75) Protected Areas Contribution Trust. These can be paid in either currency or a combination of both. A receipt will be given.

If taking the bus from Belize City to Guatemala, there is a new $.250 BZD 'border management fee'.

is proof of onward travel required? No

length of tourist visa*: The majority of tourists will be granted a 30 day stay without a visa. Stays beyond this length require an extension and payment. 

scams: None. Belize's borders had clear signage about exit charges and an itemised receipted was given following payment. 

Read more about how to cross between Belize and Guatemala or Belize and Mexico.


entry fees: None

exit fees: None. 

length of tourist visa*: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua have a visa agreement named the 'CA-4'. This is a 90-day visa given to you by the first country you enter out of the four. It allows you entry into all of them. 

The 90-day stay applies to your time across all four countries, it does not mean you have 90-days in each. 

is proof of onward travel required? No

scams: At one border, the official insisted there was a 20Q exit charge per person. We knew this wasn't the case and asked him for official documentation of this fee. He eventually relented.

Read more about how to cross between Guatemala and MexicoBelize or to El Salvador.

el salvador

entry fees: None

exit fees: None

length of tourist visa*: 90 day CA-4 visa applies

is proof of onward travel required? No

scams: No

Read more about how to cross between El Salvador and Guatemala or Honduras


entry fees: $3 USD processing fee. A receipt will be given. 

exit fees: None

length of tourist visa*: 90 day CA-4 visa applies

is proof of onward travel required? No

scams: No 

Read more about how to cross between Honduras and Nicaragua or El Salvador.


entry fees: $12 USD. A receipt will be given. You can also pay in colones.

exit fees: $2 USD exit fee payable in cordobas or dollars. If crossing at Penas Blancas, there will also be a $1 USD fee to enter the border zone. 

length of tourist visa*: 90 day CA-4 visa applies. If you arrive in Nicaragua with this visa near expiry - or you simply want to spend long in the four countries - simply hop over the border to Costa Rica for an hour and make your way back to Nicaragua to get a brand new CA-4!

is proof of onward travel required? No

scams: Some people will try to sell you the immigration form for a few cordobas. You don't need to pay - these are available in the offices free of charge.

Read more about how to cross between Nicaragua and Honduras or Costa Rica. 

costa rica

entry fees: None

exit fees: $7 USD. This fee was introduced in 2014. You are able to pay it at the bank, however a number of people pay it at the border. At both borders, the official machine for payment was broken. This meant that you had to pay the exit fee plus $1 USD at little offices next to the border. 

You cannot pay the official at the border office. You must pay in advance and then present your receipt to the official. 

length of tourist visa*: The standard is 90 days. If you cannot show proof of onward travel, they may limit you to fewer days. 

is proof of onward travel required? Yes. Although it may not always be requested, you need to expect that you will be asked to prove that you are leaving Costa Rica within the 90 days.  Read our guide on how to create this here.

scams: None. 

Read more about how to cross between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and Costa Rica and Panama.


entry fees: Officially, there is no entry fee for Panama. However, at two separate border crossings there were 'officials' who requested payment in return for a sticker in our passport. At one border, they wanted $1 USD and at the other they wanted $3 USD. 

exit fees: Officially, no. However, as above, there may be some people trying to charge you. Please note that to cross into Colombia by boat, you may have to hand over a photocopy of your passport.

length of tourist visa*: Standard entry for most tourists is 180 days. 

is proof of onward travel required? Yes. Officially, you also need to show proof of funds, but we were never asked for this and have not met any other traveller who has been asked. Read our guide on how to create proof of onward travel here

scams: Yes. As hinted at above, this relates to the entry/exit fees. If you are crossing to/from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, you will find a small office (NOT the official immigration office) where they ask you for $3 USD per person to enter or leave the country. Proof of payment is a crappy sticker which they put in your passport. 

The same scam was running at another border, but they were only asking for $1 USD for the sticker. When we said we wouldn't pay, they left us alone.

Unfortunately, at the Panama-Costa Rica border, they are really very pushy and aggressive and are literally standing between you and the bridge out of the country. This means most people end up paying even after an argument. 

Read more about how to cross from Panama into Costa Rica here. Crossing the border from Panama into Colombia is tricky, with lots of expensive options. Read how we find the cheapest way to do it here.

* these are the visas we received as UK nationals. Citizens of some countries may require a visa in advance or be subject to shorter stays. We advise you to research and confirm this beforehand.

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find out how we 'faked' proof of onward travel