Costa Rica allows U.S. citizens to remain in their country for a 90-day period. We arrived at the end of April so our 90-day period was set to expire at the end of July. However, by mid-July the repairs on our boat had not commenced, so we had to think about visa renewals stat!
Technically, my visa started over when I flew back to the states to see my doctors in June, but Matt needed to renew his visa. So, we decided we needed to make a road trip to Panama for an out of country small shopping trip. We rented a car from Economy which was a small pain in the a$$. We did a lot of research online only to be told completely different information upon picking up the car. You can rent the car for $6/day but the insurance required brings up the daily total to $60/day. And there is a 3-day minimum.
We got up early the next day, hopped in our little SUV and started our 3 hour journey to Panama (time: 0515). It was a relatively easy route, hop on hwy 34 to hwy 2 until it ends at the border. We traveled through beautiful country, palm tree farms, lush, green hills, and beautiful coastal villages.
Average speed limit was 60-80 kilometers which is roughly 40-50 mph. Not very fast, but the roads are curvy with lots of twists and turns. In addition, you are dealing with motor bikes, bicycles, pedestrians, horse back riders, tractors, and 18-wheelers in your lane. Made for an interesting trip for sure.
0900. Upon arrival, we missed our designated secure parking lot. But, a very eager and aggressive parking attendant encouraged us to park on this corner with about 10 parking spots. He put a large construction barrel (cone) in front of our car – encouraging or scary? We paid him $10 to watch the car (the parking fee was $6). We later found the elusive secure parking lot. It had been blocked by charter buses and its sign was half falling down. Oh well.
We are in the small border town of Paso Canoas in the Costa Rica.
One of our local friends told us to pay our “exit fee” first, then go to clear out of the country. So, we searched for the little office across the street. Had we not known to do this step, we would have missed it for sure. This little window handled copies, public service, internet, and the exit tax.
The “impuesta de salida” or “exit tax” is only $8/pp, but you have to pay it before going to immigration. Then you take your receipt across the street and head to the salida line. They were very efficient in processing people in and out.
Once we cleared out of Costa Rica, we walked across the border to Panama. The Panama border was elaborate with a huge wall marking the entrance and exit into the country. There were not many people there when we arrived so our visa process was relatively easy.
I happened to look up at the clock and realized that Panama was an hour ahead of Costa Rica. So, we cleared in at 0945 which is important as we need to stay in Panama for 5 hours and we wanted to catch the World Cup games that started at 12.
The only snag was with Matt’s passport. He has an “extended” passport with extra pages and a few countries skipped a few pages. So as you flip you have a dozen stamped pages, then a few blank ones, then a few more with stamps. The immigration officer did not like this and took a good 15 minutes to exam each page. After speaking to his manager, he took Matt’s fingerprints, asked his profession, and gave him a visa stamp. Luckily, for me, it only took 4 minutes to process my visa.
Now, it was shopping time. It is about a 50-60% savings when you purchase items in Panama vs Costa Rica. Unfortunately, we do not need a lot right now with the boat on the hard, but we can always find something.
There are two malls on the border: Mall Jerusalem de Panama and City Mall. In addition, there are hundreds of small vendors along the way and on many side streets. We started at Mall Jerusalem de Panama as it was closest to the border entrance. It was basically a two-story building with a market, clothing, furniture, housewares, and hardware. A little bit of everything. We made notes of what we might want and their prices and set off to City Mall to compare prices.
As we headed to City Mall, we realized we were uncertain as to what country we were in. Each building lies on the border, so you enter in on the Panama side and exit on the Costa Rica side. We were so confused one time, that we had to refer to the license plates on the cars to figure out what country we were in!
We finally made it to City Mall and it was more of the same. A giant two-story building with a market, clothing, furniture, house wares, and hardware.
We were getting hungry and figured it was close to game time, so we asked a tico where we could find a place to eat with a TV. She told us to go back to Costa Rica, down the street, to a place called Pizza Fabo. It was 12n, not a soul in the restaurant and a soap opera on the TV. Hmmm.
After a lot of back and forth, we realized that the game started at 1300 in Costa Rica, so we sat down, ordered a pizza and waited. Good thing too as it as storming and we really did not want to walk around in the rain.
Pizza was fabulous and Croatia beat England! Now, it was time to purchase our items. We stopped by a liquor store where we picked up (5) liters of Stoli for $10/ea and (5) bottles of Rose for $8/ea. Huge score considering the liter of Stoli is $30 in CR. We walked across the border, dropped the liquor off to the car and headed back to Panama.
Next, we hit the market and stocked up on a few essential items. We loaded the car up again and headed back to the Panama Immigration station to clear out of Panama. Simple enough process, a lot of please and thank yous and we were done.
We walked back to the Costa Rica immigration station where they asked to see our return tickets back to the U.S. Luckily, we had anticipated this and purchased one way tickets from CR to MIA earlier in the morning. We showed our itinerary and she stamped each visa with another 90-days. Whew. Some countries, require you show proof of leaving their country (so you don’t stay indefinitely).
Armed with new 90-day visas, we headed back to the car to make our 3-hour drive back to Quepos. On our way back, we stopped in Domincal for a well deserved drink at beach bar during sunset. Tortilla Flats caught our eye, so we bellied up to the nearly empty bar.
What a long day! But a successful adventure. Not sure why GoogleMaps shows it as over 5 hours, it was only a little over 3 hours. Of course, we may have bumped up our speed to 100 kilometers a few times (62 mph).
As most of you know, our blogs are several weeks, if not months behind “real time.” As it turns out, we will have to renew our visas a third time in early October.
In foreign countries, you often find things that make you ask “why” like this pairing of a juicer with toilet paper.
In case you are wondering what a “Tico” is – a local.