Category Archives: bureaucracy

Border crossing USA-Canada

I crossed the border from the USA to Canada in Buffalo, New York. That is pretty close to the Niagara Falls.

On the American side there is absolutely no immigration booth or office! There’s just customs, but I had nothing to do there, as they did not give me a TIP (Temporary Import Paper)  for the motorcycle.

The Canadian side was friendly, asked the usual questions and stamped my passport. No TIP for the bike neither…

So now I was in Canada, bit still had the green USA I-94W card of the USA in my passport! Technically I haven’t left the USA and my visa is expiring in two days! If you overstay the visa it will be very hard to get back anytime in the future!
I went to the consulate in Toronto, but they just gave me an email address. From which I got the following information:

You have to send back the green I-94w form by UPS, including a letter and prove that you left the USA! This letter costs 50$ with UPS and the government will not give feedback or let you know if they updated their records!



Here’s the official procedure to send back the green card:

USA paperwork

There are different information on the internet what is needed to enter the USA with a vehicle, in my case a motorcycle. If you‘re looking for it you come across stuff like EPA letter, 3520-1 customs form and how hard is it to get a valid insurance.

So let me tell you my experience.

What do you need to get into the USA with a motorcycle?
Short answer: If you enter on the land border, you need absolutely NOTHING!

When coming from Mexico, make sure to check out properly at the Mexican customs to get your deposit back. Then drive to the USA border. On a motorcycle it’s allowed to skip the line of cars and just head straight up to the front of the queue! I skipped all the cars in Tecate and got the same info from other bikers crossing in Tijuana.

At the USA booth they will ask the usual questions. If you already have a Visa in your passport, they will let you straight pass through. You don‘t even need to get of the bike. Otherwise they instruct you to go the the office, where you fill out your immigration form (I-94W if you are part of the Visa Waiver program, costs 6$). You don‘t need to do the online ESTA application for the land border, that’s only required for flying into the USA or coming by boat!

They will not ask you for an American insurance and they will not give you a TIP (Temporary Import Paper)! As those are not needed for Canadians or Mexicans, the border controls are not equipped to make you a TIP! In fact, they don‘t even know what it is if you ask for it!

I went the extra mile and drove to the customs office in San Diego to ask for the TIP. There they explained that they could give me one if I insist, but it is not needed as I‘m just crossing the USA up to Canada. You only need it when flying/shipping your vehicle into or out of the USA. Everything else, the EPA letter, the 3520-1 form and the American insurance are only needed if you want the TIP.

If you really want an insurance or need the TIP for shipping, see the information below on how to get those papers.

The conclusion is:

If you drive through the USA on land borders (Canada-Mexico or in reverse) then you don’t need anything!
You only need the EPA letter and insurance for the TIP when flying or shipping to or from the USA!


As stated above, an insurance is technically not needed to enter the USA on a land border. But maybe you still want one or you‘re shipping the bike there. An American insurance is valid for Canada too.

You will quickly find out that basically no insurance company will sell you a police if you mention that you have a foreign motorcycle.

The only option as of today is

There you can do everything online, including signing and downloading the contracts. You must provide an American address, though. But as no paperwork will be sent there ever, I chose a Walmart in Texas. Try different addresses, as the prices vary very much! Depending of the options and address you chose the prices may vary from 100$ to 2000$/year! Try an address in a small town in Texas instead of big cities like LA or NY.

In some forums you‘ll find Cheryl of as an insurance broker for foreign motorcycles. But all she does is completing the same online forms on and charges you 60$ for it!

EPA Letter

In the forums you‘ll read about the EPA letter. The official name of it is „Nonresident Temporary Importation Approval Letter from EPA“.
It is needed when flying/shipping the vehicle from or to the USA to get the TIP.

It’s free and you can get it by email. It takes about two weeks to be processed.

Here is the official information (Nonresident Exemption 4-13) how to get it and this is my application as an example: EPA-Letter-example

You must print your completed application, sign it with a pen and make a photo of it. Then send it to the following email address:

Don‘t forget to attach a copy of your motorcycle papers.

After leaving the USA you must send them prove that the vehicle has left the USA (shipping papers, TIP of Mexico, etc).

3520-1 form

It‘s this form form3520-1-2017-07-secured-enabled  which refers to the EPA letter and you need to fill it out for the customs to get the TIP (temporary import paper).

Border crossing El Salvador – Guatemala

I crossed at Las Chinamas/Valle Nuevo, as I don’t like the big crossings on the Pan Americana.

Make sure you have at least to copies of the TIP of El Salvador (and all your other important papers, as usual).

Exiting El Salvador (20min)

At the first checkpoint an officer want to see just the TIP (Temporary Import Paper), no passport or anything.

Then you drive down to the right before the bridge and enter the immigration. They don’t give you a stamp in the passport, but a small printed note which you have to keep. I had an issue with my stamp of Nicaragua: they didn’t write how many days I was allowed to stay (usually 90 days). And as this is the CA-4 area (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), the first country defines it for all four countries. Nicaragua didn‘t write anything on their stamp and El Salvador doesn’t give you a stamp, so they said, I have to get it ‚fixed‘ with the Guatemalan stamp (which they did).

The aduana is in the same building on the other side (drive around the back of the building), but they sent me by foot up to the bridge first to get me registered and stamped the TIP and a copy of it.

Then back to te aduana to check your vehicle out of the country. they keep the copy, you get back the original.

Free to go over the bridge to Guatemala.

Enter Guatemala (1h)

Immigration comes first, normally no issues there. They also fixed my issue with the 90 days since Nicaragua, they wrote the remaining days to their stamp and I was ‚legal‘ again.

But then aduana wanted a copy of the new stamp. There is a copy shop about 100m to the south on the left (direction to El Salvador) in the orange building (1q per copy).

Back at the aduana I gave copies of all the usual papers and the new stamp.

You have to sign three copies and they give you a slip to pay 160 quetzales (about 20$) at the bank, which is just another counter right there. They don’t accept USD, but there are plenty of money changers around.

Give back the payed bill to the aduana (they do a copy of it! But they didn’t want to make the copy of my passport!) and you‘ll get your Guatemalan TIP.

Welcome to Guatemala!

The road to Guatemala City is good, but I suggest to drive directly to Antigua.

Border crossings Nicaragua-Honduras-El Salvador

Exiting Guatemala at El Espino (20min)

When entering the area you get the customs declaration form.

Proceed to the blueish building, immigration and aduana are both in there.

Pay 2$ at the immigration, no cordobas accepted!

A woman of the aduana came to check my papers and my bike outside, then signed the TIP (Temporary Import Paper for the motorcycle). After that I had to go back to the aduana counter inside, where they kept the TIP and stamped my customs declaration form.

You have to hand out the declaration form at the boom gate when driving to the Honduras side.

Entering Honduras (1h)

It’s all in the one building on the right (except the copy shop).

You have to pay 2$ for immigration. They take fingerprints and a photo, then print a ‘stamp’ into the passport with a matrix printer. They want to check your yellow fever vaccine, so have it ready!

The aduana is also right there, but nobody was at the counter.

One of those shady helpers signaled me to come to the side entrance, where a woman then started to process my papers.

She printed the TIP and stamped my passport with the motorcycle information (huge stamp!)

Now you have to make two copies of the TIP and the stamped passport. I suggest to make three, as you may need a copy when entering El Salvador.

The copy shop is at the border exit on the right, about 200m away, it’s 1.5 Lempiras per copy (~7 US cents).

The TIP includes the insurance and costs 40$.

She didn’t give me a receipt, as the jefe/boss was not there. He just came back when I was already at my bike, but he then made the receipt (took another 10min).

In Honduras there were some road blocks and burning tyres in Choluteca due to demonstrations, but I could get through without issues.

Later I got stuck south of El Comercio. But the road block fortunately dissolved at noon.

I spent one night in hotel sunset in Nacaome. The next morning I left at 8am, hoping to be earlier than the road blocks.

There was one 1km before the border, but they let motorcycles through.

Exit Honduras (10min)

Again fingerprints at the immigration and then give back the TIP a counter to the right. They do another big stamp in the passport for the bike.

Entering El Salvador (2h)

This border looked easy at first, but it took way longer than expected.

At the Immigration, three officers inspected my stamps for about 15 minutes. But then they let me go without any explanation (I later found out when leaving El Salvador, see update below). You don’t even get a stamp in El Salvador.

Just when it was my turn at the aduana the officer took his coffee break. 20min later he started to process the papers. He even gave me an English form for the motorcycle (chassis number, brand, model, etc). But then he wanted a copy of the TIP of Honduras! Which I didn’t have. I had a photo, so he wanted me to print it somehow. I suggested to mail it, but he couldn’t receive emails. In the end he copied the stamps of Honduras from my passport. It took him another 30min to enter the information into the computer and print. But instead of Switzerland he selected Sweden! When I pointed it out to him, he said, Switzerland was not in his computer. But I insisted and showed him that the country code is CH and he needs to scroll way up to find it.

After I finally got this paper I needed to drive about 5km to another aduana, where I had to get my new papers stamped. There were hundreds of trucks there waiting for their paperwork to be processed! But they let me right through to the counter. Then the computer system was down, so I waited for another half an hour… but finally I made it to San Miguel.


When I left El Salvador, they again discussed my passport for about 15min! But this time I got an explanation:

It’s about the CA-4 (like Schengen, but in Central America). When I entered Nicaragua, I came into the CA-4 area. I got the stamp, but they forgot to write how many days I was allowed to stay (usually 90 days for the whole CA-4 area, not per country!). So basically the stamp was incomplete and officially I would be allowed only 30 days (or even less). And as El Salvador does not do stamps, they could not ‘fix’ it. They told me that the immigration in Guatemala should fix it with their stamp and indicate the remaining days (of those 90), and that’s what they did. I’m kind of proud of myself that I was able to explain my problem in Spanish to the Guatemalan immigration officer 😁

Border crossing Costa Rica-Nicaragua

There’s a lot of bureaucracy to enter Nicaragua, but it surprisingly didn’t take much time, just 1.5 hours for both crossings (including 15min waiting for the Costa Rican customs to open at 9am). Interestingly I didn’t need any copies, as they had copy machines this time!

An online form has to be done one week before entering Nicaragua: Without that form, you may be stuck at the border for some hours until it get approved.

I took the smaller border crossing at San Pancho.

Leaving Costa Rica

There’s a big parking lot on the back where you must park. I didn’t really like it because I couldn’t see my motorcycle back there while doing the paperwork. But as it was early in the morning (8:45), there were not many people around.

You have to walk all around the fenced area, as there is no entry from the parking lot. All the buildings are just white containers with the offices in there. The descriptions below (right/left containers) are referring to the entrance of this area from the West.

Go to the first container on the left and pay the 7$ or 5000 colones exit fee. You’ll get a ticket, which is needed for the immigration. Alternatively you can pay at the provided ATM, but I didn’t try it. At this office they also made me a copy of the TIP (Temporary Import Paper) for the customs.

Go to the second container on the left side to the immigration to get the exit stamp. They open at 7am, but the customs (aduana) opens at 9am! I had to wait 15 minutes for the customs to open.

The customs is in the last container on the right. They stamp the original TIP and the copy, which you keep.

Took me half an hour, including 15 minutes waiting for the customs to open.

Back on the main road there’s a police check point on the left and you have to show your stamped passport and TIP before you are allowed to proceed to Nicaragua.

Entering Nicaragua

When I got to the Nicaraguan side I got approached by two officials, both wanted to see my passport and vehicle registration. One guy seemed to be responsible to write down the information of all persons which enter this border crossing area. The other handed me the immigration declaration form and wrote my motorcycle number plate onto it.

Then I had to proceed to the fumigation a few meters further, where a guy sprayed my tyres. After that I could go to the parking on the left side on the road.

There you are supposed to go to the police officers to get your declaration form stamped. They are just sitting there at a small table in front of the immigration office and are looking bored. Not sure what this stamp is for, but without it the customs won’t accept your declaration form later…

Now you have to pay 4$ for the fumigation process. The caja for this is on the left side of the immigration (I needed to ask, didn’t see it at first). You get a ticket, which is needed for the customs.

I got approached by another official (outside of the immigration building) and he started to ask me the same questions as the online form. So I showed him my email with the online confirmation number and he was very happy! He then sent me inside to the immigration. This costs another 12$ (2$ bureaucracy fee and 10$ tourist tax), you get your stamp in the passport and two receipts.

Go back outside to the round building, that’s the customs. You need to give all the papers and tickets to the lady there and she will do copies and give you the TIP. At the same place but at a different lady you’ll get the insurance, it’s 12$.

Finally go back to the police desk to get the TIP stamped. This seems to count as an ‘all done, free to go’ stamp.

When driving out of the border crossing area, there are two other guys which want to see your passport and paperwork again. One guy is the opposite of the very first one and ‘signs you out’ of the area and the second one seems just to be there to feel important.

My luggage never got searched or scanned nor have I been asked if I carry a drone with me (which I did).

There are no shady ‘helpers’ on this border, just officials. And they always help you out when you are looking lost and don’t know where to go and what to do next. So although it’s more complicated than other borders, it was no issue at all and everyone was friendly and helpful.

Border crossing Panama-Costa Rica

I took the middle border crossing in Rio Sereno from Panama to Costa Rica. It’s not busy as the big one in the south. I was the only one leaving Panama and met just one couple on the Costa Rica side. The whole crossing took more than two hours, but most of it was just waiting for the Costa Rican insurance to be processed (details below). Without this waiting time, it would be done in less than an hour.

Make sure you drive in from the north east between the Panamanian buildings (see map below). Somehow I came from the south and was technically already out of Panama. The customs got confused why I came from the other side, but wanted to leave Panama…

Leaving Panama

The immigration office is the building north of the road and the customs (aduana) on the south. Just park the bike/car on the road between the buildings. At the immigration they take a photo of you and your fingerprints. He wanted a copy of my passport, although he had a copy machine right behind him…

Head to the aduana south of the road to give the TIP (temporary import paper) and you are free to leave.

The Panamanian side took me just 15 minutes.

Entering Costa Rica

Drive right up on the gravel road to the second and third buildings. The white containers under the roof is the immigration. This took only 5 minutes. The new building after the containers is the customs. This will take some time here.

They start the process and need passport and the vehicle papers to make copies. Meanwhile you need to complete two forms: one for the vehicle and one for importing goods (or money over 10000$).

Then she will hand you a paper with the bank account information to pay the vehicle insurance (seguro). It is 37$/20159colon for a motorcycle and has to be payed at the supermarket south of the customs. You can see the red roof of the supermarket from the customs.

Go into the supermarket and there to the back and walk up the right stairs. If there is nobody sitting at the computer, then knock on the white door. You can pay with USD also for everything else in the store.

Go back to the aduana with the payment confirmation. From here on it will take about an hour for the insurance: they send the information to an insurance company in another city, which will process and print the paper, make a photo of it and send it back to the customs. After getting the photo of the new insurance, the customs will further process the TIP. You will not get the original insurance paper, but a print of the photo, stamped by the customs. Now she asked me for copies of the passport and vehicle paper, although she already did some an hours earlier… just make sure you always have copies with you.

Another customs officer came to see the bike and check the plate and the chassis number. I didn’t need to open the luggage.

If you ride a motorcycle in Costa Rica, you must wear a reflective band! I got one for free from other bikers, but I’m sure you will get some at motorbike shops in the next town.

Two signatures later I successfully entered Costa Rica!