Hundreds of travelers trying to cross Costa Rica’s northern border with Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas this week were met with chaos and disorder, thanks to a new $5 tax that no one seemed to know about.
The charging of the tax, and lack of information for the public, resulted in long lines, hassle and delays.
Beginning on Dec. 2, the Costa Rican government began charging a $5 “roadway tax” at border crossings that can only be paid at Bancrédito branches. The problem is there are no Bancrédito offices or ATMs at the northern border.
On Monday, dozens of travelers were forced to return to Liberia to the bank’s nearest branch, located some 50 miles away and a one-hour trip each way.
Long lines of annoyed and angry travelers crowded the bank offices in Liberia, and many were forced to reschedule their trips.
The problem forced the Immigration Administration to temporarily suspend verification of the tax payment to expedite passage across the border on Tuesday, according to Immigration Director Kathya Rodríguez.
“Immigration is only responsible for verifying that travelers are carrying a receipt [for the $5 tax payment]. … But it is entirely up to each traveler to make the payment before arriving at the border, as currently there are no authorized collection sites at Peñas Blancas,” Rodríguez told the daily La Nación.
To confuse matters even more, Rosaura Bermúdez, a spokeswoman with the Finance Minister, told The Tico Times that officials would not suspend collection and verification of the tax. She reiterated that “the tax cannot be paid at Peñas Blancas.”
After signing an agreement with the Tax Administration, Bancrédito offered to install ATMs at Peñas Blancas, but the bank has yet to do so.
A press release from the Finance Ministry sent on Nov. 26 stated that Bancrédito will install ATM’s at Peñas Blancas and at the local cooperative Coopealianza within two weeks.
On Friday, Bancrédito did not respond to Tico Times requests for a specific date on which the ATMs would be installed.
After several calls to the bank’s main facilities in San José and a local branch in the provincial capital of Liberia, an employee from the bank’s Agreements Department said they would address the issue next Monday, as the department’s director, Neftalí Garita, who was appointed to explain the issue, was not available.
According to the Finance Ministry website, in addition to Bancrédito branches, travelers also can pay for the tax at Coopealianza, located some 20 kilometers from Peñas Blancas.
The roadway tax was approved in August as a way to fund improvements to the country’s customs facilities.
For now, the best thing to do is to pay the tax at any Bancrédito branch before heading to the northern border.