Nicaragua

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Thursday, 16 January 2014.   It contains new information under Safety and security: Crime (limited police presence outside of major urban areas). The level of advice for the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and remote areas of the Nicaraguan Caribbean has been lowered to 'exercise a high degree of caution', which is the same as Nicaragua overall. We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Nicaragua because of the risk of serious crime.

Nicaragua overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Nicaragua because of the risk of serious crime.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • The hurricane season is June to November. Landslides, mudslides and flooding may occur. In the case of a hurricane, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency authorities. See the Natural Disasters section for detailed advice.
  • Australia has a Consulate in Nicaragua, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). The Australian Embassy in Mexico provides full consular assistance to Australians in Nicaragua.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
    • subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued.
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Entry and exit

Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), foreigners may travel between Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala for periods of up to 90 days without completing entry and exit formalities. This period begins at the first point of entry to any of these countries. Visitors can request an extension to their CA-4 visa prior to its expiry; however visitors who stay more than 90 days without permission may be fined and expelled from any of the four countries. Visitors expelled from one country may be refused entry to the others.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Nicaragua for the most up to date information.

Minors travelling with one parent or with a third party must have notarised written permission of the absent parent(s) or legal guardian to depart Nicaragua.

A valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate is required for travellers arriving in Nicaragua from Yellow Fever endemic countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides a list of countries in which Yellow Fever is endemic.

If you are travelling to Nicaragua through the United States of America, including if you are transiting Honolulu or other American cities, you will need to meet US entry/transit requirements. You should check your visa requirements the nearest US Embassy or Consulate well in advance of travel. See also our travel advice for the United States of America.

Airlines may not accept passengers bound for destinations within the US without evidence of an onward or return ticket, even if the person may be eligible to enter the US under the visa waiver program.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/Political tension

Violent protests have occurred in the past. Protesters may set up road blocks with little warning and public transport and traffic can be disrupted. You should not attempt to cross road blocks.

You should avoid all demonstrations, political rallies and large public gatherings as they may turn violent. You should monitor the media for new information about safety and security risks.

There are boundary disputes in the Caribbean coastal waters between Nicaragua and neighbouring Honduras. Boats and fishing vessels have been detained and impounded.

Crime

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Nicaragua because of the high risk of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

We recommend that you do not discuss your travel plans with strangers or in public areas. Avoid non-essential travel at night.

The risk of violent crime, including armed robbery and assault is significant, particularly in Managua, Granada and San Juan del Sur, as well as in Bonanza, La Rosita and Siuna in the north-east, and on Corn Island. Gang violence has occurred near major hotels, bus terminals, beaches and markets. 'Express kidnappings', where individuals are abducted and forced to withdraw funds from an ATM to secure their release, have occurred. Many criminals carry weapons and offering resistance can lead to even greater risk and violence.

There is an extremely limited police presence outside of major urban areas, in particular the remote beach communities on the Pacific Coast and the Atlantic Coast autonomous regions. Due to the remoteness of these areas and lack of police coverage, the areas are used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements. You should only travel within tourist areas and avoid isolated locations.

The Caribbean coastal area of Nicaragua is a known transit zone for illegal drugs.

Armed gangs carry out kidnappings, robberies and extortion in the northern border region. Travel to the Honduran border should only be undertaken on highways with border crossings (at Guassaule, El Espino and Las Manos).

Robberies and assaults have occurred in unofficial taxis and often include the use of weapons. We recommend you use official taxis, which have a clearly visible red number plate, or radio despatched taxis, which are available at the International Airport and larger hotels. Do not share taxis with strangers at any time. Before starting your journey make a note of the taxi's registration number and telephone number.

Petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is common. Criminals are known to target public transport, tourist areas, hotels, markets and vehicles stopped in traffic. You should remain alert when visiting markets in the vicinity of the old cathedral in Managua, near Tica Bus (the terminal for buses arriving from Honduras and Costa Rica) and at public transportation terminals.

You should avoid walking alone, particularly on isolated beaches, and travelling on buses after dark. Avoid taking public transport where possible and be cautious of anyone offering assistance on public transport, including on long-distance trips, as they may have criminal motives.

Attacks on vehicles have been reported, including buses operated by hotels, along the Managua-Leon, Tipitapa-Masaya and Somotillo-Chinandega highways. Armed banditry occurs in areas near Bonanza, La Rosita and Siuna (the Mining Triangle) in north-eastern Nicaragua.

Thieves posing as tour guides, particularly on the Island of Ometepe, have robbed travellers. You should use well-known, reputable tour operators.

Credit card fraud is reportedly on the increase. Be vigilant when using your credit card.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas. There are relatively low daily withdrawal limits from ATMs in Nicaragua. The US dollar (cash and traveller’s cheques) is the only foreign currency freely exchangeable in Nicaragua.

Exercise caution when using ATMs. For security reasons we advise you to use ATMs available at banks and in shopping centres.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques, including your visa entry stamp. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Traffic conditions are dangerous due to poor quality roads, lack of signage and local driving practices. Traffic accidents are a common cause of death and injury. Vehicles involved in an accident should not be moved until authorised by a police officer. Travel should only be undertaken during daylight hours and travelling in groups is advisable. You should not hitchhike. Ensure that any vehicle you are travelling in has the windows closed and the doors locked. For further advice, see our Road travel page.

There are unmarked landmines in the northern border region which pose a significant danger if you venture off the main roads. Affected areas are not always clearly marked.

Check the safety conditions at the beaches on the Pacific coastline of Nicaragua as strong currents and undertows are prevalent. Lifeguards and warning signs may not be in place.

Adventure travel, including trekking in volcano or other remote areas should only be undertaken with an experienced local guide. Hikers should ensure they have sufficient provisions when preparing for any climb.

Power blackouts in all parts of the country are frequent. Blackouts can be expected for up to five hours a day, especially during the dry season from July to August.

Airline safety

Airline and air charter safety and maintenance standards vary throughout the world. It is not known whether maintenance procedures and safety standards on aircraft used on internal flights are always properly observed or whether passengers are covered by airline insurance.

Please refer to our Air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Nicaragua, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we cannot get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe, including heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences.

It is illegal to photograph official buildings in Nicaragua. You should check with local authorities before taking photographs.

Drivers involved in road accidents resulting in death or injury are subject to arrest and/or detention until responsibility has been established by the courts. This process could take a period of weeks to months.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australian overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our Health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Medical facilities are basic in the capital Managua, and are very limited in smaller towns and rural areas. Doctors and private hospitals may require cash payment prior to providing treatment. Emergency ambulance services and certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments are not available in Nicaragua. Serious medical emergencies may require evacuation, at considerable cost, to the USA where the cost of medical treatment is very high.

Malaria is a risk in rural areas throughout Nicaragua, including the outskirts of Managua. Dengue fever is endemic in Nicaragua. There have been reported cases of cholera and leptospirosis. Other insect-borne diseases (including Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis) are also a risk to travellers, particularly during the wet season (April to November). We recommend you take prophylaxis against malaria where necessary and take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis, and rabies) are prevalent. More serious outbreaks of some of these diseases occur from time to time. We advise you to drink bottled water or boil all drinking water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

Australia has a Consulate in Nicaragua, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports).

Australian Consulate, Managua

Optica Nicaraguense 4 cuadras abajo
Managua
Nicaragua
Telephone: (505) 2266-1925 ext 1102

You can also obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy which is in Mexico:

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario 55 (Polanco)
Col. Bosques de Chapultepec, C.P.
11580 Mexico D.F. MEXICO
Telephone (52 55) 1101 2200
Facsimile (52 55) 1101 2201
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au

If you are travelling to Nicaragua, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency-whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Hurricanes: The hurricane season is June to November when landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services may occur. In the case of a hurricane, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

If you are travelling during hurricane season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. You can check the latest hurricane information at the National Hurricane Center website.

In the event of an approaching hurricane, follow the instructions of local authorities. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The hurricane could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe weather page.

Landslides and flash flooding may occur throughout the year. Information on hurricanes or other severe weather conditions can be obtained from the National Hurricane and Tropical Prediction Center, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency or the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

Santiago Volcano, approximately 25km south of Managua, is active. San Cristobal and Cerro Negro volcanoes are also active. We strongly advise you against hiking near volcanoes or in other remote areas without the services of an experienced guide.

Nicaragua is located in an active earthquake zone.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.

See also information under Entry and exit.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.