U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise extreme caution before committing to invest in property. The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated approximately 28,000 real properties, many of which are still in dispute or pending resolution by the Nicaraguan Government. Although the Nicaraguan government has resolved several thousand claims by U.S. citizens through compensation or the return of properties, there remain unresolved claims registered with the Embassy. Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.
Aside from historic expropriations, the U.S. Embassy has also seen an increase in property disputes in recent years, and the Nicaraguan judicial system offers little relief when the purchase of a property winds up in court. The Embassy is aware of numerous cases in which buyers purchase property supported by what appear to be legal titles only to see themselves subsequently embroiled in legal battles when the titles are contested by an affected or otherwise interested third party. Once a property dispute enters the judicial arena, the outcome may be subject to corruption, political pressure, and influence peddling. Many coastal properties have been tied up in courts recently, leaving the buyer unable to proceed with the intended development pending lengthy and uncertain litigation. In other cases squatters have simply invaded the land while the police or judicial authorities are unable (or unwilling) to remove the trespassers. Again, the Embassy advises that those interested in purchasing Nicaraguan property exercise extreme caution.
Please note that Nicaraguan law currently prohibits any individual from buying beach-front property (including islands) unless the original land title was registered before the 1917 Nicaraguan Agrarian Reform Law or a title that was issued as a result of the 1987 Agrarian Reform Law. Coastal properties with titles pre-dating 1917 are not risk-free, however. In 1987 the Nicaraguan Constitution established the property rights of indigenous communities over territory they have traditionally occupied. In June 2009, Nicaragua passed the new Coastal Law, which stipulates that all oceanfront land within 50 meters of the high tide is under the zoning authority of the municipalities, but owners retain ownership of their property. Any construction or commercial activity along the shoreline must be approved by the municipalities. There is also a five meter ban on construction and commercial activity along lakes, lagoons, and rivers. The Embassy advises extreme caution when considering the purchase of coastal property in Nicaragua.
Reform to Retired Residents Law: To establish residency, foreign retirees will need to demonstrate a monthly foreign income or pension of at least $600, with an additional $200 for each family member dependant. Legal retiree residents of Nicaragua will be exempt from import taxes for vehicles valuing less than $25,000, and the waiting period to import a vehicle decreased from five years to four years.
Currency and Credit Cards: U.S. dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses in urban and tourist areas. Visitors who need to change dollars are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place. ATMs are available at banks and the larger hotels in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas. However, individuals should exercise caution when using a teller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see them withdrawing cash. Traveler’s checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio"). Visitors will also find enterprising individuals - ‘cambistas’ - waving wads of cash in the street. Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is not recommended.
The U.S. Embassy has noted an increase in credit card fraud. Although local police authorities have made arrests in conjunction with credit card scam operations, the danger for abuse continues. Illegal use can include “skimming” or making a copy of the magnetic strip on the credit card or simply copying the number for later use. U.S. citizens who do continue to use credit cards in Nicaragua are advised to check statements frequently to monitor for abuse and/or to ask banks to email them when transactions exceed a certain number or amount.
Disaster Preparedness: Nicaragua is prone to a wide variety of natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. Travelers should heed the advice of local disaster authorities if a natural disaster occurs. Anyone who is at a beach area when an earthquake occurs should be prepared to move swiftly to higher ground (when safe to do so) to avoid any possible tsunami that the quake might generate. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Boundary Disputes: On the Atlantic side, nautical travelers should be aware that there is an ongoing boundary dispute with Colombia over the San Andres Island archipelago and the surrounding waters. In November 2012, a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague granted Colombia sovereignty over the islands of the San Andres archipelago and extended Nicaragua’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by approximately 90,000 km², but tensions over the area remain.
Nicaragua and Costa Rica have disputed the ownership and dredging rights of Harbor Head (sometimes referred to as Isla Calero), an area of approximately two square kilometers at the eastern termination of the San Juan River. Both Nicaragua and Costa Rica have sent security forces to the region, so travelers should exercise caution. The case is currently pending International Court of Justice resolution.
Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use both the Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters.
Customs Regulations: U.S. citizens and mission/aid groups are reporting growing problems with the length of time to clear supplies through Nicaraguan Customs. Unfortunately, customs officials are unresponsive to attempts by the Embassy to expedite the process. All groups trying to import supplies should contract well in advance of their visit with a recognized customs broker for assistance.
Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the U.S., and commercialization of said goods. evere criminal penalties may apply.
Please note that in order to import medicine you need the approval of the Ministry of Health’s Pharmacy Department. This regulation also applies to medication being donated for charity. To receive the approval you must submit a detailed list of all the medicine being imported, the expiration dates, and specify whether it is for personal use, retail, or for charity.
U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan Customs officials prior to shipment.