Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Nicaragua?
Nicaragua is an edgy and exciting country but it can be dangerous too. Driving and parking both require special caution in a country where crime is high.
Out of the cities, you'll find beautiful countryside with high cloud covered peaks and ramshackle villages with friendly locals.
Seat Belt Laws
Seat belts are mandatory by law in Nicaragua for all occupants of a moving vehicle.
Drinking and Driving
The drink driving laws in Nicaragua state that you must have no more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in your body. This equates to around one drink meaning that depending on other factors, one drink could take you over the limit. For that reason, don’t drink and drive at all, especially given the quality of accommodation in Nicaragua’s prisons and the fact that any arrest for driving under the influence results in a minimum 48 hour spell in prison.
Must Have Documents
There are no legal requirements for the carrying of documents in Nicaragua but you’d be advised to make sure you have your driving licence, insurance document and registration documents. You need to have an international drivers licence too if you’re from outside of South and Central America.
The speed limits for Nicaragua are as follows:
Highways 100 km/h
Open roads: 60 km/h
In Town: 45 km/h
Minimum Driving Age
You have to be at least 18 to be able to drive in Nicaragua. If you're renting a car the minimum age is 25.
Safety Camera Warning Devices
Safety camera warning devices are not illegal in Nicaragua but, given the standard of the roads and local driving skills in the country, it is wiser to stick to the limits.
On the Spot Fines
Almost certainly during your stay you’ll be pulled over by the police for checks of documentation and the vehicle. Foreign tourists are sometimes seen as a source of cash for hard up police units but if possible to do so safely you should ask for a ticket if you’re accused of any offence. Legally issued tickets can be paid at a police station with 14 days of issue.
Child Safety Rules
In Nicaragua, children under the age of 12 cannot sit in the front of a vehicle. Instead they should be sat in the rear where those under four years old must be securely fitted into an age appropriate seat system. If you’re hiring a car, you should tell us your requirements when you book and we’ll ensure that the appropriate system is fitted before you collect the car.
A minimum of third party insurance is compulsory in Nicaragua and must be purchased in the country. All car hire customers have to buy local insurance specific to them when they collect their vehicle.
Rules of the Road
Standard international driving laws apply with one or two exceptions.
• Foreign registered cars are more likely to be stopped by the police
• The roads are regularly used by animals, carts and pedestrians meaning that you must take extra care
• Speed bumps are common but rarely marked meaning a potentially uncomfortable ride
• Coastal roads are often simply dirt or sand tracks so you’ll need a 4 x 4 to negotiate them
• Drivers often use hand signals rather than those provided by the car manufacturer
No specific regulations exist for towing another vehicle or trailer. You should simply ensure that it is securely attached and that you have good visibility whilst other road users know that the vehicles are engaged in towing.
Whilst there are no fixed cameras in Nicaragua, hand held speed cameras used in mobile speed traps are common and certainly are part of the many checkpoints. Tickets for speeding offences should be issued on the spot but beware of being asked to pay there and then.
Using Mobile Phones when driving
It’s illegal to talk or text on a mobile phone whilst driving in Nicaragua unless you have a hands free kit.
In much of Nicaragua, parking is unregulated and it’s wherever you can find a convenient space, simply make sure you don’t cause an obstruction or inconvenience others.
Paid parking is infrequent in small towns and villages and more often found in the bigger towns and cities. In Managua there are controlled parking bays along the roads in the business district as well as parking garages, covered and uncovered. Even in daytime it’s best to park where your car and you are visible or use an attended garage. At night it’s even more important and you should park somewhere well-lit and as close to your destination as possible, even if that means paying.
There is very little enforcement of parking regulations in Nicaragua but if you obstruct others or business access you can be towed and fined.
Disabled drivers are left to their own devices and this usually means trying to find a spot close to where you are going or asking for assistance at an attending parking garage. You’ll usually receive some assistance but there is no official stance on disabled parking.
Motor Way Signs
There are several motorways in Nicaragua which have been renovated recently making them of a good standard. What is missing are road signs which are few and far between and a system for ensuring that many of the vehicles are fit for use on a motorway. Signs, where you do encounter them, will be green with white writing.
- Give way - Ceda el paso
- Traffic lights - Semaforas
- Right of way – Prioridad
- Exit – Salida
- Danger – Peligro
- No parking - Prohibido aparcar
- Slow – Despacio
- Lane – Un carril
- City centre – Centro ciudad
- Carretera – Local Highway
- Roadworks – Obras
- Where is the nearest petrol station? – ¿Donde es la gasolinera la más cercana?
- Excuse me, I’m lost – Por favor, estoy perdido…
- Go straight on – ‘Siga todo recto’
- Turn right – ‘Toma el giro a la derecha’
- Turn left – ‘Toma el giro a la izquierda’
- Detour - Desviacion
- Toll Road – Carretera de Peaje
- Road Closed – Cerrado.
- Road Open – Abierto
- Motorway – Una autopista
- One way street – Direccíon unica
- Dual Carriageway - Autovia
You’ll usually only find traffic lights in the big cities like Managua, elsewhere it’s take your chances at junctions. Where you encounter traffic lights they tend to follow the US system which should be readily understandable by all.
There are no toll roads in Nicaragua although there are plans to introduce tolls to help fund road maintenance.
The emergency number in Nicaragua is 118 for all emergency services.
What to do in an emergency
If you have a mechanical problem with your hire car you should call the number given to you by the local car hire agent – it’s usually found inside the windscreen or on the documentation. If you’re driving your own car you’ll be at the mercy of local car mechanics and may have to wait some time for assistance.
In the event of an accident you must stop. It is illegal to move vehicles after a crash and if you do, a jail sentence can be imposed. The police must be called and they will bring with them a representative of the insurance company and you should call the medical services if someone is injured. The police and the insurers will issue a report at the scene for you to use to claim damages.
As of November 2014, the average price of 95 octane unleaded petrol in Jersey is 79p whilst diesel is 68p. Prices can vary between the towns and the smaller villages.