In northern Costa Rica, in 2018 and 2019, the fieldwork mainly focused on a migrant reception center in La Cruz, a town near the border with Nicaragua. The security and humanitarian actors active in this center, the migrants who temporarily stayed there or in the town, and the inhabitants of La Cruz themselves gave a glimpse of the local dynamics that characterize migrant journeys. These dynamics include changing migration industries and processes of ethnic differentiation. Through interviews, social mapping and participant observation, it became clear that not only national migration policies, but also unfolding political events in Central America as well as US border externalization influence how migrants are perceived and received in Costa Rica. Although migrants indicated their appreciation of Costa Rica’s relatively humane approach to new arrivals, the wide-reaching influence of securitization and illegalization affect their safety as well as their opportunities for (temporarily) settling in Costa Rica. Local communities respond to their presence by differentiating between migrants in racialized terms, influencing their interactions, migrants’ living conditions, and the extent to which they are able to move on with their lives and journeys.