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Before Driving Mexico

Before you go to Mexico

What should you know before driving to Mexico?

Nearly 16 millions Americans visit Mexico every year and a large portion of them enter via the Mexico border by car, truck, RV and motorcycle.

US Customs and Border Protection offers a "Know Before you Go" brochure for US residents.

There are five important things you must do before you depart for Mexico...

  1. Get a passport.

  2. Get a Vehicle Import Permit if you need one.

  3. Book a reservation for a place stay if you need one.

  4. Purchase Mexico tourist auto/RV/Motorcycle insurance if you are driving.

  5. Purchase International Health Insurance.

Other important items you may want to know about before heading to Mexico Include:

1. Correct Identification/the Passport:

For the latest Mexico entry requirements: Contact the Embassy of Mexico website or call the Embassy at (202) 736-1000 or any Mexican consulate in the US.

Land travelers must have a valid US passport accompanied by acceptable photo identification, such as a state or military issued ID. A passport or passport card is the best method of providing this information.

All US citizens are now required to present a passport book, passport card, or WHTI-compliant document when entering or re-entering the United States. Click here to obtain a US Passport card now (NOTE: Only valid for land/sea travel).

All US citizens are now required to present a valid US passport in order to enter Mexico. This does not apply to the Baja region of Mexico.

Pets must have a health certificate to be able to pass into Mexico. Click here to see where to get a health certificate.

You need your passport to be able to get back into the U.S. after visiting to Mexico. The passport application process requires that you submit an official passport photo. A good place to get one is at a local pharmacy. All passport applicants must also submit an original copy of a state issued birth certificate. Please note, if your birth certificate was issued by a hospital, the U.S. Department of State will not accept it. In order to save yourself some frustration, we recommend you order a new official birth certificate directly from the state where you were born. The passport application process typically takes anywhere from a couple of weeks, up to a month or more, so it is best to get started well in advance. If you are pinched for time or on short notice, you can elect to pay extra money to expedite the process. You can get more information about applying for and obtaining a passport by visiting www.travel.state.gov.

2. Vehicle Importation Permit

Those traveling outside the Free or border Zone (defined as the an area between 20 and 30 kilometers from the border with the US) with their vehicle must obtain a temporary import permit or risk having their vehicle confiscated by Mexican customs officials. At present, the only exceptions to the requirement are travel in the Baja Peninsula, and in the state of Sonora only for vehicles entering through the Nogales port of entry.

You need the following to obtain a Vehicle Importation Permit.

  • Evidence of citizenship

  • The Vehicle Title and registration certificate

  • A Valid Driver's License with photo

  • If the vehicle is financed, is a rental car, is leased, and/or a company car, a notarized letter of permission is required from the lien holder or lending institution.

  • To pay a processing fee to either a Banjercito (Mexican Army Bank) branch located at a Mexican Customs office at the port of entry, or at one of the Mexican Consulates located in the US.

  • Effective June 11, 2011, Mexico has implemented a new policy for the issuance of temporary vehicle permits.

    The Changes are as follows:

    1. The fee for importation of a vehicle is $44.00 USD plus IVA; this fee is the same whether the permit is obtained at the border, consulates or online. https://www.banjercito.com.mx/registroVehiculos/

    2. A guarantee deposit for the return of the vehicle to the US, regardless of the form of payment, we be applied to all vehicles. The amount of the guarantee will be determined by the year of the vehicle. The guarantee will be refunded upon cancellation of the permit at Banjercito offices, as long as it is prior to the expiration date of the permit. The refund will be made in the same form as the deposit was made.

      • 2007 - Newer $400 USD

      • 2001 - 2006 $300 USD

      • 2000 - Older $200 USD

    3. If the vehicle is not returned to the US prior to the expiration date on the permit, or the permit is not canceled upon exiting Mexico, the guarantee deposit will be forfeited.

    4. Before Banjercito issues a permit, they will verify the VIN # to make sure the vehicle does not have any restrictions to be driven in the US or Canada, in which case the permit will not be allowed.

      It is important that we remind our customers to cancel the permit at the border prior to returning to the US, to ensure that they receive their guarantee deposit back.

      Our recommendation, as long as the customers have enough time (between 7-10 days), is that they process the temporary importation permit online. This will improve their experience and avoid the time spent at the border crossing.

Click here to apply for a Vehicle Importation Permit Online Now through the Banjercito website.

Travelers should avoid individuals outside vehicle permit offices offering to obtain the permits without waiting in line, even if they appear to be government officials. There have been reports of fraudulent or counterfeit permits being issued adjacent to the vehicle import permit office in Nuevo Laredo and other border areas. If the proper permit is not obtained before entering Mexico and cannot be obtained at the Banjercito branch at the port of entry, do not proceed to the interior. Travelers without the proper permit may be incarcerated, fined and/or have their vehicle seized at immigration/customs checkpoints. For further information, contact Mexican Customs about appropriate vehicle permits.

Mexpro provides a complete page on obtaining a vehicle Importation Permit and vehicle import FAQs, as well as "Sonora Only" vehicle importation permit information and RV importation permit information.

3. Book a Reservation

You can find reviews and see photos of the different units in hotels and condominiums for your stay in Mexic, and then pick the one you like best. Some places come with a fully stocked kitchen with dishes, utensils, pots, pans, toaster, coffee maker and even a blender. Accommodations are generally less expensive during the middle of the week, than during weekends or holidays, and you may find better deals if you are able to book during the off-times, or off-seasons.

Get a Mexico car insurance quote

4. Mexico Vehicle Insurance

Mexico liability insurance is most likely the second most important thing you will need for your trip. US automobile liability, and most collision and comprehensive, insurance coverage is not valid in Mexico. The US State Department strongly recommends you purchase a full coverage insurance policy that will cover the cost of bail. Please be aware that if you are involved in an automobile accident, you will be taken into police custody until it is determined who is at fault and whether you have the ability to pay any penalty. Purchase Mexico Insurance Now.

As you get closer to the border, you will find lots of little offices along the way offering to provide Mexico insurance policies. Be aware that not all Mexico insurance policies are alike, and just like in the U.S., you'll most likely have a much better experience if you choose to work with a Mexico carrier that is well established, reputable, and reliable. Most people would never trust a "B rated" insurance carrier to provide their coverage in the U.S. or Canada, so why would it ever make sense to use a "B rated" or an "Unrated" insurer when you drive your vehicle into Mexico? In most cases you can purchase an insurance policy a matter of a few minutes with your US or Canadian policy information and driver's license on-hand. Mexpro suggests you use only reputable and reliable "A rated" Mexico insurers. While there may be some cheaper options available out there, such as buying a minimal coverage policy along the border, it's best to use a trustworthy insurance provider you know will take care of your vehicle and occupants should you need to file a claim.

American citizens planning on driving to Mexico should carry a valid driver's license at all times. US driver's licenses are valid in Mexico. Mexican law requires that vehicles be driven only by their owners, or that the owner be inside the vehicle. If not, the car may be seized by Mexican customs and will not be returned under any circumstances.

5. International Health Insurance

An international travel health insurance policy will cover you in the event of a mishap in Mexico. Mexpro offers policies for US and foreign nationals traveling abroad, as well as students, missionaries and others who travel for various reasons.

Mexico Visa or Tourist Permit:

A Mexico Visitor's Permit, called an FM-T, is needed if you plan to visit Mexico for longer than 72 hours or visit outside the “free zone” (defined as the an area between 20 and 30 kilometers from the border with the US). The FM-T is only available to holders of US and Canadian passports, in place of a visa. It is available at Mexican consulates, Mexican border crossing points, and Mexican tourism offices.

You will need a Passport or Passport ID card for each individual traveling into the interior of Mexico in order to obtain an FM-T. There is a fee associated with obtaining the FM-T.

Special requirements regarding bringing children (under the age of 18) into Mexico.

Mexican law requires any non-Mexican citizen under the age of 18 to carry notarized written permission from a parent or guardian not traveling with the child to or from Mexico. This includes children traveling with only one parent. This permission must include the name of the parent, the name of the child, the name of anyone traveling with the child, and the notarized signature(s) of the absent parent(s). The US State Department recommends the permission include travel dates, destinations and a brief summary of the circumstances surrounding the travel. The child must be carrying the original letter – not a facsimile or scanned copy – as well as proof of the parent/child relationship (usually a birth certificate or court document) – and an original custody decree, if applicable. Travelers should contact the Mexican Embassy or closest Mexican Consulate for current information.

A similar letter allowing the person bringing the child into Mexico to make medical decisions for the child in the event of a medical emergency is also a good idea.

Check for any Department of State Travel Warnings.

Click here to learn of any Mexico Travel Alerts or Warnings.

Mexico’s 911:

In the event of an emergency, call the Mexican Ministry of Tourism 24-hour hotline at: [91] 5250-0123. They also have two toll free numbers; in Mexico call [91] 800-90-392, in the US call 1- 800-903-9200.

Learn about your destination:

Research your destination and check the US Department of State’s Background Notes to learn more.

For Longer trips register with the US Embassy or Consulate:

Registration with the US Embassy or Consulate makes your presence and whereabouts known, in case it is necessary for a consular officer to contact you in an emergency or disaster. American consular officers can assist in evacuation, if it becomes necessary. Register with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website.

The US Embassy is located in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc, telephone from the United States: 011-52-55-5080-2000; telephone within Mexico City: 5080-2000; telephone long distance within Mexico 01-55-5080-2000. You may also contact the Embassy by e-mail at: ccs@usembassy.net.mx. The Embassy's Internet address is http://mexico.usembassy.gov/.

Obtain the Consular Information Sheet for Mexico:

Click here to access the Consular Information Sheet for Mexico.

Personal Safety Advice:

Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Victims, who are almost always unaccompanied, have been raped, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses and Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs).

US citizens should be very cautious in general when using ATMs in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business day at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible ATMs on streets).

Give your Passport ID Numbers and Itinerary to Someone at Home:

Leave your detailed itinerary and the id numbers on yours your family members’ passports with a friend or relative in the US in case of an emergency.

What you can bring into Mexico?

Under the FM-T, Mexico Visitor’s Permit, each person traveling to Mexico by land can bring the following items into Mexico duty free:

What merchandise can you bring back across the border from Mexico?

Mexico Regulations (remember these can change so click the link below for updates):

  • Upon leaving Mexico you must pay a 15% tax on items purchased in excess of $300 US. The purchased items can be combined among family members, including children/minors.

  • If the value of the goods purchased is greater than $1000 per family member, after subtracting the $300 US exemption, or if any of the goods is subject to non-tariff regulations or restrictions, you must hire the services of a customs broker.

Click here to learn more about Mexico Customs requirements.

US Regulations (remember these can change so click the link below for updates):

  • Every 30 days, US citizens who have been in Mexico for 48 hours or more are allowed to bring back $800 worth of duty-free merchandise. The purchased items can be combined among family members, including children/minors. (For example, a family of 3: two parents and one child can import up to $2,400 in duty free items.)

  • A flat rate duty must be paid on the next $1,000 worth of purchases

  • Any purchases above the flat rate duty amount must be paid at the duty rates for those items.

  • You are generally allowed to carry one liter of duty-free alcohol back into the United States for personal use.

Click here to learn more about US Customs requirements.

Avoid paying duty on foreign-made personal items by registering them with US Customs before you go to Mexico. Take the items to the nearest Customs office and obtain, at no cost, a Certificate of Registration, which allows duty-free entry for the life of the item.

Border Crossing:

Getting across the border into or out of Mexico can take between 30 minutes and several hours. It is best to travel across the border on a weekday or early in the morning. Weekends and holidays are the worst times to cross the border. For border crossing locations in any state click here. Click this link to get border crossing wait times and information on when borders are open, etc.

All US citizens are now required to present a passport book, passport card, or WHTI-compliant document when entering or re-entering the United States.

All US citizens are now required to present a valid US passport in order to enter Mexico. This does not apply to the Baja region of Mexico.

Pets must have a health certificate to be able to pass into Mexico. Click here to see where to get a health certificate.

Firearms and Knives:

It is best not to carry even a pocketknife into Mexico as this can result in a weapons charge if a knife is found on a traveler who is arrested for a separate offense. Visitors driving across the border should ensure that their vehicles contain no firearms or ammunition. Mexico imposes harsh penalties for bringing as little as one bullet across its borders, including imprisonment.

Penalties for drug offenses:

The importation, purchase, possession or use of drugs can incur severe and strict penalties, including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is tried. Convicted offenders can expect large fines, as well as jail sentences up to 25 years. Individuals 16 years of age or older are tried as adults.

Beach Warnings:

Warning flags on beaches should be taken seriously. Black or red flags mean DO NOT enter the water. Strong undertow and rough surf are common along beaches throughout Mexico, especially on the Pacific coast, and drownings have occurred when swimmers have been overwhelmed by conditions.

Taxis:

Use only the licensed and regulated "sitio" (SEE-tee-oh) taxis. Some illegitimate taxi drivers are, in fact, criminals in search of victims; users of these taxis have been robbed, kidnapped, and/or raped. Hotels, clubs and restaurants will summon a sitio taxi upon request.