The process of crossing the Mexico border in a car, van, fifth wheel, or RV can seem super intimidating if it’s your first time. We’ve crossed the border to RV Mexico three separate times in our RV and still get nervous when it comes to the border crossing.
Getting your ducks in a row before you cross will increase your chances of a smooth (and stress-free) Mexico border crossing. It also means you are less likely to encounter hiccups at the border or after crossing.
To help ease your concerns and ensure a smooth border crossing, we are sharing 10 of our top tips about crossing the Mexico border in a van, trailer, fifth wheel, or RV.
1. Make sure your passport isn’t expiring soon
Anyone planning to drive across the border will need a passport or passport card. The only exceptions to this rule are children under the age of 16. Children under 16 years old can use a birth certificate, naturalization papers, or citizenship certificates.
Getting a passport or passport card can be a daunting and time-consuming task. You must complete the paperwork, take your picture, and ship it off for process by the U.S. Department of State Passport Services. Processing times can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. If you don’t have a passport, make sure you start this process as early as possible to eliminate any potential issues with your trip.
And if you have a passport make sure its expiration date is well beyond your return date for the trip. Border agents can deny entry if your passport expires during your stay or even within a month or two after your expected departure date.
2. Choose your border crossing station wisely
Certain border crossing stations are easier to cross in an RV, fifth wheel, trailer, or van than others. Some will have wider lanes or less traffic making it more conducive for RVs (especially big rigs). Facebook Groups and forums are a great place to find out where other RVers are crossing.
We also share the best border crossing stations in our RV to Mexico Guide. This digital guide shares so many helpful tips about crossing the Mexico border including a checklist for crossing, and a step-by-step process of what the actual crossing is like.
3. Make sure you are in the correct lane
When you’re approaching the border, there will be several options for lanes. Some are commercial lanes, and others are for passenger vehicles. In addition, there will be Sentri lanes that offer expedited crossing for passengers with special global entry.
It’s super important you do not end up in the Sentri lane by accident. There is nowhere to turn around and you can be fined up to $10,000 or more and even go to jail for this mistake. Read signs. Don’t just take Google Maps’s recommended route. Google Maps often sends you toward the Sentri lane.
If you bring items back home less than the $300 duty-free limit per person, you don’t need to declare most of these items. However, you’ll need to stop and pay the duty if you exceed this limit.
If you’re driving to Mexico in an RV they should advise you on which lane to follow, which is usually the normal car lane or sometimes the bus lane. In our several times crossing the Mexico border, we were consistently advised to avoid the camion or commercial lanes.
4. Secure your Mexican liability insurance beforehand
Crossing the Mexican border in your own vehicle means you’ll need Mexican liability insurance. US and Canadian insurance providers cannot issue the required coverage for your vehicle. Since this insurance is required by law you don’t want to be caught driving without it.
You can secure the required Mexican liability insurance online before your trip. We recommend getting a free quote from Baja Bound. They offer a variety of plans to meet your needs and online proof of coverage instantly.
5. Don’t bring prohibited items to the border
While many travelers have a long list of items they stock up on before crossing the Mexico Border. There are some items you’ll want to ensure you don’t bring to the border. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a long list of items on its website that you should check before you head to the border.
The most important things you want to leave at home are firearms, some fruits and vegetables, and any illegal drug paraphernalia. Ignorance of the rules and regulations will not get you out of trouble. You are responsible for reviewing the list of prohibited items and the requirements for bringing certain items when crossing the border.
6. There’s no paperwork needed for pets
There’s no paperwork needed when crossing the border with cats or dogs. However, it’s a good idea to always travel with an up-to-date rabies certificate, your pet’s vaccination records, and any other important medical records. You never know when they might come in handy. However, we’ve never had any border agent (USA or Mexico side) ask us for this paperwork.
7. Stock up on pesos before crossing
Cash is king in Mexico. The country uses Mexican pesos as its currency. While there are many places you can exchange dollars after crossing the Mexico border. It’s often cheaper and easier to load up before crossing. Reach out to your bank to exchange money. This is often free of charge as long as you have an active account.
You can always get more pesos after crossing from an ATM. But we recommend having around $2,000 pesos on you at the crossing if not more. Baja California and mainland will both have toll booth stations near the border which are cash only.
8. Stays longer than seven days require a permit
If you’re staying for less than seven days, you will need a short-term permit (FMM). However, if you’re staying between eight and 180 days, you must purchase and be approved for a special FMM permit. The Mexican authorities issue these permits at the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) which are usually located at the border crossing or within a 10 – 15 minute drive from the border.
It is up to you to remember to stop here and get this visa. If you continue driving and are pulled over without this, you can be in serious trouble. In 2022, Mexico began phasing out paper FMMs. Now they are issuing tourist permits by stamping your passport.
9. Avoid crossing during the rush
Unless you like waiting in unpredictably long lines of traffic. It’s a good idea to avoid crossing the Mexico border during peak times. Border crossings typically experience the busiest times during the morning and afternoons. Arriving early in the morning or later in the evening can minimize your wait times.
You can visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website to check the current estimated wait times for the various border crossings.
10. Don’t be surprised by a walk-through inspection
It’s extremely common to have a border agent walk through the RV for an inspection. The inspection could be minimal where they open a few cabinets or look through a few things. Or it could be more thorough with detection dogs or vehicle x-ray machines. We’ve heard about agents opening RV walls to check for prohibited items.
Don’t be alarmed if and when the agent comes on board. Be cooperative, but make sure they aren’t taking advantage. Corruption and bribery can be found in Mexico, even at border crossings.
Crossing the Mexico border doesn’t have to be stressful
If you arm yourself with knowledge and get all of your ducks in a row before heading to the border, you’re likely to have a smooth experience. Security at the US-Mexican border is extremely serious and not something anyone should take lightly.
Answer the officer’s questions and be as respectful as possible. If the officers suspect any suspicious behavior from you or anyone in your vehicle, you will likely experience a more intense questioning or inspection. However, take a deep breath and know that millions of people cross the border and that you will likely be back on the road in no time.