9 Things to Know About Crossing The Mexico border

A trip south of the border sounds like an exciting adventure. Whether you’re crossing the Mexico border by car or in an RV, there are a few important things that you need to know. Getting your ducks in a row can help ensure that you have all the necessary documents and items to ensure a smooth trip to Mexico.

Today, we’re sharing nine important things you should know about crossing the Mexico border. Let’s get started!

Is crossing the Mexico border safe?

Mexico border crossing.

The U.S. Department of State has travel advisories of various levels depending on the area throughout Mexico. Much like many international travel destinations, there are safe places and not-so-safe places when crossing the Mexico border by car or RV. Knowing when and where you should and shouldn’t be when crossing the Mexican border is essential for staying safe.

In addition, there are some common sense things you can do to stay safe. Do not wear expensive jewelry, watches, or other signs that you may be wealthy. Avoid traveling at night and use the toll roads as often as possible. If you’re planning to visit clubs, casinos, or bars, make sure you avoid consuming too much alcohol so you can stay alert.

Border towns are notoriously known for higher crime rates than other areas of Mexico, so it’s advised after you cross to make it to your final destination or simply get outside of the border area quickly. However, traveling Mexico is considered safe and millions of people do it unharmed each year.

Do you have to pay money when crossing the Mexican border?

If you’re staying less than seven days in Mexico, there is no fee. However, if you plan to stay for more than seven days, you’ll need to complete the Multiple Immigration Form (FMM) permit from the Instituto Nacional de Migración. The FMM can be issued for a maximum of 180 days and costs around $30 USD. So whether you’re staying for eight days or all 180 days, make sure you pay the fee for your FMM when crossing the border.

9 things you need to know about crossing the Mexican border by car or RV

Before you pack your bags and head south crossing the Mexico border by car or RV, there are several things you need to know. You could find yourself in a complicated situation if you arrive at the border without the proper items. On the other hand, you could also find yourself in a complicated situation if you bring certain things with you to the border. We want you to have a smooth border crossing. So let’s dive into some important things you need to know.

Road in Baja California.

1. Choose your lane wisely

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 also be lanes for those needing to declare items of value that they’ve purchased along the way. 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. In our four times crossing the Mexico border, we were consistently advised to avoid the camion or commercial lanes.

2. You need a valid passport or passport card

Anyone planning to drive across the border will need a passport. 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 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. Make sure you start this process as early as possible to eliminate any potential issues with your trip.

3. Have a valid vehicle registration in your vehicle

You should always drive with the most current vehicle registration in your vehicle. However, if you plan to  cross the Mexican border in your vehicle, you’ll want to double-check to ensure you have it. If not, you could find yourself in a serious situation if Mexican authorities ask to see a current registration. The authorities could confiscate your vehicle and detain you until the matter gets sorted out.

4. Mexican liability insurance is required

Crossing the Mexican border in your vehicle means you’ll need Mexican liability insurance. While many US-based auto insurance companies offer this coverage, it’s not included with every policy. If caught driving in Mexico or you get into an accident without Mexican auto insurance, you could find yourself in serious legal troubles. Driving uninsured in Mexico is a serious offense and the consequences can be severe.

Planning to drive to mexico?

If you plan to drive your car or RV to Mexico you’ll need to purchased special Mexican liability insurance before you enter the country. This is not optional!

Get a free quote for the required insurance from Mexpro in minutes.

5. You cannot take certain things across the border

While many travelers have a long list of items they don’t want to forget to bring, 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.

Cat looking out window at rv park in Guanajuato Mexico.

7. You will need pesos to pay for tolls

While many toll booth stations near the border will accept American dollars, you’ll want to have pesos the further you get away from the border. It’s always good to have some pesos on hand for tolls, but also for paying for food and other items along the way. 

You never know who will and won’t accept American dollars, and you don’t want to pay a ton of fees by using your debit or credit card. Luckily, there are plenty of exchange centers along the most popular routes.

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.

9. Avoid crossing during the rush

Unless you like waiting in unpredictably long lines of traffic, avoid crossing during peak times. The 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.

Crossing the Mexico border doesn’t have to be stressful

Mexico sunset with cactus over ocean.

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.


Liz & Dennis

Liz & Dennis


We’re two travel-loving, real estate investing, foodies exploring North America as full-time RV’ers. This blog is where we share our lessons learned, tips and tricks, and favorite places to eat, see, and RV across North America! We hope it helps you find your wanderlust, plan and prepare for RV life, and get out on the road!


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