Crossing the Mexican border can be a tense experience, especially if you’ve never done it before. From where to go, what to bring, and what not to bring it can be an overwhelming experience to prepare for. Luckily, this guide will share everything you need for a smooth trip crossing the Mexican border in a car, van, or RV. Let’s get started!
Preparation is key
Some of the items needed for crossing the Mexican border take time to receive. So it’s important to make sure you have all of the necessary items months before you plan to travel. With that being said, let’s look at what you should make sure to bring with you when crossing the Mexican border.
One of the most important documents you will need when crossing the Mexico border is a valid passport. When traveling by land or sea you can use a valid passport book or passport card.
Children under the age of 16 do not need a passport. Instead, they can show a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or other certificates of citizenship when re-entering the United States. However, anyone 16 and older will need a valid passport or passport card.
2. Drivers license
If you plan to drive in Mexico, just like in the United States, you better have a valid driver’s license. Should you be involved in an accident or have an encounter with law enforcement, they expect you to present it. Even if you don’t plan on driving during your time in Mexico, it’s a good idea to have your driver’s license just in case.
3. Vehicle registration
Aside from your passport, the first document the agents will ask for at crossing is your vehicle registration. 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. And that it isn’t expiring during your trip.
4. Title or approval to drive your vehicle in Mexico
We’ve never needed to show our original vehicle title, but according to the Mexico government’s website. It’s a document that could be necessary in order to cross. If you do not own your vehicle outright (meaning you have no legal title to the vehicle) then you can get a letter of approval from your lender.
This can be a simple letter stating your are legally allowed to take the vehicle into Mexico. Make sure it’s signed. And it should include the dates of travel, lenders contact information, and vehicle information.
5. Mexican auto insurance
If you’re driving your car in Mexico, you are required to have a minimum of $300,000 in special Mexican liability auto insurance for the vehicles you are driving. While you might think that your standard auto insurance policy will do the trick, but it won’t.
You must purchase Mexican auto insurance to protect yourself and others against any accidents, damages, or injuries they cause while driving in Mexico. And a US or Canadian carrier cannot provide that coverage.
We recommend getting your insurance from Baja Bound or MexPro. They offer great coverage rates and their policies can be for a few days or up to 6 months if need be.
6. Tourist permit (FMM)
Any tourists traveling to Mexico on a short-term visit that’s less than 180 days must fill out a Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM). This is the visitor’s card (sort of acts like a visa) allowing you to legally travel throughout the country. This form can be completed at the IMN office sometimes referred to as Banjercito.
In 2022, Mexico began phasing out paper FMMs. Now they are issuing tourist permits by stamping your passport.
Some border crossing stations will have the IMN office at the crossing station, minimizing your stops in getting your FMM approved. At others, the Banjercito or IMN office is about a 10 – 20 minute drive from the border crossing station.
No one will stop you to remind you to stop there, it is your responsibility to get your permit approved. Remember, traveling in Mexico without an approved FMM is illegal so make sure to add this as your first stop after crossing.
7. Temporary Import Permit
If you are going beyond the Free Trade Zone, you may need to register your vehicle for a temporary import permit (TIP). TIPs are a way for the Mexican government to track vehicles that enter and leave the country. This is an effort to reduce the number of people that leave their vehicles here for long periods.
A TIP for a traditional vehicle like a boat, car, or motorcycle lasts as long as your tourist permit allows. For example, if you got a tourist permit for two weeks, the TIP will only be good for two weeks. TIPs for a motorhome are good for ten years.
TIPs cost several hundred dollars depending on the type of vehicle you are importing. However, when you exit the country you get the money back after canceling the TIP at the Banjercito office at the border.
8. Credit or debit card in a name that matches your vehicle registration
If you need to purchase a TIP for your vehicle. Banjercito will require the card name to match the name on the vehicle’s title and registration. You can use a debit or credit card, but make sure you have a card that matches the vehicle owner exactly.
There is no required paperwork for crossing the Mexican border with pets. If you have pets it’s a good idea to have up to date proof of vaccinations. However, we have never been asked for this at the US border or Mexican border.
Returning to the U.S.
Fortunately, a U.S. citizen cannot be denied entry at a border crossing station (#passportprivilege). However, you will likely undergo a secondary inspection and questioning if you do not have the proper and valid travel documents.
You will need your passport and vehicle registration to return to the United States. Additionally, if you are traveling with pets, they may ask for vaccination records.
There are no rules or policies for how long the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can detain you for questioning. In some extreme cases, CBP could hold you for several hours, but these are extremely rare instances. However, don’t expect officials to be in a hurry or move fast in these types of situations. You’re causing the inconvenience by not having the proper documentation and following the proper protocols.
As you’re returning to the United States make sure to turn in your TIP if you received one. The can only cancel the TIPS at the border crossings. And it must be done by a licensed agent.
The key to a smooth trip across the border is planning. If you’re looking for extra tips to make the process go as easy as possible take a look at this post. Save yourself the trouble and get forms and documents in order a few days before crossing. You’ll be thankful when your border crossing is a breeze.