Driving to Mexico
Are you thinking of crossing the border to Mexico for vacation? Before packing your things, get a head start with these tips below.
The land border between the United States and Mexico is the busiest international crossing in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people, entire families and vehicles cross from one side to the other every day to go to work, visit family and even go shopping, sightseeing or on vacation.
If you're thinking about driving to Mexico and crossing the southern border by car while on vacation, or during the winter holidays, here are answers to the most commonly asked questions — questions that you're probably asking yourself. Let's get started!
What are the restrictions for driving between Mexico and the U.S. due to COVID-19?
Due to the pandemic, the U.S. started restricting entry along the land borders with Mexico and Canada beginning in March of 2020. However, since then, those restrictions have applied to international travelers coming into the U.S. and not to permanent U.S. residents or citizens coming back into the country. For its part, Mexico never placed any restrictions on entry. Additionally, the U.S. government announced that it would soon open the border to international travelers who show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
What do I have to pay to drive across the border?
Mexican citizens do not have to pay but must show their Mexican documentation, such as a passport, ID card, certified copy of their birth certificate or naturalization certificate, consular ID card, etc. Citizens of the U.S. and other countries whose stay in Mexico will be longer than 7 days have to pay a non-resident fee (DNR), which grants the right to visit the country without permission to conduct paid activities. For 2021, the established fee is 594 Mexican pesos, which equals about $30. It could be said that, in a way, paying the fee is the same as paying for a tourist visa. If you don't pay upon entering into Mexico and decide to stay longer than 7 days, you will be charged when you go to return to the U.S. For more information about these requirements and others, check out the guide Héroes Paisanos published by the Mexican government (only available in Spanish).
Can I drive across the border in my own car?
Yes. However, if you are thinking about travelling in further than the border cities, you'll need to carry out certain transactions beforehand that we'll discuss later. Furthermore, you'll have to pay some fees and carry documentation with you.
What do I need to travel to Mexico by car?
In order to enter the country in a vehicle, you have to have a valid Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (more about this later) and have the sticker for it on your windshield. You'll also need your driver's license (current and in good standing) on top of documentation showing your migratory status.
How do I get a permit to enter Mexico in my vehicle?
The transaction is called Temporary Vehicle Importation and you can complete it online via Banjercito, a governmental entity of Mexico. It allows you to go back and forth multiple times during a six month period and is strictly for non-citizens (tourists) and Mexicans who are U.S. residents that want to enter Mexico with a vehicle from the U.S. Mexicans who are permanent residents of the U.S. must show their Green Card, U.S. passport or passport card.
Do I need to pay to enter Mexico in my vehicle?
Yes. Payments for the Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit are made in dollars (or the equivalent in Mexican pesos), and are a little less ($45 + tax) if made online through Banjercito 10 to 60 days before bringing a vehicle into Mexico. It costs a bit extra if you do the transaction at customs when entering the country or at the Mexican Consulate in the U.S. ($51 + tax). In addition to this payment, however, you have to pay a security deposit to ensure that the vehicle returns within the authorized timeframe. The total (in dollars) depends on the year of the vehicle:
- 2007 and later: $400
- 2001–2006: $300
- 2000 and prior: $200
While the permit is still valid, you can recoup that money at the border offices of the Mexican entity Banjercito when you go to cancel the permit for good.
Is my U.S. auto insurance good in Mexico?
International travelers must show that they are capable of taking on financial responsibility for any physical damages or bodily harm that occur while driving in Mexico. Even though U.S. insurance companies try to offer you protection for up to a certain distance from the border, insurance from the U.S. or Canada is not seen as valid according to Mexican law. In other words, if you drive into Mexico beyond the border zones, it will be mandatory for you to get liability insurance (also called "third party liability") from a company based in the Mexican Republic. You'll be able to find one easily doing an internet search and, at any rate, you'll see the offices of different companies and Mexican insurance brokers at various international crossings.
Is it dangerous to drive to Mexico around the holidays?
This is a tricky question because depending on who you ask, you might get different answers. The U.S.-Mexico border is almost two thousand miles long. With so many connecting highways, international bridges, border crossings and ports of entry, there are definitely some routes that are more dangerous than others where assaults, theft and even extortion by real or fake police officers have been reported. In spite of that, as "las fiestas decembrinas" ("the December festivities" — the winter holiday season) approaches, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, and Americans of Mexican descent, take off to Mexico to visit family in vehicles loaded with gifts for them. Due to the possible dangers, thousands of vehicles and families organize themselves into motorized caravans that come together near the border to make the journey as a unit. Offering protection to one another, these caravans also frequently receive protection from the police and military, granted by the Mexican authorities in support of the "héroes paisanos" (heroic countrymen). If you're thinking about visiting Mexico in December, consider looking into these motorized caravans. They are easy to find by searching on social media sites or on travel blogs.
Now that you have information to help you prepare for your trip to Mexico, learn other travel safety tips about how to be alert when using rest areas, driving in heavy traffic, staying at a hotel or if you encounter bad weather while on the road.