Bienvenidos a la frontera, señor. ¿Trae drogas, bombas, armas, o algún producto agrícola?
Welcome to the border, sir. Do you have any drugs, bombs, guns, or agricultural products?
The moment that we had been researching & anticipating for months had finally arrived – we were literally, at that very second, driving into Mexico.
Just moments before, we were cruising through the streets of Laredo, Texas, brainlessly following the all-knowing voice of Google, expecting there to be some sort of obvious & final warning that we were about to drive out across one of the most controversial & infamous international borders in the world.
“Go 0.2 miles, then turn left” Google Girl said.
Suddenly, before we knew it we were in the irreversible current of the flashing lights, reflector cones, & checkpoint stops of the border crossing.
“But, but….I didn’t call my mom to tell her bye yet!” I said frantically.
“Too late now Ford – just go! Keep driving, what are you doing, don’t stop keep driving!’” Gio barked at me.
We both were nervous, perhaps more nervous than we should have been after so much preparation for this moment. A $3.50 U.S. exit fee, a shaky-handed attempt of a Snapchat video of us crossing the Rio Grande, and 45 seconds later we found ourselves in front of this man who wanted to know if I just so happened to have cocaine and/or grenades in my car.
My mind suddenly snapped back to the this moment of truth. “Oh, uh, no, señor. Nada de eso.” (No, sir. Nothing like that)
“Y por qué razón entran al país?” (And why are you entering the country?)
“Para viajar y conocerlo! Manejamos a lo largo de México hacia Guatemala!” (To travel and see it! We’re driving all the way across Mexico to Guatemala!)
The border patrolman cocked his head to the side like a puppy who had just been whistled at.
“Abre la cajuela por favor.” (Open the trunk please.)
I shifted the car into park, took the keys out of the ignition, jumped out of the car, and looked behind me for the first time since crossing into Mexico. There was no one behind us on the bridge. Were we the only people driving into Mexico today?
“Es que tenemos todas nuestras vidas aqui, amigo.” (It’s just that we have our entire lives in here, buddy) I nervously chuckled to the man who was about to search our car, and could hardly be classified as my amigo. I opened the back door and my pillow rolled out onto the street.
Gio and I watched him alertly as he proceeded to unzip a bag, and then open & close our cooler.
Esta bien. Pasenle. Bienvenidos a México. (That’s fine, go ahead. Welcome to Mexico.)
Well, that was easy! I said to Gio as we climbed back in & shut the doors.
“It’s not over yet though, we still have to do all the paperwork for the car,” Gio reminded me.
“Oh yea, don’t get ahead of yourself, gringo” said a voice inside my head.
We took our first left off the bridge, drove a few blocks, did a U-turn and went back under the bridge alongside the river before pulling into the Control Internacional Temporal de Vehículos.
We walked up the stairs and in the door expecting a long line & lengthy process, but instead found only a few people waiting in the cue. Immediately there were people available to help us through each step of the customs, immigration, and paperwork for the car.
Our research finally paid off as we had all the necessary documents in hand, and we breezed right through whole process. Here’s how you can too:
Essential Documents for Driving Into Mexico
- A valid Passport
- A valid driver’s license
- The original title & registration of the car
- Car insurance from a Mexican insurance company (they actually didn’t ask us for proof of this, but it’s illegal to drive in Mexico without insurance). Insurance can be purchased previously online, or at the border.
- If the owner of the car (whoever is listed on the Title & Registration) is not with you, you need a notarized letter from the owner authorizing your temporary import of the car
- If you are loaning/leasing the car, you also need an affidavit/notarized letter from the bank/leasing agency authorizing your temporary import of the car
- Multiple copies of all of these documents. They need at least 1 copy of each document at the border to process paperwork, plus it’s a good idea to have your own backups. (copies can be made at the border for 4 pesos each)
Costs Incurred to Drive A Car Into Mexico
- A refundable vehicle guarantee deposit – $200 for year 2000 & older cars, $300 for year 2001-2006 cars, and $400 for year 2007-newer cars.
This deposit is like a bond put up for your vehicle, which will be refunded when you and the car exit the country before the permit expires (max of 6 months).
- A (as of October 22, 2015) $59 vehicle import fee (permiso vehicular). This fee can also be paid online prior to arriving at the border at the Banjercito website
- $20.17 immigration fee for the tourist VISA
FYI, I was technically charged 5,037 pesos for the vehicle guarantee deposit, 993 pesos for the vehicle import fee, and 332 pesos for my tourist visa, for a total of 6,362.3 pesos, or $386.60 as it appeared credit card statement. Considering I’ll be getting $300 of that back, that’s not bad at all!
The Entire Process Took Maybe 30 Minutes
…and would have taken 20 if I hadn’t laminated the copies of my passport & drivers license. They needed to stamp and keep a copy for their paperwork process, so I had to re-make more, normal paper copies. The immigration officers looked at me with a “planned that one a little too much, eh?” smile. Typical gringo.
I’m not sure if we got lucky, or if the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo border crossing is normally that tranquilo, but all in all, it was one of the easiest border crossings I’ve ever done. That’s not to say that all the US/Mexico border crossings are this easy, because I know they’re not (I’ve heard Tijuana is a zoo). As a general rule of thumb, going back into the US from Mexico is much busier, but you can check out the border wait times here as they update in real-time.
Driving Into Mexico – Not A Big Deal
“Well, it turns out the whole thing actually was kinda easy, wasn’t it?” I said to Gio as we skipped down the stairs back to the car with papers in hand.
“Yea it was, I’m just happy to be back in my homeland though! We’ll see if we have the same luck at the border crossings in Central America she replied.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But for now, mark the first border crossing down as a success,” I said while smoothing the vehicle permit sticker on the inside of my windshield. When I pulled my phone out to take a picture of it, I noticed I still had cell phone service.
“Alright, let’s go get some tacos. But first, let me just take care of one more thing…”
I climbed back in the driver’s seat and kicked my feet up on the dashboard, right about the time the line connected.