10 Point Checklist for Driving to Mexico

Making the drive to Mexico can seem difficult if you have never done it before. This is why we have put together a 10 point checklist for you to go  over before making the drive down to Lake Chapala Mexico. These 10 point should cover basically all you need to know and what you need to bring before making the drive. We even include one point for those of you bringing your pets.

1 – Yourselves. To legally come into México you will require a valid Passport. At the border you will present the Passport to an Immigration (INM) officer and receive tourist visa to fill out (When flying the tourist visa can be filled out on the plane, given to you by a flight attendant). Complete the form then return it to the INM officer which he will stamp along with your Passport and return everything to you. The visa is an automatic 180 days. The visa costs 340 pesos +/-, and they will either make you pay for it right there, or often they will tell you to go into a bank at your destination and pay for it. Either way works just fine. This tourist visa is to be returned to INM when you leave México.

2 – Your Pets. International law regarding pets is set, and your veterinarian will know what to fill out on a health certificate for the animals to come into México. But, this form will have a few items that do not need to be filled out for México, fill them out ANYWAY. Sometimes at the border officials will ask for this form, and when they see some boxes not checked off they will insist that they need to be done before you can proceed. They will then offer to call their friend the Vet to come and complete the form for you which will be expensive as they will tell you it’s emergency service. You can do nothing but sit there and get frustrated. Just ask your vet to fill out everything on the health certificate saving you some hassle later.

3 – Your Vehicle. First and foremost the vehicle MUST be in your name with valid registration. You will also need a driver’s license, Passport, tourist visa (listed above), credit card or cash for the permit and bond, and insurance. With all these items you can apply for a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (commonly referred to as a TIP). This in generally obtained in the same building or next door to INM. You will need “official” copies of all the above documents except the insurance. Official means they will do the copies there on their own paper, which oddly enough looks like regular paper. The TIP is about $40 USD and the bond will be $200 – $400 USD depending on the year of the vehicle. If you leave México before this 180 permit expires, by handing it back into the place you receive it the $200 – $400 USD will be returned or credited if you used a credit card. If you do not return it in said amount of time you will lose the deposit/bond. The TIP consists of a nice bonded paper with a decal on it which will be affixed to your windshield next to the rear view mirror.

4 – Your Documents.  Once the above is obtained, you are going to have some very significant pieces of credentials on your person. This better include your: Passport, driver’s license, car import paper, dogs health certificate, and tourist visa. Obviously you will have other forms of ID as well like credit cards etc. ALL OF THIS STUFF MUST REMAIN ON YOUR PERSON WHEN YOU ARE NOT IN THE VEHICLE! If you get out of the car for a break, food, etc., and the car is stolen, you will be in a very dire situation if all those document’s go with the car. Once at your destination you can make black and white copies of everything (except your driver’s license, you must always have that original) and put the originals safely hidden at home. Throw the copies in the car, and you are good to go. Please don’t carry the originals with you, they are a ‘you know what’ to replace.

5 – Personal Items. México allows you to come in with anything you would need for a 6 month stay in a partially furnished home/apartment. So you can bring small electronics, computer, linens, cutlery, small counter top appliances, cd’s dvd’s, etc. customs will not bother you on these items if searched. If you are searched, please do not have guns or drugs in the vehicle or in your possession. Guns AND/OR ammunition is an automatic 9 year prison sentence, and drugs is dependent on how much. 30 days to 10 years as well, and in either case you will never see your car again or its contents. Prescription drugs are not an issue as long as you have the prescriptions.

6 – Border Crossing. At the actual border when you cross the river and enter México you will either choose the line for “Nothing to Declare“, or to “Declare“. I would imagine you will have nothing unless you have bought some big ticket items driving through the US. If you have shopped for smaller items take them all out of the boxes and remove price tags and pretend they are used. Either lane you will go past a red light green light system. If you get the red light you will be directed to the side for a cursory inspection. Have your documents ready. If you get the green light, continue on. Sometimes, rarely, a customs official may still ask you to pull over at a green light if they are suspicious of something. Once past this you will seek out INM and Customs to get your tourist visa and your TIP for the car. Keep everything handy because about 25 km’s into México there is another border check point to enter the interior of México. Here you will encounter the same red light green light system. Have your document’s ready for this as well.

7 – Military and  Federal Police Check Stops. These can be frequent, or none at all. When rolling up to these, roll down all windows, remove sunglasses, and smile courteously. They may ask for documents, or they may want to check the car’s contents. Usually they just wave you through. These are usually quick stops and a good chance to get out and stretch a bit. They are only doing their jobs and have nothing against you, just let them do their thing and be on your way.

8 – Travel. We advise sticking to toll roads when you can, they tend to be safer and more populated with good police presence. Also, if you have an accident or breakdown, the cost of the toll covers medical and car towing/repair. Always travel in the daylight, much easier to see livestock this way.

9 – Money. Most tolls, gas stations, and food stops will only take cash. So be prepared and carry enough cash to get you to your destination. Also note, no one along the way will take US or Canadian cash, so make sure you have pesos. Once at your destination, use your ATM for cash as required. Services in this Lakeside area and Guadalajara do take credit cards, but cash is always best.

10 – Car Insurance. We recommend Lewis and Lewis in California for this. You can buy it on-line and they will send the policy to your home in Canada active for the date you intend to cross into México. They have really good prices and decent insurance. Do not buy at the border, it’s expensive. You can find Lewis and Lewis at www.mexicanautoinsurance.com.

If you are traveling from Laredo, Texas, we have great instructions in km’s to help you get to Lake Chapala and Ajijic Mexico, if that is your destination. To read them in detail and even get a print out check out the page here:

Driving from Laredo to Lake Chapala

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