Whether you’re going a fun vacation, visiting friends and family or just enroute to another location, driving through Mexico is an adventure. But you don’t want to start this adventure unprepared. Here’s 10 tips that I wish I known before driving through this beautiful country. Check it out!
My husband’s family has been driving down to Mazatlan, Mexico for over 50 years. And for good reason, it’s beautiful down there. But the drive can be an adventure in and of itself. There’s a lot of things that are important to know before you even start your car so you can have a safe, enjoyable vacation. So we’re passing our knowledge along to you in hopes you’ll love Mexico as much as we do. Check it out.
#1: Get proper documentation (birth certificates work)
When you cross the border into Mexico, you don’t need any paperwork. However, when you cross the border back into the United States, you need to prove you’re a legal citizen. You can use three different forms of identification and ALL of them work just fine:
- Passport Card: This allows you to cross into the United States from Mexico by land. They also only cost $65 compared to $165 for a regular passport. However, if you need to fly home for some reason, a passport card won’t work.
- Passport Book: These will work for land or air crossings but cost more during the application process.
- Birth Certificate: Believe it or not, if you have your original birth certificate, you can also cross the border into the US from Mexico. My sister-in-law’s family does it every year so they don’t have to apply for passports for their kids
For a complete list of acceptable documents for land crossings into the US, visit the US Customs and Border Protection website.
#2: Apply for Temporary Import Permit (TIP) online
If you’re driving through Mexico more than 16 miles from the US/Mexico border, you need to get what is called a Temporary Import Permit (TIP). This makes your car legal to drive throughout all of Mexico. The permit lasts 180 days and requires a refundable deposit that costs between $200-$400 depending on the year of your vehicle.
You can apply for this online before you even leave on your trip as long as you do it at least 10 days in advance. But the process is not super self-explanatory. It took me a while to figure it out. This is what you need to do:
- #1: Enter your electronic pre authorization information. You will automatically receive a folio number. You will need this for the next step.
- #2: Apply for your TIP online. Follow the prompts throughout the application process. This is where you enter your folio number. You’ll also need to upload photos of your vehicle registration and proof of Mexican car insurance.
- #3: Wait for approval. After I finished the application, I didn’t get a confirmation page or anything so I thought it didn’t work. Then a few days later, I got a follow up email requesting that I resubmit the images of my registration paperwork. I resubmitted everything and waited some more.
- #4: Print your TIP paperwork. Just one day later, I got my approval email and printed my paperwork. You might be able to show them the paperwork on your phone but sometimes they are stingy. It’s best to print it out.
#3: Don’t miss the turnoff if applying for TIP in person
If you’re not able to get your TIP online before your trip, that’s okay, you can still get it in person after you cross the border. But it’s easy to miss. At kilometer marker 17 after you cross the border into Mexico, there is a large parking lot to the right with a small building (see image below). You need to go into this building and apply for the permit. You’ll need the following documents:
- Driver’s License
- Car registration certificate
- Proof of Mexican car insurance
- Credit card or pesos
Aside from applying for the TIP, they will require you to fill out an FMM form, which stands for Forma Migratoria Multiple. It is a type of visa exclusive to tourists who come to Mexico from either the northern or southern border. For more information about FMMs, click here.
The FMM costs about $28 and the TIP (including the deposit) costs us $467, but $421 of that money was refunded to us when we left Mexico. So have your credit card or pesos ready to pay.
#4: You may not need a tourist visa (FMM)
Any official website that you look at on the internet will tell you that you have to get a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) if you are visiting Mexico as a tourist. And that is true. However, years ago, my husband’s family would apply for an FMM for each individual person in their family. Then one day, when they were filling out the paperwork for their TIP after crossing the border, the Mexican employee there said that they only needed an FMM for the driver.
Ever since then, everyone in our group only applies for an FMM for the drivers in our group. We have never–not even once–been checked for our FMM in the more than 50 years that we have been driving into Mexico. And, when I applied for our TIP online in 2021, I never even applied for my FMM. I was able to get my TIP deposit back without a problem.
So, with that being said, go ahead and get your FMM. But, if by chance you forget or whatever the circumstance may be, most likely, nothing will happen.
#5: Don’t forget your Mexican car insurance
You will need Mexican car insurance while you are driving in Mexico. You can sign up for car insurance that will cover you just for the days that you will be driving in the country. Call your insurance company for more information. Our insurance cost us $352 to cover our truck and trailer for 19 days in Mexico.
#6: Random TIP checks occur at Sinora/Sinaloa Border
As you’re heading south across the state of Sinora Mexico, we always see a security checkpoint as we enter the state of Sinaloa, Mexico (just north of Los Mochis). They are checking vehicles to see if they have their TIP. However, they don’t check every vehicle. They did check about five of the 30 vehicles in our group and in many instances, those vehicles were towing another vehicle or scooter behind it.
One particular year, one person in our group accidentally drove past the TIP building at kilometer 17 after they crossed the border. So, they never got their TIP. When they reached the checkpoint, they were stopped and asked to show their TIP. When he didn’t have it, the officer threatened to impound his vehicle and fine him. In the end however, he ended up giving the officer 200 American dollars and he was on his way.
#7: Bring lots of pesos and candy
Unlike the United States, all of the main highways in Mexico have toll booths along the route. You are required to pay those tolls in order to continue. From the US border to Mazatlan, we paid a total of 2,520 pesos ($122 in American) and stopped at 15 tolls. Many of these toll booths only take pesos, so make sure you bring plenty of money.
It also doesn’t hurt to give these toll booth workers some candy when you stop to pay. They LOVE it! Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a guest in their country and a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
Also, there are tons of vendors selling fresh food like burritos, fruit, bread and orange juice on the sides of the roads. Plus, there are many, many taco stands everywhere. Embrace the culture and food by indulging in the local favorites the entire way down.
Here’s a video of me giving some stuffed animals and toys away to some kids along the side of the road near Guaymas, Mexico.
#8: Travel in groups if possible
We try to travel in groups of three and we use walkie talkies because sometimes our cell phones don’t have service. There is safety in numbers and if you get a flat tire or break down, you have other people in your group to help you out. Trust me, it’s not very fun to be stranded in the middle of a foreign country without anyone to help you.
#9: Sleep at gas stations and avoid traveling at night
When we drive to Mexico, we are pulling our fifth wheel. So, when it gets late, we pull over and park in the back of a gas station parking lot. Sometimes we even pay the gas attendant 100 or 200 pesos to watch our truck and trailer while we’re sleeping. They’re usually very helpful and we’ve never had a problem. It’s probably also a good idea to avoid traveling through the night. Just be smart about things.
#10: Eat all your fruit before you head home
There is a fruit inspection station heading northbound toward the Nogales border. If you have fruit and you don’t tell them, they could inspect your vehicle. If they find fruit, you’ll be fined several hundred dollars. It’s not worth it.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget to cancel your TIP!
Before you cross the border, you need to stop at a Banjercito booth and cancel your TIP so you can get your deposit back. If you’re crossing the border at Nogales, there’s a small booth at Kilometer Marker 17 just across the road from the same building that you stop at to get your TIP when you’re heading into Mexico. It’s easy to miss. If you don’t cancel your TIP, you will have a hard time registering the same or another vehicle the next time you visit Mexico. It has to be in person. They check the VIN number directly on your vehicle to make sure it matches the VIN on your TIP. Click here for more information.
I hope these tips and tricks help you as you’re driving through Mexico. I absolutely love the vibrant colors, the music, the landscape, the people and the food in Mexico. It’s such a wonderful place and it’s an experience like none other when you drive. Happy travels!
Related link: Print your free printable camping travel log