Crossing the Mexico border by car is fairly straightforward but you must complete each step of the process. The requirements vary based on location with Baja and the border zone having different requirements than the bulk of the mainland. It’s only a few steps but each is important to ensure you are legal after crossing the border.
Mexico Tourist Cars
Resident Mexico plated cars in Mexico obviously do not require import permits or foreign car paperwork. The are under local jurisdictions and all registration is local. Tourist vehicles from the United States and Canada will however need a temporary import when traveling beyond the immediate border or Baja. Foreign plated vehicles can travel in Mexico with a tourist card, passport stamp and a TIP (temporary import permit). There are time limitations and payment requirements to drive freely in Mexico. Insurance is also compulsory and must be purchased for each vehicle.
Baja and the Border Zone
The “Free Zone” includes Baja and everything within 20-miles of the border. The rules in this area are a bit different. Many Americans visit for dental tourism and various other business or recreational reasons without straying far from the border itself. Many border stations even have turnstiles to park in the US and walk across easily.
Get Your FMM Mexican Tourist Card and Passport Stamp
When you enter Mexico, they will first inspect your vehicle and ask a few basic questions. They will then check and stamp your passport at an office. You will also fill out a form and receive a tourist card known as the FMM Visa. This card allows entry and is your visa for temporary tourist stays. This step is important and many borders will wave you through without having a clear process lined out. Ask where the office is for a stamp, park and go inside to get this done.
Why is the FMM Visa so important? Without the visa, you can’t get a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for your vehicle. If you are only driving in the free zone for a quick trip, it might not be consequential but anything beyond that will be an issue. Without the TIP, your vehicle can be confiscated and held indefinitely (with all your possessions).
I know several folks who didn’t get a Visa and stamp at the border then drove through Baja. In Baja, you can obtain a TIP at the Ferry near La Paz but not without an FMM visa. These folks were forced to drive or fly back to the border to get a stamp and visa. Save the headache and get this done right when you cross.
Temporary Import Permit for Your Car
The TIP is a critical piece of paper that you will need when driving anywhere outside of the free zone. It’s not needed in Baja but you still need an FMM tourist card. To obtain a TIP, carry a copy of your registration and title and purchase the TIP at the Banjercito. Each border crossing has a banjercito. They will place a deposit charge on your credit card that holds until you exit the country and cancel the TIP. Once canceled, your card receives a credit, minus the $51 charge for the permit.
You will receive a sticker for the TIP. Place the sticker on your windshield in a place where it will not obstruct the view. The stickers are difficult to remove and may require nail polish remover or paint thinner and razor blades to scrape off. Keep this in mind when determining the location for the sticker.
Do they check Insurance?
I have never had Mexican auto insurance checked at the border or by a police officer in Mexico. This does not mean it can’t happen and I like keeping my insurance, TIP, copies of registration and title and copies of my passport and drivers license in a folder that is easily accessible. I write the numbers for the US embassy, Car insurance company and travel insurance company on the folder. In the event of an accident, the insurance documents will be needed immediately.
Mexico border crossing requirements are really straightforward. Each border crossing is different in terms of layout and any who doesn’t speak Spanish might struggle finding unlabeled office buildings. It helps to type out basic questions on Google translate in advance.