Crossing the Border to Mexico

FAQs
Passports and Required Documentation
Mexican Customs
Driving Across the Border
New El Chaparral Border Crossing
Requirements for Minors
Vehicle Permits and Financed Vehicles for Mainland Mexico

FAQs

Do I need Mexican Auto insurance to drive in Mexico?
Yes, you absolutely need Mexican auto insurance to drive in Mexico and you can be thrown into jail if you don’t have it. Mexican law requires that you be able to prove your financial responsibility in case of an accident while driving in Mexico. Unless you have Mexican auto insurance, the only way to prove this financial responsibility is to have a pre-arranged bond with a Mexican bank or cash on your person in an amount large enough to cover liabilities, which can be as high as $333,000 with the new death liability in Baja. Your U.S. insurance policy is not recognized by Mexico (even if it provides coverage up to 75 miles into Mexico) and therefore DOES NOT fulfill the Mexican law for proof of insurance. You will need at least a liability-only Mexican auto insurance policy to fulfill the legal requirement in the case of an accident. You can get a free insurance quote from Discover Baja. Or see our Insurance Basics page for more information.

What am I allowed to take into Mexico?
When crossing by land, you are allowed to take your personal belongings and $75 worth of merchandise, duty free. People over the age of 18 may bring three liters of liquor or beer and up to six liters of wine. For more details, see our Mexican Customs section.

What am I allowed to bring back to the U.S. from Mexico?
Your personal belongings and $800 worth of purchased merchandise, duty free. If you are a California resident over the age of 21 crossing the border by car or foot, you may only bring back 1 liter of alcohol. Non-California residents over the age of 21 may bring back up to 60 liters of alcohol. California residents traveling via steamship, airplane or railroad may also bring back up to 60 liters. See our U.S. CUSTOMS page for detailed information.

Can I take my rental car into Mexico?
Various rental companies have different policies regarding taking the car into Mexico and Mexican auto insurance. There are definitely companies that will allow you to take the car to Baja. Some will make you get Mexican auto insurance through them & other will permit you to get insurance through Discover Baja. Check with your rental car company for more details.

Do I need a vehicle permit?
If you are only driving in the Baja peninsula, you do not need a vehicle permit. If you will be driving into mainland Mexico, you do. See our Vehicle Permit section for more information.

Do I need a passport to go to Mexico?
You need one to return back to the U.S., so the answer is essentially, yes. As of June 1, 2009, anyone over the age of 16 is required to have a Passport, Passport Card or other acceptable form of documentation (such as an enhanced ID, SENTRI pass, NEXUS or FAST pass) to travel to Mexico. For other acceptable forms of documentation and more information on Passports, please see our Passport Page. If you’re going to be driving in Mexico, don’t forget to take your drivers license (which is recognized by Mexico).

Do I need a tourist permit?
If you are not a Mexican citizen, you will need to obtain an FMM Tourist Permit.  We’re happy to announce that Discover Baja members can now skip the hassle of getting your tourist card at the border by getting it in advance through DBTC. Please see our FMM Tourist Permit page for more information.

How do I avoid the long wait at the border?
There are three special lanes (in addition to the regular border lanes) at the San Ysidro border that allow for expedited border crossing: SENTRI Lane, Ready Lane and the Fast Pass Lane. See our page on Special Entry Lanes for specifics on how to access those lanes. You can also check out Best Time to Cross the Border to see the current border wait and charts with average wait times broken down by day and hour.

PASSPORTS AND REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION

Don’t leave home without these important documents that you’ll need for your trip to Baja:

MEXICAN CUSTOMS

Tourists are allowed to bring their personal belongings and luggage into Mexico duty-free. You may also bring up to $75 USD worth of merchandise. Family members traveling together in the same vehicle may combine this amount (for example, if there are two of you in the same family traveling together you may bring up to $150 worth of merchandise). Receipts or invoices must be present to take advantage of this exemption.

If you are bringing more than $75 USD worth of merchandise per person you may declare it by driving through the declaration lane at the border where you can fill out the proper documents and pay a duty on the amount (16% of the total). If you are bringing over $3,000 of merchandise, you must use a Mexican customhouse broker. You can ask where to reach one at the customs office at the border.

If you are bringing alcohol into Mexico from the U.S., you are allowed to bring up to three liters of liquor or beer and six liters of wine per adult.

You may not bring extra gasoline across the border. You may bring an empty can and fill it once in Mexico, but extra containers filled with fuel are not permitted.

Below is a list of personal items that you are allowed to bring into Mexico duty free. Allowances are per-person but must be items that the passenger may reasonably use during the trip.

  • Personal clothing and footwear
  • Personal toiletries and beauty products
  • Baby travel accessories such as strollers and baby walkers (you must have a baby present)
  • Two photographic cameras or video recorders
  • 12 rolls of film or videocassettes
  • Three cell phones or other wireless networks
  • Global Positioning Equipment (GPS)
  • One typewriter
  • One electronic calendar
  • One laptop computer
  • One portable printer/copier
  • One portable projector
  • Two items of sporting equipment
  • Four fishing rods
  • Three speedboats with or without sails and their accessories, trophies or recognitions, provided that they can be transported normally and commonly by the passenger
  • One stair climber
  • One bicycle
  • One portable radio or digital sound reproducer with speakers and accessories
  • Five laser disks
  • 10 DVDs
  • 30 compact disks (CD) or magnetic tapes (audiocassettes)
  • Three software packages
  • Five storage devices or memory cards for any electronic equipment
  • Books, magazines and printed documents
  • Five toys
  • One video game console and five videogames
  • One blood pressure instrument
  • One glucose-testing device
  • Personal medications (you must have your prescription with you for any psychotropic drugs that you’re bringing with you into Mexico)
  • One set of binoculars
  • One telescope
  • Luggage necessary to transport personal items
  • Passengers over 18 years of age are allowed: 10 packs of cigarettes, 25 cigars or 200 grams of tobacco, three liters of liquor or beer, six liters of wine. Any items in excess must be declared and have duties paid.
  • Two musical instruments and the accessories for the instruments
  • A camping tent
  • Camping equipment
  • A toolset
  • Up to three dogs or cats, may be brought to Mexico as well as their accessories, provided that the corresponding zoo sanitary import certificate issued by (SAGARPA) is presented to the customs officials.

Click here for a PDF of food items that are permitted for tourists to bring into Mexico.

If you are carrying over $10,000 in cash, other currencies, checks or money orders, you must declare the amount exceeding $10,000. You will not have to pay duties, but you must declare the amount on a customs declaration form.

You can fill out the customs form in advance HERE.

If you are traveling with new electronics that have been purchased in the last 6 months, it is suggested that you take your receipts and registration paperwork. You may have to pay duty on these items upon returning to the US if you cannot prove that you owned it prior to your departure. Complete the form HERE to declare to customs upon entry into Mexico.

Items Not Allowed in Mexico:

  • Guns or ammunition. Guns are illegal in Mexico. You will be put in jail for having one.
  • Pepper spray
  • Lethal knives and machetes (anything over 8” is not allowed)
  • Live predator fish
  • Totoaba fish (fresh or frozen)
  • Turtle eggs
  • Poppy seeds or flour of poppy seeds
  • Marijuana, medicinal marijuana, marijuana products, marijuana seeds or spores, or marijuana extracts
  • Opium extract
  • Stamps or prints, displayed for their sale in envelopes or packages, containing illustrations that represent childhood in a degrading, violent, self-destructive, anti-social or ridiculous way (i.e. Garbage Pail Kids trading cards)
  • Thallium sulfate.
  • Isodrin, Aldrin, Heptaclor, Drinox, Endrin, Mendrin, Nendrin, Hexadrin or Leptophos insecticides.
  • Heroin
  • Medication prepared with acetylmorphine or its derivatives
  • Loggerhead turtles or turtle skins
  • Goods that have been declared as archaeological monuments by the Secretary of Public Education.
  • Air compression spearguns are prohibited. Rubber band spearguns are permitted.

DB Insider tips:

  • While you may have good intentions of bringing down bagfuls of used clothing across the border to donate to charity, there is an extremely high tax on bringing used clothing into Mexico. You will have to pay a large fee if you are caught.
  • Any medication that you are taking to Mexico must be in the original prescription bottle.  Placing pills into smaller containers for traveling is not allowed.
  • Army knives or small knives for fishing are permitted but may not be kept in the glove compartment or front of the car. It’s best to keep them in your tackle box or toolbox in the back of the car.
  • If you are taking building materials down to Mexico, you must use a Mexican customhouse broker to declare and pay duties on the materials. You should cross at Otay Mesa and go to the customs building where they will direct you to a recommended customs house who will help you with the paperwork and payment.
  • If you own a home in Mexico, you may use a “Menaje de Casa” which is a one-time deal that allows you to take down household items duty free (furniture, linens, used appliances and other household items). The items cannot be new and the exemption does not apply to any building materials. You will not pay a tax on the items, but you will still need to stop to declare everything when you are crossing the border, and you will be charged a small customs fee to process the paperwork.

DRIVING ACROSS THE BORDER

Generally, you won’t find a wait when crossing from the U.S. to Mexico. (Friday evenings between 3-7pm as people are heading down to Mexico after the workweek are the exception to that). When approaching the border, take note of the different lanes designated by “Nothing to Declare – Nada que Declarar” and “Declaration Line – Carril de Declaracion” For directions on crossing the new San Ysidro El Chaparral border into Tijuana, see our Driving Directions page. For information on border hours, services and specifics, see our Discover Baja Border Chart.

Nothing to Declare
If you have nothing to declare, then you can use the “Nothing to Declare  – Nada que Declara” lane. You will pull forward to the line and wait for the traffic signal to give you a green light or a red light. If you get a green light, you may proceed through the border crossing. At some border crossings, there are Mexican custom officials after you pass through the light and they may signal you to pull into secondary inspection even if you passed through on a green light. If you get a red light, you will need to proceed over to secondary inspection.

Secondary Inspection
If you are pulled over into secondary inspection, don’t panic. Generally, officials will just want to have a look in the car and trunk and will ask you a few more questions about your trip. Be sure to smile and politely answer questions and comply with what they ask you to do. This will take about a minute or so unless they find something that should have been declared. If this happens, you will be at risk of paying the duty, having the items confiscated or possibly going to jail.

Declaration Lane
If you have items to declare, you will need to follow the signs for “Declaration Line – Carril de Declaracion.” You will stop at the customs building to fill out customs forms and pay your duties.

NEW EL CHAPARRAL BORDER CROSSING

In November 2012, the new “El Chaparral” border crossing opened at the San Ysidro border crossing for southbound traffic from the U.S. to Mexico. This is one of the first steps in a major expansion of the southbound and northbound border crossings at San Ysidro. The project is schedule to be fully completed in 2016 and will help reduce wait times at the border and improve border security.

The new crossing from San Ysidro into Tijuana is relatively easy to negotiate. See our Driving Directions page  for detailed photos and maps for crossing the border with nothing to declare and directions to stop at immigration if you have an FMM that needs to be stamped or have anything to declare.

The multiple new lanes allow more cars to be processed for quicker entry. The temporary awkward routing moves as best as could be expected and as will be required until the U.S. re-routes I-5 to this new El Chaparral crossing in 2015.

For more information about the new El Chaparral crossing, see the GSA site.

REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS

All minors traveling to Mexico must have valid proof of citizenship. Mexico requires that children over the age of 2 travel with an FMM tourist permit. In order to obtain an FMM, they must have a valid passport or passport card (passport cards may only be used for crossing the border by land).

The U.S. allows children under the age of 16 to re-enter the U.S. with an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a consular report of birth abroad, a naturalization certificate or a Canadian citizenship card. Minors 16 years of age or older must present a passport or passport card (passport cards may only be used for crossing the border by land).

Mexican law used to require that minors traveling to Mexico have a notarized letter from any guardian not traveling with the minor, granting permission for the minor to travel to Mexico.  That law has been temporarily suspended so that a notarized letter is no longer required. However, Mexican immigration does require the following form be completed online by the guardians before the minor travels.

VEHICLE PERMITS AND FINANCED VEHICLES

No vehicle permit is required if you are only driving in the Baja peninsula or to Puerto Peñasco. If you will be driving outside of Baja or Puerto Peñasco, you will need a vehicle temporary import permit (TIP).

Vehicle permits are US$52 and are valid for six months. The permits are good for multiple entry so may take your car in and out of Mexico as many times as you want during the six month period. You must also pay a deposit which will be refunded after the six month period when you have returned your permit.

Deposit prices for vehicles:
$200 if vehicle is 2000 and older
$300 if vehicle is 2001-2006
$400 if vehicle is 2007 and newer

Motorhome and boat permits are valid for up to 10 years.

To obtain a vehicle permit, the owner of the vehicle must be present and you will need to have copies of the following information:

  • Current registration or vehicle title
  • Passport
  • Drivers License
  • FMM/Tourist Card (can be purchased through Discover Baja HERE)
  • Lease contract and lienholder letter (if necessary)
  • Cash or Visa/MC for the permit and deposit

It’s extremely important that you remember to return your vehicle permit to a Banjercito before your permit expires when you are leaving Mexico. You must bring your vehicle, vehicle permit and sticker with you in order to return.

You cannot obtain a vehicle permit at the San Ysidro border crossing. Tecate, Otay Mesa, Mexicali and Nogales at km 21 are the best places to get a permit.

You can also go online to Banjercito to get a temporary vehicle permit by mail (time permitting) or to pre-register online and save time when picking up at Banjercito later.

Vehicle Weight Restrictions for Mainland Mexico

There are weight restrictions for vehicles that are not motorhomes getting vehicle TIPs for mainland: The GVWR cannot be more than 7,716 pounds (3.5 tons) if the vehicle is not a motorhome. Baja Sur will NOT issue TIPs for non-motorhome vehicles over that weight. There’s a possibility that they may issue the vehicle TIP along the California/Baja California border, but it depends on customs clearing the vehicle. Getting a TIP at the California/Baja California border does not guarantee that if you are exiting Mexico and entering again, they will reissue a TIP if your vehicle is overweight.

 

FINANCED VEHICLE CROSSING

If you are headed down to mainland Mexico and you have a financed or leased vehicle, you should check with the company through which you financed the lease or purchase of your vehicle to make sure that they don’t have any special requirements for traveling internationally. In order to get a temporary import permit to take your car to mainland Mexico, Banjercito requires that you obtain an official letter of permission granting you authorization to take the vehicle to Mexico. You should call your lien holder far in advance as the letter can take anywhere from one day to three weeks to obtain, depending on the company. Also be aware that many companies will not allow you to travel in Mexico for more than 30 days at a time with your financed vehicle. If you are just traveling in Baja, you do not need permission from your lien holder.

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