This article is from the March 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Driving into Mexico

by David Simmonds

It always makes you feel a little nervous crossing a border. Any border. You barely notice when you cross the line into a different state in the U.S., an exception being Louisiana for some reason. There you notice that the roads have changed to resemble Beirut. But going from one country to another you feel a little like Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. You think someone has accidentally circulated your photo as a suspected international assassin. Or maybe, just for laughs, a friend of your son's stashed a baggie under the front seat filled with something resembling an illegal drug. You get this paranoid feeling that doesn't subside until you're halfway to Zacatecas. Or is it just me?

Actually, driving to Mexico is a great way to see the country and can save you some money as well. Unless, of course, you are driving a Chevy Suburban, which will pass anything on the road except a gas station. But you can stop in the small towns, meet the people and spend days wondering when you will ever again hear the English language. You can also spend hours sucking diesel fumes and practicing the fine art of passing snail-paced vehicles on winding two-lane roads, a skill most of us have forgotten in our freeway lives.

I could go on and on about why it’s beneficial to drive the country, but the real reason for this article is to instruct you on taking a car into Mexico. I have taken my information directly from a Mexican Department of Tourism brochure. So until the rules are changed, this should be accurate for a while. None of this applies within approximately 15 miles of the border, the entire Baja peninsula, and the Sonora Border Region.

What To Take With You From Home:

1. Vehicle registration or title. Bring the original and two copies.
2. A valid U.S. or Canadian driver's license.
3. Proof of Citizenship: passport, birth certificate, voter registration card, or resident alien card.

The Border Procedures:

1. Go to the Mexican Customs (Aduana)/ Vehicle Control Checkpoint.
2. Fill out form titled "Temporary Import Permit."
3. Fill out form titled "Vehicle Return Promise Agreement."
4. Fill out "Tourist Card."
5. Go to Banjército (Mexican Army Bank) with those three forms.
6. Complete vehicle security deposit procedure by using any of the three available methods: Credit Card, or a Cash Deposit, or a Vehicle Value Bond.

Credit Card Payment:

The accepted cards are Visa, MasterCard, Diner's Card and American Express. It cannot be a card issued in Mexico and must be in the name of the person temporarily importing the vehicle.

You will need an original and a copy of the following documents:

1. Your Tourist Entry Form (Tourist Card)
2. Vehicle title showing legal ownership and the vehicle registration
3. A valid drivers license, not issued in Mexico
4. A passport, birth certificate or resident card.

The Temporary Import Application and the Vehicle Return Promise are also available at any AAA office in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  A charge will be made to your credit card in the amount of ten dollars ($10US) plus 10% Value Added Tax. The voucher can only be filled out and signed in the presence of the Banco del Ejército's personnel at the border crossing and the signature has to match the one on the credit card. No charges will be added to a credit card voucher without first notifying the motorist.

Paying By Bond:

One alternative to using your credit card is to post a bond in the name of the Federal Treasury of Mexico, issued by an authorized company in Mexico. These can also be purchased at many of the Sanborn's offices along the border. For further information call Sanborn's at (800) 222-0158. All of the other requirements listed above apply for the bond as well as the cash deposit option.

Paying By Cash:

You may make a cash deposit at the Banco del Ejército offices at the border in an amount equal to 100% of the vehicle's value. Your deposit will be returned to you in full upon completing the return formalities at the same office at which the deposit was made. Deposits are returned only between 8:30 am and 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

Amount Of Bond:

The amounts vary depending on the type of vehicle and the year. It can range from $500.00US to $20,000US. Call Sanborn's for current values. They change often.

Other Important Matters:

1. Obtain Mexican insurance. Although not required by Mexican law, you will need at least liability insurance if you get in any kind of accident. There are many companies along the border which sell it. Or try your local AAA office or call the Sanborn's number listed above.

2. The temporary imported vehicle may be driven across the border multiple times during the authorized period. If you are leaving Mexico and do not plan to return during the six-month authorized time, you must cancel the permit at the Banco del Ejército.

3. Always carry the Vehicle Import Permit in the car.

4. Other drivers are allowed only if the permit holder is in the vehicle.

5. Keep all of the documents listed above in the car while driving. But don't leave them there overnight.

6. Leave your paranoia at home. I've driven across the border hundreds of times with no problems. I highly recommend finding the first good smelling taco stand in sight and order three tacos with a cold beverage. It will help you get into your "Mexico Stride" and put you in the right frame of mind for your journey.

These are the basic requirements for driving into Mexico, but they can change rapidly. For the latest regulations call Sanborn's (800) 222-0158.