When it came time for us to enter Latin America from California we were recommended to skip the Tijuana border and cross just inland at Tecate instead. This was some great advice from fellow Overlanders that saved us a lot of time and hassle. Tijuana is the busiest border crossing on the planet and wait times can be upwards of 4 hours depending on the day and time.

Vanda ready to enter Mexico through Tecate

Border crossings tend to always be accompanied by that little niggle of anxiety, however our experience crossing into Mexico through Tecate couldn’t have been more chilled. It was literally like passing through a toll gate, and DUNUH all of a sudden we were in Mexico. It was almost a shock!

We arrived at the border abruptly – the single ‘International Border’ sign was hidden behind a standard road sign and we hardly saw it. We accidentally took the ‘nothing to declare’ lane, a few soldiers eyed the car, the electronic gate automatically opened for us and within 20 seconds we drove into Mexico without having to show our passports or get any paperwork for our Australian registered van!

We sneakily snapped this shot while waiting for Vanda’s Mexican road permit

If you’re a Mexican resident or an American tourists spending less than a week in Mexico this is literally all the border crossing is – no paperwork, no visas and no passport needed. However if you’re from somewhere else, or are driving a foreign car things are a little different.

We parked Vanda just outside of the border crossing and walked back in with our passports and copies of our vehicle registration in order to get our 6 month tourist visa and a permit to drive Vanda in Mexico.

Vanda parked outside the official border while we applied for visas and a driving permit.

Here is the information you’ll need to know if you’re driving a foreign car into Mexico onwards from 2017, whether its from  Guatemala, Belize or the USA:

Necessary documents

  • Your passport (with at least 6 months validity)
  • Vehicle’s document/registration details including the VIN number

Note: You’ll be asked for copies of the above documents as well as the visa application you fill out on arrival. We recommend making multiple copies of all your documents prior to arriving at any border. In this case, the Pharmacy 50 metres into Tecate on the Main Street can make copies for you at 2 pesos each or US $0.15c.

Process of applying for visa and Mexican driving permit

  1. Park your vehicle on the street after you’ve crossed the border;
  2. Walk back into the border complex on foot and head to the Immigration Office;
  3. Fill out the visa application form;
  4. Take the completed form/s to the Banjercito (Mexican army bank) booth outside and pay the US $29 fee per person;
  5. Go back to the Immigration Office with the receipt of payment to get the entry stamp in your passport;
  6. Go to the pharmacy down the street and make copies of the vehicle owner’s passport and visa application form and the vehicle’s document/registration papers;
  7. Go back to the Banjercito booth (no need to go back to Immigration) and apply for your vehicle’s permission to drive in Mexico;
  8. Pay the US  $59.16 fee (not refundable) plus the vehicle bond that varies between $200 to $400 depending on the car’s age. This bond is refunded to you when you exit the country. You can pay in cash or by credit card and will be refunded in the same way.

We paid $200 for our vehicle bond as Vanda is over 20 years old. We were also recommended to pay in cash so that receiving the bond back when we exit Mexico is simpler and more reliable than waiting for the money to show up in our account after we’ve left.

You’ll be asked a few questions, given some paperwork to sign and will have to take an officer to check the car’s VIN number. Make sure you use the same signature as on your passport, as officials will check this when you leave the country and can refuse your bond if it’s not the same signature.

If everything goes to plan you’ll be issued with your Mexican driving permit that includes a sticker to apply to your windscreen. Make sure you keep these during your travels through Mexico!

¡Buen viaje!