We prefer smaller borders like Douglas/Agua Prieta because the lines are shorter. This particular border is fairly easy to deal with: lanes are well marked and this time only one car was ahead of us in line. We were stopped by U.S. Customs on the gringo side and enjoyed the usual interrogation from a suspicious customs agent with textbook level attention to grooming and uniform. He peered into our packed ’87 Dodge van with apparent incomprehension. I wasn’t sure exactly why he was concerned with us leaving the US. He then circled the van and returned.
“Do you plan on doing some camping?” he asked. When we answered in the affirmative he seemed to soften slightly as though suddenly this all made sense: the propane tanks, the rucksacks, the plastic chests and bins. I can’t imagine what he thought we were up to before he concluded that we were harmless vagabonds, but the experience did remind me that he probably doesn’t encounter many travelers of our school these days.
Next we pulled up to the Mexican side of the border, where each car receives either a green light that allows you to continue without inspection or a red light, which means you have to pull over. We got red, as usual. A young guy with thoughtful eyes, the Mexican agent was pleasant from the offset, asking the typical questions in a polite manner. He questioned me in detail about everything we were carrying, poked around in a few boxes, and we were good to go.
Here I experienced a delicious rush of freedom as I eyed all of the telltale signs of Mexico in the town before us, but I reigned myself in. We found parking and made our way to behind the immigration office, which is not very well marked (it’s located behind the customs inspection area.) With our brains dulled by too long in the U.S., it took us awhile to deduce the order that you need to go in to get visas and car papers. If I didn’t speak Spanish, it would have been rather confusing. I’ll lay it out for you below:
You will need: passports, money, and the registration for your vehicle (which must be registered in the name of one of the parties you are traveling with).
- As you enter the building, you’ll face two doors. Take the door to your right.
- Enter the room and approach the first window on your right. Wait 30 minutes for the immigration agent to return from lunch.
- Give the agent your passports. He will return them, along with your tourist papers. Sign papers.
- Take passports, tourist papers, and the registration for your vehicle to the next window. The clerk will charge you 1 USD to make copies of your paperwork.
- Take paperwork and copies across the room, where there are several agents who deal with car papers. They will want the copies of your paperwork, as well as your passports.
- Pay your visa fee. (25 USD, payable in cash or by debit.)
- Pay the importation bond on your vehicle. (400 USD for vehicles 2007 or newer; 200 for our ’87 van. You can pay in either cash or by using a card. They give you a receipt which you return when you leave the country, at which point the money is refunded. This is our first time driving across the border since this vehicle bond law went into effect in 2011, so I’ll report back when I get my refund. However, given Mexico’s scrupulous attention to paperwork, I’m not too worried about it. )
- Receive your car papers.
- Take your car papers, visas and passports back to the immigration agent, who will inspect them again.
- Go back to the clerk who made your copies and buy your Mexican insurance (unless you’ve purchased it ahead of time online, which will allow you to make a more informed decision). The clerk/insurance salesman will want to see your car papers, your American registration, and your American insurance paperwork.
- Affix official sticker to the windshield of your vehicle.
- Proceed to the nearest taqueria to celebrate.