With its beautiful beaches, rich culture, and delicious cuisine, Mexico is a popular travel destination. Plus, it’s one that can be reached by car for many Americans. If you’re planning a family road trip to Mexico or heading there for some much-needed rest and relaxation, you’ll want to do your research. Here are some tips to get you started.
Apply for Mexico Auto Insurance.
Mexico does not recognize U.S. auto insurance. If you’re driving to Mexico from the U.S. in your own car or a rental, you will need to purchase a tourist auto policy.
- A Mexico auto policy will allow you to cover damages if you’re involved in an accident.
- If you cannot show proof of Mexican insurance, you can be heavily fined and even arrested. This is true even if you are not at fault for the accident.
- You can get coverage for the duration of your trip: a few days, a few months, or longer.
- You can purchase this coverage from your U.S. insurer.
If driving your own car, apply for a vehicle permit.
Mexico requires temporary import permits, which essentially is registering your car in the country. The government agency that issues permits is called Banjercito. You will be asked to leave a monetary deposit that will be returned to you when you return home.
- You may purchase this temporary import permit at the border.
- You also may find it online. (Click the Ingles/English version to see the page in English.)
Avoid rental car scams.
It’s common for car rental places in Mexico to quote very low prices but to have hidden rental fees. When you show up to get your car, you discover that you have to pay crazy high fees.
Make sure you carry valid identification.
U.S. citizens must present a valid U.S. passport (book or card) and an entry permit which you will receive at immigration when you cross into Mexico. If you are driving a car, you also need a driver’s license.
- A U.S. driver’s license works in Mexico, but if you have time, you may apply for an international driver’s permit. It sometimes takes about 6 months to receive one, but it will translate your license into Spanish.
- When the immigration officer hands your stamped passport back to you at customs, it will include a tear-off FMM form. Hold onto this form and keep it with you. It is important documentation and you will need to show it when you leave the country. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fine.
Understand Mexican road markings and signage.
You’ll want to brush up on your Spanish for your Mexico road trip. That’s the language for the road signs. The signage also may look a little bit different than what you’re used to, so familiarize yourself with it before you go. Also, Mexico uses the metric system, so you may want to reacquaint yourself with it.
- Remember that both distance and speed limits are in kilometers. If you’re driving your U.S. car, it should have a reading for kilometers. If you’re driving a rental car from Mexico, kilometers should be displayed automatically.
- Keep a copy of Mexican road signs with English translations with you in the car.
- Stop lights are horizontal rather than vertical.
Know Mexico’s road system.
While you may expect traveling in Mexico to be a bit different than the U.S., you may be surprised at some basic differences. There are Facebook groups where you can talk to former U.S. citizens living in Mexico – ex-pats – and ask specific questions about your proposed route.
- There may not be gas stations in rural areas. You can ask around, as sometimes gas is sold in convenience stores.
- You have to pay to travel the highways and they can be surprisingly expensive. They only take cash, not credit cards.
- On the free roads, look out for speed bumps that may or may not be marked. These are known as topes and can cause damage to your car if you hit them too fast.
- If you’re traveling between states in Mexico, there are military-style checkpoints where you will have to stop and let them search your car.
Ride the bus.
Mexico has a bus system with different classes of service, and many U.S. visitors enjoy its higher classes—which are comparable to business class airline service.
- Executive and first-class bus travel come with comfortable seats, air conditioning, and onboard restrooms. These routes are efficient and operate on time with few stops.
- Some bus stations include lounges for executive travelers.
- Toilets at bus stations come with a charge of between $3-$5 for entry, so be prepared.
- Mexico also offers shared minibusses and vans known as colectivos (and other names). While you can save money using these, they may be cramped, without air conditioning and they have been known to break down—so use these with caution.
Know where you want to go.
Mexico has 758,00 square miles (or 2 million square kilometers) to explore. This includes beaches, mountains, cities, canyons, jungles, and more—plus plenty of distinctive food, culture, architecture, and activities. Plan out where you are going to go so that you can get the most out of your trip, and do it safely.
- In some parts of Mexico, there are caverns with underground water where you can swim. These swimming holes are called cenotes.
- Beaches in certain regions of Mexico have a seaweed problem known as sargassum. This starts in late spring and continues to the fall, so check to see whether this affects where you will be visiting.
- Most of Mexico’s museums are closed on Mondays so plan your trip accordingly.
Be an informed traveler.
Travel helps to broaden your horizons with exposure to different cultures and experiences. Do your research on your destination so that you will not only understand the local perspective but you can enjoy it.
- Know that time is relative in Mexico. Do not assume that everything is going to start on time. In most cases, it probably won’t. Plan for this when making your itinerary.
- There is no free Wi-Fi in Mexico’s cafes and restaurants.
- The Spanish word for women is “mujeres,” which means that bathrooms labeled with the letter “M” are for women. (This is especially confusing to American travelers!)
- Don’t drink the tap water in Mexico. It’s not safe. To avoid paying lots of money for bottled water, consider bringing a reusable water bottle with a disposable filter.
- Cash is king in Mexico, so where possible, pay with pesos. When paying with a credit card, many merchants will add a tip before running the card, so be aware. (You can actually tell them the tip you want to add before running the card.)
- When withdrawing money, look for ATMs that are located inside banks. If you have a problem with a street ATM, it may be hard to locate the owner.
Pay attention to State Department travel warnings.
Whenever you are traveling out of the country, it is good to check the U.S. State Department’s website for any travel warnings for your destination. These will include any security or health risk warnings, including updates on COVID-19.
- Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service that gives you the latest updates when you’re traveling out of the country.
- The State Department will tell you if there are regions to avoid and precautions to take on your travels. Follow their recommendations.
- A vacation could turn into an expensive COVID-19 quarantine if you unexpectedly have to cover the costs of additional days in Mexico, so plan accordingly.
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