What you need to know when driving to Mexico for a Vacation
Worried about safety? Thinking about the different documents you might need for your trip? Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of the long drive?
We’ll be honest…A few of us at XBorderAuto was worried about our first drive across the border too.
Now we’re often driving to Mexico for short trips and vacations.
We love driving to Mexico and we know you will too!
Here’s our vital information that will make driving in Mexico a breeze:
Mexican Tourist Card
When traveling in Mexico some visitors must have a Mexican tourist card. This special card is also known as a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM). If you need an FMM card you can get one at the border crossing for around $24 per person. Keep your FMM card safe. Ensure that a Mexican official stamps your FMM card and write down your FMM number somewhere just in case your card gets misplaced.
Make sure you call your US medical provider to find out exactly what they cover while you are traveling in Mexico. Confirm you’re covered for evacuation in case of emergency and emergency medical treatment.
If you are not covered by your current medical insurance we recommend you buy a travel insurance policy that will cover you for healthcare while you’re on vacation. Do this before you are driving to Mexico.
Mexican Auto Insurance
If you are driving your own vehicle to Mexico you must have Mexican Auto Insurance. It is a legal requirement for drivers to have at least liability insurance when driving in Mexico. This is Mexican law.
If you have an accident you must have the means to settle any damages or injuries you may be responsible for. If you are in an accident and someone gets injured or worse, you may end up in jail, no matter whose “fault” it is.
Driving to Mexico with Pets
Traveling with your furry friends is easy with the right documents. You need an International Certificate of Good Health. Get yours from a licensed veterinarian who has examined your pet. You will also need a Proof of Vaccination against rabies and distemper. This should be administered at least 15 days before your pet travels to Mexico.
We recommend you bring proof of ownership. Keep it with your Mexican auto insurance documents.
When you return from your holiday your pet will unlikely need to get quarantined unless:
- You do not have the correct documents.
- The US border guards suspect your pet of being ill.
On the Road
Police and the Military
Be mindful of the police. Corruption amongst police is commonplace. Tourists are sometimes taken advantage of because they do not speak Spanish or understand the rules. Don’t assume they want a bribe, be polite and respectful and follow their orders.
Expect checkpoints along most major and minor roads manned by the Mexican military. These guards will mostly be armed. You will be asked for your driver’s license and driver information, and your vehicle will be searched. They do not accept bribes of any sort, don’t even try. They are looking for drugs or weapons, so stay calm as you won’t have those on you!
“Cuota” Toll Roads in Mexico
If you haven’t driven in Mexico before, and especially if you are not very fluent in Spanish, stick to the toll roads. These “Cuota” toll roads can sometimes be expensive. But, these privately-owned toll roads are generally much faster than the free “Libre” roads. Another bonus is that toll roads generally have clean bathrooms, snack shops. Talk about luxury!
Remember, insurance is included in the price of the toll. So, make sure you keep your receipt. You must report damage caused to your car by the toll road at the next immediate tollbooth.
“Libre” Free Roads in Mexico
The “Libre” roads are free but will slow you down considerably. By taking these roads you travel through the countryside, small towns, and rural villages. “Libre” roads are very interesting. It can be great to explore off-the-beaten-path, but make sure you stay safe. If you want to do some more adventurous driving, around non-tourist areas, do your research first.
Spanish Road Signs in Mexico
Before driving to Mexico study road signs and directions in Spanish. You can easily Google signs such as ALTO (STOP) or CURVE PELIGROSA (DANGEROUS CURVE). But we recommend you brush up on as many signs as possible before you start driving in Mexico. As well as keeping you safe, it’s also fun to learn a new language!
Be Aware of “Topes” AKA Speed Bumps
If you see a yellow highway sign with a thick horizontal black line with circular bumps, slow right down!
Topes are Mexican speed bumps, and they mean business!
Do not hit these at full speed. They vary in height size so always approach them slowly, if they are very high you may have to bring the vehicle to a stop.
Pay Attention to Your Environment
Road conditions are a challenge in Mexico. Some roads are well-maintained, others have potholes that can flatten a tire or break an axle! The further you travel from the main towns, the trickier the roads become. We recommend driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high ground clearance. Especially if you do plan to visit rural and countryside locations.
In the rainy season keep your ears and eyes open for landslides. During rainstorms, you can expect flooding on the roads. This is due to a lack of proper drainage, and dirt roads will often turn into mud roads. Rain in Mexico can be very different to rain in the US.
Watch the behavior of the vehicles around you carefully. Drunk driving in Mexico is very common, especially at night. Remember, you should never drink and drive!
Driving in the Mexico Mountains
Being in the mountains of Mexico is a rewarding experience but there are certain rules to be aware of. When on steep, narrow or single-lane roads, uphill traffic has the right of way over downhill traffic. If you are driving downhill and you see oncoming traffic, pull over to the side of the road, and either slow down or stop. If you are going uphill, use caution as other drivers may not know the rules.
Always keep your cool when driving in the mountains. Don’t try to pass big trucks on blind curves. Be patient, eventually, there will be a pull-out or slightly wider section where it will be safe to pass. You should also be aware of falling rocks whilst driving in the mountains. Particularly, if you are driving in stormy weather.
Driving in Mexico at night
Driving at night can be particularly challenging. Many guidebooks and travelers advise against this. When driving on “Libre” roads at night you may encounter all sorts of hazards. From pedestrian traffic, animals, slow-moving traffic, road hazards to the occasional person who has fallen asleep or is simply sitting on the roadside. So, watch out!
Driving on toll roads is safer. Although, the roads may have poor lighting and are sometimes used by pedestrians.
Stick to Local Speed Limits
The maximum speed limit in the city is 40km/h, outside of the city its 80km/h, and on the highways it is 100km/h.
It’s advisable to drive at or below the speed limit, to make sure you aren’t violating any local laws.
Top Up with Gas Whenever You Can
Along major roadways, you will find PEMEX gas stations at various intervals. However, once you leave the toll roads, gas stations may not be so conveniently located. So, always top up your tank once the indicator falls below half a tank. Don’t be caught short!
Mexico is an amazing country steeped in history and culture. There is an abundance of activities and attractions making it the perfect road trip vacation for all!
Remember: Before driving to Mexico get all of your important documents in order and keep them in a very safe place, including your Mexican auto insurance documents. If you’ve not yet purchased your Mexican auto insurance find out why you need it and get a quote.