Driving across the border from the U.S. to Mexico in 2021.

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by Emily

Can Americans drive to Mexico right now?

Mexican Border Crossing at Progreso International Bridge
United States/Mexican Border Crossing at Progreso International Bridge

With all the news about “border restrictions,” I have scoured every single website and news story about driving to Mexico from the United States, and the only place I could find this question addressed was at the bottom of the story on this page. And this even still felt like hearsay since I didn’t have the direct words of someone who has actually done it.

Since I knew we were going to actually do it, I thought it would be helpful to share what really happened when we crossed the border at Progreso International Bridge on August 20, 2021.

The short answer is YES, you can cross.

While the U.S. is currently still restricting non-citizens from crossing its northern and southern borders, Mexico has not placed any restrictions on non-citizens coming from the United States border – even just for tourism.

That being said, we know that this means we are coming from a place of incredible privilege to be able to cross so easily. We also acknowledge that COVID 19 is still a global issue and we are traveling as safely and considerately as possible because of this. We are following all local guidelines and mandates, wearing masks when out, and not going to large gatherings or crowded indoor places. We are both fully vaccinated, but understand that does not mean we are immune or insusceptible to COVID 19 and its variants. Officials did not perform temperature screenings or require proof of COVID vaccination or negative test results at the border crossing.

What you will need will depend on where exactly you are going.

For us, we drove our own car across the border with the intention of driving throughout Mexico for up to six months. This means we wanted to make sure we could drive anywhere in the country legally for the duration of our stay.

These are the documents we had on hand:

(We had the original when applicable as well as 3 black & white copies of each document. They are also all stored electronically on our devices and with a trusted emergency contact.)

  • Valid United States Passports
  • Valid United States (California) drivers licenses – if you are driving, there is no need for a Mexican drivers license. Mexico recognizes valid licenses from other countries.
  • Vehicle Temporary Import Permit (TIP) – obtained online here. (Note, you do not need a TIP if you are driving only on the Baja peninsula or within the Sonoran Zone.
    • Before filling out the TIP, you will need to complete the Immigration Pre-authorization form – online here. You will beed to enter the “Folio INM Pre-authorization” on the form for the TIP.
    • To obtain a TIP, you must also have proof of ownership of the vehicle you intend to import.
      • We own our car, so we carried the car title and the car registration.
      • If you lease your car you will need a valid leasing contract no older than 3 months and we recommend getting a letter from your lease holder giving you permission to drive the car in Mexico. Contact your lease holder too see if they require permission.
  • Proof of Mexican Car Insurance – you are required to have Mexican auto insurance to drive in Mexico. You can easily obtain a policy online and print out proof of insurance to carry with you. I went through Geico as a broker and purchased a policy from GNP Seguros. (I am not a professional insurance broker or insurance expert. Please check with your provider for any questions.)
  • Proof of U.S. Car Insurance – just in case
This is what the FMM form for Mexico looks like after it is stamped at the INM office.
This is what the FMM form for Mexico looks like when stamped at the INM office.
  • A Multiple Immigration Form (FMM – Forma Migratoria Múltiple) completed online here. Cost approx. USD$30.00 (MXN $594.00) or free if you are staying less than 7 days.
    • VERY IMPORTANT – If you pay for your FMM online, you must keep at least 2 copies of the RECEIPT that is emailed to you. They will ask for this as proof of payment before they stamp your FMM. The receipt must be in printed form – not electronic.
    • Everyone who is not a citizen of Mexico needs an FMM to visit – even if you have a passport. It is a travel permit that functions like the visa stamp in your passport.
    • Please note that authorities will not enforce getting an FMM when you cross the border. So, while you can technically cross without it, it is still a legal requirement and it could cause you a lot more trouble than the $30 fee and waiting in line at INM is worth.
  • Copy of our marriage license – this is absolutely not a requirement for entry. But Alex and I have different last names, and the car title is in my name. So, we may have to prove we are married if anyone questions his right to drive the car while we are here, or in case of an emergency. Hopefully it is never necessarily.
  • Proof of rabies vaccination for our dog, Elvis. We also had a letter from our vet explaining that his subcutaneous adenomas were a common occurrence in older dogs and not caused by any infection. They did not care. (Keep reading for how it went).

Now that we’ve done it ourselves I sound like a real expert, huh?

Before you assume that we were as cool as pepinos and had it all together when it mattered, let me tell you how it really went:

As we pulled up to the “border crossing”, we scrambled with our passports and paperwork and said many cusses about how nervous and unprepared we were. Oh, it’s just a toll booth. That person does not want my passport. They want $4.00. Ok. Literally never heard anything about this toll booth. But there it is. Asking me for USD $4.00 while I’m nervous as can be that I am going to screw all of this up and be banned from Mexico forever.

Next, we come to the actual border crossing. No problem, just wait in line and flash our pass… and nope. They want us to pull over because we have a giant bright red SUV with a metric ton of luggage strapped to the top of it. Of course they have questions.

A very nice agent pulls us over and asks where we are going and what we have with us – in Spanish of course. I gurgle out something that I hope sounds like “we are going to San Miguel de Allende” but also them promptly forget that I have ever learned anything about equipaje or “mi maleta” and just say “luggage” in English. So cool.

Alex also points out that we have un perrito, but the agent has already spotted him among nuestras maletas. I frantically search for his papers because I am sure this is the point where he gets confiscated and quarantined and I never see him again. No, they just really wanted to give him a pitty pat on the head and say how cute he is. He could have all the rabies in the world for all they cared! Come in, you lousy, cute dog!

For the record he is fully vaccinated as stated above. It is important to note that we could be asked for Elvis’s papers at anytime during our visit and this is no indication that you should even think about bringing unvaccinated pets into Mexico.

The agent took a look inside the car and asked Alex to open the luggage rack to prove it was just personal luggage in there. It was all no big deal. Clearly we had nothing to hide and they could tell.

They did not take our temperature or ask for proof of COVID vaccinations or negative test results.

Emily and Alex at the Progreso International Bridge border crossing
Emily and Alex crossing the border with Elvis’s number one new fan.

We were across the border, so what next?

Well, remember that FMM I listed earlier? It was time to go get that stamped. You technically have up to 30 days after your entry into Mexico to get the FMM stamped at a INM (Instituto Nacional de Migracíon) office. But we wanted to go ahead and get everything done and there is an INM office right there at the Progresso International crossing.

We did have to park the car first. Since we had all the luggage on top and Elvis inside, we knew we would have to take turns going back to the office. As soon as we drove past the border gate, there were several people “directing” us to parking. This is all very unofficial. But, they do it in hopes of a tip of a few pesos. We opted to find our own spot which was pretty easy. There is parking all along the streets in Nuevo Progresso and it really doesn’t seem to matter where you park! We found a spot a few blocks away and I walked back to the INM office while Alex waited with our car.

I felt perfectly safe walking the few blocks. It was about 10 am and there were plenty of friendly people on the street. Most of them ignored me and the few who didn’t were just asking if I needed a dentist or a pharmacy. I also walked with an air of confidence and just tried to exude competence. It seemed to work.

Once I was in the INM office, I handed the agent my passport and my copy of my FMM paper that I had printed out previously. He said “ok, good job. Did you pay for this?” I said “of course! I paid online! How else do you think I was able to print out this pdf?” Oh, balls, that proves nothing and he wants my receipt that I left in the car!!!!

Ok, back to the car.

Once I had my 2 copies of the receipt, the agent stamped my FMM and kept one copy for them and handed me one. Easy enough. Also, they have public restrooms in this INM, which I mention because I am constantly in search of where the public restrooms are on my travels.

I went back to the car and told Alex exactly what to do because I am the most expert of experts now on everything. Alex obtains his paperwork with no issues and comes back to the car to tell me I may want to go get my passport since I left it on the INM agent’s desk. Efffffffff me!

One more trip back into the office for my lecture on how I should be more careful. The agent was speaking Spanish and I didn’t have to understand every word to know what he meant. I was being scolded.

As for the TIP?

Nobody asked for the TIP upon entry. But, we know there is a possibility that they can ask for it at any point during our time here. So, just like the FMM, rabies vaccine, car insurance, and marriage license, it is just better to have than not in case something happens.

The TIP cost us USD $53.42 in the summer of 2021, but you can always check the prices here. We also had to pay a deposit if USD $400, which we will get back when we leave Mexico as long as we leave before the time we stated and surrender our TIP at a Banjercito office before we cross back into the United States.

If you follow us on Instagram, you may have seen that we got “pulled over” our second day driving in Mexico.

We did not get pulled over for committing any moving violation. We were swept up in a Municipal Police (Policia Municipal) checkpoint as we were driving from Monterrey to San Luis Potosí.

As mentioned before, a bright red SUV with a luggage rack and California plates will stand out to anyone looking for an easy target. The assumption will always be that we don’t know what we are doing (which may be true half of the time!) and that we have money.

There are often Municipal Police checkpoints between states in Mexico, especially in locations closer to the US border and locations that may see a lot of tourist traffic. Our route had us briefly crossing from Nuevo León into Coahuila and back to Nuevo León. We were driving on HWY 57, when traffic slowed a bit at the state line crossing back into Nuevo León. There was a police car and two armed officers in between the lanes of the highway waving some vehicles on and telling others to pull over. When we saw one officer was currently unoccupied, we knew it was bad luck for us. He waved us over with his automatic weapon. Literally using the gun to point us to over.

It is strange to say, but this person was very nice and polite. Once he began talking to us, we didn’t really feel threatened by him, just incredibly nervous. He asked where we were going and what we had with us. We told him and he asked to see our papers. I began to look for our FMM cards since they are easier to replace than a passport or an ID. As I was doing that he subtly asked Alex if we “had anything for the cops”. We knew what he may have meant, but we also know it is illegal to pay a bride and it is best to play stupid until you are sure that is what they want.

Mexican Pesos
Mexican Pesos

We handed him the papers and he asked Alex to open up the trunk of the car. While back there he basically told Alex he wanted USD $10 and we could go. Alex came to my window to ask me for the cash because he did not want to open up his wallet to show everything he had (although he did not have all of his cash in that wallet by any means). I panicked and practically threw MXN $500 out the window which is USD $25. Dammit, Emily. Learn numbers.

And that was that. It was all a very matter of fact transaction. However, it understandably left us feeling violated. It was the most polite and specific mugging imaginable. Because, lest we forget, he was holding a giant combustable weapon the entire time. It was not a violent interaction, but the possibility of violence was palpable.

We knew this was almost and inevitably when driving through Mexico in an obviously American car. We just weren’t ready for it the second day! When I posted this in our Instagram stories, lots of you sent messages about how this had happened to you or family members too. In fact, we just talked to our neighbors in San Miguel de Allende and they said it has happened to them many times too after having lived in Mexico for a few years. It is a fact of traveling through Mexico. We actually had a pretty straightforward encounter compared to lots of stories we have heard. We know that sometimes they will accuse you of wrongdoing when you have done nothing wrong and then it gets a bit more complicated.

We will keep you posted if anything else like this happens to us in an effort to share how to handle things as we find out more. That being said, we are absolutely fine today and feel incredibly safe where we are staying in San Miguel de Allende for the next 10 days.

Emily and Alex in front of Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud in San Miguel de Allende
Emily and Alex in front of Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud in San Miguel de Allende.

Watch our YouTube Video about driving from the border to San Miguel de Allende (below)

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