United States to Mexico Border Crossing at Laredo / Nuevo Laredo on Motorcycles
The below describes our experience crossing from the United States into Mexico at Nuevo Laredo with two motorcycles on September 6th, 2016, and is meant to serve as a resource for other travelers and adventure riders. It should not be understood as the end-all be-all. Every experience will differ, but we hope this makes your own a little more smooth. As always, refer to our Border Crossing Tips post. Having not needed to do much research before crossing the Canada-US borders on multiple occasions earlier on our trip, and being a bit in denial about how much confusion could be waiting for us on our way south, we did not do as thorough of research for this crossing as we should have, and as we did for all our future crossings. As we learned, it would be easy to fly through this border without stopping for all the essential processes and paperwork - so read on to learn what’s required!
References for getting a general orientation on this entry include the WikiOverland Mexico page and these extremely detailed directions (which we found later). Posts such as this one do you absolutely no good - Mexico is well worth the visit, and should not be skipped or rushed. We spent one month in the country and do not feel that we had nearly enough time. From the amazing natural scenery of the Huasteca Potosina region to the bustling city of Queretaro to the cenotes, cochinita pibil, beaches, and friendly faces of the Yucatan… Mexico is a wonderful country with so much to offer - for cheap - and is so often written up in the wrong way.
In this summary of steps to follow and “lessons learned,” we are not confirming and denying all of the details contained in the links above, but instead elucidate the overall process as we experienced it.
Approach the border, having your papers & money for tolls ready to access. Check your map carefully and do not accidentally end up veering right off of I-35 from Laredo and a few miles later find yourself at the strange border crossing that seems dedicated to 18 wheelers and seems to involve a pre-paid toll or pass of some kind. (If you do end up there, don’t fret - you can look helpless and be pointed to a u-turn, as we did!) In our experience, everything passed much more quickly than anticipated, and we weren’t even fully sure when & where (in terms of staffed processes) we left the US and entered Mexico.
Interact with an official who may be standing in the roadway, most likely US Border Patrol asking where you are headed, and who likely speaks both Spanish and English very fluently. Proceed slightly further ahead, pay a $3 toll at a booth. Cross the bridge, looking below & to your right for the big building with “Aduana,” - that’s the building you’ll be headed for in just a few minutes & for which a visual reference helps. Come to checkpoint. Mexican officials who likely speak only small amounts of English may inspect your vehicle and luggage, and then allow you through.
Suddenly you will find yourself in Mexico! It is a border town to define border towns - your first reaction will be focused on poverty. But you will be wanting to look for road signs - one above the road will direct you to Banjercito or Aduana - i.e. the national bank and Customs! When you see this sign above you, follow its guide to take a left. You will proceed straight until you come to a big three-way intersection with a traffic light. When green, take an extremely sharp left (almost like a u-turn, but sticking to the roadway appearing and opening up on your right side). Follow this road until you come upon the big Aduana building you saw down below from the bridge. The building will be on your left. Park & prepare your documents.
Inside the building you will complete all the steps necessary to legally enter and/or transit through Mexico.* Unfortunately we did not take note of the window numbers to visit in exact order, but you will want to start at the far left end of the building. Here you will present your passport, complete an entry form, let them know how long you plan to be in the country, and get the right stamps on that form to proceed to the next step, at a station further to the right. With a vehicle, or in our case, two motorcycles, the next step was to the next window to the right for copies. We had copies in tow, but apparently needed to pay for the copies they made and then stamped. I think we paid around $2 for these copies. We were then directed to the Banjercito (official bank) window all the way at the right end of the building, where we presented our personal and vehicle documents (stamped copies + originals). You will spend a little time getting your FMM (tourist card) and your Temporary Import Permit (TIP) processed and paid for, while they reference these documents. In our case, we also presented a copy of our marriage license, to justify that we had two separate vehicles with two titles in one name. One bike was processed under each of our names, without much fret beyond a glance at our marriage license and the inclusion of a copy. To receive a TIP, you must pay a deposit. The cost depends on the year of your vehicle (refer to links above). You can pay with cash or card, and the amount you pay should, in theory, be returned to you in full when you exit the county and cancel your TIP. If paying with a credit card, the name on the credit card MUST match the name going on the TIP (generally based on the title). We paid with cards - $467.72 per bike on September 6, 2016 and refunded $383.74 per bike on September 30, 2016, just after we exited Mexico. We believe this discrepancy is due to either currency exchange rate changes or card fees, but there is the possibility that it is some kind of fee we are not familiar with. In any case, the loss definitely revealed a potential plus to paying with cash. For the entry fee/tourist card, we were charged $21.37 each. For those without a vehicle: you would skip the copies, go directly the Banjercito to pay the entry fee, and be processed fairly quickly.
Once all our documents and payments were in order, we passed back by the first officials we interacted with & double checked that we were go to go. On their “esta bien!” we were on our way, stowing our documents in a safe place. Be sure not to lose them - they will be necessary to get your deposit refunded and for you and the vehicle to exit the country. IF you are planning to re-enter Mexico within the timespan that your tourist card and TIP allow, read up on alternate sources about the do’s and don’ts! We cannot speak to those processes as we exited to Belize and were not set to return.
Total Time at Border: 1.5 hours
Overall Rating: Easy, so long as you don't get lost on the road
*PLEASE NOTE that we bypassed the small booths inside the Aduana building selling vehicle insurance coverage for our time in Mexico. We did not purchase insurance at the border, because we had read that we would have access to coverage further in the country at a lower cost. On this front we were wrong -- we spent a good portion of time in our first week bouncing around to different banks and offices trying to obtain insurance, but coverage was repeatedly denied because we were foreigners or on foreign bikes. We never found out exactly where the previous sources purchased coverage. With the input of a very kind old woman, we eventually decided that it was not necessary - we would proceed with caution and be prepared to pay off a bribe or a sum for repairs if pulled over or in an accident. We never had an experience to confirm whether or not insurance is a good idea or if it is truly required - online sources seem conflicted. But our lesson learned is that if you would definitely like to have the coverage and/or play it safe, you’ll want to visit the insurance booths available in this initial border building.
Once in Mexico, be aware that toll roads begin to abound. It is up to you whether you take them (it adds up, but is generally viewed as safer and faster) or not - there are plenty of overland travelers who attest to their fantastic experiences avoiding all the tolls. “Libre” is a free road, while “Cuota” denotes a toll road. “Carretera” is the road type sometimes associated with free while autopista is that associated with tolls. The toll prices for vehicles are usually on the sign as you approach the toll booths, and varied throughout the country. If you are taking a toll road, be sure to save your toll fee receipt while driving on it - if you end up pulled over or in an accident, we were told it would be important to show this receipt as a sort of “insurance.” For other tips on driving in Mexico, check out this site. While we are strong proponents of a positive view of Mexico, we do agree with the recommendations against stopping within the first 100 miles of the border, and avoiding interactions that may be unclear or high-risk, particularly within that initial span. Our first destination was Monterrey, where were hosted by a wonderful Couchsurfer and enjoyed dinner and a night around town with he and his friends. That’s the key to Mexico - find a friendly host and open yourself up to the immersion! You will not be disappointed. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us!