Sunday, October 13, 2013

By Request, Driving to Mexico and San MIguel de Allende

Two readers requested information on driving to Mexico.  I just finished a driving trip as witnessed by the photo above. 

Be sure before you enter into Mexico that you have gotten Mexican car insurance.  Very important.

Here goes.  It's driving down Hwy 35 toward Laredo.

As you drive down Hwy 35, you will see a sign for Camino Columbia.  Take that exit.  It is a toll road but, you can either go on the Texas toll road site and pay for a sticker or wait for them to photograph your car and send you a bill, which will be about $6 or $7 USD for not having the sticker and the toll charge.  I now have a sticker because I drive up several times a year.

I always take people to the Columbia Bridge if there is any paperwork to be done for the sole reason that there is almost never anyone there and they are most helpful.  It opens at 8AM in the morning.  I don't know the closing time, but I would assume it is after dark and you shouldn't be driving into Mexico after dark anyway.

The first thing that happens is you go through a little aisle where you will get a red or green light.  If it is a red light, they will want you to pull over so they can inspect your load (Be sure you go through the "Do not declare lane") IF they do want to inspect your load and ask you to take things out, take them out one at a time.  For instance, one book at a time if you have 200 books etc.  They have to stay with you and hence, the longer it takes you, the faster they will tell you to go on.

As you went through that lane, there was a big white building to your right.  Pull into the parking lot, lock the car and go into the building.  You will see a cashier's window where you pay for your permits but you need to turn to the right and go into a short hallway and a room to fill out the forms for a tourist permit (if that is appropriate) OR a Temporary Import Permit for your car.  You must have identification and a drivers license to complete these things along with your passport.  For your car you need to have the title and a credit card to debit your deposit for the car permit.  If your vehicle is financed and you don't have the title you need to get a notarized letter from the title holder giving you permission to bring the car into Mexico.  Please check on these requirements NOW, with the Mexican consulate office.

THIS is where you get your tourist visa for a max of 180 days.  Must be kept on your person and cannot be extended, so be sure you leave before the 180 days expires.  In addition, if your tourist visa expires, so does your car permit and you will NOT get your deposit back.

IF you have gone to a Mexican  consulate office and gotten your visa taken care of (immigrante or permanent) then all you have to do is stop, have them put a sheet of paper into your passport showing the date you crossed the border so that when you arrive in San Miguel ready to go through the reissuing of your visa, you can prove that you are at Immigration within the 30 day grace period.  Do this right away. Also get your car permit.  Your car permit will only be good for 30 days as well, I am told but will cross over and be good as soon as you get the new visa issued.

However, for those of us with our immigrante visas who have lived here for a while, we have the sticker and don't have to go through these steps. The Temporary Import permit can only be granted to those with an immigrante or tourist visa.  Permanent visa holders cannot drive a US plated car in Mexico nor can they get a Temporary Import Permit. 
It won't take you any longer then 30 minutes to complete all of this, usually.  Then what I do is leave the parking lot, drive down to where I can make a u-turn and drive back into the USA.  I explain to the US Customs guys what I've just done and they wave me on.

The reason I do this is I want to leave first thing in the morning for the drive to San Miguel which take about 9 hours.  So I drive to Laredo, spend the night and leave about 7:30 the next morning.  I stay at the LaQuinta on Hwy 35 because they have gates on their parking lot and if I have a lot in the car, I know it is protected from theft.

As you first pay $3 to leave the US and then go through the "do not declare" lanes in Nuevo Laredo you go through the same procedure hoping you get a green light.  As SOON as you get through that process, go straight one block, turn left, lock your doors and drive to the road that bypasses the town. IF someone tries to wave to you to stop, don't.  I even had someone try to grab my door handle and I just kept driving.  I don't know what they wanted but I didn't stop to find out.  Follow the bypass until you come to a big overpass with a sign that says Monterrey to the left.  You'll go under the underpass, get up onto the freeway and you're heading south.

In 20 to 30 minutes you'll arrive at the last checkpoint which is just like the ones you've already gone through before - red light, green light and THEN you're off on your trip with no more red lights, or green lights.

I keep my visa, my paperwork on the car permit, my drivers license and passport ready next to me in case for some reason I'm stopped and they want to see something.  That has not happened in years.

If it does happen, remain relaxed and do not panic.  My attitude is that they are just doing a job.  I smile, I'm friendly and speak ENGLISH only.  It limits the length of the conversation greatly.

Be sure you have sufficient Mexican money to pay the tolls and for gasoline.  Credit cards are NOT accepted.  I usually have at least 3000 pesos or more.  There are many exchange places in Laredo to exchange money or do it where you live before the trip.

Stay on the toll roads.  The reasons being, they are well maintained, there are fewer trucks, good signage and places to pull off for bathrooms, food and fuel.

I drive by using the signage.  You will follow the sign for Monterrey first.  Then when you start arriving in Monterrey and the airport is to your right, you will start seeing signs for Saltillo cuota.  You will be turning right onto this cuota which circles the city of Monterrey.  Make that turn and follow it all the way around until you have passed the Saltillo libre sign (which is the free road to Saltillo) and then you almost immediately will see a sign Saltillo cuota, Matehuala libre.  Take that exit to the right.  You will go through a pay booth and you need to watch for a sign, not far down the road for Matehuala libre". It too will be to your right. Follow that sign and head toward Matehuala. 
Again, you'll be heading south.

From the border to Matehuala is 5 hours allowing for a couple of bathroom and fuel stops.  I usually fill up immediately upon crossing into Mexico or in Laredo.  At Monterrey, at the Pemex with Garcia's restaurant, I refill up and then drive almost to Matehuala and fill up again.  I never let my car get below 1/4 of a tank and often not below 1/2 tank of gas.

There is now a bypass around Matehuala.  A cuota.  You can take that, which I do, or you can drive into Matehuala and stop, eat and then drive on.  This usually adds an hour to the trip. can do what I do is to bring a little cooler with a sandwich, fruit and a drink.  IF you do want to stop in Matehuala, on your left will be a large parking lot, half way into town with the sign Las Palmas.  Nice restaurant and motel here with good service.

If you don't stop in Matehuala, continue to follow the cuotas (sometimes you're not on cuota but the signs will tell you that) and then eventually you'll see signs that say Queretaro, Mexico which means Mexico City.  Follow that sign. 

Eventually you'll go over a bypass and wind to your left and come down onto a free road that head to Queretaro and prior to that to San Miguel de Allende.  You will notice many, many more trucks.  The good thing is that they are good drivers and they stay in the right hand lane unless they are passing.  If you signal with your left turn signal that you are passing them, they will not pull in front of you even if they want to pass someone.

As you come into the State of Guanajuato, on your right you'll see signs for Delores Hidalgo.  Keep going on the highway.  Here are my landmarks for knowing that I'm coming to the little two lane road that will go off to your right to San Migiuel de Allende.  Don't laugh.  There is ALWAYS an old car sitting on the side of the road with large brass birds for sale.  Some on the hood of the car.  On the left side of the highway, there will be a white church with three windows in the steeple.  If you look straight ahead you'll see an overpass, now WATCH for the sign that says San Miguel de Allende.  It comes up quick.  Make that right turn.  Follow that road through Los Rodriguez.  A town with a million speed bumps which are calle topes in Mexico.  They are brutal.  Just slow down, relax, you're almost there and no need to try to pass on this very, very narrow road.  Just enjoy the scenery. 

In about 30 minutes from the time you leave Hwy 57, you will be in San Miguel de Allende.

Take it in, sign and relax.

I've driven many other ways to the border in the past.  I've crossed at Pharr in the past and hooked up with the cuota to Monterrey.  Or I've crossed at Reynosa and driven south on a 3 lane road that is not divided highway.  In my opinion, the route I've just described is the preferable one due to the fact that you are always on 4 lane, divided highway and most of the time on cuotas.

If possible in the USA to get a copy of the book of maps,  Guia Roji, Por las carreteras de Mexico, do so.  It is a fabulous book of maps.  Then you can highlight the route I've just described on the various pages.

Remember, you want to get to your destination before dark.  So if you're coming from the border to San Miguel and you cross at 7:30AM, you should be here by 5:30PM.

The reason you don't want to be on the roads after dark are not banditos, but potholes, road hazards, road construction, trucks without tail lights or headlights and sometimes very late at night, animals laying on the road (in the rural areas).  It's just NOT wise.

Hope this all helps.  Let me know if you have more questions.  I addressed bringing animals into Mexico in another post.

Buen viaje!

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gringosuelto said...

So you don't think it's worth the bother to go a bit farther west and cross at Eagle Pass? I've always felt nervous about crossing at the larger border towns like Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros.

I've also heard that Saltillo is completely full of corrupt cops seeking mordidas. Any thoughts on that?


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where the potholes are a not immaterial danger.

calypso said...

Good info Babs - thanks. A couple of things: While I use to always wait to fill-up in Mexico - now gas is less in the U.S. - so I have started filling up BEFORE crossing into Mexico.

A GPS is worth the cost -a terrific device that even works in Mexico (not to the degree it does in the U.S. but it is getting better all the time).

I drive at night - BUT only by way of getting behind a bus (Like ADO) and or an 18 wheeler and staying put - they know where every pothole and tope is along the way - never had a problem following them.

These days I recommend carrying water and food and perhaps warm clothing that would help make you comfortable during a loooong wait. We have spent hours at manifestation (demonstrations) road blocks. One time 26 hours without the possibility of moving. Bring a book or a kindle to keep entertained. Be prepared.

Before you head out on any Mexican road trip you might consider checking in on Forums local to the areas of Mexico you will travel. The folks on the Forums can be very helpful with latest news on weather, road conditions and demonstrations etc.

And to reinforce what you said - DO NOT stop for anyone in those border towns ;-)

Babs said...

Kim, if you want to cross at a smaller crossing, Columbia never has more then 3 people there, at least in my experience. So, if you got there first thing in the morning and crossed by 8:30, you'd be in good shape. You want to avoid going through a town, the name of which at this moment I can't think of that is industrial (rail repair places) that is not good. It begins with an M. It will come to me today....I've been to Saltillo many times and stayed there. Have never been asked for a mordida anywhere in Mexico! Was never stopped in Saltillo.

Babs said...

Calypso, I don't understand the need for a GPS when you have a road map.
I think that is a "guy" thing. I've driven all over the place without one. The only time it might be nice is when you drive through a big city.
My method is to stop a taxi and have them lead me through and pay them on the other side! It has worked in Uruapan, Morelia, Celaya and other places. I know that will make you laugh, but it sure works.
I drive about 80 to 85 on the highway because often there is not a single car for about an hour, so following a bus wouldn't work for me. I've NEVER seen a demonstration in all the years I've been driving in Mexico (40 years). However, I do admit I don't drive near Mexico City.
When I was driving up recently with two hurricanes threatening, I contacted a fellow blogger near Monterrey who sent me the road conditions and weather conditions AND his cell phone # if I had any problems. Our blogger community is just magnificent. Then I got the website for the federal highway roadblocks etc. I posted it previously. THAT is a great way to check for road construction, etc,.
One last thing I do before I go on any trip is have my mechanic here in SMA check the car out. Then at the gas station both here and in Laredo, I have them check the tires, oil and water. Then I head out knowing I've done everything I can to be relatively safe!

calypso said...

"My method is to stop a taxi and have them lead me through and pay them on the other side! It has worked in Uruapan, Morelia, Celaya and other places. I know that will make you laugh, but it sure works."

And you think a GPS is a guy thing. They provide much more information than a map - and they do not requiring the risk of hiring a cab driver to get you through a maze like Tampico.

As far as the mainfestations - we have been in more than a half dozen in the last few years and have not even been close to DF. I think it is a mistake to NOT consider the possibility in spite of your good fortune in the last 40 years.

Babs said...

Kim, Monclovia. You do NOT want to go through there as I have heard of all kinds of road blocks, mordidas etc. of a lot of people. I haven't looked at a map but I believe (and could be wrong) that entering at Eagle Pass takes you through there.

Remember, NO to Monclovia.

Babs said...

Thanks Calypso. I said that it would be beneficial to have GPS in the cities.
Wow, we don't hear about demonstrations anywhere other then DF and on the Pacific side near Patzcuaro etc.
I so appreciate your advice and suggestions......truly. You are so right. I do always carry food, books and a pillow....especially since 9 times out of 10, I'm driving alone.

jennifer rose said...

Eagle Pass isn't a bad route for diversion, and Monclovas isn't all that bad. Somestimes the route from Nvo. Laredo just becomes too boring.

The Columbis crossing is easy, but it has these drawbacks: a) limited hours, and b) aduana personnel who have just too much time on their hands. One time, I had to wait an hour at Columbia for the guy in charge to show up, never mind that I'd crossed over as soon as it opened.

Spending the night in Laredo, I've crossed over many times at 2:30 a.m., just to avoid the heat anc crowds. The border is still hopping at that hour, because you're not the only person with that idea, but it's not as crowded as will be as the day goes on.

Aduana staff are on to everyone's tricks. The days of engineering your load so that boxes of Tampax will be the first things they'll touch are over, although that trick did work a time or two. One time I was driving my mother down, and I had a broken leg. I tried that excuse with the customs official who wanted me to unload the Suburban, only to hear her respond with "You could drive her, you're good enough to unload the vehicle." Yeah, she made her point.

jennifer rose said...

I wish this blog had an editing feature. Monclova, not Monclovas. And, not anc. Here, not her.

Babs said...

Ha, Jennifer, boring is good, I think. I take books on tape, know the road, know where the potty stops are among other things........I never tire of the drive. It is so beautiful.
I've never had to take more then 3 books out of my car. One time when caravaning with friends they were told to unload. They had all kinds of Christmas decorations. She took one pinecone at a time out of the car. Needless to say, by pinecone four they were saying to go on. It works.

I have had numerous acquaintances that had the proverbial shakedown in Monclovia. So I stick to the route I know doesn't have those things.........

When I started driving in Mexico someone who was down here all the time advised not to drive at night. I did once and discovered how many vehicles do not drive with any headlights or tail lights. It wasn't worth it to me.
If you cross at 7:30AM, there is not ever a least I've never had one. Of course, I'm not crossing close to Christmas or holidays! THAT is a whole other story.

Thanks for your comments!

lauriec said...

Thanks Babs and others for this post and all the comments- very helpful

When you made your first trip down, did you drive alone or hook up with one or more other drivers for a little caravan? We are considering driving down with our dogs for a few months stay. Although we have travelled a bunch in mexico, we have never driven from the US.

thanks for any tips for first timers.


Babs said...

Laurie - The first time I drove down was about 30 years ago with a business associate in his truck. It kinda gave me the "lay of the land" back then although we weren't coming to San Miguel. Back then there were no toll roads, everything, if I remember correctly was two lane except going around Monterrey which was four lane. It WAS an adventure.
After that I drove either alone or with a passenger as I moved stuff down in my Pathfinder. I've only caravaned once with some who drove most of the way at 90MPH or more and I was a nervous wreck trying to keep up with him. Over the years, I could count on one hand the number of passengers I've had in about 75 trips!

gringosuelto said...


Thanks for the tip! I had been thinking of crossing at Eagle Pass and going through Monclova, but I think you've persuaded me to go through Laredo, which makes sense as I'll stop and see friends in Houston anyway.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we're also wondering how far south of the border we need to go before heaving a sigh of relief.

Babs said...

Kim, there will be TWO sighs of relief. Once you've gotten through the 16 km or mile checkpoint and you're heading toward Monterrey and again when you hit the road to Matehuala........then it is clear sailing........ENJOY!

Diane Guercio said...

Please tell me where to find your post about bringing animals into Mexico. We're moving to SMA in a few weeks and find your blog VERY helpful and informative- and we've been visiting for 6 years. Juat finished building a home there.
Muchas gracias!

PA said...

Does anyone have any advice for driving from San Miguel to the US? I drove up in May and crossed at Laredo Bridge 2 and after an hour wait to get to the inspection booth I was detained for 2 hours. They had me remove Every item from my car. I took one thing out at a time and it was loaded with stuff. They were not impressed with how long it took me to remove the items. They physically inspected under the car and the exterior for some time then drove the car away to an X Ray machine where they drove it thru 4 times. They let the air out of my tires and then refilled them. I am a 60 year old woman, I was driving a 2005 Jetta by myself. I don't know what aroused their suspicions except that I had new tires. Anyway I need to drive back to the states in a couple of weeks and I wonder if I should cross into the US at the Columbia bridge. Any suggestions?

Babs said...

Diane Guercio.. Your vet in the USA will know what form must be completed within 10 days of crossing the border. Be sure to get this form. Although, they might not ask for it, if they do you'll have to have it.

PA - In 40 years I've never heard of anyone going through such a thing! There must have been an alert for a car such as yours or something. Yes I ALWAYS go to the Columbia bridge crossing. NOT the commercial bridge, but the last bridge about 30 minutes west of Laredo. It has never taken me 30 minutes and never, even when I've had a car or van full have they ever wanted to inspect the stuff.
Good luck. I hope that never happens to you again. Amazing. I avoid the crossing at Laredo like the plague and have only crossed there twice in 40 years going into the USA! Both times were a pain! But, never like what you went through......Safe travels.

PA said...

Thanks so much for your view. I did love the drive until I got to the US border agents. At one point 4 of the US agents were speaking to each other in Spanish and one looked at me and asked, do you speak Spanish? My Spanish is not robust so I said no. He then asked me what I was doing in Mexico if I don't speak Spanish! I was very nice to them all because I don't want to disappear into a homeland security prison. I have to say it was scary. I'm going to put that out of my head and look forward to another beautiful drive thru Mexico and cross on the Columbia bridge. The country reminds me so much of how beautiful Southern California was when I was a child there!

PA said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Babs said...

PA, I'm still speechless at your experience. Have never heard anything like it coming from US Customs. Wish you had gotten their names and badge numbers..........

Goeie Dag said...

Is the area between CARACOL, ALLENDE and TRES CRUCES on Hwy 111 (Calle Jerico) safe to buy a house at and walk from/to the Historic Center of SMA? Thanks!

Babs said...

Sorry, I don't know where Hwy 111 is. If you give me more info, I'll try to help. If you're thinking of buying a house sight unseen, I certainly don't recommend that, wherever it is......
Thanks for writing.

Goeie Dag said...

The address is on the Calle Jerico 2, just a couple houses from Highway 111. It is called CARACOL area, kind of SOUTH of the CENTRO. Please look up under Google Maps. The house website: - owners are extremely nice and friendly Mexican couple.

Babs said...

The house you are thinking of is near the busy highway with tons of noise and traffic.

It is a LONG walk from there to centro. At least 40 to 45 minutes.

As far as the area being safe, I would think so. We have hardly any crime here in San Miguel. I feel safe every where I go.

Good luck with your decision.

Ms. Dunn said...

Hi Babs,

Thanks for this post- it helped me a lot. I have been touring Mexico for nearly a month now with my car and dog, and having a great time. I am getting ready to start slowly going back up north, and was wondering if you had any info on returning your car permit. Do you need to go back into the Banjercito building to do it? I am travelling with my dog, so I need to plan around him, since I can't leave him in the car.

Thanks for your help!

Patricia Verplank said...

We wish to travel from Laredo,Tx to SMA. We are looking for a service that will provide road transportation and a driver for the trip. We are traveling with a few personal items and a small dog. Do you have any suggestions

Babs said...

I know a company here in San Miguel, Bajiogo that would send a driver and a van. It will be very expensive. You contact them.

You can also go by bus, ETN from Nuevo Laredo. It is about a 12 hour trip with one stop in Monterrey for just a few minutes. The bus takes you to Queretaro where you could have a driver or taxi bring you to San Miguel for about 400 pesos which is $20USD.

Other then that, I've never had a request like this. Safe travels.