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. Or.you 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.