How to ACTUALLY do Vanlife Mexico

Travel

I was, and still am, completely clueless about most of this stuff – but I write this from my bed, which happens to be parked a la playa in Mexico. So, there’s that. We made it! Here’s how we did it – and how we didn’t do it, but definitely should have.

Step 1: Get your FMM Tourist Card

If you’re going to be in Mexico you have to have a tourist card. For this, you’ll have to fill out an online form (here) and give your passport information, dates you’ll be there, where you’re going and pay a fee of about $24. I’ve heard of it not being checked at the border, but ours were. That’s where we ran into issue #1: we didn’t have all the forms we needed. When you complete the FMM application online, you’ll submit it and then it will take you to another website where you pay your fee. Make sure you do it all at the same time, because as far as I can tell you can’t access your application again and will have to resubmit a new one. Happened to me. Once you complete the application you’ll get an email with a link to your tourist card, which you won’t be able to access until you pay. We didn’t realize that, and had unknowingly just printed the receipts from our payment.  Luckily, we were allowed to fill the form out by hand and our online fee was accepted that way… but not without a little bit of confusion and trouble. Make sure to click the email link and print your tourist card to bring to the border with you!

Step 2: Get your Temporary Vehicle Import Permit

I honestly researched this so much, and still didn’t get it right on the first try. I don’t think that it’s because I necessarily did anything wrong, but that it’s not exactly standard across the board. AKA – depending on who is giving you the permit, they may want different documents than what we needed. Also, keep in mind you won’t need a vehicle permit if you’re only going to Baja, and you’ll need something different if you’re only going to Sonora. The first thing I would do is gather ORIGINAL VERSIONS of everything listed below, and make 2 copies of each of them:

  1. FMM Tourist Card
  2. Passport
  3. Driver’s License
  4. Original Title or Valid Registration (if the vehicle is not in your name this gets a little tricky. You may need a birth or marriage certificate as well as the title)
  5. Proof of Mexican Insurance
  6. Electronic Pre-Authorization (this is what we didn’t have, and had to go back and get)

We were able to get our permit ahead of time in Austin, which saved us a lot of trouble because if we had tried to do it at the Banjercito (over the border) we wouldn’t have had everything we needed and probably would have been sent back to Texas. It is important to note that if you do make an appointment with a Mexican Consulate in the states there is a link in the email you’ll receive to a form you’ll need to print and bring with you to the appointment. Forms on forms on forms!!!

For us, they took a copy of my passport, driver’s license, registration, and the pre-auth form. Didn’t check if I had a tourist card or insurance, but who knows if someone else might find those things to be more important.

You CAN also do this online 10-60 days before you plan to enter Mexico, but you’ll have to have it mailed to you, which as we all know, if you’re living in a van gets complicated.

The permit costs around $52, but you’ll also have to put a deposit down on a credit card, which you’ll get back when you cancel your vehicle permit at the Banjercito upon exiting the country.

Step 3: Bringing a Dog

This is something we actually did good with! We waited until we were in Texas to get our dog papers figured out. We just looked up a USDA Certified Veterinarian, and for around $150 they will check your pup out and give you all the paperwork you need. Not that anyone will check it, but again better safe than sorry.

Things We Wish we Knew before Heading South:

Don’t plan to be able to drive at night. At all. Not only are the roads absolutely terrifying on their own, but the trucks are absolute maniacs. Passing is a death wish, but necessary at times. I would just avoid it completely if possible.

Add about 2-3 hours to any GPS estimation of how long it will take you to get somewhere. We definitely did not realize this and what we *thought* was a 13 hour drive turned into a 2 day fiasco. Don’t try to rush things if you’re driving through Mexico. Keep stress levels low by planning to take your time and make a few days of 4-5 hour drives if at all possible. Our biggest regret is trying to make long ass miserable drives across the country.

If you’re going to take toll roads, make sure you have Pesos, and lots of them. In short, the toll roads are expensive AF. I’m talking 300-400 Pesos for some of them, and you pay all. the. time. Some of them take cards, but most don’t. Also, some of them are taken over by locals and you definitely don’t want those guys after you. The toll roads were honestly more stressful for us than taking the free roads, just because we never knew when a toll would pop up, how much it would be, if we would have enough money or if we would have to beg someone to exchange dollars for us. On that note…

We had a lot more fun and enjoyable time staying on the free roads (for the most part). We were able to see really cool towns and had a lot more viable options for passing a night. That being said, we also were stuck on extremely questionable roads (Proof Here) that I would never ever recommend to anyone in a Sprinter or RV. So, be wary. Check your route beforehand and if it looks like it’s taking you into the literal middle of nowhere – chances are it probably is.

We would recommend having some sort of back up light for if you get stuck driving at night. The speed bumps, pot holes, and stray animals are really hard to see with your regular headlights. Having something like an LED bar would have been a huge help for when we were forced to drive at night.

Get your GPS going on more than one device, if possible. There were times when one of our phones would randomly drop navigation and we would have been totally screwed if we didn’t have both our phones GPS going because the service is extremely spotty during the long drives cross-country.

No matter how safe an area you think you’re in, don’t leave anything you want to keep outside of your van. We left our surfboards strategically hidden and shoved under our van one night while in a very nice neighborhood and still had it stolen. We got it back, so it’s all good, but don’t leave your stuff out people!

Talk to people, wave at people, say Hola! We noticed that a lot of people would stare at us when we drove by. For a while we thought they had angry faces, but turns out a lot of Mexicans just kind of have RBF (like me). We started waving at people and they all always waved back and got super stoked! We met so many super nice people just being parked somewhere. Way more than you could ever hope to meet here in America. Don’t be scared to say hi! In general, we found that Mexicans were very very friendly!

ENJOY! RELAX! Please, don’t rush Mexico. One thing I wish we had in Mexico was more TIME. If we didn’t have to force long drives, wait in places for car repairs, etc. we would have had so much more fun. If we could do it again, I would go into Mexico with no hard end date and just take our sweet, sweet time exploring.

I would love to keep this blog post ever-evolving. If you have any questions about an upcoming trip into Mexico we would absolutely love to help! Shoot us a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!