How To Take Your Travel Trailer To Mexico
By Alexis Chateau \
I’ve taken my travel trailer across the Mexican-American border three times and will do so many more times to come. The first time, I had no idea what to expect. I had spoken to one couple who crossed about 20 years prior, and there wasn’t a lot of trusted information online. So, after crossing and sharing my travels in Mexico, I became the one-stop shop for others who wanted to do the same. Here are some tips on how to take your travel trailer to Mexico.
1. Do Your Prep Work
Make a to-do list and start working on it at least a few months out. If you already have a passport, you might get away with a week’s worth of prep. People who keep their vehicles and trailers in pristine condition can likely roll out the same day.
Prep Your Paperwork
Crossing into Mexico is usually an easy and hassle-free process. However, you do need to have some documentation. Note that you face fewer requirements if you only visit Baja and Sonora.
The first thing on that list should be your passport. At the time of writing this, US passport processing times ranged from 7 to 11 weeks. Some people cross the border with just a driver’s license and a birth certificate. I don’t recommend it. Mexican border agents have asked me for my passport once out of the dozen times I’ve crossed, but US border agents ask me for my passport every time.
Note that other passports can get you across the border. I also have a Jamaican passport, which carries the same six-month entry allowance as the US passport. I travel with both, just in case. However, you might need a US visa or proof of American citizenship to return to the US with a foreign passport.
If you have pets, they need “passports” too. You should have proof of up-to-date rabies shots for returning to the US. Ensure the expiration date outlasts your trip. I have a cat and have never been asked for it. But, my friends with dogs say they have had to present theirs at the border. Agents conduct a physical inspection if you go far enough south into mainland Mexico. I never have.
Forma Migratoria Múltiple
You may or may not need an FMM whether you take your travel trailer to Mexico or drive across with just your car. You can either complete the process online or do it at the border. Border agents are always clueless when I ask questions, but it doesn’t hurt to ask them where to get it done. It’s likely the closest government or immigration building to the border and should be on the Mexican side.
You will also need proof of vehicle ownership when you take your travel trailer to Mexico. The first time I crossed, they asked me for the registration for the trailer but not the truck. They didn’t ask for my passport or my driver’s license. The most recent time I crossed, they asked for my passport and registration documents for the truck and trailer, but not my driver’s license.
Because of this requirement, I advise people not to cross with rental cars or borrowed trailers. One woman told me she had to drive back home to get her husband because the car was registered in his name and not hers, so take this requirement seriously. However, if you must drive or tow a rental, call ahead and get the proper procedure.
Border agents have never asked me for Mexican auto insurance, but it is illegal to drive without adequate liability coverage. Your American auto insurance likely does not cover you there, but you can call to ask. Most of the Mexican auto insurance policies I’ve seen do not cover rentals, so this is another reason I wouldn’t try to cross with one.
Auto insurance in Mexico is cheapest if you pay for six months to a year. I recently bought 12-month coverage for my FJ Cruiser, my travel trailer, and my e-Bike for $457.16 via Qualitas. It covers theft, medical expenses, third-party liability, and roadside assistance in Baja and Sonora. I also didn’t pay anything extra to add both my parents to my insurance.
Some people risk not driving without insurance here and carry enough cash to pay for damages. Others insure their tow vehicles but choose not to insure their travel trailers and toys. As far as I know, there is no legal requirement to insure your trailer and any toys you won’t drive on the road.
Prep Your Tow Vehicle
The roads in Mexico range from pristine to nothing but potholes. I’ve driven on roads that suddenly disappeared into sand dunes, and I have seen roads break away at the edges. Here are a few things I think you should do before you take your travel trailer to Mexico:
- Get a full check-up at the mechanic and complete any routine or recommended maintenance.
- Ensure your tires are in excellent condition because the roads will test them.
- If your suspension needs work, get it done because the random speed bumps make for some uncomfortable encounters.
- Fix any issues that might get you pulled over, such as a broken tail light, because Mexican police officers do not hesitate to give Americans tickets.
Prep Your Travel Trailer
The first time I crossed the border into Mexico, the bumpy roads took out the back half of the shelving that my cat’s litter box sits on. This last time, it took the whole thing out. I spent this morning removing the last of it. I share this to say that traveling through Mexico might take a toll on your trailer, so complete maintenance work on the RV as well.
The most important thing I recommend is ensuring your tires are in good shape, especially if you plan to hit the beach or drive through areas with sand dunes. People get stuck on the beaches all the time, so bring traction boards. I also recommend an air compressor if you need to air down for more traction.
Ideally, you have an overlanding trailer for Mexico, but you don’t need one. I don’t have one, but I sometimes wish I did.
2. Review Your Route
When I first RVed in Mexico, I planned to drive from Rocky Point down to Oaxaca. The locals gave me worried looks and shook their heads when I asked for the best route to get there. Unfortunately, the drug cartels still have a strong hold on Mexico. Some areas are very safe, but there are some you should never drive through ― least of all with American plates.
Check your routes with locals. I have a Mexican friend on Twitter who reviews my travel plans and routes for Mexico. His advice is spot on 10/10. I sometimes take requests to send his way.
Another great resource on where to travel is the advisory for your country. I would go off the country for your plates and the passport(s) you hold. That’s because different nationals receive varying treatments everywhere they go. There’s a good reason many of my US friends tell people they’re Canadian when they’re overseas.
Generally speaking, Baja California and Baja California Sur are relatively safe. Consequently, there are no recommended crossings, per se. However, heading into Sonora, I’ve been told to take the following:
- Lukeville/Sonoyta crossing for Rocky Point
- Nogales crossing for Hermosillo and further south
3. Know What To Leave Behind
I cannot stress this enough: you absolutely CAN NOT take guns into Mexico. There is a 99% chance they will search you at the border when you take your travel trailer to Mexico. They also have the right to search you at checkpoints, some of which are manned by the Mexican military. Law enforcement and soldiers were always exceptionally polite to me, even with assault rifles on their hips while they tell me to get out of the FJ. I was annoyed by stops but never feared for my safety or my life.
Nevertheless, make no mistake. All of that changes if you have a gun. You will be in a Mexican jail awaiting sentencing. Note that most civilian Mexicans cannot legally carry guns, so this is a serious offense. If you absolutely must bring weapons, get creative and make it obvious. I leave mine at the door of the RV, so it’s in plain sight. I’ve brought a taser, ax, a machete, and throwing knives across the border with no issues.
Most of the checkpoint stops in Mexico are looking for drugs and guns. Some teams have drug dogs. Legal or otherwise, I do not recommend bringing any recreational drugs to Mexico.
4. Know What To Take With You
Mexico is a big and diverse country with varying geographical features, climates, and cultures. Always check the weather and climate for where you plan to visit and pack accordingly.
I assumed Sonora would be nice and toasty all winter and almost froze my tooshie off when the 40-degree weather came calling by in January. Also, despite being in the desert, the Sea of Cortez makes Rocky Point humid.
You can check annual temperatures and weather variances online. Asking locals isn’t a bad idea either. The good news is that if you forget to bring something, you can likely buy what you need in Mexico.
Final Thoughts on How To Take Your Travel Trailer to Mexico
Mexico is a geographical extension of the United States, but it’s a different culture. If your Spanish is rusty, start practicing and install a translator. Check whether your phone service will cover you there and plan accordingly. I have TelCel on a separate phone when traveling in Mexico. Once you arrive, use basic common sense and keep your wits about you.
During half a year of living in Mexico, I never felt unsafe or found myself in compromising situations. That’s despite being a young woman traveling solo. Remember that good preparation and good decisions increase the chances of good luck.
Have a safe trip!