May 22, 2017, Monday:
After some research, we decided it was best to cross into Mexico at a less busy border crossing, on a slower day. Our plan was to drive down mainland Mexico, because we didn't want to have to ship the van on the ferry from the Baja California peninsula. Nogales, Arizona/Mexico was known for being less busy than Tijuana and Mexicali, and it was less than 3 hours from Mesa, AZ where Wayne's Grandma Betty lives.
We were told weekends are busier at the Nogales border, so we found the beautiful Canoa Ranch Rest Area within an hour of the border and prepared ourselves to cross Monday morning. The rest area had perfectly maintained bathrooms, and was well lit, but like most rest stops there was a fair share of diesel trucks with their engines running overnight. Even with nerves about the next day, I was able to get a good night's sleep in the van (we LOVE our comfy queen sized bed!). (Pictured below: Canoa Ranch Rest Area)
In the morning we got on the road and headed toward Nogales with little to no traffic. We got to the border and were pleasantly surprised to find it was not congested at all. In fact, it was such a simple process to cross because we were entering what is referred to as the "No-Hassle Vehicle Zone," which means that US citizens, cars and trucks can pretty much come and go as they please in this zone, without having to get a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (also called a "Banjercito" which actually refers to the Mexican bank, Banjercito, which holds the deposit upon your exit from Mexico). The office where you acquire your 180-Day Visa and import permit is actually 12.5 miles (20 km) from the border crossing, so its easy to miss if you don't know you need to acquire these. If you continue past the "No-Hassle Zone" without a visa or permit, you risk being ticketed and sent back towards to border to get the proper paperwork. (Pictured below: Mexico Border)
US vehicles entering Mexico are required by law to carry Mexican Liability Coverage. This must be obtained either before, or at the border, but you cannot purchase this coverage from a US carrier. We went with Qualitas through Mexico Insurance Services, which we learned about on www.mexicomike.com .
After pulling off Highway 15 and parking at the Banjercito office, it was less than 30 minutes for us to have our tourist visas and vehicle permit processed. We were a little disoriented and unsure of the order of operations, but the uniformed guards were very patient and kind. We had prepared ourselves for the worst, long lines and typical bureaucratic delays, so we don't believe this border crossing experience is common. One good tip is to set aside a whole day for border crossings, get up early and plan to wait in line like everyone else. (Pictured below: Wayne getting his visa and permit for the van)
Between Tahoe, CA and Nogales, AZ we completed several important steps for our trip:
- Copied all forms of ID (passport, driver license, international driving license) and e-mailed ourselves photos also.
- Attained our International Driver Licenses at AAA ($15). Required by some countries along our route, but mostly we wanted to have these documents in lieu of our California Driver's Licenses to hand over Federal/State Police in case we got pulled over. We have learned there are instances when police will use a passport or ID as collateral for paying a ticket for an infraction (real or not), and they will offer you the "convenience" of paying the fine right there with them, in order for you to be able to drive off with your important documents. The International Driving License is a paper booklet, that doesn't actually look valid, but it's something we are willing to lose if it comes to it.
- Got travel vaccinations recommended by the CDC for Central and South America at the Southern Nevada Health District ($300-400). There is currently a Yellow Fever outbreak in South America, which has led to a shortage in the vaccination, so finding it is actually a bit difficult. You must call ahead to find out if a clinic is licensed to administer it, and whether they have it on hand at the time. Most places will only give it to someone who's departure date is less than 30 days away. We also received the Typhoid vaccine and re-upped our TDAP and Hepatitis A and B. Several countries require these vaccines, and you must show your shot records upon entry.