Planning the Trip
Geneviève Lauzière (Moderator Gen) came for a visit this week for a quick road trip to Sonora, Mexico. The original idea was to visit Puerto Peñasco for a chance to soak up some sun on the beach. As our plans evolved, we changed to San Carlos (Guaymas) and later we thought about San Felipe too (on the Baja peninsula) – but we ended up deciding the San Carlos area was our best choice. This was the first experience for either of us with driving into Mexico and it was a hoot.
Since this is a long report -- I've broken it into separate posts and will add them one at a time. Driving in Mexico is a mystery for many of us -- and I thought perhaps telling about our experience might be useful for those who are interested in going there but are uneasy about it (as I was). Gen is on her way home to Quebec tonight -- but she says she will be posting some comments and observations about the trip as well once she's back online.
The planning began a few days before departure – since traveling to Mexico does require some forethought and preparation.
First, since my truck is financed, I had to get an authorization letter from the bank allowing me to take it across the border. This wasn’t difficult to obtain, but required a few days for mailing.
I got some maps from AAA Arizona, a tour book (also AAA), and Mexican auto insurance for the specific days we’d be there. American automobile insurance is not valid in Mexico and traveling without it can earn you a quick trip to a local jail with no early release. To supplement my meager knowledge of Spanish, I also printed some useful Spanish phrases (like “where is the bathroom, pretty please…”). Gen’s preparations mirrored most of these steps.
For much of northern Sonora, a vehicle permit is no longer required. This is a document that assures Mexico you are not importing a vehicle for sale in that country – an issue they are sensitive about. If the permit is required for your destination (in our case it wasn't), you must post a credit card or cash bond (credit card is much cheaper), and return the permit to them as you leave Mexico again.
While we were able to skip that step, we both had to get a visa, also called a “tourist permit,” or a “forma migratoria” (“FM”) as we entered the country. We had no trouble obtaining this at an entrance station just across the border – I used my U.S. passport and Gen got her permit with a driver license and birth certificate (and her expired passport as back-up). We had no trouble, not even a raised eyebrow, getting across these borders without a passport, as long as we had the other documents (for US or Canadian citizens).
Note: It is my opinion that some travelers to Mexico could “get away” with NOT having the required documents and the insurance. You might not get stopped; you might not get asked to show the paperwork. But if you do, and you don’t have it, you will be subject to a bureaucratic nightmare (at the very least) and possibly criminal charges and jail as well. The paperwork and documents are easy to arrange and obtain. Why take a chance? Find out what is required, and comply. Dealing with the Mexican authorities was easy -- as was U.S. Customs coming back in.
Finally, we stopped in Nogales, Arizona and exchanged some dollars for pesos. Many places in Sonora accept dollars as if they were their own – but San Carlos is 260 miles into Mexico from Nogales, and in some smaller communities and situations, having pesos makes sense. Of course Señor Visa is also welcome almost everywhere tourists go.
To be continued; Part 2, Getting on the Road