How to Smoothly Cross the US/Mexico Border with a Van

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Yesterday (November 3, 2022) I crossed the border at Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras to go to Mexico and start the southbound leg of my Pan-American Highway trip. Per usual with the Mexican border, I got the crossing quite wrong (read about everything we did wrong back in 2018 here). Learn from my mistakes and by following these tips to smoothly cross the border with a car at Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras.

Note: if you’re staying within 100 miles of the border or anywhere in Baja California, my understanding is that you do not need the TIP. Confirm before you go.

The specific directions are only valid for Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras but the order of operations should be consistent for most border crossings. 

  1. Arrive early. I got to the border around 8am and the line was very short southbound. I slept at the Walmart in Eagle Pass to help the morning go quickly. 
  2. Have $4 USD in cash (or about 80 pesos at the current rate). I had to go back to an ATM on the US side to pay the $4 bridge toll. No cards accepted. 
  3. If you do your FMM (forma migratoria multiple) online, print it out with the receipt as well. You’ll need both hard copies. If you don’t have things printed out (I didn’t), you’ll get sent into the town to walk about 1/2 mile to Papeleria Fox to print things. There’s a supermarket close by for copies, but they can’t print anything online or off your phone. I had to make this walk twice because I didn’t get my receipt the first time. This really slowed me down.
  4. I took the “something to declare” lane (farthest left) and was directed to a covered parking spot where I left the van and dogs locked up. The agent took a look inside my van before sending me inside. I invited her into each door and showed her around, making it clear I had nothing to hide and that she was welcome to inspect.
  5. If you need your FMM or have your printouts, your next step is immigration. Head downstairs on the Mexican side. There’s a door to the left of the spiral stairs; you speak to the doorman and he’ll ferry your paperwork and passport inside to the agent. You need a stamp and signature. The online fee was about $30 USD, I assume it’s similar in person.
  6. Once your FMM is signed and stamped, now you can head to the Banjercito to get your temporary vehicle import permit (TIP or TVIP). This is upstairs, in the far right corner if you’re facing the US/north. 
  7. Have your title (copies and original), passport (titles and original), a photo of your license plate, and stamped FMM ready to go. The line was very slow but luckily not very long. The Banjercito staff cross-referenced all the documents, then kept a copy of my passport and title on-file. The fee was $370 USD for my converted van.
    1. The Banjercito staff kept my physical FMM (which made me nervous). They assured me that my online copy of my FMM is fine going forward. So far they’re right; I was stopped three times at checkpoints yesterday and they only ever wanted to see my TVIP and passport.

When I write it out like this, it looks so simple. My main mistake was that I didn’t print my online FMM, so I kept having to do the looooong walk back and forth to Papeleria Fox. I kept waiting in line at the Banjercito, only to be sent away for another step.

There is no checklist or listed order of operations at the border. No one will babysit and help you with exactly where you need to go or what you need to do. You need to be ready to be flexible and ask questions. 

I generally expect international borders with my vehicle to take 2-3 hours and to have multiple false starts. This expectation keeps me relaxed when things feel like they’re going wrong. 

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