Saturday, September 7, 2013


There are basically two ways to drive into Mexico through Laredo, Texas.    First, there are the two parallel bridges from downtown Laredo going across the river directly into old town Nuevo Laredo.  Second, there is the Columbia Bridge, which is about 20 miles northwest of Laredo.   If you cross this bridge, you can avoid going into Nuevo Laredo completely.
This article will give you specific information about crossing into downtown Nuevo Laredo on Bridge #2 and stopping to obtain a tourist visa and a Temporary Import Permit (TTP), if you have a car, truck, RV, or motorcycle.  If you already have your vehicle permit, just follow the directions for bypassing N. Laredo on Blvd. Colosio.
From downtown Laredo you should cross into Mexico on International Bridge II, which is at the end of U.S. Interstate I-35.   This bridge carries most of the vehicular traffic in and out of Nuevo Laredo.  You may also use International Bridge I, which is a little more difficult to find.
If you are driving to San Miguel de Allende (SMA), you should cross the bridge early in the morning, since it's a full day’s drive of 550 miles to SMA.   Avoid driving in Mexico at night.

You will pay a $3 toll for two-axles and $6 for four-axles on the American side before you cross the Bridge #2.  Sometimes you might be questioned by local Laredo police or a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer just before you get onto the bridge.

Once you get across the bridge, closely follow these directions.  Most importantly, take your time and make sure you are turning in the correct direction at all intersections, especially if you are towing a trailer.
If you plan to walk across the bridge to obtain your visa or vehicle permit, you must use Bridge #1.  Read the last page for directions.

1.      Half way across International Bridge II, you are in Mexico.   Stay in the left lane, the “Nothing to Declare” lane.  You will be shunted off to the left and given a red or green light.  If you get the red light, you must stop or pull over for inspection.
2.      Once you clear customs (or get a green light), turn right just past the inspection area and then turn left on the first street, Calle Nicholas Bravo.  It is one way.  
3.      Go approximately five blocks on Calle Bravo, following the signs for "car permits" and Banjercito.  Do not turn until you reach the end of this street.  (Toward the end of the street, there’s a money exchange office on the left, if you need pesos.)
4.       Calle Bravo ends at a wide boulevard (Blvd. Colosio).  Turn right and drive about ½ mile.  At the traffic light turn left onto the lateral street , which is signed “Cesar L. de Lara”) heading back in the direction of the bridge. 

If you already have your vehicle permit turn right on Colosio and drive south around old town Nuevo Laredo to the intersection with Highway 85 to Monterrey.

5.      On the lateral street, drive down and under the bridge.   Turn left into the second parking lot, in front of the entrance to the big Mexican Aduanas (customs) building.  
6.      Enter the building’s main door, turn right, and stop at the Migración desk to obtain your FMM tourist visa.  (Take a pen.)  Fill out the form and return it to the official, who will stamp it.
7.      After you get your visa stamped, if you need a car permit, have it copied along with your other documents at the next counter. (Passport, FMM visa, driver’s license, vehicle’s title or registration.)
8.      Walk further down the hall to the Banjercito office and hand the clerk your documents and a credit card.  There is usually a line.
9.      When you obtain your car permit, go outside and make sure that the VIN on the permit matches the vehicle’s VIN.   Remove the sticker from the back of the permit and affix it to the inside of your windshield in front of the rear view mirror.
10.  With your sticker in place, exit the parking lot, and turn hard right, back the way you came. Keep the car permit with your passport and visa, as all will be checked down the road.

Crossing the Bridge into Mexico

1.   In Laredo, drive south to the end of I-35.  The U.S. Customs station will be on your left.  You may be questioned before you cross the bridge by local Laredo police or by a U.S. Customs and Border protection officer.  You will pay a $3/$6 toll to cross the bridge.    Half way across the bridge, you are in Mexico.   Stay in the left lane, the “Nothing to Declare” lane.   Ignore the line of buses in the right lane, and the back-up in the “Something to Declare” middle lane.     Sometimes you may be questioned by a Mexican Army soldier and/or a Mexican Custom Official (Aduanas) at the foot of the bridge.  Normally, after a cursory look at your vehicle, you will be waved through.  You will be shunted off to the left, where you will be given a red or green light. If red, you must stop for inspection.  If green, turn to the right and exit the customs area.

WARNING:  The entry gates to the Mexican customs area across the bridge were never designed with trailers in mind.  They go off at an angle to the left and are difficult to negotiate with a long trailer.  As you approach the gates, you need to swing as far right, into the right lane, as possible to get your rig through the gates.

 2.  Once you clear Mexican customs at the foot of the bridge, exit right on the first street and then turn LEFT immediately on the next street, Calle Nicholas Bravo.  It’s one way.  Ignore the guys along the street who want to "help you" or clean your windshield. Keep moving slowly but steadily onto Calle Bravo.  Be careful at the intersections. Look right.
Finding the Place to Get Your Visa and Temporary Tourist Vehicle Permit
3.  Go approximately five blocks on Calle Bravo, following the signs for "car permits" and “Banjercito.”   Do not turn until you reach the end of this street.  However, toward the end of Bravo there is a money-changing office on the left, with a big parking lot, which reportedly offers excellent rates.
4.  When Calle Bravo runs into (and ends) at a big boulevard (Blvd. Colosio), turn right.   Drive ½ mile to the first traffic light.  Turn left onto the lateral street (marked Cesar L. de Lara) heading back in the direction of the bridge you just crossed.  Beware, it's a tricky intersection.
If you have your visa and vehicle permits, keep going south on Blvd. Colosio.

 Do not turn left on the main boulevard and go back across the bridge!   Stay to the right on the lateral street.   Beware!  There is two-way traffic on this lateral street, which goes downhill alongside the river.

5.  On this lateral street, you will go down and under International Bridge II.   Turn left into the second parking lot, in front of the entrance to the big Mexican customs building, There’s a big “ENTRADA” sign over the main entrance.  The other doors cannot be opened from the outside.  There's a guard station at the gate to the parking lot.   Park close to the building’s front door, lock your car, and ignore anyone who offers "to help."  Normally, there are plenty of security guards and army troops around this building.
Obtaining Your Tourist Visa and Temporary Tourist Vehicle Permit
6.  Go into the Aduanas building’s main entrance, turn right, and go down the hall thirty feet, though a double door, and you’ll find the “Migración” counter on the left.  Show the uniformed official your passport.  He will give you a blank visa form (FMM), fill it out (both front sides), and get it stamped at the desk.  They will give you back one half of it.  Did you remember to take a pen with you?

Of course, everyone in your travel party needs a FMM visa.

7.  After you get your FMM stamped, have it copied along with your other documents if you need a vehicle permit.  You will need the original and a copy of:

--your passport (the main page with your photo only)
--FMM visa (or FM2/3 or Temporary Resident card, both sides)
- car title or registration slip
--driver's permit
You may also bring one unlicensed ATV or off-road motorcycle into the country for everyone in your travel party.  RVs may enter the country and may be towing a car.
8.  With your copies in hand, walk down the hall past the Aduanas Office on the left to the Banjercito office. Yes, it's a bank.  Stand in line, and in turn, hand the clerk your original docs, your copies, and a major credit card.  No need to say anything but "buenas dias/noches." They know what to do.

When the clerk is finished punching your info into the computer, he/she will print out and give you a form (the car permit) which you will sign in two places on the back and give back.  You will also be asked to sign other form that states that, if you do not return your vehicle to be border before the permit expires, you will forfeit your deposit.
You will also sign a credit card voucher for up to $450 USD.  $400 will be your deposit on a vehicle newer than a 2007.  $200 or $300 for older vehicles. $48-50 is for the permit and windshield sticker, depending on the exchange rate.  This deposit will be credited to your card when return the car (and any other vehicles) to the U.S. before your visa and the permit expires.  You also may pay the deposit in cash.
The clerk will show you how to lift the windshield sticker off the back.  But do not take it off until you are outside.
Be patient as all of this is sorted out.  Think DMV back home.   It will do you no good at all to be rude or obnoxious.  (Some decisions by the Banjercito staff may be appealed to the Aduana (Customs) Office next door.)

More Obscure Details
Tourists and Coyote Convoy drivers must return to the States at the end of 180 days or before their visa expires.  They must stop at the Banjercito booth at the border to cancel their vehicle permit, and obtain a receipt for doing so, even if the permit has expired.  If they do not, the Banjercito will not refund the $200-300-400 USD bond and the individual will be blocked from returning to Mexico with a vehicle.  If you make the deposit in cash, it will be refunded in cash when you cancel your permit. You must go inside to collect the refund.  If your permit has expired, you lose your deposit.
There are limits on what vehicles maybe brought into Mexico, and there are strict requirements about the documentation for vehicles.  Here is additional information to help you avoid problems at the Banjercito window.
1.      If the vehicle has a lien (loan) on it, you will need a letter from the finance company authorizing you to bring it into Mexico.  If the vehicle is owned by a corporation, you will need a notarized letter from the Treasurer of the corporation authorizing you to bring it into the county, even if you own the company.  (HINT:  if you use the vehicle’s registration card, if the lien is not noted, so you do not need the letter.)

2.       One foreigner can import only one vehicle for up to 180 days or the duration of her/his visa.   The vehicle may be towing a trailer, and/or an off-road ATV or an off-road, unlicensed motorcycle.  All of these vehicles may be included on one permit.    Trucks may be no heavier than a 3500 model and no goose-neck trailers are allowed.  RV’s also need a permit, and they may tow a car or trailer loaded with an ATV or off-road dirt bike.
3.      The title for the trailer and the other vehicles being towed should be in the name of the person who obtains the permit.  However, a second or third person in the tow vehicle may also include their ATVs or off-road m/c on the main vehicle’s permit.
4.      A husband may import one vehicle; his spouse may import a second on a separate permit.  A husband and wife my import a vehicle on each other’s name or a child’s name.
5.      Anyone with a valid FMM or Temporary Resident visa may drive the permit holder’s vehicle in Mexico. However, only a FM2 (Rentista), not a FM2 non-rentista or Permanent Resident may own or may drive a car with a tourist permit.  A Mexican national may drive the vehicle only if the permit holder is in the vehicle.  Close relatives of the permit holder may drive the vehicle.
6.      Each Mexican border station tends to interpret and enforce these requirements a little differently or somewhat subjectively.  These regulations are constantly changing, it seems.  Again, be patient.  Getting angry will not help.
7.      Some states are no longer issuing titles, and the registration card for some states may seem flimsy or other not look original.  Make sure that whatever documents you bring are the originals, not a copies.  They must appear original and official.  Please remember, too, that this system was devised to help prevent vehicles stolen in the U.S. from entering Mexico.

Walking Across the Bridge tp Obtain a Visa or Vehicle Permit

1.       The hotel shuttle or a taxi will take you to the Posada Hotel and behind it, to the foot of International Bridge #1.  It is the old bridge across the river.  It is the only pedestrian bridge, but it is used by vehicles, too.  It costs 50 cents to cross on foot.
2.      When you get to the Mexican side, there is an Immigration (Migación) office in the building to the right, where you can obtain a tourist visa.
3.      If you are walking across to get a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for a vehicle, you must turn right immediately after you cross the bridge and walk a long block down the street and fence to the next right, the street that goes down by the river.  Turn right and follow this street for another long block until you come to the vehicle exit for the main Aduana Building on the right.  You may enter the parking lot and walk to the main entrance in the middle of the building.  The other doors are locked.
4.      When you enter the building, turn right.  The Migración Office and Banjercito Office are through the doors to the right.  See the directions above on how to proceed.
5.      When you obtain your documents, return the same way you came.  You will pay the bridge toll in pesos when you cross.

Before You Leave the Parking Lot

9.  When you are finished at the Banjercito window, go outside and make sure that the VIN on the permit matches the VIN on your vehicle. Then get into the driver's seat, and carefully pull off the sticker from the back of the permit, and stick it on the inside of your windscreen, right behind the rear view mirror.  The sticker is VERY sticky, so make sure you have it in the right spot before getting it close to the glass.  It should be easily seen from the front of the car, since some cars have black-dot sensors or heavy tinting in the upper windshield area.

10.  With your sticker in place, exit the Aduanba parking lot, and turn hard right, back the way you came. Keep the car permit with your passport and FMM visa as they will be checked down the road.  (If you exit left, you will go around the eastern part of old town, which is much busier.)
11.  At the traffic light up the hill (where you stopped before on Blvd. Colosio) merge right onto the boulevard and head straight (south) on the green arrow.   Blvd. Colosio will carry you south along the river and after a couple of miles around west to Highway #85 to Monterrey.
You will pass a Holiday Inn Express on your right, the big Nuevo Laredo Cultural Center on your left, and a Ford dealer, plus a couple of large business buildings as you approach federal Highway #85.  (The Holiday Inn Express is a good place to stay if you cross the bridge late and want to stay in N. Laredo for the night.)
Three minutes after the Holiday Inn, you will come to a traffic light and overpass, with signs pointing left to Monterrey.  To get up to the main highway, go through the underpass in the left lane, and turn immediately up the ramp to #85.  Be careful at this intersection.

If you pass the airport on the left, you missed the turn. Go back.
On Highway #85, there are two large PEMEX gas stations on the right about 6-7 miles out of town, should you need gas or a potty break.

About 15 miles south of Nuevo Laredo (KM 21), you will go through a big Migración and Aduana checkpoint. They will (sometimes) check your FMM visa at the first booth, and (usually) your car permit at the second.  Get into the "Nothing to Declare" lane.  You will be given a red light or a green light again.

If the light flashes red, pull over to the right under the covered “revision" area, get out of your car, and give the Aduanas official your passport and car permit. They will compare the VIN number on the permit to the # on your vehicle, and give your documents back to you.  Normally, it only takes 10 minutes.  Sometimes they will ask to see in the back of your vehicle.
The red light/green light system is employed at most post-of-entry in Mexico, especially at the international airports.
Note:  If a truck in the Coyote Convoy gets a red light, stay in line until directed by an official to go to an inspection area.  Note that the exit from the inspection area is a tight left turn, so stay as far right as possible.
Importation Allowances and Dealing with Mexican Custom Officials (Aduanas)

The Mexican Aduanas inspectators at the border or in airports are looking primarily for items that can be used in an occupation or sold in Mexico.  You are only entitled to bring only $75 dollars of items not on the “allowed” list when you drive into the country, but $300 at an airport!  However, in 14 years I have never had the inside of my truck or suitcases thoroughly searched at either checkpoint in Nuevo Laredo.  I am not, however, encouraging anyone to smuggle anything across the border.   (The amount goes up to $300 during certain holiday seasons, like Christmas and Easter.)
You should should cover any electronic gizmos or "fancy" items in your vehicle, like photographic equipment, for security purposes before you crossed the bridge.  One digital camera, video camera, GPS, or lap-top computer is OK.  Two cells phones are OK, plus a long list of other items, such as personal medicine.  However, three 35 MM digital cameras, tripod, and other “professional” photographic equipment might be a problem.  Desk top computers, especially new ones, should be declared.
If you have something to declare, you may pay taxes (normally 16%) on those items at the Aduanas window, on goods up to $3000 per person in market value, quickly and without using a Mexican customs broker.  Bring receipts or invoices for what you plan to declare, so you can substantiate their cost or value.  The Aduanas officials will normally depreciate used items, and to a degree, it's all negotiable.   There’s a limit of $1000 on auto parts.  Above that limit, you must use a Mexican customs agent, and that’s a big pain in the rear.

The Mexican Aduanas officials tend to cut foreign visitors a lot of slack, since the Federal Government wants tourists to visit Mexico and have a good, safe time. Of course, there is always the chance you will run into a new guy or gal on the job who is trying to impress their bosses.  Just be polite and patient.
At any point along the highway to SMA you may be stopped by a Federale (federal police in black or brown uniforms) or a Mexican Army or Marines checkpoint. They are looking for guns and drug money going south.  Roll down your windows, take off your sunglasses, offer your passport, and smile. They will usually ask: “where do you live?” and “where are you going?” in Spanish   To the former, answer what is in your passport, while to the latter, just say Guanajuato.  They may want to open the trunk (boot), but they rarely search the vehicle.  Usually, they will just wave you through.   Sometimes, they will ask to see your temporary vehicle permit.

Good luck! Suerte!
Gerie Bledsoe
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
September 2013