Border Crossing: Only A 3 Hour Stop

I get a bit tired of people saying “This isn’t normal!”  Normal is just a setting on the dryer.  Doesn’t exist other than that.

I’m starting to believe that.

Wherever we go they say, “It isn’t normally this cold!”…or this windy, or hot, or dry, or rainy, or whatever.

We crossed the international border, that man-made line in the sand between USA and Mexico that is now generally marked by a high wire fence.  No ‘normal’ manned border station here at Nogales.  This is an odd crossing, where the paperwork is done at the 21km marker.

We roll past booths where we pay our 50 pesos or so for one of the more expensive toll highways, but Mex 15 is pretty good driving conditions.  Here you might actually have a paved shoulder wide enough to pull over onto if you had an issue with your vehicle and could get out of the driving lane.  Can’t say that for Baja where the pavement might be 3 inches past the edging yellow-line with several inches drop-off the pavement before sliding over the bank.

We come upon a Customs stop where we pull into a lane that says “Nothing to Declare” and the sign says to proceed.  We are corralled down a lane with a closed arm at the end.  The light at the end may turn green to proceed, or for us it turned red and sounds an alarm like you’ve done something wrong.  Not really the case, it just alerts the customs officers that they have a new client to whom they direct over to the side to question and check out your rig.

We don’t fit into a lane since “Girlfriend” and surfboard fins poke into the stratosphere.  We park lax-a-daisy along the side.  I open the back of the van piled high with Rubbermaid boxes, camp stove, bucket a la toilet, miscellaneous stuff for a large family of 9 living on the road like vagabonds.  Her English is better than my Spanish so the customs officer asks a few questions while I answer politely.

Everette’s box of red wine is the only thing of question: “ONLY 5 litres?”  she chuckles.  Yep, no cerveza (beer) or any other alcohol.  I’m good to go.

We finally make it to the 21km marker and pull over for permits we’ll need for the rest of Mexico.

First thing is to attend to our tourist visas.  Everything else depends on that success.

Line-ups are usual and patience is a virtue one gets lots of practice developing.  Rob proudly informs everybody I have 9 children, and suggests that they ought to be happy that I left 2 of them at home.  People chuckle.

All children with legible handwriting set to work filling out their own tourista forms with passport info and destination plans.  Rob helps them understand what the forms are asking for while I try to organize things at my end of the counter and fill in multiple tourist cards.  Eight visas are applied for.

Rob & Dee’s tourist visas where complete all at this one stop.  Everything they needed was handled by this one man.  They are only going to Kino Bay so they don’t need anything else for their vehicle.**

We take our paperwork to the Banjercito outside and down the corridor a ways where we join a new line.  We quiz other people in line what the following procedures will be for obtaining my TIP (temporary importation permit).  It isn’t clear.  First things first.

We’ll get through the tourist visa stuff first.  There is one wicket open.  We are told “This isn’t normal.”

I pay 2,360 pesos (nearly-$200US) for eight tourist visas.    With Banjercito receipts in hand we return to the first office and our tourist visas are finally stamped.  A 180-days-welcome in Mexico.

Rob kindly gets copies made for me outside at another kiosk.  Copies of my passport, my BC driver’s license, my van registration/insurance and my newly acquired tourist visa.

Armed with US cash plus copies and originals of necessary paperwork Rob and I head back to the Banjercito to join another line up.  They’ve now doubled the manpower so this will hopefully be quicker.  The fellow looks over my originals and copies of my vehicle insurance, checking it all off on the copies.  Everything is looking good.

Until the end of the page where it says “Rebuilt”.

Our van was a great deal when we purchased it in 2008.  Super low mileage for being 6 years old.  Only 36,000 kilometers.  It had been previously purchased at an auction by Andy Sorensen, from the original owner who had totaled the back end….opposite end to the engine.  Totally fixable, no damage to the frame.  Not a big deal.

Andy had it for a few years using it as a truck occasionally to make trips to the lumberyard.  He had a dealer’s license so when necessary he just slapped that license on the van and he was good to go.  When his building projects had basically come to an end he decided to sell it, and it fit our needs perfectly.  With low mileage we had lots of odometer clicks left to rack up.  The following day we headed started working on adding those kms, driving from Vancouver, BC to Maricopa, AZ for a winter.

It never meant much to us to have ‘Rebuilt’ on our registration. Until now.

Fluorescent sticky notes with a message attached to my registration, I walk over to yet another kiosk where a young woman helps me.  She scans the note & the registration, then looks at me.

“Do you ever have to push your car?”


“Is it drivable?”


Rob pipes up about me having 9 children.  Her, like everybody else, is surprised and gives a big smile with an accompanying little chuckle.

She concentrates on the papers before her.

Rob vouches that the van is in good working condition.  I offer to take her to see the van in the parking lot.  She doesn’t move.  She keeps scanning the papers.  She questions again the driving condition of the van and I repeat that it is in good condition.

When I say, “I wouldn’t be driving to Mexico with my 7 children if I couldn’t rely on my vehicle,” she has an “ah-ha” moment, signs her name to the copy of the vehicle registration along with a note, stamps it, and we are off to the Banjercito for the third time.

I pay my deposit of $300, am short $20US for the actual permit ($48.84) and borrow it from Rob.  I get a sticker to place inside my windshield by my rearview mirror and some permit papers.  Done.

Our windshield adornment

Our windshield adornment

Returning to the parking lot where Dee has been (wo)manning the children we find them finishing off sandwiches, muffins and lemonade.  Rob and I get a quick lunch, I get my permit sticker on, and we hit the road again.

That only took 3 hours at this one stop.  Supposedly, this is not ‘normal’.  On the slow side today, but that doesn’t matter to me.

I did it.  We are set to go.

We pull out of the parking lot and just a short ways down the highway we hit another spot to declare or not to declare.   We go through the same routine, get pulled over (this time so do Rob and Dee) but this time the guys coax me in under their canopy.  It was such a close call with our mile-high cargo and maybe an extra inch of leeway. I don’t know why they wouldn’t just pull us to the side, but No, they made me go thru it at a snails pace.


I said I would send them the bill if the surfboards got wrecked.  They laughed.  I don’t know if they truly understood.  Anyways, another pass; nothing to claim.  We are good to go onwards to Kino Bay.

**NOTE:  Driving within so many kms of the border (can’t remember the distance but I know it covers at least down to San Carlos/Guaymas) means you don’t need a vehicle permit.  Or if you are staying in the state of Sonora you can get a “Sonora Only” permit, which requires no deposit.

To go into the heart of Mexico or to travel right through one requires a temporary importation permit.  The permit itself costs less than $50US but you have to make a deposit for your vehicle based on the model year.  For our 2002 van I had to pay $300US deposit.  I will get the deposit back when I cancel my permit upon exiting the country within my allowable 180 days.  This is to encourage everybody to take his or her vehicle out of Mexico.  They don’t want it left here.

If I am one day late at cancelling my vehicle permit I forfeit the deposit.

6 thoughts on “Border Crossing: Only A 3 Hour Stop

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