A Tale of Four Borders

Border crossing days ~ no one relishes the chaos and confusion of attempting to exit one country and enter another. Now, we have done a lot of border crossings all around the world. But driving ourselves, and with black dog in tow, requires a bit more thought. And yet, we had somehow done almost zero research on what would become only our second country, but fourth border crossing in nine months. Finally, a mere 24 hours before the big day, we actually fired up the laptops to find out what the hell we were getting ourselves into.

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Although many bloggers share details of the borders, not a great many happen to cross where we did, at La Mesilla, two hours south of lovely San Cristobal, Mexico. We first checked out the Vangabonds post, some lovely folks whose dogs happen to have done an interview with the Black Dogs some time ago. Their post offered up loads of helpful advice but we continued with a bit more research and found Freedom with Bruno, and a slightly more updated description of this particular border.

Mexico had made us lax. True, our first border crossing back in January, had resulted in an accident, but the actual crossing procedure in Tijuana was a bit tedious, if anything. As we headed back into the US in April to fix the camper and see friends, the Tecate crossing was also a breeze. The most challenging point being the simple fact that we had to walk back into Mexico to get stamped out of the country. Many travelers simply ignore this part, but we were crossing back over in a couple of weeks and needed to receive an additional 180days in the country. No big deal.

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Our third border crossing, a mere three weeks later, saw us heading back into Mexico, but this time at the teensy border crossing of Lukeville/ Sonoyta. We were so casual about the Mexican-US borders at this point, we simply showed up first thing in the morning without much thought and were warmly welcomed back with barely a glance at us or our passports, and a mere pat on the head for Aspen. Of course, we were now on Mainland Mexico and no longer in the “free zone” of Baja. Thus, we went in search of the Migracion/Aduana (immigration for us) and the Banjercito(immigration and vehicle permit for Tequila). One would expect these would be located near the actual border. But, of course, getting rid of such silly, westernized ideas of organization is part of what this journey is all about, right? We drove around a few miles and arrived at the Migracion/ Aduana where we got stamped back into Mexico and paid for our 6 month visa. Most of our time at this stop was merely time spent chatting with the friendly, and obviously bored, officer.

Back on the road we drove and drove. Then we drove some more. The migration officer had indicated the Banjercito were not far down the road. Had we missed it? Tempers began to flare and we started snipping at each other and searching online for the location and, at worst, the alternate location south of Guaymas before we departed the free zone of Sonora.

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Just when we had given up hope of getting the T.I.P (temporary import permit for the vehicle) that day, we came upon the large newish facility. We had driven over an hour from the border crossing, and in fact, were nearly to Mexico 15, the main highway coming down from the huge border crossing at Nogales, but voila… we had arrived.

Here is what we needed:

  1. Both of our drivers licenses (we are both listed on the title)
  2. The original title
  3. The original vehicle registration.
  4. A copy of our Mexico auto insurance.
  5. A credit card to pay for the service fee and the import fee of $400 in our case. The import fee is refundable, and is based off the year of the vehicle.

We had been told that the officer would actually go out to view the vehicle. This didn’t happen. We had extra copies of all of the paperwork, but she chose to make her own copies there, although surprisingly she didn’t charge us extra for them. Finally, although the officer often applies the import sticker to the windshield, in our case she simply gave us the paperwork and sent us on our way, never having even seen the truck. After the stress we inflicted upon ourselves during the drive, it turned out to be an easy, and cordial stop. We were in and we were legal for another six months!

And this brings me back to our most recent border crossing, from Mexico into Guatemala. Heading south from San Cristobal, we shacked up in a somewhat dreary hotel in the border town of Paso Hondo for the night. For someone who is a planner, I was fully unprepared, and a bit of research was in order to put our mind at ease. Obviously, we had all of our documents in hand, but we settled in with a bottle of wine and delved into what our tomorrow would look like.

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Thankfully, the above mentioned websites immediately put our mind at ease We headed out early and arrived at the border at Ciudad Cuahtemoc bright and early at 8am. The offices appeared, as promised, at the entrance to town on the left. As the only people in line, we were ushered immediately into the office. We had to present the following:

  1. Passports
  2. Mexican tourist cards (required to be turned in)
  3. T.I.P.  paperwork (required to be turned in)
  4. Vehicle title and registration.

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The officer came out to verify Tequila’s VIN and removed the sticker himself. Since the debit card we had paid our $400 fee on back in Sonoyta was no longer valid, I had to fill out a form with the new information for our refund to be processed. He then handed us all of our paperwork before we headed next door.

At the Migracion/Aduana we presented our passports and tourist cards to be canceled. Here we were stamped out of Mexico and, because I had the receipt showing we had already paid our visa fee upon arrival, no money exchanged hands.

At this point, we were back on the road, although officially in “no mans land”. We were stamped out of Mexico, but not yet welcomed into Guatemala. The drive to the actual border is perhaps only 4KM, but with no signage, feels longer. At the Y in the road, keep left onto what is the more chaotic choice.

In the true departure from Mexico, the border guard only wished to see our canceled T.I.P. paperwork, and then raised the crossbar to allow us on our way. Hasta Luego Mexico, for now!

This border crossing is small. In fact, a single lane marks the arrival into Guatemala and so there is really no option to screw it up. Cones in the road mark the first barrier to be dealt with, the fumigation process. Having gone through extensive fumigation processes throughout Africa, I’ve gotta say I’m not so sure a random spray “sort of” on the tires, is going to be too effective, but with no choice I dutifully got out and paid my 18 quetzals (around $2) for the service.

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Cones moved, we continued on and were instructed to park right in front of the combined Aduana/Migracion/Banjercito.

In spite of our lack of research, one thing we DID know to do was to import Tequila into Guatemala in just one of our names. Guatemala, and it’s fellow countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua are all part of the Centro America 4 (CA-4) agreement. Basically, this means you are only allowed to stay in ALL FOUR countries for a total of 90 days. Of course, such things have work-arounds, and by listing our current vehicle import in just my name, we are able to leave the country to return to Mexico, come back for another 90 days using just Jim’s name, and then still have the option of extending once more while in-country.

As usual, football was on the television, and the official was in no hurry, but with Tequila immediately in front of us, windows open for Aspen’s benefit, we patiently waited. Immigration for us cost 10 quetzal each, so a mere $2.50 total. Immigration done, I took my yellow copy of the form to the Banjercito office next door to pay 160 quetzals (around $20) for 90 days for Tequila and we were almost done.

I returned to the first window to present my stamped forms, and the officer handed us back our originals, and headed to the truck to verify the VIN, and put our new sticker in the window. From what we understand, this is also where we would have needed to hand over Aspens vet certificate, thereby declaring her healthy enough to enter Guatemala. As with Mexico, the officer asked if she was mean, gingerly put the sticker on the windshield, and headed back to his office. Two countries in, we’re not sure if this is the norm for everyone traveling with dogs, but she certainly is getting the stamp (or rather no-stamp) of approval.

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And that was it. Making sure I got into the drivers side, we headed down the chaotic, and narrow streets of Guatemala, temporary residents of a new country. If we had only known what the road had in store for us for the rest of the day!

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4 thoughts on “A Tale of Four Borders

  1. Whew! I’m exhausted just reading about it – maybe your next project should be a VISA guide from all of the areas you’re traveling through. You know, in your spare time. 🙂

  2. Yep, I’m exhausted too! Borders are such a pain and I didn’t even think of the extra implications of having a van and dog. Like Patti said, this is a great topic for a guide. Merry Christmas 🙂

    • Travel days and borders generally suck:( But, we just survived two more and should be pros soon!

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