RV Travel Outside the U.S.: Visit Canada & Mexico – Part 1

As we all know, the U.S. is full of amazing RVing destinations. But one of the wonderful things about living in North America is that RVers also have two entire continents to explore from the comfort of their homes on wheels. Crossing the border to drive the highways and byways of Canada, Mexico, or on down into South America isn’t hard to do and opens up a new world of possibilities for adventures, beautiful vistas and new cultures to immerse yourself in. In this two-part blog, we’re going to look at some of the basics you should have in place before you go RVing outside the U.S., and we’re also going to take a look at some special considerations when travelling in Canada or Mexico. If you’ve been dreaming of a grand RVing adventure to one of our neighbors north or south, read on!

Basics for RVing Outside the U.S.

Whether you are thinking about pointing your RV north toward Canada or south to Mexico, there are some basic steps to take before you go that will relieve stress in crossing the borders and travelling in another country.

Passports and Travel Visas—You’ll obviously need valid passports for everyone you’re travelling with in order to travel outside the United States, and to get back in again. When travelling to Canada, you won’t need a tourist visa so long as you are staying less than 180 days; your passport will be sufficient. However, you will need a tourist card called an FMM when travelling in Mexico. Although an FMM is issued by the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM), it is not actually a visa; it is issued solely for vacation purposes. Fortunately, the Mexican government offers two easy ways to get one. For years now, RVers have gotten their FMMs at the immigration office at the border crossing. All you have to do is fill out the card, pay for it and get it stamped. Now, however, you can fill out and pay for your tourist card online ahead of time. Then you can print it out and bring it with you. Remember though, if you purchase your FMM online, you still need to stop at the Mexican immigration office at the border to have it stamped by immigration officials.

Starting in 2017, FMMs cost $500.00 pesos—as of this writing, that’s about $24. (Note: If you are going to Baja and staying for less than seven days, you may be able to get your FMM for free. Talk to the INM official at the border.) If you are going to Baja, your FMM will be good for several border crossings, but this isn’t true for other parts of Mexico. The Federal INM Delegate in other regions of the country may require you to turn your FMM in and get an exit stamp when you leave.

As a safety precaution, it’s not a bad idea to make photocopies, or scan and email to yourself any border crossing documents you receive, so you can access them in a worst case scenario.

Trusted Traveler Programs—The U.S. government suggests that frequent travelers, and particularly those heading outside the country, should join a trusted traveler program to expedite travel for pre-approved, low risk travelers. If you would like to take advantage of dedicated lanes and kiosks that can hurry up the process of border crossings, be sure to explore the NEXUS Trusted Traveler Program for going to Canada, and SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) to speed things up coming back from Mexico.

Vehicle Registrations & Insurance—As well as having a valid driver’s license, you’ll need to have a valid vehicle registration in the driver’s name stating legal ownership of your RV and any tow or dinghy vehicle. In Canada, you are generally covered by your existing U.S. car insurance coverage, but before you go be sure to look at your policy or talk to your insurance agent to make sure your insurance covers your car outside the U.S. In Mexico, your U.S vehicle insurance won’t be valid, so you will have to get Mexican vehicle insurance. Contact your insurance agent to point you in the right direction—U.S. insurance companies often work with Mexican insurance providers and you may be able to add on a temporary policy with your own agent. Otherwise, search online for your best option. You’ll need to obtain valid Mexican insurance before arriving at the border.

What you can take with you and what you can bring back—It’s important to know what you can take into Mexico and Canada so that you don’t end up having issues at the border. There are a number of food items that are prohibited, as well as some kinds of pet food, plants and plant products, etc. Also there are restrictions on quantities of alcohol, tobacco and gifts. Do your research ahead of time (see the links above) and everything will go smoothly.

Likewise, there are restrictions about what you can bring back home with you. You can find comprehensive information about what is prohibited from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website. Examples of restricted items include firearms, some produce, animal products and byproducts, exotic animals, etc. You must declare all articles you acquired while in Canada or Mexico. There is an $800 exemption for gifts and personal purchases.

By doing your research ahead of time and getting any necessary paperwork in order, crossing the borders and travelling in Canada and Mexico can be a smooth, easy process. Next week we’ll look at some of the details about travelling with children and pets, what to do if your RV breaks down, and a couple extra thoughts about RVing north and south of the border.

Photo credit: Allesandro Valli

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