Thinking about bringing a school bus to Mexico? We had heard that they weren’t ‘wanted’ in Mexico and that was quite evident when we rolled our skoolie up to the border crossing at Tecate. Three people were fervently waving their hands and yelling No! as Everette pulled up to the border. No skoolies are allowed in Mexico!
But what they weren’t prepared for was that behind the veneer coating of a yellow school bus was an actual motor home. It even says so on the registration!
Everette handed the skoolie registration papers to the border patrol. He quizzically looked at them, seeing for himself that it was registered as a motor home. He was invited in to have a look inside…and so he did, hesitantly walking just to the back half, briefly checking it out but certainly not thoroughly. He never looked in the 2 fridges we have. Didn’t ask about what things we might be carrying that aren’t permissible across international borders. He was just busy considering the situation in his mind.
It’s obviously no longer a commercial school bus. Seats removed. Household flooring put in. Beds built, full kitchen installed, couches, etc. He shook his head and couldn’t deny that this wasn’t a school bus. It was a tiny home on wheels. A motor home.
The other patrol personnel quizzically looked at him, as if to ask “Well, what’s the concern? It’s obviously not a school bus any more!”
He let us in to Mexico. Because skoolies are allowed in Mexico. As long as you get things changed on your registration papers to say that its a motor home. Otherwise you are likely to have problems, or not permitted entrance at all.
Crossing at Tecate
Oh, and by the way, if you’ve ever been across the border at Tecate, CA and remember it as just an easy drive-by as you wave to the border patrols, its completely different now. Five years ago we drove past patrols with their dogs, found some parking on the Mexican side, then walked ourselves back to find the immigration office to do the necessary paperwork.
This time there’s the segregated lanes, the photographing of your license plate, the wait to see if you get to proceed immediately into the rest of Mexico or have to go to a specified stall because you need to be inspected. A border patrol personnel will ask you a few questions and want to look through your vehicle. If there’s no issue you will back out of the stall and exit through the gate to the south of you.
No TIP Needed
There’s no need for a TIP (temporary importation permit) for your vehicle if you are just going on the Baja (or to northern Sonora). But you do need your tourist visa which requires you find parking on the street and return back to the border crossing to find the immigration office. The best place we found to park the skoolie was with the truckers up alongside the border wall. So what you’ll do when you first pass through the border is go to the first ALTO (stop) sign. Turn right. Go a couple of blocks before turning right, heading north. Go to the end of the street and turn right so you are now parallel to the border facing east. (Or you could turn left and park facing west…that might be easier) Park there with the big rigs. But stay at least 2 blocks away from the border as the last road is a one-way heading north…or you’ll have to back up, like we did. Lesson learned!
Getting Your Tourist Visa
So after you’ve parked your vehicle somewhere on the streets of Tecate you need to head back to get your tourist visa paperwork done. What you need to do is to cross over to the east side of where you drove your vehicle through. You will go thru a one-way turn-stile heading north then walk past some offices and take the cross-walk at the north end. You will see a Banjercito kiosk alongside of the sidewalk to your left. Walk south past the Banjercito and take the sidewalk/ramp on your right and enter the immigration building. You’ll need to go through the glass door on your right (if there is room) and talk to the personnel in there. They will look at your passports and give you enough tourist visa forms for the number of people in your party. Sit down at the table and fill out the forms.
When you’re finished filling out the forms you’ll hand them back to the personnel who will check that you filled them out properly. When done they will hand them back to you. The next step is to exit the building and go out to the Banjercito (you passed it on the way in). That’s where you’ll pay for your tourist visa. You can pay either in Mexican pesos or in US dollars. Currently they cost $27usd…we used up most of our US dollars to pay.
Once you are receipted for each of the visas you’ll return to the immigration office and show that they are all paid for. Immigration will stamp your paperwork and visas, rip off the bottom part of the visa and tuck it in your passport before returning it all to you. You’re done.
Keep the tourist visa with your passport. No need to keep the receipt with it.
If you’re planning to get a TIP so you can go to the mainland via Baja Ferries, you can get it there at Tecate, or in La Paz before boarding the ferry. Purchasing it in La Paz will mean that you have more days left to explore on mainland Mexico without the countdown of days being wasted while you’re on the Baja.
We’ve never gotten our TIP on the Baja (Tecate nor any other crossing west of Nogales) so I can’t tell you any specifics but I heard it was pretty straight forward. Just ask questions and do as you’re told. Before you know it you’ll be on the road in Mexico, driving the treacherous Baja highways!
Have fun!! And I hope this is all clearer than mud!
P.S. Northern Baja highways are in pretty good condition and have reasonable shoulders. But (at least on this trip) once we hit around Catavina the pot holes increased in numbers, size and severity while the shoulder decreased. However, we were happy to discover a wonderful 66 km highway east out to Bahia de los Angeles. What a pleasant surprise (and relief).
P.P.S. Mexican auto insurance is NOT a requirement to bring your vehicle into Mexico. Nobody at the border crossing will ask. However, it is absolutely stupid not to have some! Understand that a large percentage of Mexicans are driving without insurance (and likely without a driver’s license) If you are involved in a vehicle accident it is you who will have to be forking out money most likely, no matter who was truly at fault.
So get yourself some insurance before you cross into Mexico (there are many insurance offices in the towns/cities near the border, or you can purchase it online)
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