RVing in Baja, Mexico - Part 1: Crossing the Border
Notes on safety, visas, and other logistics to consider.

By: Peter & Kathy Holcombe

We have just spent another incredible month in Baja and were surprised by how many more RVers were there compared to last year. Word is out that Baja is safe, fun, and very reasonably priced. And while it is absolutely possible to completely fly by the seat of your pants as you explore Baja, a little preparation will go a long way in making your journey smooth and easy. Here is some information to consider before heading south across the border, so that you can independently explore the magic of Baja for yourself.

A more traditional campground complete with hookups, showers, etc. We saw everything from camper vans, to travel trailers and fifth wheels, to big Class A style RVs.

RVer Safety in Baja, Mexico

While Baja is generally considered one of the safest areas of all of Mexico, it is still a place where you need to pay attention to your surroundings and do a little research about where to go, and more importantly, where to avoid. Fortunately, there are several great resources to keep you abreast of current safety information. 

There are endless dirt roads to explore in Baja.

The U.S. State Department website is updated regularly with travel advisories and specific recommendations on which travel corridors are safe to travel on and which ones to avoid. We check this website regularly throughout our travels abroad. In addition, you can sign up for the STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) where you will be notified by text and/or email about any changes to the State Department recommendations. That covers the big picture government recommendations. But for day-to-day logistics, we use the iOverlander app for current user-based information.

In addition to helping us find camping recommendations, iOverlander also has information about what to expect at military checkpoints, as well as currency conversion rates and bank fees, restaurants, water stations, and more. It is extremely helpful to read the user generated reviews as we make our daily travel plans.

Road conditions can change dramatically after a storm, so it is a good idea to consult iOverlander or one of the many forums to get current road conditions if you are planning to venture off pavement.

Vehicle Insurance in Mexico

Typically, U.S. vehicle insurance does not provide coverage into Mexico (and you are required to carry liability insurance while in Mexico), so you will need to purchase vehicle insurance for the duration of your stay. We purchased our insurance through www.DiscoverBaja.com and elected for a platinum policy through CHUBB.

You will need to review current policy options that best suit your individual needs, but here are a few things that we found noteworthy. First and most importantly, a one-year policy was less than half of the cost of a one-month policy. In February of 2023, we ended up paying $736.21 for a basic policy for one year and added a platinum endorsement costing an additional $211.26. (A comparable one-month plan was approximately $1,600.)

Be sure you get a Mexican Insurance policy before crossing the border. It’s good peace of mind and it’s the law.

Our policy was based on a vehicle valued at $150,000 and covered collision, total theft, bail and legal defense, travel assistance including extrication from Mexico, medical coverage, and the repair of our vehicle in both Mexico and the USA. Our deductible for collision was $500 and for total theft was $1,000. (Our plan in the event of an accident was to have our vehicle towed back to the United States and have the repairs done there, and this was covered by our policy.) 

Mexico Visa Considerations

According to the INM, an FMM, or Forma Migratoria Múltiple is an "admission document" issued to vacationing visitors of certain nationalities. It is not actually a visa, but rather a tourist card that is required to enter Mexico. You can either apply online or in person at the border. The FMM is approximately $38/person. Whether you apply in person at the border, or online, you will need to stop at the border and get your FMM stamped. 

You can get an FMM tourist visa that is good for up to six months.

We elected to forego the online form and did everything in person at the border. The most difficult part of the whole process was finding a place to park our van and finding the office (both of which were fairly easy). Once we found the office, we went through a security screening with a metal detector and x-ray (similar to airport screening) and were directed to a small office.

The person issuing the tourist card spoke very good English, handed us each a form to fill out, took our $76 cash, and had us out the door with FMM in hand within five minutes. Easy peasy!

The people of Mexico and welcoming, helpful, kind, and they always appreciate when tourists try to speak their language.

Bringing Pets to Baja 

Baja is a great place to travel with a pet (Mexico considers a pet to be a dog or a cat ONLY). You will need a rabies certificate for your dog (cats are exempt) and can travel with up to three pets. We traveled with a 16-year-old yellow lab who barks at anyone near our van. No one asked to see his rabies certificate. 

We crossed through numerous checkpoints throughout our travels and several asked us to open the side door of our van. Once they saw our barking (but smiling and wagging) dog, they quickly closed the door and waved us through. There was only one checkpoint that asked us to take our dog outside so that they could search our van. After a quick look through our cabinets, they too, waved us on our way. 

One word of caution, there are dogs on the loose EVERYWHERE. They are typically well socialized, but are completely unsupervised. There were many times we entered a campsite and were greeted by a pack of dogs, who were sometimes fairly rambunctious, and often covered in fleas. If you have a dog that does not like being around other dogs that are off leash, do not bring them to Baja. 

There are so many dogs that live on the streets in Mexico. Generally, they are well mannered and well-adjusted to other dogs.

Crossing the Border into Baja, Mexico

Crossing the border into a new country is always an exhilarating endeavor and, depending on your level of preparation and tolerance to roll with the unexpected, can leave you feeling either excited or anxious (and probably a little bit of both). While crossing the border into Baja is a relatively simple process, there are some key things to be aware of. 

It’s always a good idea to travel with friends. It’s safer, and always more fun!

First, choose your entry point carefully. We talked to numerous people who had recently traveled to the area, consulted the iOverlander App for current reports, and consulted the U.S. State Department website for safety warnings. There are several Baja Overlanding Facebook Groups that are also a good source of current information, (albeit some of the comments are from travelers who visited Baja long ago and the information they are posting is out of date and inaccurate, so take it with a grain of salt). 

With all of that information, we decided to cross the border at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning in Tecate. The line was short (approximately 15 minutes), and the border officials checked our passports and waved us through. 

Even when you are two hours down a dirt road, you can often find a market that sells fresh tortillas (and sometimes fresh seafood right off the boat!).

Obtaining Your FMM (Visa) at the Mexico Border

Next you will need to pull over and get your FMM stamped. We drove almost 30 minutes outside of Tecate before we realized we forgot to get our FMM stamped and had to turn around and return to the border for our FMM stamp. Once we located the building, we simply filled out the form, paid the fee and received our FMM. The whole process took about five minutes. I am always a little apprehensive when crossing a border and find it very helpful to have a list of things that need to be done when crossing the border so that I don’t get flustered and forget something. 

I would recommend scouting out a parking place via Google Maps before you cross the border so that you know your next steps once they wave you through the border. Once you have your FMM stamp, you are ready to explore Baja. 

Baja is one of the few places we have found where you can have an entire beach all to yourself at a free and wild campsite.

What to Expect when RVing in Baja

Driving in Baja isn’t that much different than traveling through rural areas of the States, except that the roads are extremely narrow (often with a large drop-off) and riddled with potholes and speed bumps. For the most part, the rules of the road and signage are the same. One noteworthy exception is that when a car wants you to pass them, they will turn on the left turn signal, indicating that it is clear to pass. 

It is also universally agreed upon that driving at night is a bad idea. This is primarily due to poor road conditions and livestock on the road. We made it a point to be settled into our camp at least a couple of hours before dark. 

We tend to gravitate toward the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. It is warmer and spectacularly beautiful.

One other important note ... our cell phone plans provide coverage in both Mexico and Canada. Once we crossed the border and our phones switched over to Mexican towers, we were temporarily left without coverage. This occurred just as we were navigating Mexican roads for the first time. We both had the route pulled up on our phones (redundancy), and the lapse in service resulted in a discrepancy in where we should go.

This added stress as we were learning new traffic rules and we ended up at a dead-end on a one-way street. It all worked out okay, but we would have been far less stressful if we knew our first few turns by heart rather than relying on technology as we gathered our bearings in a new place.

The scenery often feels otherworldly. I think Baja is where Dr. Seuss came for inspiration for his illustrations.

Notes About Contraband 

Lastly, there are always restrictions on what you can legally transport across any border. It is your responsibility to know what you can and cannot bring across the border with you. There are limitations on cash, electronics, pharmaceuticals and other drugs, animals and animal products, plants and produce. 

With regard to transporting food across the border, the general rule of thumb is that fresh foods (including meat, dairy, produce, seeds, etc.) are prohibited. Packaged and processed foods are generally okay. Here is a link with more specific information on food restrictions. 

Baja isn’t all beaches and tacos, the towns are rich with beauty, history, and culture.

You’ve Made it to Baja, Now What!?!

Hooray, you’ve made it through the hardest part! Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery, the beachside camping and of course, the tacos. Stay tuned for Part 2 of RVing in Baja, Mexico, where we walk you through what you need to know once you are south of the border.

This is our favorite camping beach in all of Baja. It takes 4WD and a bit of effort to get there, but what a view!


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