We tallied up all the tolls, miles, gas prices, and more from our 2-day road trip crossing the Mexico-US border. I’ve compiled it all below in this guide!
Crossing the Mexico-US border was our first-ever road trip in our new 1990 Roadtrek van. As newbie overlanders, we have lots to learn, but we successfully bought a used US-plated car in Mexico and made the 4-day trip all the way to Tennessee, USA!
When I was searching to buy a vehicle in Mexico and cross the US border with it, there wasn’t that much information online. I had to dig a little. So I want to make that easier on the next person attempting to do the same thing as us by sharing our experience.
Here’s all about how we successfully bought a used car and crossed the border from Mexico into the US.
How to Buy a US-plated Car in Mexico
If you’re a US citizen or a foreigner wishing to buy a US-plated car in Mexico, then this is for you!
Please note: We were able to buy a US-plated vehicle in Mexico only. This is because we “lived” in Mexico on temporary 6-month tourist visas. If you wish to buy a Mexican-plated car, this guide isn’t suitable for you. To buy a Mexican-plated vehicle in Mexico you must have residency.
During our search for vans in the US and Mexico, making sure the plates were registered in the US was an important factor for us. US plates make traveling by van much easier, especially if you plan to cross lots of borders.
Buying a US-plated car or van in Mexico is easier than applying for residency and buying a Mexican-plated car.
In order to legally be able to drive the car you purchase, you’ll need to go to a public notary and get a “Poder”. A poder is a notarized Power of Attorney document that allows you to legally drive the vehicle under the seller’s name.
Additionally, in order to drive across the US border with your new vehicle, you’ll need to cancel the seller’s original Temporary Import Permit (TIP).
Read more below for how to do both in better detail.
How to Get a Poder in Mexico
When we first heard of getting a notarized “Poder” in order to drive the vehicle, it sounded like a really lengthy and boring process.
But it’s actually not that complicated, and it can be completed in just a day or two.
A poder allows you to legally drive the vehicle while it’s still registered under the seller’s name. So it’s extremely important to have in case you get stopped and especially if you want to cross the border and prove you didn’t steal the vehicle.
The Seller Applies for the Poder at a Notary Public House
There are many notary public houses in Mexico as long as your nearby a larger city.
The seller of the vehicle (in our case) went to apply for a poder. We, as the buyers, didn’t need to be there.
However, in the case your seller does it on your behalf, you’ll need to send copies of your passport. Make sure to include all passports, names and addresses of all the people intending to drive the vehicle.
At the time of the application, our seller had to pay the notary fee. He also received a copy of the poder which needed to be officially notarized (signed by the notario – attorney) on the following day (or whenever your appointment is).
A notarized poder will cost around 3,200 pesos (about $150-160). Work out whether your seller will pay for the poder or if you will go in half-half. We offered to pay half.
The whole process only took 1-2 days. Just verify when the attorney will be available to sign off on the document.
You’ll get an official printed document in a folder which will detail that you have legal permission to drive the vehicle in Mexico. You’ll need this to cross the border so keep it safe.
Don’t Forget Car Insurance in Mexico (and the US)
I almost forgot! Make sure you have car insurance in Mexico in order to drive to the border. Luckily, our seller was able to transfer his current insurance in our names. This way, we didn’t need to buy an additional policy just to cover the 2 days it took us to drive to the border.
Ask your seller if you could do the same. If possible, it’s really easy to transfer. You just need your names, addresses, and copies of your ID.
Also, you’ll need to set up car insurance in the US before you plan to cross. We set up ours with Progressive (got full coverage) and we will pay $35-ish for the first month, and then it goes up to $80-ish for the following months.
Progressive, Geico… any of these will work great. We chose Progressive because it was easy to add Paul as a foreign driver to the policy.
How to Cancel the Seller’s TIP (Temporary Import Permit)
Another essential step when leaving Mexico and crossing the US border is to cancel the original seller’s Temporary Import Permit. The TIP is what allows vehicles into Mexico and you’ll need to cancel it out of the seller’s name when you exit Mexico.
It’s also a very simple process and it took us only 5 minutes.
Before queueing in line to cross the border, first drive to the nearest Banjercito.
Ours was like a little stall set up in a parking lot.
All they did was come to take a picture of the TIP and then you got to peel it off the windshield. It doesn’t matter if the TIP was for 10 years or for 6 months. You can cancel it all the same.
Canceling the TIP is very important especially if you want to re-enter Mexico at a later time. Then, you can re-apply for a TIP but this time in your own name.
How to Cross the Mexico-US border by Van (or with a recently purchased car)
Now, it’s time to cross into the United States with your car!
There are many crossing points from Mexico to the US, but we crossed at Laredo, Texas.
Traveler’s Tip: Check where to cross at Laredo, as there are many bridges. Some are for trucks, some pedestrians, and some are safer than others apparently. We crossed at the Juarez Lincoln bridge (Puente Internacional II).
An easy way to check border crossing wait times is to use this online tool which estimates how long the queue is in real-time. The actual time you may wait to cross will vary, but we ended up crossing (inspection and all) within under an hour. We also went later in the day, around 5 pm.
Wherever you choose to cross, check for wait times and plan accordingly.
Next, you must have all your documents and identification cards ready.
To cross the Mexico-US border, you’ll need:
- ID cards
- Title & Registration of the car
- Notarized Poder
- Any other document for the vehicle
- A clear and precise story!
- No alcohol, food, plants or drugs and weapons allowed
- Your pet’s certificate of health (certificado de salud) if traveling with cats / plus rabies certification for dogs
I mention it’s essential to have a clear and precise story because immigration officers will sniff out any suspicious answers really easily. And because we just bought a van in Mexico and have a weird back story of traveling and working online, we were asked to pull over for questioning and a full inspection.
It sounds scary, and boy Paul was worried (as he is a foreigner crossing into the US for the first time by land). But it was pretty easy, you just need to be honest and share every detail.
So make sure you have your destination address in mind, and get your story straight!
They wanted proof that we bought the vehicle and having the notarized poder was really helpful because I could show our names and the legal signature (in addition to the title and registration). Plus, the poder had copies of our seller’s passport and copies of our passports stapled to the poder. This was useful for “proving” we didn’t just steal the van with the title, etc.
We explained the poder gave us legal permission to drive the vehicle. Then I explained that thanks to the US-plates on the van, we could drive back to our home state of Tennessee where we planned to re-register the vehicle in my name. It helped that I already had a Tennessee driver’s license and could prove that I lived there.
The whole process took an hour. As long as you have a clear story, you’ll be fine!
Our Experience Driving from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Laredo, Texas (+ Tolls Cost)
We left our small pueblo near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and drove 2 days to reach the border at Laredo, Texas.
We averaged driving 8-10 hours a day. Our first night over was at a secured Pemex parking lot just after San Luis Potosi. The next day we reached Laredo in the late afternoon and decided to cross since the queue wasn’t too long.
A not-so-fun part of the road trip in Mexico was the tolls. They are pricey and frequent.
From Puerto Vallarta to Laredo, we counted 16 tolls. You can either pay in cash or via an automated car tag.
Here was our chosen route, which seemed to be the fastest, safest, and most cost-efficient.
Cost of Mexico’s Toll Roads (Cuota) from Puerto Vallarta to Laredo
All prices were for a standard “Auto.” Luckily our mini-motorhome counted as a normal car!
1st cuota = $38 pesos (Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara / Highway 200 to 68D Autopista Jala-Compostela)
2nd cuota = $131 pesos / Guadalajara Federal Highway 15D
3rd cuota = $190 pesos
4th cuota = $127 pesos
5th cuota = $212 pesos
6th cuota = $175 pesos
7th cuota = $112 pesos
8th cuota = $54 pesos / outside of San Luis Potosi
9th cuota = $65 / beside el Potosino Norte rest stop
First night over at Europits Gas Max – $50 pesos for 12 hours in the secured parking lot. Showers, restaurant, gas, etc. on-site!
10th cuota = $27 pesos / 57D Matehuala – Monterrey
11th cuota = $64 pesos
12th cuota = $41 pesos
13th cuota = $64 pesos
14th cuota = $163 pesos
15th cuota = $265 pesos
16th cuota = $28 pesos / right before BORDER!
Total cost of cuota toll roads from Puerto Vallarta to Laredo = $1,756 pesos ($88 USD).
Cost of Gas Driving from Vallarta to Laredo
Gas costs will vary per individual per car, but I wanted to show you how much it cost us based on the 19 – 21 pesos/liter price for our 1990 Roadtrek Popular.
Total gas cost to drive 1,385 kilometers (or 860+ miles) to the USA border from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico = $5,418 pesos ($270 USD).
Yours will probably be much lower, but considering ours is a home-on-wheels we did pretty good! Fuel in Mexico also costs more than in the US, as we came to find out after crossing.
Final Thoughts: Crossing the Mexico-US Border By Van
There we have it! I hope this guide helps you figure out how to cross into the United States from Mexico with a recently purchased US-plated vehicle. Now you can plan better your driving route and the total costs and length of your trip from Mexico!
If I left anything out, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Bon voyage! xo, Bri