The Mexican border is a closer drive from Phoenix than the Grand Canyon.
Depending on where you are in the metro area, you can reach a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol port of entry to Mexico in just a three-hour drive. Lukeville is 150 miles away, Sasabe is 170 miles away and Nogales is 180 miles away. The Grand Canyon, in comparison, is 224 miles away.
But driving in and out of Mexico isn’t like traveling between destinations within the U.S. You’ll need to have more documents on hand in order to legally drive into Mexico and return to the U.S. You will also want to consider whether it’s safe to travel to the part of Mexico you plan to visit.
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What is required to drive into Mexico?
If you plan to travel within the border tourism area known as the Mexico Free Zone, which includes popular destinations like Puerto Peñasco, Hermosillo and San Carlos, you will only need your driver’s license, vehicle registration, passport and Mexican car insurance, according to the State Department and several auto insurance companies including Allstate and Progressive.
If you plan to travel outside this zone, you’ll also need:
- A Mexico tourist card or entry permit from a National Migration Institute office.
- A temporary vehicle importation permit, which is required to transport a foreign vehicle beyond border zones in Mexico. A motorist can apply for a permit via the website for the Mexican government agency Banjercito. They can also apply at the border or at certain Mexican consulates in the U.S. It costs $18.29 for a permit.
Do you need a passport to drive a car to Mexico?
Yes. Crossing any international border requires a passport. A driver’s license alone will not suffice, not even a Real ID license.
But driving to Mexico, unlike flying there, does not require a passport book. You can use a passport card, which is less expensive at $30 plus a $35 application fee; the book costs $130 plus a $35 application fee.
Be aware that a passport card does not work like a passport book; it’s only good for land and sea crossings and will only allow you to enter and exit Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. If you plan to fly, you need a passport book.
However, passport cards are ideal for returning to the U.S. from Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of State. Travelers with passport cards and Trusted Traveler (NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry or FAST) cards can use designated Ready Lanes where the cards can be scanned before proceeding to a customs officer for inspection.
Passport books can’t be used in Ready Lanes.
Also important to note is that Ready Lanes are not the same as the express SENTRI and NEXUS lanes, which are reserved strictly for SENTRI, NEXUS and Global Entry card holders.
For a vehicle or group of pedestrians to use a Ready Lane or SENTRI Lane, all travelers 16 years and older must have the appropriate card.
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Which Arizona-Mexico border crossings have Global Entry or SENTRI lanes?
Some border crossings have expedited lanes for members of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry and SENTRI.
Global Entry and SENTRI members can use the SENTRI lanes or Ready Lanes by scanning their membership cards.
In Arizona, SENTRI lanes are available at the Douglas, Nogales (Grand Avenue) and San Luis (Main Street) border crossings, according to Customs and Border Protection. Lanes may be staffed for limited hours, so check with the crossing you plan to use.
Global Entry and SENTRI can only be used to re-enter the U.S., not to enter Mexico. While Mexico does have its own version of Global Entry called Viajero Confiable, it’s only available in a handful of airports, not land crossings.
How long does it take to go through the border crossing?
Customs and Border Protection has a feature on its website where you can view the current and average wait times for a border crossing.
For example, on May 9, wait times to pass Nogales’ main border crossing at Grand Avenue and another crossing on Mariposa Road, primarily serving commercial vehicles, were about 60 minutes during peak traffic in the morning. By the afternoon, wait times reduced to about 45 minutes.
Sentri Lanes at Grand Avenue had an average wait time of 28 minutes during peak times and less than 20 minutes during nonpeak times.
Reach the reporter at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.
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