VEHICLE PERMIT (this only applies to traveling in Sonora):

At kilometer 21 south of Nogales, you can obtain a free vehicle permit valid only for travel in Sonora under a program called Sonora Only. Those who use this option must carry a vehicle title or registration in the name of the person driving, as well as the tourist permit. After showing this, and the identification used to obtain the tourist permit, the employees will give you a form and a sticker. The "Only Sonora" pass is good for up to 180 days and you must return this pass when returning from your travel from Sonora. If you don't return the form and sticker at the booth south of Nogales, the Sonoran government must pay the Mexican government the taxes that would have been required on the vehicle if it were imported. This sum can be as high as the value of the vehicle. Sometimes, Sonoran officials travel in Arizona in an effort to prove the vehicle is no longer in Mexico.

For traveling beyond Sonora: 

Those who wish to travel beyond Sonora, or who prefer unlimited entries and exits over 6 months, should obtain a vehicle permit from Mexican customs, known as SAT. To obtain one of these permits, you present your tourist permit, a registration or title in the name of the driver, a personal identification such as the one used for the tourist permit, and a "guarantee." That guarantee is usually in the form of a credit card presented to the nearby Banjercito office. That bank will charge about $17 to the card and keep a print in case the car is not returned. Those who don't have a credit card can pay for a bond which is sold by private businesses near the ports of entry. The cost depends on the vehicle. If you obtain this 180-day permit from customs, you must return the sticker given you to the customs station. Otherwise, you face the possibility of a charge applied to the credit card or loss of your bond. By law, you also may not obtain another such permit until a year has passed from the day you list obtained a permit, although this is not always enforced.


There is one way to know your car is over parked or parked illegally- your license plate will be missing. Paper parking citations can be ignored and fines forgotten. However, when the police possess a license plate, drivers are compelled to go to the station and pay their fine to reclaim their plates (placas).


A number of factors make night driving hazardous. On older, two lane roads, you could hit a chuckhole with no warning. Shoulders are narrow or sometimes non-existent. Drivers of broken down vehicles often place rocks on the road to warn you that they are taking up the lane ahead. Long after they’re gone, the rocks often remain, despite signs telling you not to leave them. Mexico has a lot of open range; loose livestock is common place and roads are often poorly lit.

Take the toll roads whenever possible as they can save a lot of time, although some can be quite expensive. You can find the latest tariff rates at


When you see a man on the side of the road with a red rag, assume you’d better slow down as there could be a myriad of dangers ahead. 


Left Turn Signals

On the open road, a left turn signal is an invitation to the person behind you to pass. Trucks and buses frequently turn their left blinker on to guide you around them. They can usually be trusted, but use common sense. Sometimes they have optimistic views of your acceleration capabilities. Don't use your left turn signal on a two lane road when you are about to pass. You might get hit. A few readers have pointed out that on the toll roads, people use turn signals as they do here. Our advice -- use them as you are used to on toll roads, but don't expect the other drivers to do the same.

Left Turns & Right Turns 

Left turns are different! When there is a left turn lane, there will usually be a left turn arrow. Look for 4 lights on the signal. You MUST wait for the arrow.

Right on red is usually not OK, unless there is a sign saying that it is (Derecha con Precaucion). If you are determined to turn, use your best judgment.


For emergencies, dial 066. For the operator, dial 091 and for a bilingual operator dial 070.


Pay with your credit card whenever possible to take advantage of the best exchange rate. Credit cards like Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. Discover is not accepted anywhere. American Express, Diner’s Club and Carte Blanche are accepted only at the finer establishments. You can get cash advances on the Visa and MasterCard at some ATMs. Pesos bills come in denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $200, $500 and probably even bigger. Coins are 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢ (centavos) and $1, $2, $5, $10 and $20 pesos.


Use purified water or "agua purificada" available at gas stations and small stores, just like in the States. In supermarkets, it can be purchased in one-gallon plastic containers. Mineral water, while perfectly safe, has the side effect of a mild laxative on some individuals due to its mineral content. Be sure and ask for purified water at hotels, motels and restaurants.


Mexican citizens who live in the U.S. don't need to obtain a tourist permit but they must demonstrate their Mexican nationality. They also must obtain a permit for any foreign-registered vehicle. Those who are paying off a vehicle and don't yet have a clear title or registration must bring a letter from the financing company. The letter must give permission for the vehicle to be driven in Mexico. Vehicle renters must bring a letter from the rental agency giving them permission to take the car into Mexico.

It is highly prohibited to take a borrowed vehicle into Mexico. Spouses, children or parents of the registered owner may take a vehicle in, but only when they bring documentation of that relationship, such as birth certificate. Notarized letters are not accepted. Do not loan an American-registered vehicle while in Mexico unless the person who took the permit out is also in board.

Those pulling boats, trailers, ATVs and motorcycles must bring registration for these. The same person cannot take out a permit for both recreational vehicle and a car at the same time. Fishing licenses are not necessary when fishing from shore, but are when fishing from a boat.

Don't take firearms or ammunition into Mexico unless you have a pre-arranged hunting trip and have the necessary permits.

Pets being brought into Mexico must have proof of rabies vaccination dated between 1 and 12 months previous to date of entry.


There are limits set for items you wish to bring into the U.S. Liquors are limited to one liter per adult, and Tobacco products are limited to one carton per person over the age of 18. For additional items, consult a U.S. Customs Agent before crossing into Mexico.

Upon entering the U.S. from Mexico, certain articles are either prohibited or subject to various quarantines, limitations or special permit requirements. Those articles include all narcotics or drugs, weapons, certain trademarked articles, most fruits, vegetables, plants, animals, birds and meats, and products made from the hides, shells, feathers, or teeth of endangered species.

The Mexican and U.S. Customs offices are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions at (520) 287-1410 or visit their website at
​You may also the local offices in Nogales, Arizona at (520) 885-0694 for more information. 

For more information, please call the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce Tourism & Visitor Center at (520) 287-3685.


By law, the border zone extends 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) into Mexico. Americans can travel in this area without obtaining a tourist permit or a vehicle permit. Practically speaking, this zone includes the territory up to the first customs/immigration checkpoint south of the border cities. The zone includes Agua Prieta, Naco, Cananea, Nogales, Sasabe, Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) and San Luis Rio Colorado.


All foreign tourists must obtain a tourist permit before traveling beyond the border zone. For those traveling into Mexico at Nogales, permits are available at the customs and immigration checkpoint at kilometer 21. For those entering Mexico at any other point in Sonora, the permit must be obtained at the border port of entry. Officers at the immigration checkpoints south of the border zone may ask to see a permit but cannot issue them.

Planning a trip to Mexico can be exciting, thrilling and maybe you could be counting down the days but are you prepared for your getaway? Here is some helpful information that is your guide when traveling to Mexico. Find additional information from the Mexican government at this link. 


Renting a car in Mexico is similar to renting one anywhere in the world with a few caveats. You must have a major credit card. All major rental car agencies are located at major airports. Their rates vary so shop around. Please check the car carefully! Any little ding not noted will be charged to you as if you damaged the car. Make sure all lights, signals, and especially the horn work. Unlimited mileage is the exception rather than the rule, so be sure to ask if it is available. There should be a decal in the back window with the license tag number on it. Be sure they match or refuse the car. Renting in one city and returning in another is expensive. The car rental company will charge you a per kilometer fee that may double your bill. 

Traveling to mexico

To obtain a permit, you must have either a passport alone or a birth certificate and a driver's license. U.S. Military ID and Voter ID may also work in combination with a driver's license, although some traveler’s have reported problems using these two. The tourist permit costs 170 pesos per person (about $15) and must be paid to one of 27 banks listed on the form. Pay this whenever possible after entering Mexico's interior. The permit is also required if you are going to stay more than 72 hours in Mexico's border zone, except in Puerto Peñasco where the time limit does not apply.

​The U.S. Embassy strongly urges all U.S. citizens currently in Mexico who do not have a passport or WHTI-compliant documents such as a passport card or a Trusted Traveler Card (NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST) or Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) to apply for a passport in the near future as they will need one to enter or re-enter the United States. Standardized, secure and reliable documentation will enable Customs and Border Protection officers to quickly and accurately identify travelers at land and sea ports of entry, resulting in a more secure and efficient border. WHTI went into effect for air travel in 2007.

Document requirements for Mexican citizens are not impacted by WHTI. All Mexican nationals, including children, are currently required to present a passport with a nonimmigrant visa or a laser visa Border Crossing Card to cross the U.S. border. This requirement applies to SENTRI program members as well.

For more information, please visit


Mexican law requires liability insurance for foreign-registered vehicles driven anywhere in Mexico. Insurance agents also recommend comprehensive and collision insurance, which usually add little to the cost. Without insurance, if you get into an accident, you can be jailed.

Insurance can be purchased from the following local insurance agents: 

Frisby Insurance, 1825 North Grand Avenue #100, Nogales, AZ 85621, Toll Free: 1-866-828-1595 or online at 

Don Smith Insurance, 475 W. Mariposa Rd., Nogales, AZ 85621, Toll Free: 1-800-258-2268 or online at 

Sanborn's Mexico Insurance, 850 West Shell Road. Nogales, AZ 85621, Office Phone: (520) 281-1865 or online at​​