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The Baja Border Crossing and Security Checkpoints can be an intimidating part of traveling Baja.  

Don’t let it deter you from having the trip of a lifetime!  This blog post will give you all of the information you need in order to be prepared for these moments in your journey.

For more info about traveling Baja, check out a few other blog posts:

How to Prepare for Vanlife in Baja: 2 Month Prep Checklist

 — Best Street Foods in Baja —

Tourist Safety in Baja

 — Boondocking in Baja

Baja BORDER CROSSiNG

You DO NOT need a Tourist Visa unless you’re going to be in Mexico for more than 180 days.  You DO need a FMM entry permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple), which people casually refer to as a tourist visa or tourist card, causing a lot of confusion.  

At the Baja Border Crossing (any of them),  you will have to park and go into the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) office to obtain your FMM paper.  Border Agents will direct you where to go.  Once you’re in the office, you’ll show your passport and pay $575 Pesos (about $30) per person in exchange for your FMM.  A FMM permit is free if you’re traveling by land and will be in Mexico for less than 7 days.  This paper gets stamped on your way into Mexico and on your way out, so don’t loose it while you’re traveling!

You can apply for your FMM online, but you will still need to stop at the INM office to have it stamped.

In addition, INM officials may ask to see your Vehicle Registration and Insurance, so be sure to take those into the office with you as well.  

There is nothing that forces you to pull in and park at the IMN office.  This allows Mexican citizens and other people who do not need a FMM permit to drive freely into Mexico after crossing the border.  However, the Mexican government says they check your FMM permit when you cross from Baja Norte to Baja Sur.  We’ve heard rumors that if you don’t have your permit at the state line, they make you drive to another office to get one, and it is NOT easy to do.  It’s best to make sure you get this on your way in.

baja border crossing

Security Checkpoints

Throughout the peninsula, along major highways, you’ll come across (seemingly random) security checkpoints. Staffed by federal military officers that are armed with guns, this can be a scary interaction for some tourists.  We’ve been through several of these checkpoints and had a variety of experiences.  We’ve been stopped by officers that are fluent in English or speak hardly any, incredibly friendly or somewhat authoritarian, and also some are just bored out of their minds and happy for a distraction!

Before you get to a checkpoint, we recommend putting your wallets and purses either on your person, or hidden deep somewhere in your vehicle.  Not your glovebox, as they may look in there and it could easily disappear.  Do not leave expensive things (cameras, watches, etc.) sitting out on your bed or countertop.  Make sure your rig is pretty tidy and easy for officers to peak around and see the inside.

Here’s the run down:

  •  As you pull up to the stop sign, one of the officers will usually ask you if you speak Spanish.  Answer in English if you don’t speak Spanish.  Most of the officers speak a little bit of English and will continue the conversation in English if necessary.
  • Next, they will most likely ask you where you’ve come from and where you’re going.  They may also ask what you’re doing in Mexico (vacation, business, etc.).  We kept our answers pretty vague: “We’re coming from San Diego, headed to Cabo San Lucas!”  and “Vacation!”  Always being friendly, smiling and open.  We have nothing to hide and these guys are just doing their jobs.
  • Most likely, the officer will ask you if you have drugs (drogas) or weapons (armas) in your vehicle.  The answer is, obviously: No sir, no drogas, no armas.
  • At this point, if the officer has line of vehicles backed up and doesn’t want to look in your vehicle, they will wave you through the checkpoint and you’ll be on your way.
  • If not, they will ask you permission to inspect the vehicle.  There will likely be more than one officer doing this, so if you’re a couple, split up so that you can each watch what the officers are doing*.  They will ask you to open the slider door and the back door in order to see what you have in your rig.  They’re looking for (you guessed it) drugs, weapons, people.
  • We found that officers at less-busy checkpoints typically wanted to look inside the van, but it seemed like it was more out of curiosity than suspicion.  We only had one officer ask us to open a few cabinets, but once he had a quick look around at our pots and pans he was out of the van and waving us along.
  • Most checkpoint stops will be over in a matter of minutes and you’ll get used to the process as you travel Baja.
 *This blog is not intended to be accusatory towards border agents or security checkpoint officers in any way or give the impression that they are dishonest or have criminal intent.  We did not personally have any issues with anyone.  Nothing was stolen and we never felt like they were trying to do so.  But we always recommend using caution while traveling!  BE SMART, STAY SAFE.

We hope you have very safe travels in Baja!  It is a beautiful place with an amazing culture.  

Don’t forget to read our other blogs on Traveling Baja before you go!

How to Prepare for Vanlife in Baja: 2 Month Prep Checklist

Best Street Foods in Baja

Tourist Safety in Baja

Boondocking in Baja

baja border crossing