Driving to San Miguel

Before you drive a car into Mexico, you need a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) if you plan to take the car out of Mexico within 6 months, or you must nationalize (permanently import) the car at the border (which means working with a broker and doing some work in advance … everything you need to know is at this link).

Here is a link to instructions for obtaining a TIP, from the Mexican government (it’s a PDF you can print out: http://www.sat.gob.mx/informacion_fiscal/publicaciones/Documents/15_temporaryvehicle_importation_2014.pdf

The drive from Laredo, Texas, to San Miguel de Allende is a long day, between 8 and 9 hours including crossing the bridge over the Rio Grande. Here is a link to live cameras covering each bridge. Give out this link, then call just before you cross and see if loved ones can spot your car on the bridge!

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For safety, you’ll want to leave Laredo early in the morning so you have daylight all the way to San Miguel. If you want, you can break up the trip and stay overnight in Matehuala—there’s a hotel we like that’s safe (nothing luxurious, but they serve a good breakfast and the kitchy mini golf course is fun). The hotel is called Las Palmas Midway Inn. Before you leave Laredo, print out the page with map and phone number just in case you’re tired and decide to stop.

A piece of advice—gas up the car in Laredo before you cross the border, and don’t let the tank get empty while driving in Mexico. When you get down to half a tank, stop at the next Pemex (they are ALL Pemex) and fill up. Get the “roja” (red) gas not the green, or if they have only green, which is regular gas of poor quality, get 20 liters or less (you can say “cien pesos” ($100 pesos) and stop at the next station to get the premium gas, which is also lower quality than premium in the U.S., but won’t make your car knock like the green stuff can. Use a credit card to pay for the gas if you can, but have pesos in case their credit card machine isn’t working. The credit card is for the insurance coverage in case you get ripped off, and also it’s a way to track you if there is a need for someone to reach you on the road.

If you aren’t familiar with buying gas in Mexico, here are a few tips so you don’t get ripped off:

  • Be careful when paying in cash. There’s a common scam where you hand the attendant a $500 pesos bill, which is peach colored, and they show you that all they got from you is a $50 pesos bill, which is pink, and you can’t argue. Best to carry smaller bills and some $5 and $10 peso coins, since you tip the guys $5 or $10 at the pump (we do $5 just for pumping gas, $10 if they wash the windshield, and if they do more, like check oil, put air in tires, etc., we tip $15-$20 all together, not per guy).
  • Know how many gallons or liters your tank holds, and instead of saying “fill ‘er up,” you can order packets of 20 liters (so at half tank you might ask for “veinte litros” or “cuarenta litros” depending on the size of your tank) … our Ford Explorer tank holds 85 liters and we usually buy 20 liters at a time, which is around $300 pesos or $18 USD. It’s about $72 USD here for a full tank in the SUV. Ordering in 20-liter packets helps to avoid skimming.
  • If you have to use the bathroom at a Pemex, one of you goes and the other stays with the car to make sure no one slashes your tires. That’s another common scam. You’ll be driving away and the pump guy will come running up and bang on your car and say, “You’ve got a flat!” That way they can fix it at whatever price they want, since they know you have no other choice. Except you DO have another choice: Green Angels.

Mexico has “green angels” on the road that are like free AAA roadside service. They have lime-green colored pickup trucks, and often they are equipped for a tow. If you need help, call them—write down the number on the signs you’ll see posted on the highway. I think you just dial 078 from a Mexican cell but am not sure if it’s the same with a U.S. cell phone. Also there is 066 for emergencies.

Before I make the drive, I always go to a nearby AAA office (I’m a member even though they don’t provide service in Mexico) and get a trip-tic map and guidebook set. They’ll show your entire route from your city to San Miguel, and the maps have hotel listings, etc. Very helpful and free to members, so it’s worth buying a membership just for that.

I have made the trip from Minneapolis through Laredo to San Miguel de Allende (or vice-versa) more than a dozen times, most often on my own, and have never had a single problem. Everyone’s been wonderful, and once when I got turned around at a gas station, not sure how to get back to the town I was heading for, a local police squad car had me follow and they took me right to my exit. The roads are good (stick to “cuotas” or toll roads, and you will need pesos, about $70 total each way … keep the receipts they give you to prove you paid, although I’ve never been checked).

One local driver’s experience:

Laredo vs. Columbia bridge

Posted by: “eli.nadel” emnadel@gmail.com   eli.nadel

Fri Jun 18, 2010 2:14 pm (PDT)

There has been a lot of discussion about which Rio Grande crossing is better, Laredo #2 bridge, or at Columbia. The critical factor, unanimously, is the delay going northbound, passing through the inspection station at Bridge #2.

On a recent trip to Texas, I took note of time and distance both ways with NO delays. Measurements are between the highway bridge just north of the inland frontera inspection station in Mexico, and a hotel on I-35 near Del Mar, in Laredo. Results:

Via Columbia, 95.1 km., 1:18 minutes
Via Laredo bridge #2. 36 km., 0:30 minutes.

Summary: with no delays, Columbia bridge route is 59.1 km. and 48 minutes longer.

What this means to me:

  1. The Columbia bridge route is preferrable northbound because the delay crossing north into the US on Laredo bridge #2 typically is more than 3/4 to 1 hour long.
  2. The Laredo bridge #2 route is preferrable southbound all the time.