Crossing Borders: The Ins and Outs of International Road Tripping

  • Posted on Jan 5, 2017


One of the truly magnificent aspect of American Mobile living is that we can drive for days and days without ever leaving the country, crossing state borders with little to no fanfare or trouble. With the exception of a few internal checkpoints in California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, the only indication that you have crossed state borders is a Welcome sign on the side of the road or a pop-up notification on your Google Maps GPS.


This feeling of the open road is so foundational to the American experience that many travelers can be caught off guard when road tripping internationally. Crossing national borders involves a bit more preparation beforehand, a few more steps at the time of crossing, and following some additional rules when driving abroad.


The experience of driving across Europe will differ greatly than driving down the West Coast of North America, and crossing from one geo-political group to another (Poland to Russia) will be different than traveling between political and culturally similar countries (France and Belgium, for example). However, since the likelihood of taking your Timberline Range Camp across the pond is a bit lower than visiting our immediate neighbors, we will focus on visiting our amis in Canada and our amigos in Mexico for now.


Traveling North: Canada


In the past (pre-2009), it was possible to cross our northern border with nothing but a US driver’s license in hand. In the past decade, however, the process has changed quite a lot. While citizens of the United States do not need one of Canada’s new electronic travel authorizations, you will need a few other items.


First and foremost, you must have the proper travel document, namely a US Passport. Additionally, at the border you may be asked by customs officers about your general health and criminal background. US citizens may also be asked about their occupations, living situation, family, home property, and/or financial assets in order to be confident you have significant reasons to return to the US and won’t decide to become an undocumented immigrant. You may also be asked to present a letter of invitation from a Canadian citizen. The good news is that US citizens do not need to obtain any visitor visas to tour around the country.


At the border, you will be notified of how long you are legally allowed to visit by the border patrol officer. Usually this will be recorded in your passport. Unless otherwise noted, plan on the limit being six months. If you plan on a longer stay, make sure you renew your documents at least 30 day before your expiration.


Another benefit of close US/Canadian political relations is that if you have a valid US driver’s license, you are in good standing, and you have proof of insurance, you are allowed to drive in Canada without an additional permit. As a general rule, if it is illegal or bad driving practice in the US, it’s the same in Canada. Wear your seatbelts, don’t drink, use a hands free device, and follow traffic signs (even though they will be in metric).


If you are from here in the US Mountain West, you are probably familiar with winter driving. Your experience will definitely come in handy in these next few winter months. As always, adjust your driving to the circumstances and watch out for black ice, snow, and impediments to vision.


Returning to the States from Canada is pretty straightforward. As long as you have kept ahold of your passport or travel document used to cross the border, you should be fine coming back. In addition to your Passport, there are a few other documents that will get you in: US Passport Card, enhanced driver’s license, a NEXUS card, or an enhanced Tribal card for Native Americans.


Traveling South: Mexico


Traveling south is slightly more complicated than what we have outlined above. With the political topics of illegal immigration emanating from Central America and the ongoing drug problem in many regions of Mexico, the US and Mexican governments have worked together to tighten security. Like Canada, however, US citizens do not need a visa to visit Mexico for up to 180 days.


Your US driver’s license will work in Mexico, but there are some strict rules regulating the importation of vehicles. Since we are talking about temporary road tripping through the country, you most likely will need to apply for a temporary vehicle import permit. These can be obtained through the Banjercito government website and you will need to provide several documents in the process. While you should definitely check with authorized sources for a full and current list of requirements, you will very likely need to your passport, the vehicle titles, current registration documents, and any lease documents. Additionally, you will pay a fee of about US $20 for each vehicle including your truck and your range camp.


The only other key detail when driving in Mexico is that you will need to specifically purchase Mexican Auto Insurance for your vehicles. Neither the Mexican police or the Mexican government recognize American auto insurance companies. Several independent companies exist so shop around and make sure your documents are up to date and will cover you through your travel dates.


Like in the US, drivers in Mexico use the right hand side of the road and like Canada, all signs will be posted in the metric system (in case you are wondering a kilometer is about .6 miles). Signs will also be in Spanish so you may need to pull out your high school Spanish textbook or Google a few phrases (hint: Stop = Alto).


Happy Trails!


Here are Timberline Range Camps, we understand the drive to get out onto the road. Whether you are embarking on a spur of the moment excursion for a few days or finally setting out on the first day of a 1500 mile three month long adventure, we hope that you‘ll bring us along.

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“First, thanks for all of the help and patience in preparing to order our camp. You made sure that we really got what we wanted. From the time we picked up our camp we have really enjoyed it. It pulls great, and is easy to park and set up. This camp is so comfortable. Cooking and cleaning is easy, and everything is easy to get to. You can have people in and not feel crowded. We have camped in camp grounds, by lakes, and in the hills hunting with no problems. We like camping in it best when it is cold so we can use the wood stove. There is nothing cozier than that stove. Summer is nice to; the windows are placed so there is good ventilation. The door coming in from the front is more secure feeling. The kids are fighting over who will inherit it, but we are determined to wear it out before that happens.”

- Pat and Ernie , Sparks Nevada

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