“Do you want to go to Mexico?” That is a question that will conjure up different thoughts. Adventure. Romance. Culture. Mexico is all that. The idea of traveling throughout Mexico, visiting the beaches, mountains, and deserts bring thousands of Americans to the country every year. If you are thinking about making the trip, here is what van life is like in Mexico.
Yes, Van Life in Mexico is Safe
Mexico ranks seventh in the world as a tourist destination. In 2019, 45 million people, worldwide, visited the country. It ranks second as a destination in the Americas. As in any foreign nation, there are areas tourists should avoid. The US State Department issues travel advisories for all countries, with information about where it is safe and where it is not. Generally, the areas catering to tourists, such as Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, and Tulum are considered safe. The bottom line: ten million Americans visited Mexico in 2019 and almost all of them came home without a scratch. Many even planned another trip.
Van Life in Mexico – The Paperwork
Not fun but you have to do it. We’ll do this quick:
Mexico only recognizes Mexican RV insurance, sold by a company domiciled in Mexico. Your van should be classified as an RV because of its modifications. You can buy full coverage or third-party liability insurance. HINT: You can get this insurance online, through a licensed Mexican insurance company. Buying online will save you money versus buying at the border.
Other insurance to investigate is medical insurance and personal property insurance. Remember, your personal property is never covered under an automobile insurance policy. It always falls under home or renters insurance. You might also have theft or damage coverage through your credit card provider if you purchased the items with a card that offers that benefit.
Crossing the Border
More paperwork. You will need your passport(s), vehicle registration, and proof of ownership. You’ll have to buy a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit and an Entry Immigration Form for each person with which you are traveling.
Get some pesos. You’ll need them for the toll roads, small food stalls, and campgrounds. For a complete checklist of border crossing requirements see our border crossing page.
Finally, fun. Your first destination will depend upon which of the 48 border crossings you use. You’ll have the choice of public roads (labeled “Libre”) or toll roads (“Cuota”) throughout the country.
The “Libre” roads are two-lane roads that will take you to quaint, out-of-the-way locations. They will also make your trip much longer. You’ll need to watch out for random “topes,” or speedbumps, potholes, animals, and pedestrians. HINT: Do not drive these roads at night.
The “Cuota” roads resemble four-lane interstate highways in the US. The exception is toll roads in the mountains, where space limits the number of lanes. You’ll need cash (pesos) for the cuotas unless you buy a payment tag that attaches to your windshield. You can buy tags at local stores or WalMarts throughout Mexico. These tags can be tied to a credit card, which avoids the need for always having cash at a toll booth.
Camping, Campgrounds, and Boondocking
You will have little use for campgrounds when you trek through Baja and along the Pacific Coast. There are beautiful beaches throughout each area. You will be able to boondock at almost every one of them.
That’s not the case once you get into the mountains, Central Mexico, and areas around Mexico City. Here, the app ioverlander will be your friend. This app uses crowdsourced information about overnight camping, points of interest, purified water, and showers. Private campgrounds are plentiful, but the accommodations are usually sub-standard. You can boondock in these areas in the parking lots at Walmart and Pemex gasoline stations. Be sure to ask first. In general, if you find a place where you feel safe, ask the local authorities if it is OK to stay overnight.
Camping in Mexico’s National Parks is similar to those in the US. There are limited services (usually a bathroom and picnic table), but the campsites are large, and you are in a scenic area.
Here is a list of Van Life in Mexico Guides that might help you:
- Pacific Coast (Michoacan and Guerrero)
- Coastal Jalisco and Nayarit
- Baja California Sur
- Baja California
- Isla Aguada – Campeche
The availability of electricity can be a problem, depending upon how many devices you need to power and the amount of available juice in your vehicle. You will have access to power if you stay in a private RV park. However, that power isn’t consistent and is nowhere near what you’d get in the US. Electricity becomes a bigger issue if you plan to boondock a majority of your trip. Planning ahead means investigating solar panels that can provide 200 to 250 watts per day. You’ll also want to determine how many deep cycle batteries you’ll need to keep your phones, iPads, and laptops up and running.
Another aspect of keeping connected is having access to the Internet. That is best done in Mexico via cell phone reception. Many travelers report the most reliable and consistent cell phone connection comes from T-Mobile. It’s available throughout Mexico (and several neighboring countries). Here are some articles related to cell phone service in Mexico:
- The Cell Phone Experience in Mexico
- How to Make a Phone Call in Mexico
- Canadian Tourist in Mexico Cell Phone Guide
Do not drink the tap water in Mexico. Even the locals will not drink it. (It is full of bacteria.) Look for the sign for “Agua Purificada,” which translates to Purified Water. There are locations in towns and cities throughout the country. You can fill water jugs at these locations and you’ll be good to go. If you have an RV, make sure you have your own connection equipment.
Learn the word hielo. It means ice. Mexico is generally hot and having ice is a necessity.
Mexico is an amazing place for van life, from the beaches to the mountains. And the people of Mexico will welcome you like a neighbor. Enjoy their hospitality and friendship!