27 Apr

Mexico-Guatemala Border Crossing @ Cuauhtémoc-La Mesilla

This is a post for other overlanders. We’ve done a lot of border crossing research in order to be the prepared boy and girl scouts that we strive to be. You read enough to be prepared for the worst and then are pleasantly surprised when all goes well. Here’s our experience crossing the Mexico-Guatemala Border at Ciudad Cuauhtémoc-La Mesilla.

Leaving Mexico – Tuesday, April 21, 2015 @ 12:30pm.

Border at Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, 2 hours south of San Cristobal De Las Casas

Objective: Cancel temporary vehicle import permit, have deposit refunded, and received Mexican exit stamps in our passports.

Both the Banjercito (to deal with vehicle import) and Aduana/Migracion, Customs/Immigration (for passport exit stamps) are in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, right off the 190 highway. You can’t miss it. Big awning, blue and white building on the left hand side (when heading south from San Cristobal).

We went to the Banjercito first. There was no one waiting ahead of us.

  • Give agent Vehicle Import paperwork to be canceled.
  • Agent wanted to see car title/registration, just for fun.
  • Agent came out to car with us, verified VIN and removed the sticker on our windshield.
  • There was no money exchanged. The deposit of 200 pesos that was placed on our credit card upon entry would be reversed automatically in a few days.
  • Agent returned the canceled Vehicle Import paperwork. This is needed to show at the Guatemala border.

Next door at Aduana/Migracion, only a handful of people filling out entry paperwork. We were waved through to the counter right away.

  • Hand over passports and Mexican FMM visas to be canceled. Ours only expire in September 2015 (180 days from entry), but we do not plan to return to Mexico until December or later.
  • *Important* Agent was going to charge us a 336 peso tourist tax per person. We had our receipt from entry at Nogales 34 days ago, showing it had already been paid. No money was exchanged here either.
  • Passports are stamped, visas remain with the agent, drive 4 kms to actual border.

There is a Y in the road, as you approach the busy vendor area at the border. No signs. Keep left into what looks like the more chaotic choice.

Mexican border agent only wants to see that Vehicle Import Permit has been canceled. Show him through car window, done. Crossing arm lifts and we’re on to the Guatemala side (literally one car’s length away).

Entering Guatemala – Tuesday, April 21, 2015 @ 2:00pm.

Border at La Mesilla, on the Pan American Highway 1.

Objective: Complete Bruno’s first fumigation, pay for temporary vehicle import permit, and receive Guatemala entry stamps in our passports.

There is only one lane in and one lane out of Guatemala at this crossing. Luckily, we are the only car trying to enter on a Tuesday afternoon. A Chevy Cavalier with Ontario plates is leaving Guatemala as we are preparing to enter. Hello compadre.

There are cones in the lane and therefore, we must stop. A guy comes over and explains that they are going to fumigate the car, right there in the road. Bruno’s tires are sprayed, we pay 18 quetzals ($2 USD) and receive a receipt.

Park immediately on the right for Aduana/Migracion.

At this point, nobody has swarmed the car, asking to help us for a tip (as we read about at so many other border crossings in Central America). There are guys with huge wads of cash, we presumed to be the money changers. They asked us politely, we said no thank you. Travis had picked up small amounts of each currency through Wells Fargo before leaving San Francisco (just enough to get us over the borders and into town).


  • Hand over passports for entry stamp.
  • Do you have a car? Yes. Fill out this short form. OK. Is that a soccer game on T.V.? Si, Barcelona. Wonderful. I like Neymar, too.
  • Yellow copy of short form is ours to keep. It is needed next door to import the car.
  • We were charged 20 pesos (or 10 quetzals, our choice) per passport. Presumably for all their ‘trouble’ stamping the page. Several other travelers reported being charged a similar “small fee” for entry. With no receipt given, this could easily be a scam. We could have fought it, but in the essence of time, ease and charity, we paid the equivalent of $2 USD and went on our merry way.

The building right next door has a window, where they’ll issue the Vehicle Import Permit. There is also an armed guard there to watch over the bank with tinted windows where you’ll pay for the permit.

Vehicle Import

  • This part took the longest and required the most paperwork, but once it was handed over, the agent did all the work. Slowly. There’s a Barcelona game on, remember?
  • Hand over originals: car title, registration, driver’s licenses, passports + canceled Mexican Vehicle Import paperwork + yellow copy of Aduana form.
  • We had multiple copies of everything, but behind the little window, in his air-conditioned office, the agent had a copier and did everything he needed to do. We were not asked for any copies.
  • Go next door to tinted window bank (literally, the door right beside his little window). Pay 160 quetzals ($20 USD) for the vehicle import. Good for 90 days.
  • Upon returning bank receipt to window-man, he returns our original documents, we sign a few things, and walk away with the Vehicle Import paperwork.
  • The agent then comes out to inspect the car (opens a few doors, verifies VIN). He affixes sticker to windshield and we’re done.

I have to note that this is the first time an official of any kind has looked inside Bruno since we left. Not in the U.S., not in Mexico, coming or going. Guess we just don’t look that suspicious – despite Travis’ new facial hair.


  • Tamara

    Happy to hear this all went so smoothly for you guys. Good call on crossing in the middle of the afternoon mid-week. Feliz Viaje!

    • Travis

      Thanks Tamara – we look forward to more border crossings in our future!!

  • Sir Real

    That is good to know. I have been trying to plan this road trip for a couple years.

    • Amanda

      Hope you can make your trip a reality!

      • Sir Real

        One of these days. I have been flying down for the last 12 years, and the r/t airfare is up to about $850. If the airfare goes any higher, and gas prices stay low, driving might be the best option. And, getting there will be half the fun.

  • nathan

    wow thanks for the awesome information! heading across tomorrow.
    i have lost my orginal ‘car title’ form so fingers crossed they let me go thru. im a bit nervous cos if they say no then what will i do.. my mexican permit would have alredy been cancelled :/

    • Amanda

      Hope you got through ok! We routinely use a photocopy of our car title and call it the “original”. The only country that gave us problems with this was Belize (we had to dig up the actual original buried in the back of the car).

  • Phénomène Acqueux

    We (wife Midori and me) will soon be following your footsteps, with our cat Speedo, who is as his name indicates, a real escape artist, so this will pose its own set of challenges…I’ll still be working part-time remotely from my mobile office (a Delica van), but unfortunately I’ll have to return back to my work in Yellowknife every 3-4 months for 5-6 days at the time…Stupid but practical question, what is the vehicle “title” required at borders? I assume it is the registration certificate issued by the state/province/territory, but just thought I’d make sure it is before heading out on the road.

    • Amanda

      Team Speedo, we wish you the best of luck on your travels! I’m sure the cat will only add to the adventure 🙂 I had to do some research to find the Canadian equivalent of a US vehicle title. Canadian provinces do not issue “titles”, but instead you should have an ownership document received when the vehicle was registered. With this ownership document and a copy of your registration, that should be sufficient for the border crossings. Our Canadian friends have Alberta plates and their blog details border crossings as well. You may want to check them out: http://livetravelplay.marionette.ca/

      • Filipino Di Pizzo

        Thank you, and I will check your friends’ blog! And I just realized you are Ponchoape 🙂

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  • Not sure if you guys would know the answer to this, but do you happen to know if it’s possible to enter Guatemala WITHOUT surrendering your Mexican import permit? I’m in Tuxtla now with my car and hoping to go into Guatemala just for a week or so and then return to Mexico without the hassle of getting the permit again.

    • Amanda

      Hi Alex! I definitely think it’s possible to keep your Mexican permit active and leave for just a few weeks. Just be very clear with the customs officials about how long you’ll be out of the country, etc. Also make sure you cross back into Mexico WELL BEFORE your permit expires. I think there are some penalties for letting your permit expire without handing it over to Mexican customs. Especially with a car, you want to make sure they allow you+car back in! Have fun in Guatemala!

      • Thanks! I’ll let you know how it goes for the reference of other travelers! One other question: what did you do about car insurance? I can’t seem to find much info about it online…

        • Amanda

          We went with Sanborn’s insurance since it was cheapest for what we wanted at the time: http://www.sanbornsinsurance.com/
          But just Googling ‘Mexican Car Insurance’ turns up several other results, so shop around!

          • Update: We crossed the border with no problem. Actually, we decided we were not paying the ridiculous fee of 500 pesos to EXIT Mexico just for our own passports, so we skipped stamping out all together and probably won’t even try to stamp back in since it seems easy to just drive right past the Mexican border. Guatemalan border agents didn’t even notice and it wasn’t more than an hour and 15 mins (at the most) filling out all the paperwork for the car and stamping into Guat.

            I’ve got Mexican insurance, but am looking for Guatemalan insurance too! It doesn’t seem like there’s anything available to buy instantly online like Mexican insurance. I’m here now, and just crossing my fingers and hoping we make it out safely since we won’t be here too long.

  • brucegoforty

    Did the Guatemala immigration or aduana stamp anything in your passport about the import of the car? We will be heading there soon but plan to leave Guatemala for a short time and return and are wondering if that will pose a problem with the vehicle or departing through immigration.

    • Amanda

      Hi Bruce, sorry for the delayed reply – we are also traveling at the moment! I took a quick look through my passport and it doesn’t look like the Aduana stamped anything at all in Guatemala. Just entry/exit stamps from Migracion. Hope this helps!

      • brucegoforty

        Thanks, makes me more comfortable. As ever we’ll see what actually happens there.