Saturday, March 31, 2018

What to Bring, What to Leave Behind, and What to Get in Mexico

Katarina Vasou in Campeche

What to Bring, What to Leave Behind and What to Get in Mexico

Story by Jim Foreman

Few things cause someone to ponder people’s sanity more than reading or hearing many people’s lists of what to bring and not bring to Mexico.

Many people seem intent on creating hassle and grief when visiting Mexico. This typically derives from preconceived notions, bad advice, and sadly prejudice.

There are some amazing blogs and journeys that are well worth visiting.  They reaffirm the points mentioned and also serve to inspire others to travel, solo, if necessary and enjoy life.  Among the best of these is Diary Wings.  Read about Katarina Vasou from Cypress who hails as, "born and bred, living and breathing for trips and adventure."
Emily Scarlett Romain

Another site worth browsing is that of professional photographer, Emily Scarlett Romain.  She traveled from Mexico to Colombia over four months.  She has a remarkable perspective.

Finally, enjoy a brilliant female traveler, Suzie Agelopoulos' insightful and mesmerizing journeys including Mexico.

It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting for a couple of days or weeks or if you’re coming to escape the winter cold back home. These guidelines will help you have a much more enjoyable and sensible stay in Mexico.

Things To Leave At Home

Guns- A surprisingly high number of Mexicans legally own firearms. Some also illegally own firearms, but we’re not talking about that here. It is forbidden for you to bring a firearm into Mexico with very rare exceptions. If you are participating in an organized competition or hunting trip, you can seek permission from both your home country and Mexico. The process takes several months, and the limitations are quite strict. Most hunters will use guns owned by Mexicans, on hunting trips. Aside from that, unless you’re with the secret service protecting a government official, leave them at home. This goes for ammunition, too. There are countless stories of Gringos rotting in Jail because they thought they were too special to obey the laws. Even a spent shell casing can be cause for serious legal trouble. Regardless of your take on these civil rights, you are in another country and a whole different set of laws.

Large or threatening knives- Leave your ‘John Rambo Special Edition" survival knife or other menacing knives at home. Smaller pocket knives are no problem but don’t clip them to your pocket. Clipping your knife to your pocket makes people believe you think you are some police officer. Bury the ‘Macho’ attitude when in Mexico and keep your pocket knife in your pocket and invisible. It is worse to be mistaken for law enforcement, in most cases, than a politician or tax collector.

Perhaps surprisingly, machete’s are perfectly fine, especially if you are going camping or traveling overland. The dirtier and more well-used, the better. While fine for overland travel, please realize that they won’t be welcome during your resort stay on the beach.

Drugs (Illegal Narcotics)- Don’t bring them into Mexico. First off, why? If you indulge in recreational stimulants, you can find it in Mexico, usually for a lot less than in the US. It’s not difficult, either. Recreational marijuana, like in many US states, is legal, but get it in Mexico. Don’t transport it across the border. That’s where you run a serious risk of trouble. This includes Medical Marijuana, too. If you desire use of the ‘International Herb,’ simply find it in Mexico. It’s often easier than finding an ATM.

Other items that are not legal for you to bring into Mexico include night-vision optics, Tasers, police grade canisters of pepper spray, gun parts, or gun accessories. Small personal pepper spray canisters are no problem, but again, like clipped-on knives, they make you look silly. Keep it out of sight, if you insist on carrying it.

Please take a look at this cheat-sheet put out by the Mexican Government as to what weapons or accessories you can and can't bring into Mexico.

Think about this, though. If you kill a Mexican national, you will probably never leave a Mexican Prison. Instead of trying to be ‘bad-ass’ or James Bond, remain aware of your surroundings, stay humble, and distance yourself from potential negative encounters.

Attitudes- Most importantly, leave politics, political opinions, political clothing, and political perspectives at home. It’s not the same in Mexico, and absolutely nobody wants to hear that in Mexico. This is substantially more true, when on holiday.

Even in Expat communities, abstain from dragging the ugly political baggage with you, from home. All you will achieve, by not heeding this advice is lose friends and appear like a tool. You’re in Mexico. Be respectful. Leave that compost at home.

Don't...  Just Don't.
Don’t bring clothing with American Flags or Maple leaves. Likewise, leave any offensive or law enforcement style shirts, hats, or other clothing, in that unused drawer, back at home.

In the same vein, leave your “USA or Canada is #1” superior attitude at home. In fact, if you genuinely believe you’re better than Mexicans or any other group or nationality, please stay in your home country. Don’t come to Mexico. All you are likely to do is continuously complain that things aren’t like how you’re used to them, back home. (A quick anecdote about this... Over 90% of tourists that are murdered in Mexico are dispatched by their partner or spouse.)

Ok. You’re still reading. Thank you for that. Let’s talk about the things you must bring and probably should bring.

Things you must bring with you when traveling in Mexico

Original Passport or passport card- The days of coming across with only a Driver’s License and a copy of a Birth Certificate are long over. Immigration and Customs Agents at the border may pity your stupidity, ignorance, or rare forgetfulness for not coming with proper documents and let you through. They also may not.

If you are going to leave the US you need a passport. Every other country’s people understand this, except for the USA. It’s true that it’s only been since 2007 that you needed a passport or passcard to travel overland throughout nearly all of North America, but those days are over. Don’t press your luck.

Original Vehicle Registration or Title- While some officials will accept copies, some don’t. Have your original vehicle registration OR title with you wherever you travel in Mexico. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the free zone of Baja California or Sonora. 

Make sure it’s your name, and it matches your ID or Passport name. This is important. The only way a Mexican official knows if your vehicle is stolen or not is if the paperwork matches your ID. If you or your partner may be driving the car, make sure both of your names are on the vehicle registration or title or that you are in the car. Otherwise, your vehicle may be seized, and you will likely be arrested. It’ll be up to you to hire a lawyer, prove your innocence to a judge, and get your car back.

Prescription medications in their original packaging- Preferably with a note from your physician, on letterhead, indicating you must take them. You will find that many of the prescriptions you have to buy are located in Mexico for much less than you would pay in the USA. They are often available, over the counter. If you’re staying longer than 30 days, it would be wise to find out what is available in Mexico and what you need to bring with you. There are many useful resources for this.

Mexican Insurance- Mexican Insurance is mandatory in Mexico. If you are involved in a collision, you will probably end up in Jail until you can make full restitution. The way to avoid jail is to have a valid insurance policy from a reputable company. If you’re involved in anything other than a very minor bump, call your Insurance Company first. They will send a representative, right away, to verify to authorities that you have Insurance and to begin the process of handling the claim.

A Flask filled with premium spirits (Whiskey, Tequila, etc.)- Often this will come in handy for situations you never imagined. Indeed, don’t drink and drive, ever. If you are broken down on the side of the road or need assistance, handing over your flask, as a way of saying, “Thank You,” is a massive gesture of respect. It may not be the way, back home, but in Latin America, it’ll lead to friendships and good feelings.

Mosquito Repellant- Yes, you can find this in abundance, in Mexico, but if you have sensitive skin or will be hitting the beach, right away, spray some on yourself. Zika is real, and it’s not something you want. Other nasties are present such as Dengue and Malaria. This doesn’t mean every mosquito bite will lead to it, but who wants the welts and itchy skin?

Camera-  Sure your phone has some impressive capabilities, but in Mexico, you will have incredible opportunities to take National Geographic grade photos if you have a versatile DSLR camera.

A little knowledge of Spanish- If you are fluent or conversational, you’re golden. If you lack in Español, don't worry. Have a sheet of common phrases in English and Spanish to learn and refer to often. Here are some key phrases to learn and memorize.

Donde esta el baño? (Where is the Bathroom)

LLeno, Por Favor. (Fillup, please)

Una cerveza mas, por favor. (One more beer, please.)

La cuenta, por favor (Check, Please)

Gracias (Thank You.) Also to tell off a pushy person.

De nada (You’re welcome)

Provecho (Enjoy your meal) Like Bon Appetit. If you talk to someone, at their table, say ‘Provecho’ as a departing gesture. If someone says that to you, it’s customary to say “Gracias.”

Pínches Topes (Darn speed bumps) A common expletive uttered by travelers throughout Mexico.

A little Spanish goes an awful long way to being respected in Mexico.

Though not mandatory, it’s wise to consider at least one person in the group to bring the following items. 

-Travel Insurance.  Companies like World Nomads specialize in coverage for overland travelers.

-Emergency Satellite Locator like the Garmin InReach. There are many regions in Mexico with zero mobile reception. It may be the only way to summon help.

- Paper Map(s) of Mexico and the region you’ll be visiting.  If you're a member, your local AAA or CAA office often has these available for free.  Otherwise, these are available at bookstores, Amazon or outdoor outfitters like REI.

- Tire plug kit and a small portable compressor. It’s great to help yourself or others.

- Flashlight. A small flashlight like the SureFire G2XPro can be super helpful and serve as a phenomenally useful means of self defense by temporarily blinding an opponent or as a strike weapon.  Nobody will cry to the cops for shining a light in their eyes.

We’ve talked about what to bring and what not to bring into Mexico. Let’s talk about what you should get in Mexico.

Things to get in Mexico

Tourist Visa and Temporary Vehicle Import Permit(TVIP), if necessary- Yes, you can get these both online. While the tourist Visa is simple, getting the TVIP online puts you in some legal jeopardy. It forces you to take that vehicle into Mexico to cancel-out the TVIP. If anything happens that prevents the TVIP from being canceled-out in Mexico, such as theft, total loss or mechanical issues, you will be assessed a penalty of roughly half the value of the vehicle and fines. Additionally, you’ll have the wonderful time convincing the Aduana that you still have the vehicle and did not sell it in Mexico. Hope you bring a persuasive Spanish speaker.

I recommend getting your documents when you cross the border. It typically takes only a few minutes to do everything, and be on your way.

Bottled Water- Mexico consumes more bottled water than any other nation, per capita. While washing your hands and showering is fine, you still probably can’t drink the water in Mexico. Use bottled water to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth. Most restaurants will serve bottled water.

Electrolit or Coconut Water- Dehydration is much more common in Mexico with the increased heat and alcohol consumption. Fortunately, these two options in addition to plenty of water to help you get and stay hydrated.

Pesos- We have a comprehensive story about Money and Mexico, but a quick summary is to get Pesos in Mexico. Call your bank(s) and give them a travel notice. Then go to a bank ATM (Santander, Banorte, Banamex, Bancomer, HSBC, etc.) to withdraw pesos.

Medications- Farmácias in Mexico are quite helpful to travelers. You may want 800MG Advil, Viagra, or Treda (to treat stomach illnesses like Montezuma’s Revenge). Your local Farmácia (far-MAH-see-uh) will have a staff member who usually speaks English and can get you the right medication for your ailment.

Other common items to get in Mexico include sunscreen, mosquito repellant, and a TelCel SIM card for your phone, if staying more than a month.

Traveling in Mexico is fun and quite easy. Follow these guidelines, use good judgment, be nice, and have fun.  You'll do great!

This and other articles here are sponsored by Mexican Insurance Store. They believe it’s a value to have accurate and timely information about Mexico and Mexico Travel. Please consider buying a top-rated policy from Mexican Insurance Store, next time you travel to Mexico.

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