Friday, May 13th 2016

Driving from Laredo to San Miguel de Allende by Car

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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How to Drive Across the US-Mexican Border


We recommend crossing the border at dawn. The streets are generally safe from deviants at this point, and it’s a quiet time at customs. Hopefully you will have plenty of daylight to make the trip. Google Maps clocks the trip at 9 hours to complete the drive from Laredo to San Miguel de Allende. If your vehicle breaks down, or an other issue arises, you will be dealing with it in the daylight.

We have made this drive easily 30 times in the last 20 years. We have never had a problem, but let’s not sugarcoat the effort. You are driving through the notoriously dangerous parts of Mexico. With good planning and keeping a cool head—you will be fine. The Laredo border crossing seems to be the most secure of your choices, compared to El Paso, Del Rio, or McAllen. Laredo is also a shopping destination with lots of stores and decent hotels. It is a perfect place to stock up, rest up, and be ready for your trip from Laredo to San Miguel. It has a massive Walmart, Home Depot, BestBuy, and other commercial outlets are all available for you.

Before driving to Mexico, make sure your documents and paperwork are in order. You do not want to be turned away at the border and stuck in Laredo for another day while you resolve your paperwork.

We use the main bridge #2 from Laredo into Nuevo Laredo. We recommend that you fill your gas tank in Laredo—as much as you can. Gas in Laredo for us was $1.79usd a gallon. In Mexico it is about $3 – $4usd a gallon. The toll across the bridge is $3.50usd. Once cross the bridge, the new process is that they check your car as soon as you get across. This is no longer done at “La Frontera” (which is a checkpoint about 20 miles outside of town). We drove in with our van loaded to the top with household goods and shopping goods from Laredo, and we were selected and waived for a check. A young customs agent asked where we were going and if we had any goods that we were selling. He asked us to open our trunk and looked around. His only question was if we had guns or ammo. As we did not, he was satisfied and we were waived through. It seems they randomly stopped every 10 cars to check.


As soon as you pull out of the check area, take the first left. Be wary as it is not very clearly marked. You need to go to the second left turn and make a wide u-turn to pull into the far right lane that follows the river. It is a crazy road, stay right as it is a actually two-way street. About 1/4 of a mile down the road you go under the bridge and you come upon the customs building. Here is where you will get your permit. To read up on what is required, click here. It is a 4-step process upon entering the building:

  • STEP ONE – Tourist Visa: Here you get your tourist visa. Upon showing your passport, they will give you your tourist card. Complete it, return it, and a customs agent will stamp it. Make sure you get 180 days. It is the Visa Temporal. Ensure that you know what is needed.

  • STEP TWO – Copies: Get copies of your visa, passport, and title for the next step. Cost is 36 pesos.

  • STEP THREE – Check Paperwork: A customs officer will review your paperwork and if everything is in order, he/she will waive you forward.

  • STEP FOUR – Car Permit and Payments

With all of your paperwork in order, they will review the paperwork, complete a bunch of forms, and collect your payment for the car deposit, permit fees, tourist card fees. . .etc. I just put it all on my credit card. If all goes well, you will get your car sticker.

With that in hand, you are ready. Put that sticker on the inside of your windshield near your rear view mirror and you are legal. DO NOT stand in the line that forms in front of customs as you leave. Take note, that is the line to cancel your permit. No need for any more checks. You’re ready to drive from Laredo to San Miguel.

This most recent trip, we discovered that a GPS now routes you along a more pleasant drive. The boulevard following the river seems to be the new way out of town. Where before, the GPS would have you drive through the streets of Nuevo Laredo, this new route is less chaotic and it feels safer.

Of the rest of the trip to San Miguel, the next 30kms will be the most dangerous. You are in the border area which seems to capture all those horrific headlines. Here are a few safety tips:

  • When you approach a light, keep some distance from the car in front of you. This will keep you from getting boxed in.

  • If someone bumps you or hits you. Do not get out right away to check. Wave that you will pull over somewhere forward, hopefully in a crowded place, or ideally near a police officer.

  • If you feel threatened, start honking the horn profusely. Drive forward and even jump the curb if need be. Hopefully the commotion will scare problems away.

  • You will approach a bridge after 8kms and take a left onto the main road leading out of town.

*Learn more about driving in Mexico, here.

Along this boulevard are gas stations and convenient stores, such as Pemex and OXXO. OXXOs are everywhere in between the drive from Laredo to San Miguel de Allende. It’s a convenient store, complete with snacks, coffees, and bottled waters—and all are clean, safe, and have bathrooms. If you need an ATM, if you count the third OXXO on the right. It has a Banamex ATM that is inside. I got my pesos for the trip.

IMPORTANT: expect about 800 pesos for tolls, as well as filling up your gas tank halfway to San Miguel. I also carry an extra 2,000 pesos in case we break down. I keep my pesos and a credit card stashed in the car—apart from my wallet—in case I am robbed.

About 30km out of town is a final check point. This was where you used to obtain car permits. When we drove by, a customs agent stopped us and asked for our visas, and then he waived us on.

From this point forward, you are out of Laredo and on highways all the way to San Miguel. Breathe, as it is smooth sailing from this point.

As you are driving, you will have a choice of libre (free) or cuota (toll). Cuota highways are the best roads, patrolled, and they are rarely crowded. You will pay a toll for each stretch. Pay in cash, make sure you use the cash lane, it is the one with a hand holding money. You do not want to end up in a lane that does not accept cash. When you pull through they will hand you a small receipt. Keep that. If you break down on the toll road they will assist you. The number for emergencies is 074 if you have a Mexican cell phone.

The cuota (toll) highways are the most direct routes. They wrap around the cities, and they generally avoid long stretches with speed bumps. Cell phones largely have good reception along the way. Green Angels patrol these highways, and there are plenty of gas stations and modern American-style rest stops.

In our van, we generally carry:

  • A full size spare

  • A can of Fix-a-Flat (an aerosol can capable of filling a flat tire)

  • Radiator sealing fluid

  • A full gallon of water for breakdowns

  • Extra fuel filter

  • Extra set of oils (engine and transmission)

  • A good fuel system cleaner

  • Extra fan belt

  • Safety triangle that trucks use for breakdowns.

This last trip, our radiator leaked fluid for 90kms before finally reaching San Miguel de Allende. The radiator seal and water saved the trip before our Mexican mechanic could fix the small leak.


  • There will be roadblocks to check. It’s not a big deal, just soldiers doing their job. Answer their questions and show documents as they request.

  • Be sure to avoid speeding. Federales (Mexican federal police) patrol the road. You might wonder why Mexicans speed down highways when the speed limit is 110km for most of trip. We recommend that you not succumb to temptation and obey all Mexican road safety laws.

  • Remember that your American car insurance does not work in Mexico. Contact WeExpats if you need coverage for your road trip through Mexico.

We know it sounds complicated and scary, but driving to Mexico can be less stressful now that you know what to expect. ¡Buen Viaje!

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