Tag Archives: rules of the road in Mexico

Driving Hazards–Crossing the Border

The aduana (customs) at Matamoros, Mexico

The aduana (customs) at Matamoros, Mexico

We crossed at Brownsville/Matamoros entrance to México. We spent 6 hours at the aduana (customs office.) My part was easy. I received a visa for the maximum time a tourist can be in México (180 days) and went to the next window to register the truck and trailer for the same amount of time.

However when it came to our personal items, that was a whole different story. First, we were told to go to the aduana (customs office) who told my husband to go to the paisano (Mexican citizen) office, who told my husband to go to the aduana (customs office). And around we went. Finally, my husband told me to get out of the car and wait for him while he went with an official and our vehicle. So there I stood in Matamoros, no passport, no money and no idea what was going on. After 20 minutes I started getting worried, but my husband and my son did return on foot for me. He told me that the police could make a deal so that we wouldn’t have to pay more or unload the trailer, which would have taken all day. We would pay $7000 pesos and in return receive the permit to import personal goods, no inspection and special locks for the trailer that would need to be cut off. There really wasn’t any choice but to pay up.

We did not have the cash readily accessible, so my husband sent me with another person to the bank in Matamoros to withdraw money from an ATM machine. They kept my husband, son, vehicles and personal items safe for me while I went to make the withdrawal. How considerate.

Driving through the checkpoint at Matamoros.

Driving through the checkpoint at Matamoros.

We drove back into the US, then back into Mexico. Well, I had to drive as the truck was registered in my name. We stopped at 3 places and showed our paperwork. At the first one the helpful police officer had us wait until we were sure to get the green light (no checking) before we drove up. The second, no problem. The third verified that the sticker I had obtained at the office was the same as the paperwork I had. Again, not a problem. So basically, every official is in on this little game. And everyone gets their little slice of the mordida.(bribe)

Those locks that had to be cut off came in handy when we were stopped outside of Matamoros by another customs agent. He offered us two ways to go about this. The first was to unload everything in the back of the truck for inspection. We would not have to unload the trailer because of those special locks. The second option was a discrete $200 pesos. Since it was late in the day, we handed over the mordida (bribe) and continued on our way.

I won’t say this is the same for everyone who crosses the border into México. It may have been since we had a mixed family, since I was a US citizen and my husband and my son were Mexican citizens that targeted us for this little side adventure into Mexican bribery. As I mentioned, my part, as the US citizen was pretty easy. It was the importation of household goods that was the problem.

In comparison with the experience of my sister-in-law, my entrance into México was pan comida (a piece of cake–literally bread already eaten). She and someone else drove two trucks and two trailers from Nebraska to the Mexican border. Her driving companion bailed on her at the last minute and left one trailer sitting on the U.S. side of the border in the parking lot.

My husband and her husband had driven up with our truck and were waiting on the Mexican side of the border. They loitered around for hours until finally someone asked who they were waiting for. When they described my sister-in-law D, the official said that she had been there since the morning crying and crying on the U.S. side.

Entering México

Entering México

No bribe was offered this time around. D had to drive through customs, unload the trailer, reload the trailer, unhitch the trailer, return to the U.S. for the other trailer, unload the second trailer and reload it.

One trailer was attached to her truck and the second trailer was attached to my husband’s truck. This presented a problem a little ways down the road. They were stopped by the police (who were probably called by the customs police) and asked to show their documentation. As both trailers were registered to the truck that came from Nebraska, both must be attached to that truck, which wasn’t possible.

D, being an aggressive sort of woman, got down out of the truck while this conversation was being held. This wasn’t the appropriate thing to do and annoyed the police. (See Driving Hazards–police stops) D didn’t speak any Spanish, which further aggravated the situation. She became frustrated and even more belligerent in her attempts at explanation. Her husband didn’t help much as he kept assisting that the paperwork that they had was good. The police told M that he didn’t know how things worked in the U.S. but that they were in México now and that he’d better take control of his wife or both he and his wife would be detained. My husband took M aside and told him that he was just angering the police and to be quiet. My husband then went and negotiated a mordida (bribe).

But, apparently the police radioed ahead. Wouldn’t you know it, a second police stopped them not an hour later with the same issue. My husband negotiated a second mordida (bribe). At this point, as funds were getting low, he insisted they sell the second trailer and pile everything into the back of the truck. They parked at a gas station and asked motorists if they would be interested in buying it. Finally, someone agreed to buy it, but they would have to drive it to his house, which would risk another police stop, but as there was no other option, they did it. Then when they arrived, the buyer didn’t want to pay the price agreed upon, but again, there wasn’t much choice if they wanted to get back to Moroleón sometime in this century. Without the trailer, they were not stopped the rest of the journey. Go figure.




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Driving Hazards–Towns and cities

donkey in the grass

Give me country driving anytime! As you can see, country lanes are clearly marked and after the burro is done with lunch, the road will be as well.

In towns and cities, arrows are posted on the side of buildings to indicate which direction traffic is to flow, whether it is one way and which direction, or whether it is two-way traffic. Just because the road is two-way traffic for awhile, doesn’t mean it continues to be 2 way, so check the sides of the buildings often. Don’t base your assumption of traffic flow of motos, they have their own set of driving rules. And be aware that many roads have no street signs.


This is the glorieta (traffic circle) between Moroleón and Uriangato. The conos (cones) represent spools of thread. The area is known for its textiles.

The newest fad in road construction is la glorieta (traffic circle). Technically the right of way goes to those vehicles traveling around the glorieta (traffic circle) but proceed with caution because apparently not everyone knows about that particular traffic law.

The hours to avoid driving near schools are 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and again at 2 p.m. and 6:30 for the vespertino (afternoon) session. Cars are double and triple parked in no parking zones and traffic lanes to drop off students. Drivers are not in their cars since they have accompanied their particular set of students to the door to give them their bendicación (blessing) before classes begin. There are supposed to be transitos (traffic police) during these hours, but that’s not always true. There’s nothing to do but be patient.

Stopping in town is risky business. Public parking can be found, but may seem hardly worth the effort if you are just going to be a minute. It is tempting to park in those wide open areas that are designated as bus stops, but try to refrain from that. Buses have no qualms about taking your side mirrors with them as they pass. Good luck trying to collect on damages! Transitos (traffic police) also get testy if you are parked where you shouldn’t be for any length of time. They carry screwdrivers and will take your license plates right off your vehicle. You will need to go to the transit office and pay a fine to get them back. (See Driving Hazards–Police and traffic stops)

On our trip back from San Miguel de Allende, we missed our turn in Celaya and we asked for directions, which did us no good whatsoever since we couldn’t find the street we needed because it had no sign. We finally made our way back to the main boulevard and followed that to the end of the city, where lo and behold, there was our exit. So although preguntando llega a Roma, (Asking will get you to Rome) apparently preguntando (asking) won’t get you out of Celaya no matter how many people you ask.

Nine harrowing hours after we started out from Moroleón to San Miguel de Allende and back, we made it safely home. I understand completely now the custom my husband has of crossing himself and muttering a prayer before heading out on the road. I offer a prayer up myself nowadays because it really is a dangerous thing setting out your front door in México.





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Driving Hazards–Police and Military stops

Transitos are the traffic cops in México and are not armed.

Transitos are the traffic cops in México and are not armed.

Then there are police checkpoints to contend with. Arriving in Celaya, on our trip from Moroleón to San Miguel de Allende (See Getting Legal–Trip 1) we were stopped by the transito (traffic police) because our truck didn’t have a current verficación (inspection) sticker. I put my head down and pretended to be invisible while my husband negotiated the mordida (bribe). On the way back, we were stopped yet again by the same group of transitos (traffic police). Being tired and cranky, my husband made the mistake of complaining that we had already paid our dues in the morning. The transit cop had him get out of the vehicle and then gave him a dressing down for being chismoso (a tattletale) before sending us on our way with his mordida (bribe) of course.

Bribery is called mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

Bribery is called mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

To bribe or not to bribe, that is the question to consider.

Transitos are open to bribery. However, whether you offer a bribe or not depends on who you are. If you are female, typically no bribe is offered and no ticket is given, you may not even be stopped. Unless, of course, you are an aggressive female, then you are treated like any male in this machismo power play. (See Driving Hazards–Crossing the Border) If you are a non-Mexican male, you must understand this an alpha male thing and if the phrase “se puede reglar esto” (this can be resolved) is used by the transito (traffic police), discretely hand over $200 pesos. Transitos (traffic police) will stop you for missing inspection stickers, missing or out of state plates, for the driver not wearing a seatbelt, for anything that might be not working on your vehicle, like a tail light or just because. They will ask you for your license and tarjeta de circular (permission to use the vehicle in the country), so it pays to have both current. A transito (traffic police) can take either card or your placas (license plates) and hold them for ransom until you go and pay the fine.

Los estados are the state police in México and are always armed.

Los estados are the state police in México and are always armed.

The next level up is the random inspection typically done by the state police. These officers wear large pistols, and are sometimes masked, so are not to be confused with the transitos (traffic police), who do not wear guns and never wear masks. Los del estado (state police) may stop you for having out of state plates, for vehicle identification number (VIN) verification to see if you are driving a stolen vehicle, for a license or tarjeta de circular (permission to drive in the country) check, for driving a nice vehicle, or whatever other reason occurs to them. The mordida (bribe) is much higher and trickier to negotiate. They may take your vehicle or any other items that aren’t permanently attached as part of the “inspection.” It doesn’t to any good to go and file a complaint. (See On Safety and Security).

Los federales are national guard in México and are always armed.

Los federales are the national guard in México and are always armed.

Los federales (federal police) cruise around looking for vehicles to confiscate. High risk vehicles are newer cars and chocolates (vehicles that have U.S. plates because they were never legalized at the aduana (customs)) We had more problems when we had a newer truck, but now that we drive a Mexican national that we like to call Butch (Chevy circa 1980) they stop us less. When stopped, the feds ask for the paperwork for the vehicle issued by the aduana (customs). Know that only the registered owner or direct relative may drive a vehicle that has been imported into México. We have had to show our marriage certificate along with the other paperwork to prove that my husband is permitted to drive the truck since it was registered in my name to facilitate border crossing.

Los militares are the miltary police in México and are always armed.

Los militares are the military police in México and are always armed.

Then there are los militares (military police). This is a complete barrier stop for all vehicles. All motorists are subject to search and all vehicles are inspected, for guns or drugs. Civilians do not have the right to bear arms in México, but many have guns. It just isn’t prudent to carry them in your vehicle, even for personal safety. We carry a machete in our vehicle, which is not illegal, and can also be used to cut grass along the side of the road for our animals when the occasion presents itself.

The guns these guys tote are eye-popping big. You can determine whether it is a legitimate inspection or not by whether the police are wearing their cappuchis (masks) or not. A legitimate inspection is done by unmasked military and nothing is removed from your vehicle. Well, the other type, it’s best to just grin and bear it and not give too much information about yourself or risk being marked as a prospective kidnapping target. (See On Safety and Security).

Fortunately, only the transitos (traffic police) stopped us on that first trip. (See Getting Legal-Trip 1)





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