Driving to Puerto Vallarta

There are two main cities that cross the border of the United States to drive to Mexico if you’re going to Puerto Vallarta, Laredo, Texas and Nogales, Arizona. We have driven north and south through both routes several times and, for this description, we will only focus on our preferred route through Nogales.

A brief description of our reasoning, we simply got tired of the “police officers” of Nuevo Laredo charging us for “apparent infractions” and creating “large fines”. At later junctions, we drove west from Laredo to the Columbia crossing, without passing through Nuevo Laredo, but we still had to drive the highway back very slowly in the hope of avoiding these “police” on that highway as well. Other people have also had that annoyance around Nuevo Laredo. We have never had any of that on the route from Nogales to Vallarta, so we simply avoid the Laredo route.

Another reason to choose the Nogales route is its geography. Vallarta is on the west coast of Mexico. That makes Nogales the obvious choice anywhere in the western United States. The distance is very similar, and the Nogales route is simpler to travel.

To calculate how much you will pay in tolls while driving, go to this government site https:// ttr.sct.gob.mx/mappir/ and write Nogales, Sonora (from) and Puerto Vallarta, Jaliso (to) and it will give you the amounts you’ll have to pay in pesos.

Crossing the Border at Nogales

Driving south from Tucson to Nogales, we suggest you take Exit 4 Mariposa Road approximately 2 miles north of downtown Nogales and follow it approximately 3 miles west to the truck border crossing. Anyway, if you’re heading south from Nogales, this crossing simply bypasses all downtown traffic and takes you to the Cuota (toll) Hwy 15 southbound. We suggest you stay on Highway 15, the 4-lane toll road, until you reach Tepic. You’ll pass through a green light red light inspection indicator. If the light is green, you can proceed. If the light is red, they will guide you to an inspection lane. Then follow the signs to the control point of KM 21 where there is a large parking area. This is where all the paperwork is done.

Have your passport stamped. Provided you either have a Temporary Resident Visa or are then obtaining a Tourist Visa.

If you have or will soon be applying for a Permanent resident Visa, read the section below, Entering Mexico With a Foreign Plated Vehicle

Entering Mexico with a Foreign Plated Vehicle

If you have a temporary resident visa or a tourist permit, you can enter and drive the vehicle in Mexico.

With a Temporary Resident Visa

Holders of a Temporary Resident Visa can import their vehicle to Mexico using a Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) and their vehicle will remain legal in Mexico as long as their Temporary Resident Visa is valid.

With a Tourist Permit

If you are obtaining a tourist visa while driving through the port of entry of Nogales, you must also obtain a temporary import permit (TIP) at the border. Both the Tourist Visa and the TIP are valid for 180 days (approximately 6 months) and both the person and the vehicle must be out of Mexico before they expire.

With a Permanent Resident Visa

If you have a Permanent Resident Visa, you can not bring your vehicle with a foreign license plate to Mexico with a Temporary Importation Permit (TIP). It is possible that you can import the vehicle, but the ages of the vehicles eligible for import vary from one moment to another, as well as the import tariffs (which can be very high), so, if you want to try it, you will need to research the fees at a Mexican Consulate at the time you wish to bring the vehicle to Mexico. In addition, if you already have a plated vehicle abroad in Mexico you must permanently withdraw the car and you can obtain a Permit of Safe Return to do it in Vallarta as we did some time ago.

Driving From Nogales to Puerto Vallarta

Normally we try to cross the border early in the morning, just before dawn, so we can pass through all control points on daylight. We always drive in the light of day and starting very early gives us the opportunity to travel a long way to the south, staying on Highway 15 until we reach Tepic. We have always driven with two small dogs, so it limits our hotel options. Two hotels in Navojoa that accept pets are the Best Western and the Fiesta Inn, which are next to each other. The Fiesta Inn is newer, so we usually stay there and walk next to the Best Western for dinner in its pleasant dining room.

Once we cross the border late in the afternoon, we stay at the Elba Motel in Santa Ana, where they have a good restaurant on the other side of the parking lot.

After Navajoa, we usually stay in Mazatlan the next night in some adult hotel where security is excellent, with high walls, security bars and closed garages for our dogs. Many also have a lazy susan window where you can order food and drinks directly in your room.

The next day, starting early in the morning, we drive to Tepic on Hwy 15 and then onto Hwy 200, the Coast Road, the rest of the way into Vallarta and we normally arrive in Vallarta from 1:00-2:00 in the afternoon.

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If you don’t have pets, your trip will be easier because all the towns south of Santa Ana such as Hermosillo, Guaymas, Ciudad Obregon, Navojoa, Los Mochis, Culiacan, Mazatlan and Tepic have many attractive brand hotels on the highway. There are some guides available that identify hotels that accept pets. We have not used them, but we have heard good and bad, so I suggest that you also contact the hotel directly to confirm. The last time we did this route, the total tolls were 1120 pesos, but we understand that they are now around 1300 pesos (around $70- $75US).

Mexican Vehicle Insurance

From the moment you cross the border into Mexico, you will need Mexican vehicle insurance because Mexico does not recognize foreign vehicle insurance. If you ever stopped by a Mexican police officer, you are likely to apply for your driver’s license, immigration document and proof of your vehicle insurance. You can buy a Mexican vehicle insurance at the different insurance offices in a border city like Nogales or online, but it will surely be much better if you buy it in advance from an agent in Vallarta, where you will get the best prices. We will be happy to refer you to our Vallarta agent when the time comes.

In the unfortunate event that you have a vehicle accident anywhere in Mexico, in addition to the police, you should call your insurance company immediately. In Mexico, the fault is assigned to the site, so the adjusters of the insurance companies involved go to the accident site. If someone does not admit guilt, all vehicles are seized. Normally, even admitting guilt does not affect the renewal of your policy, but that is another question you should ask to a reputable agent. We always carry in our cars copies of our insurance policy and the toll-free number of the insurance company. Since the responsibility is assigned at the scene in Mexico, most people would first call the 800 number of their insurance company and then the police.

Check Your Vehicle Before a Long Trip

Before starting a long trip, but especially when crossing the border, completely inspect your vehicle and do whatever is necessary to get it in the best shape before such a long cross-border trip. Things can still happen anyway and once we came across something on the road (very rare) and a tire exploded. Our SUV was loaded on the roof and the spare was flat. Really silly! We got a repair guy from a small store to inflate and install the spare and he only wanted 100 pesos, but we gave him more. Also, a Federal Police officer stopped behind us with the lights on shortly after the problem and stayed there until we left; We gave him a cold Coke and sincerely thanked him.

Green Angels

We said before that your vehicle must be in the best condition before your trip, we did it, and we still had a problem. We received help from a guy who had a small store nearby, but there is a group that patrols the highways in Mexico called Green Angels that are there to help motorists in trouble

They have fully equipped trucks, operate on two-man teams, speak English and are trained in auto repair and first aid. You can take a note of Mexico’s 078 emergency number and the tourism hotline 01-800-903-9200.

Gas Stations

The Pemex Mexican gas stations are practically located everywhere.

They have both regular (called
Magna) and premium. As Pemex is
no longer a monopoly, other service
stations are also emerging throughout the country. However, it is always a good idea to never let your tank go below half. All have bathrooms, and some require some contributions of pesos for the people who take care of them and clean them. Most have food and many even have restaurants. When you leave the car to go to the bathroom, always leave someone there to see it, don’t leave it alone. And make sure all your valuables are locked, hidden and out of sight. If you leave your car to go to a restaurant, be sure to park it where you can see it through the window.

All Passengers Hide Your Wallet, Money, Valuables

It may seem obvious, but it is absolutely necessary that everyone pay special attention to the way they pack the luggage in the vehicle. Separate your valuables and your money in different places of the vehicle or different luggage and always remember the location. We recommend that you take enough CASH IN PESOS for your entire trip in case your credit cards are compromised or lost. First, spread it around the vehicle and luggage. Then, each one should carry a FOLDER with 1 or 2 expired credit cards and 150-200 pesos in cash. This is exactly what you want to give in case one of those “cops”, like the ones we encounter around Nuevo Laredo, stops you for some strange charge. There is a good chance that, if you tell them that that’s all you have, they’ll ignore you and move on. Otherwise simply tell them to give you the ticket. They aren’t all around Mexico, but you must be careful.

Amazing Medical Care

Medical care in Puerto Vallarta, where most doctors speak English, is probably the same and better, much faster to receive (especially for Canadians) and cheaper than in your hometown of the north.

7 Modern Hospitals in Puerto Vallarta

In the Puerto Vallarta area, there are 7 modern and fully equipped hospitals and many more excellent health care centers of all kinds, so finding what you need will never be a problem. These modern hospitals and support facilities in Puerto Vallarta have excellent doctors/ specialists who speak English, use the latest laboratory technology and X-rays, have a staff that speaks primarily English and hospitals will accept some health insurance issued in the US.

International Health Insurance

Now there are a large number of expats living in Vallarta with many more in the process of moving or thinking of moving to Vallarta. Some live here full time and others live part time. Some are of Medicare retirement age and others are younger. Some are from the United States and others from Canada and other countries. Some are in good health and others have chronic health problems, so there is a need for a wide variety of international health insurance options.

Fortunately, There Is!

Since there is such a wide variety of options, we can not present in detail in this publication all the details and variations because they are personal. However, what we can do here is give the following introduction to the type of programs available. We are not in the health insurance business, but we can recommend reputable insurance professionals who can answer all your questions and offer coverage options.

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  • International health insurance: Several insurance companies provide a wide range of health coverage for when you are outside of your country of origin.
  • Travel medical insurance: The policies are adapted to short international trips and there is no subscription to these policies, although the pre-existing conditions may be relevant in case of a claim.
  • Medical evacuation insurance: This coverage provides air ambulance service. Some will take you to the city of your choice, others to the nearest city for your type of attention.
  • Travel cancellation insurance: Depending on the policy, you can recover the cost of your unused flight, unused hotel costs and a certain amount of emergency medical treatment.General comments:
    • Since there are so many international health insurance options, it’s important to work with a knowledgeable person so that you can buy the right policy for you. We can direct you to a competent and professional agent for Vallarta if you request it.
    • Insurance is generally not accepted for outpatient services, such as doctor’s appointments, X-rays, laboratory tests, etc.
    • When admitted to any hospital, the hospital will require a deposit with a credit card in an amount of between 10,000 and 50,000 pesos, depending on the situation. You can request that the deposit not be executed but retained until more information is known about the insurance, the condition, the expected treatment costs, etc.
    • If you have health insurance for Mexico, you must notify the hospital at the time of admission and request to contact the insurance company immediately to obtain a prior certification of coverage to demonstrate that the procedure such as surgery, MRI, etc. is a medical necessity. This starts the process by which the hospital will contact the insurance company to obtain a guarantee of payment, less deductibles or items not covered, so that you can know the charge of your credit card. In addition, you or a representative should contact your insurance company immediately if you are hospitalized.

Medical Coverage outside the US is Limited

In general, the medical care you receive while traveling outside of the United States is not covered by regular Medicare. However, Medicare Plan F covers costs not covered by Medicare Parts A and B, including reimbursement of international medical expenses required up to 60 days after leaving the US. You pay the portion of the charge you would normally pay for covered services. This includes any necessary medical and ambulance service that you receive in a foreign country as part of a covered hospitalization for inpatients. It also pays the coinsurance, copays, and deductibles you would normally pay if you had these same services or supplies in the United States.
Because Medicare has very limited coverage outside the US you can choose to buy travel insurance or an international health insurance policy. If you have a policy of this type, you should check with your insurance provider to see what is covered.

Mexican National Health Insurance IMSS

The Federal Government of Mexico provides medical
care to its citizens as guaranteed by its Constitution.
In addition, the Mexican government, through the
Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), offers affordable health insurance for all Mexican residents regardless of their nationality, if they qualify and are willing to pay the fee. The IMSS is what ordinary health care employers buy for their workers while they have private insurance for themselves and their families.

The IMSS insurance is cheap, around $700 a year, but, like all government services everywhere, it is very bureaucratic and long waiting times and limited services are normal. Also, if you have a pre-existing condition, it will not be approved. Some expatriates have IMSS, but many still return to the US for Medicare or Veteran’s Medical due to important medical problems.
We have heard good things about the IMSS doctors, who sometimes also practice in private hospitals. But the system has long waiting times, lacks adequate capacity, technology and supplies to meet minimum US standards. So it does not really provide the quality medical care that most expats require.

Medical Tourism

Medical tourism has become a big industry in Puerto
Vallarta due to the high quality of doctors, equipment and
first-line facilities and it is much less expensive. A friend
Expat in Vallarta has had 4 different groups of people who
have come this past winter for different types of elective
surgery. Everyone was more than satisfied with the results
and it was much cheaper than doing it in the states. In
addition, they could enjoy a wonderful vacation in PV
while they recovered. Dental implants, bridges, etc. They
are much less here and there are several highly qualified
dentists here. Even continuing education is taught to
dentists around the world. Its offices have state-of-the-art equipment. People with older spouses, brothers, etc. They have found wonderful care and care for loved ones here. Some have caregivers 24/7 in their residence and others have placed them in homes that specialize in providing excellent hospice care. All this is a fraction of what the price would be in the United States.


All the large supermarket chains in Mexico have pharmacies in their stores and several even have medical offices attached if you need to see a doctor to get a prescription. Virtually all medications available in the US are also available in Mexico, and mostly at a fraction of the cost. Chains of independent pharmacies such as Farmacia Guadalajara, Ahorro Farmacia and others are everywhere, and many are open 24 hours a day. Your doctor will give you a prescription for everything you prescribe, but only antibiotics require it here. It is very difficult to obtain an opioid-type medication in Mexico because they simply do not use much and only in special situations, apparently not like the United States.