This page is your basic planning guide for your trip to San Carlos. Traveling to San Carlos is easy by bus, air, private auto or RV but sometimes we just need someone to show us what to do and what documents we need. What are you waiting for? Visit today!
Each traveler must have proof of citizenship, such as a passport (preferred), passport card or birth certificate for those under 16.
To bring your automobile into Mexico, you must have the registration and a valid US drivers license. You should have Mexican Insurance on your automobile as your US insurance is NOT VALID in Mexico. You can obtain insurance online here and can buy it for a specified time or on an annual basis if you expect to travel into Mexico frequently. See the insurance page for more information.
You can travel as far south as the San Carlos/Guaymas/Empalme area without obtaining a vehicle permit. If you plan to travel even further into Mexico, you will need to obtain a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) sticker for the vehicle which is good for 6 months and is valid in other areas of Mexico. You will need a credit card to post a bond of about $28 to guarantee you will not sell the car in Mexico. Note: If you use cash, the bond is over $200. Moral is use a credit card!
Private Auto: San Carlos is approximately 4 hours (250 miles) south of the border at Nogales, AZ. The route is Mexico Federal Highway 15, which is a four-lane road. This route will take you through Imuris, Magdalena, Santa Anna and Hermosillo. There are three toll booths enroute at Nogales, Magdalena and Hermosillo. The toll for an automobile is from $2-$6 at each booth, depending on currency rates. Current tolls are:
Nogales via Mariposa crossing: 44 pesos
Magadalena: 20 pesos
Hermosillo: 62 pesos
Note that trailers and towed vehicles incur an additional charge per axle. Toll booths will accept payment in US currency with change given in pesos.
There are two border crossing points in Nogales. The original point is downtown and can be reached by following 1-19 from Tucson to it's end or by going south on Business 19 if coming from the east on AZ Hwy 82. This crossing is open 24 hours per day. It is usually very busy and is not suitable if you are towing a boat. There is no toll charge using this entry port.
We prefer and recommend the newer Mariposa crossing on Hwy 189. If coming from Tucson, exit I-19 at Hwy 189 and go west. If coming from the east on Hwy 82, take North Business 19 and turn left at the second traffic light. The crossing is open daily from 6AM to 10PM, but is much less constricted. It is the way to go if towing anything bigger than a jet-ski or ATV.
Air Service: San Carlos is served by the commercial airport at Guaymas (GYM), approximately 15 miles away. Guaymas currently has no air service from the USA. An alternate routing may be made through the airport in Hermosillo (HMO), which is 75 miles away and then complete your journey by bus, taxi or rental car to Guaymas/San Carlos. Hermosillo is served from several US cities and offers a better selection on rates and routes.
Bus Service: TUFESA has International Service to Hermosillo and Guaymas. Departing from Phoenix ($41) and from Tucson ($27) to Hermosillo and also to Guaymas departing from Phoenix ($50) and from Tucson ($34). Terminal locations and phone numbers are as follows:
Phoenix: 1614 N. 27th Ave & McDowell Rd.
Phone: (602) 415-9900/9902
We have a taxi service 24 hrs. With special fares.
Tucson: 5550 S. 12th Ave
Phone: (520) 670-1534
We are 5 mins from the airport.
TBC Bus Lines has service to Guaymas, departing from Phoenix ($40), Tucson ($30) or Nogales, Sonora ($20). If you need to get a tourist card, be sure to tell the driver and they will stop at the 21 Km checkpoint. If you forget, this card can also be obtained at the Immigration office in Guaymas. Terminal locations and phone numbers are as follows:
Phoenix: 1225 S. 7th St, 602-258-2445
Tucson: 1428 S. 6th Ave, 520-903-2801
Nogales: Carr. International Km 4.5, 011-52-631-32880
Border Crossing Times: During the months of December and January, traffic returning to the US from Mexico can be very heavy and result in long waiting times to cross the border in Nogales. Weekends and holidays can be very congested. If your travel plans permit, try and avoid these periods. If they cannot be avoided we do suggest you get an early start leaving San Carlos. Border crossing times are available on line at CPB Border Wait Times.
An alternate route to consider is to turn east on Mexico Highway 2 in Imuris and take that route east through Cananea to the Naco turn off. Follow that road north to the Naco border crossing, just south of Bisbee, AZ on the border. This 2 lane road includes sections of narrow winding mountain roads and is subject to heavy Mexican bus and truck traffic.
Do not take this route at night or in an RV or towing a trailer or in inclement weather! It is 85 miles from Imuris to Naco via this route. Take your time and enjoy the scenery. This route is appropriate if traveling east towards New Mexico. For those going to Tucson and points north and west, it may actually save travel time by avoiding the border congestion in Nogales. Take this route with caution, however
Weapons: We'll say this more than once, but DO NOT take any type of firearm or ammunition into Mexico. If you hunt or shoot sporting clays or carry firearms or ammunition in your vehicle for any reason, check it carefully to make sure you did not leave these items in the vehicle. If caught in Mexico with these items in your possession the Mexican authorities will toss you in jail and forget where the key is! They won't care if it was accidental or otherwise-so check the vehicle.
Traveling with pets. If your pet is going on the trip with you, visit your veterinarian and get the animal a checkup and health certificate before you go. Take the rabies certificate for the animal with you as well. Be very conscious of temperature conditions and insure your animal has sufficient water and protection from heat, especially during the summer months.
Marriage in Mexico. Marriage in Mexico is a civil process conducted by an officer or judge of the Civil Registry. A church wedding alone is not legally valid in Mexico. To be married by the Civil Registry requires advance planning to complete the application process. Details about the process for US citizens wanting to marry in Mexico can be found at the web site of the US Embassy to Mexico. For Canadian citizens, click here for similar information provided by the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.
Services: Fuel including unleaded or diesel is available at numerous service stations along the route. You can buy any brand you like as long as it's PEMEX, the Mexican National Oil Company. These are full service so don't pump your own. They take pesos or dollars. There is usually a youngster around to clean your windshield and a small gratuity of 25-50 cents is in order. Restrooms (banos) are normally available.
Another neat feature about this route are the Green Angel trucks. These are mobile motorist aid units who will stop and assist if you do have a breakdown. Their mission is to perform minor repairs to get you back on the road. The best way not to meet them is to have the vehicle serviced before you cross the border. But it's nice to know they are there.
Speed Limits: Observe the speed limit signs, which are in kilometers per hour. Pay particular attention in built up areas as it is not uncommon to have pedestrians or animals along the right of way. Driving at night is generally not recommended as domestic animals may wander off the open range and onto the highway. El Toro (the bull) is neat, until you wrap a ton of steer around your front end. Stick to the daylight hours for highway travel. And as in the US, please don't drink and drive. And please don't litter.
Some common signs and their meanings:
Peligrosa: Danger (They really mean it too)
Poblado Proxima: Population ahead
Llanteros: Tire Repair Shop
Caseta: Toll Booth
Topes: Speed Bumps (big ones!!)
The paperwork requirements to visit Mexico beyond the frontier zone (about 20 kilometers deep) are not terribly hard to deal with, but do require a bit of advanced planning.
To travel in Mexico beyond the frontier zone and visit San Carlos requires a Mexican Tourist Card or Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM). Tourist cards or FMMs are good for 6 months. Tourist cards are 290 pesos or about $23 USD depending on current exchange rate.
To get a tourist card, you must have the following:
A valid passport.
A valid picture ID with address shown.
A minor traveling with one parent will need written permission from the other parent. Small children who do not have ID of their own will generally be included on a parent's tourist card.
For your convenience, here is a sample FMM with instructions in English that you can open, print and take with you.
There is a 290 peso/person visitors fee for the FMM which is paid at the Migracion (Mexican Immigration) office. Actual cost will vary slightly depending on the currency exchange rate. The process is essentially the same at any of the border crossing locations.
1. Go to Migracion and present your identification to the official. They will complete the form and return it to you to sign. Tell them if you are staying for 7 days or less to get the no-fee tourist card.
2. Pay the FMM fee. Migracion will stamp your tourist card indicating that you have paid.
3. Before proceeding to obtain your car permit, you will need a copy of the tourist card. Migracion can direct you to a copy center.
4. Remember to surrender the FMM at a Migracion office if you are leaving Mexico and have no plans to return before the FMM expiration date. Your passport will be stamped to show you turned it in and left Mexico.
Once you have your tourist card from the Migracion (Mexican Immigration), you can obtain the necessary permit for your vehicle. If your do not plan to travel south of the San Carlos/Guaymas/Empalme area, you do not need to register the vehicle. See the discussion on the Sonora Free zone above. For those whose travel plans include traveling beyond this point, have the following and bring copies of each to provide the issuing authorities:
Registration and a copy
Your Drivers License and a copy.
A major Credit Card
Your tourist card/visa and a copy.
You will post a bond of about $28 on the vehicle with the credit card. The purpose is to verify that you will not sell the vehicle in Mexico. This is non-refundable. If you plan to use cash, the price goes up to over $200 so use a credit card. The vehicle agency is the Banjercito, the Bank of the Armed Forces and your credit card is quite safe here.
NEW: For your convenience, you may now complete the Banjercito paperwork for your vehicle registration in advance via the Internet. This application must be processed no more than 24 hours and within 30 days of your planned entry date into Mexico. No charges will be made to your credit card until you actually appear at a Banjercito office to complete the application and obtain your car permit. To access the Banjercito web site in English, click here. Be sure to print the application when you have completed it.
If you plan to travel no farther than San Carlos/Guaymas/Empalme within the State of Sonora, you no longer need a permit for your vehicle, trailer, etc. You are required to have the same documents as for the regular permit, but do not to get the permit. Additional questions regarding the Only Sonora program can be answered by calling 1-800-4-SONORA (800-476-6672). See the Sonora Free zone discussion above on this page.
The bonded permits are good for multiple entrances and for six months. If you won't be back in six months, turn them in upon leaving the country. They can get quite testy if you do not.
If you plan to bring a boat and trailer, ATV, PWC or other toy along, have all the documents and copies of the documents for these as well. Boats are now documented for up to 10 years. It's a different form than for motor vehicles.
You may be asked to pay duty on certain items, including computers. In some instances, very expensive new big game fishing tackle may also be taxed. Don't try to hide it but be prepared. And one more time: NO FIREARMS OR AMMUNITION, including shell casings. If they catch you with any of it, you are looking at 5 YEARS in Mexican prison. You'll pass two such places on your way to San Carlos; neither looks like a very nice place. Check your vehicle for any of this and leave it home.