Tips For Visiting Our Neighbors –
And Getting Back Home
Planning a trip to Canada or Mexico? There's
plenty of fun riding at our neighbors to the north and south, but you'll
need to be mindful that crossing U.S. borders is not quite as simple
as it was before our heightened sense of national security.
Ever since September 11, 2001, crossing U.S. borders has become a
One very important change that took effect in 2008 is the
requirement for US citizens to have a passport to re-enter the United States. A drivers
license or birth certificate are no longer sufficient.
If you're crossing the border to do some off-road riding and
you're hauling a trailer or driving a larger vehicle, you may face
"Everybody and everything is being hit a little harder, especially
if you've got a vehicle with a lot of space," said Steve Darling, a
salesman with Inglis Cycle Center in London, Ontario, Canada. "Winnebagos,
enclosed trailers — anything with a lot of cargo space is going to draw
Darling admitted, though, that the scrutiny is all for the best,
and it usually goes pretty quickly. Be patient and try
to have all your paperwork in order, in advance.
"Our customer base includes some from the states," he said. "Because
of that, we know what the rules are when you cross the border."
Recently, Darling got some first-hand experience when he crossed
the border with two bikes that were not registered.
"They stopped us, and they checked us out, going and coming back,"
he said. "It was pretty routine, it took about 20-25 minutes to get
into the states, and about five to get out. Now, I am pulling an enclosed
trailer, so they're going to ask what's in the trailer. I go across
in a car and its nothing. If you go across with cargo space they're
going to look at you."
suggestion: Register the bikes before you cross borders.
"Off-roaders really should have a title, even if it's used strictly
for off-road use," he said. "It's not impossible to get through (without
the title), but it's really going to slow you down. Just bring all your
receipts and information that shows where you bought it. The more documentation
you have to prove your point, the better. So fill them full of information."
Darling also said large amounts of cash can raise suspicions.
"If you're going to carry (a lot of) cash, you need to claim that,"
he said. "We tell guys to bring certified checks or money orders (when
making a major purchase)."
Another thing you may want to check is how well you know the person
you're riding with.
"Don't bring a buddy who's got a criminal record," he said. "I knew
one guy who had to leave his buddy at the border until he got back."
Lastly, Darling said to leave any firearms at home, especially handguns.
Canadian laws do permit some hunting weapons, but Darling said there
are procedures and forms you'll need to get beforehand. Handguns aren't
allowed at all.
of the border in Mexico, things are a bit different. For example, most
automobile and motorcycle insurance policies will cover you if you're
riding in Canada, but Mexico requires that you carry a separate policy. To be sure, check your policy before you go.
Tim Morton, who runs
Baja Bound Adventures,
has been riding dirt bikes in Baja, Mexico, for 29 years. He said, "Before
9/11 things were so much more lax, now things are a lot tighter."
As far as driving or riding into Mexico, he said anything you ride
on the street will need Mexican insurance. Oddly enough though, to ride
a dirt bike in Mexico, you won't.
He said to basically look at it this way: if you cross the border
riding something, you'll need insurance, but if you tow it in for off-road
use, you won't.
also said you must have a title or registration if you plan to cross
any border with just about any vehicle, echoing what Darling said about
Also, Morton said Mexico has some interesting touring issues.
"If you plan to go deep into Mexico, you'll need a passport," he
said. "In most cases, if you plan to stay near the border, you should
be able to get away with just your U.S. drivers license."
As far as traveling with weapons, Morton said it's a seriously bad
idea that can get you serious jail time. "Absolutely not — don't go
across with any guns," he said. "As a matter of fact, make sure you
don't even have a bullet in a backpack."
Morton offered some financial advice, too. "You really don't need
to change your money into pesos," he said. "You'll still want to make
sure you do your basic math when it comes to paying for things, though,
to make sure you're getting something close to the exchange rate."
also mentioned that folks traveling deeper into Mexico might want to
consider having plenty of cash for their trip. "Don't plan to use your
credit cards," he said. "Unless you're staying in a big tourist town,
most local places won't take them."
The quality of fuel in Mexico used to be an issue, Morton said, but
not any more. "Pemex is the standard fuel in Mexico," he said. "And
it's improved greatly over the last 10 or 15 years. It's about 90 octane,
if you're lucky. But we run XRs and DRZs, and they'll run on just about
He said if your bike has an octane issue you might want to buy octane
booster, which is available at just about any automotive store in Mexico.
One other idiosyncrasy Morton mentioned while traveling on Mexican
highways is the signal to pass. "If you come upon a car that signals
left, that means it's OK to pass them on the left," he said. "Like if
you're following a big semi and he turns on his left turn signal, it
means he's looked ahead and it's clear for you to pass."
Obviously, Morton said extreme caution should be exercised, and this
occurs mostly on narrow straight highways where there isn't anywhere
the trucker or car driver can pull off.
- For further information on traveling through Mexico visit the official
Mexico Tourism Board's website at:
- For more information on Tim Morton's Baja Bound Adventures, visit
his website at:
or call 1-888-664-BAJA (2252).
- Canadian Tourism Commission, www.canadatourism.com/
- The official website of the Canadian Tourism Commission at www.travelcanada.ca/ (Yes, similar names but two different sites.)
vacationers planning to enter Canada from the United States have been
turned back at the border because of past criminal convictions. "In
most cases, a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol is
what trips up visitors," said Philip Lupul, consul and immigration
program manager at the Canadian Consulate in Detroit. Traffic tickets
are no problem, but other convictions may be, even if they are not
felonies. If you have a concern, you can apply in advance of your trip
for a permit to enter Canada. Visit the consulate's web site at www.detroit.gc.ca,
click on ``Visas and Immigration'' on the left-hand menu, and look for
information on "Persons who are inadmissible to Canada" at the bottom
of the page. The application costs about $100, Lupul said, but it prevents the
risk of being delayed or turned away at the border.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website has tons of good information,
including border crossing guides, travel advisories and more, at: