Crossing the Border
At dozens of sleepy little towns across Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the temptation to nip across the border and see something of our southern neighbor can be strong. It’s only a hop and a skip away, and the crossing is usually simple and hassle-free, but in these days of Homeland Security it’s good to know a few things about international customs—small “c” and big “C”—before you go.
For years, all that a U.S. citizen needed to cross the border for 72 hours or less (and be re-admitted to the United States afterward!) was some proof of citizenship. Often, you could get by with just a driver’s license, but in this age of increased security new rules have been implemented, so all travelers returning from Mexico or Canada must have a valid, current passport or other documents approved by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to re-enter the United States.
If you’re thinking of heading south to stock up on Mexican beers or a rug or other handicrafts, be aware that in most cases, merchandise is subject to an $800 duty-free limit, above which U.S. Customs will charge a 10 percent duty based on fair retail value. Alcohol imports by individuals are limited to a whopping liter every 30 days—less than three cans of beer—and it is illegal to import Mexican versions of trademarked items (perfumes, watches, even cans of Coke!) that are also sold in the United States. So don’t risk having to leave something behind at the border—ask before you buy.
It’s probably a good idea before heading abroad to first go over the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s pamphlet Know Before You Go: Regulations for International Travel by U.S. Residents, which can be downloaded from the agency’s website.
Because of insurance and other legal concerns, you should definitely leave your car on the United States side of the border and cross into Mexico on foot. Driving is not worth the hassle, especially with the long lines to cross back into the United States.