Everything We Did Wrong Traveling Down Baja California with a Dog

We missed a crucial step in the immigration process when we drove into Mexico via San Diego/Tijuana. As you might remember from my blog post about entering Mexico, no one ever stopped us to see our papers. We didn’t stop to ask anyone, assuming that we were doing OK.

We found out last week that we were very wrong.

You Need an FMM and a TVIP from Tijuana

Last week we went to buy our ferry tickets for La Paz to Mazatlan with Baja Ferries. When we got to the ticket office, they asked for our TVIP (Temporary Vehicle Import Permit). We didn’t have that. They said to go to the Banjercito to get the TVIP.

When we went to the Banjercito, they asked for our FMM papers (Forma Migración Múltiple). We didn’t have those.

This is where a sense of dread started growing.

Quick Google results immediately showed that you’re supposed to get the FMM in Tijuana right after you cross the border. You can’t get the FMM in La Paz or Los Cabos.

We begged and pleaded with two different migration offices. Even with my really good Spanish, we had no luck getting the FMM. Everyone told us that we had to drive back to Tijuana (an 18 hour drive that was a bit hellish the first time around). We really didn’t want to take a nearly 40-hour detour.

We realized that you can download FMM paperwork online and pay for it there. We did that, but no office would accept it without the stamp. Begging, pleading, feigning ignorance, nothing worked.

Eventually, we went back to the Banjercito with our unstamped FMM paperwork (paid for and legal, but unstamped). They would not give us a TVIP.

We went to Baja Ferries again. No, still no ferry tickets without a TVIP.

In desperation, we asked the parking lot attendant at the Pichilingue ferry dock in La Paz. He pointed us towards customs, telling us to ask them. Customs and immigration are separate offices.

We tried. A guy at the customs checkpoint asked us how he could help since we clearly weren’t driving our car. We explained our situation and he gave us a piece of paper with his friend’s phone number on it. He said that the friend worked at the small private airstrip in Cabo and might be able to help us out.

We called this guy immediately.

He was very helpful, asking for a fee of $50 USD (about $1,000 pesos) each. We agreed to meet in Cabo the next day at 8 am.

We drove down to Cabo (a 2 hour drive from La Paz). We met the guy in the little airport and he showed us to a tiny immigration office. Within a matter of minutes, we had an FMM.

I don’t know if we paid a bribe or a legit fee. The paperwork is real, and we have it.

Don’t do what we did. Get an FMM and TVIP in Tijuana.

We drove straight to the Banjercito and got our TVIP paperwork – no biggie there. As long as you have the paperwork for the FMM, they’re happy.

Then we got our ferry tickets for the overnight ferry to Mazatlan.

Ferry Troubles for Dogs

The overnight ferry is a pretty great idea. We paid for a cabin and they feed you dinner and breakfast. You arrive in the Sinaloa region in the morning, allowing you to drive to your final destination in daylight without spending an evening in Sinaloa.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for us.

We arrived around 5 pm after a day of hiking and catching up on side projects. They weighed our car, took our tickets, and got us checked in pretty smoothly.

There’s a weird rule that the driver (listed on the ticket) is the only one who can stay with the car. The passenger (me) had to get out. This sucked a bit, since Andrew doesn’t yet speak Spanish and I don’t like leaving him with the car and the dog and no translator. But everyone at the ferry dock speaks pretty good English.

I spent some time catching up with my little sister about a potential Europe trip in the spring with our Mom, only to have my call interrupted by Andrew.

Andrew explained that Barley had to be in a crate (which we already knew). But the we also needed a ticket for our dog and Barley was going to have to stay in a crate in the pet area.

If you bring a dog on the ferry to Baja, be prepared to leave that dog alone in a crate the whole time.

I managed to get the ticket sorted out at the office pretty quickly. But when I explained that Barley is Andrew’s allergen alert service dog, they said tough luck. We needed official paperwork showing he was a service dog. I explained that I am the trainer and that in the U.S. you don’t need paperwork. 

I pleaded and explained as best as I could (again, I have good Spanish), but the manager would not budge.

Finally, frustrated, I Googled “free service dog registration” and asked, “Like this paperwork?”

“Yes,” He responded.

This is where their customer service took a dramatic upward turn. I was pretty frustrated up until then, but at this point the manager really pulled through for me. I apologized profusely for getting so testy as he showed me to a laptop and a printer that I could use.

I printed off a free service dog registration from one of those scammy websites.

And Barley could now ride in our cabin.

I am not a fan of faking service dogs. At all.

But the regulations of the ferry didn’t allow us another way to keep Barley in our private cabin. Given that Barley still wasn’t allowed on deck or in the dining hall (and the alternative is leaving him in a crate shoved in a corner full of other crated, barking dogs for a 15-hour journey), I actually would suggest doing what we did if your dog is reasonably well-behaved.

If you truly have a service dog and need to bring that dog with you to the dining hall and around the ferry, I don’t know what to tell you. They did not seem likely to judge on rules on this ferry.

In the end, we were able to save Barley from a 15-hour crate ride (he surely would have peed himself and been terrified) with a free service dog registry. I say worth it, especially until/unless ferry rules change.

Barley slept in the cabin, keeping us warm with the over-active A/C. The boat was surprisingly turbulent given its huge size, but we all slept OK.

We disembarked around 11 am (not 8 am, like we thought was scheduled) and drove straight to Puerto Vallarta.

What We Learned:

  1. Get your FMM paperwork in Tijuana. Make sure it’s stamped.
  2. Get your TVIP at a Banjercito location as soon as you can. You can do this pretty much anywhere that has a Banjercito, just do it before the ferry.
  3. If you plan on taking a ferry with your dog, be prepared to crate the dog in a remote part of the boat or get service dog papers.

It was a really stressful week for us given all of these mistakes culminating at once. Hopefully, we don’t have any screw-ups this big again!

We did do a few things right. Don’t forget to do these, too:

  1. We got International Driver’s Permits at AAA before leaving the U.S.
  2. We got all of Barley’s vaccinations, de-worming, and paperwork done (though we haven’t shown that to anyone yet).
  3. We got Mexican car insurance before entering Mexico.
  4. We got international health insurance before entering Mexico.

The big thing to know here is that no one will tell you about the FMM or TVIP until it’s needed. We went through multiple police checkpoints, talked to tons of people, and read tons of blog posts. There were no mentions of needing the FMM in Tijuana.

Don’t do what we did. Get the FMM right away.

Author: Kayla

Kayla is a biologist, writer, and web designer. She’s passionate about animal behavior, the science of habits, and anything outdoors.

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