Jacquie Schwoerke, vice president of Sharp HealthCare’s Global Patient Services program, offers these five tips when planning a day trip to Mexico.
- You need to carry Mexican auto insurance to drive legally in the country, where liability coverage is mandatory.
Even if your insurance company states that they cover you in Mexico, the Mexican government does not recognize U.S. auto insurance as valid. You can purchase one-day Mexican auto insurance policies through your U.S. insurance provider or from providers located near the border. Schwoerke recommends purchasing a policy that covers medical expenses, for reasons detailed below.
- Whenever possible, use the toll roads until you arrive at the turnoff for your destination.
When you travel on the toll road in Baja, you are automatically covered by the insurance provided by Caminos y Puentes Federales, the federal transportation agency. (Keep your insurance receipt in a safe place for proof.) They provide assistance with towing, changing flat tires, minor medical services, etc. The toll roads are safer, better maintained and get you to your destination faster. Cruz Roja, the Red Cross in Mexico, provides emergency ambulance coverage for drivers on the toll roads, but not on the free (“libre”) roads.
- Know the law.
Even if you are within sight of the U.S. border, U.S. laws do not apply. In Mexico, the law assumes you are guilty until proven innocent. If you are in an accident where you were driving and someone dies or there is significant property damage, you would be arrested and held liable. If you end up in a medical care facility of any kind in Mexico, you and your family will be expected to pay, and you cannot negotiate in an emergency. Also, Schwoerke warns to never give up your passport — that is your ticket home.
- Know where to turn in case of emergency.
Schwoerke suggests carrying the phone number to the U.S. Consulate with you at all times while traveling internationally (from Mexico: 011-52-664-748-0129). If you need assistance, consular officers can help you contact family back home and find an attorney who speaks English. The U.S. Consulate emergency line is available 24 hours a day. You should also notify a representative of U.S. government prior to traveling to Mexico. The easiest way to do this is to register your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). By enrolling in STEP, the U.S. government can more easily communicate with you about safety conditions in your destination country. If your domestic health insurance does not cover you outside of the U.S., consider purchasing a medical travel policy.
- Make sure people at home know where you are going.
Schwoerke recommends leaving your itinerary with someone back home, so they will know when to expect you to return, as well as a copy of your passport and that of your travel companions. Be sure to include emergency contact phone numbers, the phone number for the U.S. Consulate and Sharp’s Global Patient Services team.
And remember that cell service can be spotty around the border and in Mexico.