By Mike Godsey

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Car Insurance and pets

You absolutely must have Mexican insurance in Baja. No matter what anyone tells you, your USA insurance is not recognized in Baja. Beyond the lack of coverage it is important to realize that Mexico jurisprudence is based upon Neapolitan law. You are considered guilty until you can prove you are innocent. If you are involved in any accident with injury or significant damage you go to jail guilty or innocent. The job of your local Mexican insurance agent is to get you out and procure a lawyer. No problem if you have Mexican insurance. Don’t expect your State Farm agent to fly into Baja to get you out of jail. Your fair skin could make even one night in a Mexican jail a memorable experience.

You can buy insurance, at very high prices and with a lot of wasted time, near the border. I do what almost all experienced Baja sailors do. Buy it from the non-profit Vagabundos Del Mar. Their office is near Rio Vista, California just minutes from the great Sherman Island sailing sites. They primarily cater to fishermen but have a growing windsurfing customer base. They are great folks and will go out of their way to help you. Best of all their prices are a fraction of what you will pay at the border. You can get a full year policy for about the price of a 1 or 2 week policy at the border. I have used them for 20 years and on ocassion they have saved my butt. Best of all, you get their monthly Baja newsletter with your insurance policy. Nope, I don’t get a kick-back but it is still a good idea to let them know you are a windsurfer so they continue to cater more to our needs.

Most people have never been asked for any ID or paper work for dogs or cats while in Baja. In theory to reenter the USA with your pet you need a Certificate for Interstate or International Movement of Small Animals. You can get this at your Vet office. There are good vets in Baja but have your vet to check your pet over and make sure all their shots are up to date (no special shots needed for Mexico). There is no problem with dogs at motels.

Money and currency Exchange

Unless you are good at Spanish it will save you a lot of hassle at stores and gas stations if you have pesos. Converting from liters to gallons and then from pesos to dollars makes each gas stop an unpleasant adventure if your Spanish is weak. It is a drag driving away from a station with a vague worry that you have been ripped off. To make it worse there are several stations that often do rip people off. See the section on driving.

You will get the best rate if you do your exchange at your bank before you leave. Allow a couple of weeks for the bank to get pesos. Dollars can also be changed for pesos at border business called “Casas de Cambio” in San Ysidro but the rate is not quite as good. Some “Casas de Cambio” will quote you a good rate, then add as 10-15% “commission”.

Most “Casas de Cambio” have two numbers of pesos posted for the exchange rate. The one in LARGE letters (the higher number) is the rate for exchanging pesos to dollars and the other in small letters with the lower number is the rate for dollars to pesos.

It can be hard to get dollars exchanged between Ensenada and La Paz. Dollars are acceptable in many places but at the merchant’s rate of exchange and this does not work in your favor. Local banks will give better rates.

Don’t waste time buying lots of traveler’s checks. They are not accepted along the road or in the areas you will be windsurfing. Once you are in Baja Sur, only Loreto, La Paz, and Los Cabos, and some resorts are likely to accept traveler’s checks.

NOTE: You can find ATMs in southern Baja California in La Paz and in Los Cabos. In the past there has been some fraudulent use of USA ATM / credit card numbers by parties intercepting the calls. There have been no reports of this happening in the last few years. Last year I used by debit card all over the place with no problem. You will not find ATMs anywhere except banks and a few supermarkets. Credit cards are useless in most of the places you will be shopping and camping. Bring lots of cash and hide it well in several places. Never let anyone into your RV or camper at drug inspection stops unless you are with them. Their job is to search your car or RV and if they see more money than they make in a year in a cabinet it may be too tempting. Do not use your credit card in local businesses. The temptation may be too great since they know you will not be back to complain if they sell the number to someone.

Car Rental Info

All of the sailing sites are pretty self-contained and quite distant from other sites. Once you fly in you are unlikely to need a car unless you want to do downwinders or explore the countryside on no wind days. Be aware that renting a car in Mexico is very different than renting a car in the USA. You will be required to buy Mexican insurance NO MATTER what your USA policy says about your having international coverage. Very oversimplified… Mexican insurance does not just cover liability, comprehensive etc. It also insures the arrival of a lawyer to get you out of jail. Having any significant accident will lead to your being jailed until the police figure out responsibility. You don’t want to spend a week in a Mexican jail!