Vanlife Baja & Mexico: How to get the best Mexican auto insurance for a converted van or camper
As a condition of driving your vehicle into Mexico (the Baja Peninsula OR mainland), you are required to obtain a Mexican auto insurance policy that, at minimum, covers third-party liability. When that vehicle is a valuable van or camper (and especially your home), it’s even more vital to have a comprehensive policy that protects against life’s many calamities!
We were pretty concerned about this (given how hard it was to find insurance for our converted van in the US), but I learned a lot about Mexican auto insurance along the way and am now incredibly confident that we have the best policy for vanlife in Mexico!
This post compares 2 leading Mexican auto insurance companies (Baja Bound and Lewis & Lewis) and their various policy options, as well as all of our tips & tricks for getting the best coverage for your home on wheels while travelling through Baja and/or mainland Mexico!
Best companies for Mexican auto insurance
Combing through dozens of blogs & forums and chatting to multiple people who’d taken their converted van to Mexico, there are 2 Mexican auto insurance companies that are routinely recommended and considered to be the best choice for US drivers— both are American-owned with English websites (although the policies are through large Mexican agencies), pay claims in USD, and offer robust coverage perfect for vanlife (up to ~$300k)!
These insurance companies are both highly rated and offer a range of policies for any trip to Baja or mainland Mexico, but after speaking to one of their agents no fewer than 6 times (who even called up Banjercito to ask questions about a permit on our behalf), we eventually chose Baja Bound— more on our specific policy below!
I did heaps of research and spoke to multiple agents from both companies to understand the best way to insure our converted van while travelling through Baja and mainland Mexico. Here’s absolutely everything I learned, plus detailed quotes for 5 different Mexican auto insurance policies provided at the end of this post!
FAQ: Mexican auto insurance for your van
Minimum legal requirements
In order to legally drive in Mexico, you are required to hold valid Mexican auto insurance with a minimum of third-party liability coverage— this just means that your insurance company would pay out (up to the stated maximum) in the event that another vehicle is damaged or another driver is injured and you are deemed to be at fault.
To be clear, a liability-only policy does not provide ANY coverage for damage to you or your vehicle; instead, it protects you from causing damages that you’re unable to pay.
This is just the MINIMUM requirement, though— unless you’re driving an incredibly inexpensive van and have no fear of theft/damage/vandalism, then you need to invest in a more comprehensive policy (described in more detail below).
When to obtain Mexican auto insurance
You can purchase an insurance policy online as little as a day before you cross the border— just make sure you have access to a printer, since you’ll need hard-copies of your policy (in English & Spanish) to provide to local authorities as proof of insurance.
In most cases, no one will ask to see your insurance at the border (this was our experience and we’ve heard the same thing from dozens of other travellers), but make no mistake, you will be in a world of trouble with the police if you’re pulled over or involved in an accident without valid insurance.
And that’s to say nothing of the fact that you’d be entirely liable for damage to other vehicles, damage to your own vehicle, and even theft! Bottom line: comprehensive insurance should be non-negotiable on any trip to Mexico.
Stated value vs market value insurance policies
Although our US auto insurance policy through State Farm allowed us to declare the value of our van and insured us for that full amount without the need for any accompanying evidence (referred to as a “stated value” policy), there is no comparable option for Mexican auto insurance— or at least not for foreigners!
Both Baja Bound and Lewis & Lewis offer “market value” policies, which means you can note whatever value you wish on your insurance application, but if you do have to file a claim, the insurance company won’t automatically pay out that value– instead, you will be required to prove the actual “market value” (NOT stated value OR replacement value) of your van if you were to sell it today.
For that reason, “market value” policies are a lot more challenging for converted vans, because KBB value, which an insurance company would typically use to valuate any vehicle, only considers the van itself and not your build.
So: you’ll want to make sure you have as much information about your conversion as possible.
Although this won’t affect your ability to purchase the policy (no one even looks at these documents when you apply), it will definitely affect future claim amounts— and poor planning may leave you with a very sad sum that hardly covers the value of your vehicle itself, let alone the conversion.
Determining market value of your converted van
We have not had to make a claim against our Mexican auto insurance yet (and hopefully won’t), but based on multiple conversations with insurance agents at both Baja Bound and Lewis & Lewis, these are some documents you might use substantiate the market value of your vehicle:
- Official appraisal: You can have a formal appraisal conducted to demonstrate market value of your converted van, which was recommended by multiple insurance agents when we described our vehicle. However, appraisals can be still be challenging/inaccurate for converted vans, especially considering most appraisers specialise in cars or RVs (and we couldn’t locate a single appraisal service that even mentioned converted vans)— so it’s hard to know whether their determined value really matches the true market value of your van.
- Bill of sale or contract of sale: If you purchased your van already converted (either from a private seller or a professional company), you can provide evidence of the sale price and the insurance company will then adjust for 5-10% depreciation. This is mainly relevant for a total theft claim; receipts of specific components will be more important for damage to individual parts of your van.
- Receipts & records from your build: If you DIY converted your own van, you can provide receipts for all the materials and components within your van to demonstrate value. Note that any costs associated with labour are not included, and in many cases this method is also unlikely to yield the true market value of your van (e.g. if you bought a van for $30k and spent $20k converting it, your van would still be worth a whole lot more than $50k!), so an appraisal may be wise in this instance.
- Photographs: We were also advised by several insurance agents to take photos of the interior of our van (with special attention to expensive components like our solar panels, batteries, fridge, etc) to prove what is actually installed, should we file a partial/total theft claim.
More evidence is always better, but we decided to proceed into Mexico without an official appraisal and instead relied on:
- a signed contract (us & previous owners) stating how much we paid for our fully-converted van in Feb 2021;
- receipts for some of the larger components in our van; and
- photos of our exterior, interior & garage.
Automobile, motorhome, or campervan?
Regardless of how your van was registered or insured in the US, you have the option to insure as an automobile, motorhome, or camper van on your Mexican auto insurance policy.
According to the insurance agents we spoke to, there is no price difference between these policies, but there may be limits on your coverage amount or other compelling reasons to choose one over the other.
- Automobile: Since these policies typically rely on appraisal websites like KBB to determine market value (and therefore don’t consider ANY of your conversion or interior build), you’ll end up massively short-changed if you have to claim on an automobile policy with a converted van. This is NOT recommended.
- RV/Motorhome: Both Baja Bound and Lewis & Lewis will insure your converted van as a motorhome (this is the best option from Lewis & Lewis, who don’t offer a “camper van” policy), and the greatest benefit of this is to circumvent the potentially problematic vehicle weight limitations posed on anything that ISN’T a motorhome when obtaining a Temporary Import Permit for mainland Mexico (more on this below). Note that the physical damage and theft deductibles increase from $500 to $1,000 with Lewis & Lewis if you insure your vehicle as a motorhome, but the price remains the same; in the case of Chubb insurance through Baja Bound, insuring as a motorhome is the same deductible and price.
- Camper van: Baja Bound will also insure vehicles specifically as a “camper van”, and this is what we ultimately chose, since it provides the same high-maximum coverage as motorhome policies and still distinguishes our van from an automobile. We believe this was equally helpful in having our van classed as a motorhome for import purposes (which we did successfully at the border in Mexicali; see below).
Vehicle weight restriction (GVWR) for mainland Mexico
US-plated vehicles are required to obtain a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) upon entry to Mexico, but it’s important to note that this permit is NOT required for the Baja Peninsula, meaning this is only relevant for those crossing the US-Mexico border into mainland Mexico OR those planning to take the ferry from Baja to mainland Mexico.
- As of December 2021, the TIP costs 1203 pesos ($56USD) PLUS a deposit that will be refunded when you return your permit and depart Mexico.
- This refundable deposit is $400 for vehicles models from 2007 and newer (like our van), $300 for vehicle models from 2001-2006, and $200 for vehicle models from 2000 or older.
- HOWEVER, motorhomes are exempt from this deposit AND will be issued a 10-year TIP rather than the standard 6-month permit. Since we argued that our van was a motorhome, we were able to get a 10-year TIP with no deposit— yay!
Here’s the MAJOR issue: TIPs are technically not issued to any non-motorhome vehicle whose GVWR exceeds 3.5 tons or 7,716lbs. This is obviously problematic for 99% of converted vans, whose gross vehicle weight rating is above 3.5 tons (you can find your van’s GVWR on a sticker affixed to the driver’s door, as below).
I posted on forums and spoke to insurance agents about the weight restriction, but no one could concretely say that it wasn’t going to be an issue, and indeed several people did say that they had to pay a bribe to get the permit. This is another reason insuring your van as a camper or a motorhome can be massively helpful!
To read more about how we successfully circumvented the weight restriction with our van, check out this post: VANLIFE BAJA & MEXICO: A GUIDE TO CROSSING THE BORDER + ALL REQUIRED PERMITS (FMM & TIP)
*Coverage & cost of Mexican auto insurance
Check out the table below for more specific coverage details and various options available through Baja Bound and Lewis & Lewis, with quotes for 30 days, 6 months, and 1 year. Here are our specific recommendations:
- Best insurance for vanlife through all of Mexico: Baja Bound
- Lewis & Lewis offer great low-deductible policies for cars, but the collision and theft deductibles increase to $1,000 for motorhomes (with no option to insure as a camper). Consequently, Baja Bound is the most robust and cost-effective insurance option for vanlife in Mexico (as long as you’re staying a few months and visiting the mainland). We purchased the Chubb Platinum policy and feel confident that we have the best protection against accident, injury, theft & vandalism for all of our Mexico adventures!
- Best insurance for a Baja road trip: Lewis & Lewis
- Those travelling ONLY to Baja can get a discount on their policy— about 5-20% off through Baja Bound (monthly policies only) and 25-25% off through Lewis & Lewis. In other words, if you’re only travelling to Baja, you’ll get far better savings with Lewis & Lewis, particularly if you’re going for a short duration! Prices for Baja-only and all of Mexico are listed in the table below for reference.
- Best insurance for a short road trip: Lewis & Lewis
- Lewis & Lewis offer 30 and 90-day policies that are cheaper than their 6-month or annual policy and may therefore be a better option for those travelling short-term in Mexico. Even though these policies are cheaper overall, however, the per-day cost for the policy is exponentially decreased when you purchase a longer policy. For example, using the prices quoted below, a 30-day policy is approximately $13/day; a 90-day policy is $5/day; a 6-month policy is $2.50/day; and an annual policy is $1.65/day.
- Best insurance for a long road trip: Baja Bound
- Baja Bound offers daily policies for up to 60 days, after which point your only options are a 6-month policy or an annual policy. An insurance agent on the phone actually advised that, after about 20 days, Baja Bound’s 6-month policy becomes cheaper than the daily policy (which you’ll see reflected in the quotes below); it’s counter-intuitive, but many travellers will save money by purchasing a longer policy even if they’re only in Mexico for a month! And the longer you stay in Mexico, the cheaper that policy becomes (per day).
Note: these prices were quoted for our 2019 Dodge RAM Promaster 2500 as a motorhome (Lewis & Lewis) and motorhome OR campervan (Baja Bound) in December 2021 at a value of $68.5k, and aren’t necessarily reflective of the price for insuring a different vehicle on a different date. I’d recommend visiting both sites & entering your own vehicle information to obtain accurate, up-to-date quotes for your own van before proceeding, but this should at least give you a rough idea!
Recommended insurance coverage for Mexico
At minimum, you are required to hold a valid Mexican auto insurance policy with third-party liability coverage to drive in Baja and mainland Mexico, but I’d also recommend the following coverage:
Physical damage / collision
This will cover damage to your van if you’re in an accident or the victim of a natural disaster. It’s standard on all the policies below, but the deductible is $500 with Baja Bound vs $1000 with Lewis & Lewis (a pretty compelling reason to choose the former!).
This will cover up to the market value of your entire van if it’s stolen in Mexico, including any part of the build or conversion that’s fixed within the van (e.g. electrical system, cabinetry, fridge, etc). All policies listed below cover total theft at a $1,000 deductible (meaning you’ll be liable for the first $1,000 before the market value of your van is paid out).
Partial theft / vandalism
This coverage is super important for converted vans, since it will cover the theft or vandalism of any of your van’s fixed conversion components (e.g. electrical system, cabinetry, fridge, etc), which are NOT covered by any renter’s or content insurance policy.
This is only included on the upgraded policies below (like our Chubb Plainum policy with Baja Bound), and I’d strongly recommend it for those with high-end conversions and a lot of specialised components within their van.
Content insurance for vanlife
None of the Mexican auto insurance policies listed here (indeed, no auto insurance policy anywhere) will provide coverage for the actual contents of your van.
While the build and conversion components ARE insured if you have a policy covering “total theft / vandalism” (i.e. anything that is fixed or installed, such as an electrical system or cabinetry), your personal items are NOT. Those travelling with expensive camera gear or climbing equipment should definitely invest in a content insurance policy to cover valuables against theft or natural disaster damage!
We pay just over $10/month for renters insurance through State Farm, which covers the contents of our van anywhere in the world, no matter how long we’re away from the physical address that we listed on our policy (which is my mum’s address in Seattle, where we receive mail and have stayed in the past while working on the van).
I was super honest with the insurance agent about living in our van full-time and travelling for several years, as well as the address belonging to my mum, and the policy will STILL cover us, por ejemplo, 12 months from now if our van was burglarised in Mexico City.
I recently looked into travel insurance to try and get similar coverage of our personal items, but with absolutely no luck. WorldNomads won’t insure a trip longer than 180 days and SafetyWing, with offers insurance specifically designed for digital nomads, doesn’t cover personal items UNLESS you’re forced to surrender them during an attempted kidnapping (so weirdly specific, but basically you’re out of luck if your laptop is just plain stolen).
This makes State Farm’s renters insurance the BEST content insurance policy for vanlife, both in & out of the US (as long as you have a US address)!
Read more about vanlife in Baja