Flying to Central America. Driving back to USA. (2 Viewers)

Joined
May 13, 2019
Messages
1
Location
South America
I'll be interested in seeing what the experienced people have to offer.

For myself, as a true Gringo, I'd stay the heck out of Central America or Mexico in any vehicle. Not being able to speak the language, not having any idea what sort of laws or lawlessness to expect (by the police), I no longer have that gnawing of an adventure gene.

Surprised to see this attitude in this forum, where I thought by nature of the topic most people would be well traveled.
I have lived and worked all around the world but I am from South America. I can tell you from experience most people doing the sort of trip you’re planning through my country are foreign. I once helped a couple find “agua” as this was the extent of their Spanish vocabulary. Their modes of transportation range from bicycles to 7 figure MAN expedition campers. To get to where I am they have crossed all of Central America. I can’t say that they haven’t run into any problems but I am sure you’ll be able to figure it out.

To answer your question:
For my country, foreign license plates do not get subsidized fuel prices and their car themselves have a “visa” which is 3 months. So if you’re passing through, you’ll be fine. If you fall in love and decide to stay, you’ll need to drive to the border every three months and turn back around to stay legal without having to register it.

Fuel wise: diesel is usually more available, and less dangerous to transport if you decide to fill a tank to bring with you in an emergency.
 

ceb

Joined
Jun 6, 2016
Messages
239
Location
Virginia
Have you read - and re-read, the NHTSA rules and EPA regs on vehicle imports? Just because it is over 25 years old doesn't mean that you can import whatever you want.

In addition, it needs to be deemed roadworthy at the border. Will it be?

Quite frankly, I'd be concerned with driving ANY used vehicle that I don't know the history of 5000 miles. Most of the ones you'll be looking at will be held together with baling wire and chewing gum. You really think you can find a mechanic down there that you can trust to do an inspection? Will you bring spare parts?
 
Joined
Apr 29, 2019
Messages
17
Location
Charleston, SC
Thanks @gilmorneau all great information

@Mr Cimarron I had planned on flying down to handle purchase and paperwork, storing the vehicle somewhere (mechanic, attorneys office, storage unit??), and flying back down to pick up titlework from attorney once it came in weeks later, then starting my drive. Does this sound realistic? Would I need to be there for the title to come in? I assume if I was paying an attorney they could hold papers for me when they arrive. And what things did you need to do before you had yours road worthy?

@ceb Clearly this is a huge undertaking for a 40+ year old car, and I'm not dumb enough to purchase a vehicle I didn't think would get me home one way or another (although I've done it before). Most vehicles in my price range *appear online* to be in very good condition, clean, original, and well taken care of. I am not interested in pretty paint jobs, original dash pads, or chrome accents. I am strictly in the market for original, mechanically sound, lowish mileage (but who really knows), and rust free. More interested at what the undercarriage looks like than the body.

I am well aware that I could be flying down to costa rica only to kick abunch of tires and fly home with a sun burn and my tail between my legs. Driving rusty worn out cruisers around costa rica, drinking imperials , and flying home empty handed still sounds fun to me! I'll make a few friends either way, and know better the next time.

As far as finding a mechanic yes, these are basic cars, labor is incredibly cheap, and the people are incredibly nice. The finding a mechanic question has come up multiple times already, but the truth is you cant trust any old mechanic in america either so you ask around.
 

Mr Cimarron

DRIVE, BREAK, FIX, REPEAT
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Joined
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5,461
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Cedar Valley, Texas
Thanks @gilmorneau all great information

@Mr Cimarron I had planned on flying down to handle purchase and paperwork, storing the vehicle somewhere (mechanic, attorneys office, storage unit??), and flying back down to pick up titlework from attorney once it came in weeks later, then starting my drive. Does this sound realistic? Would I need to be there for the title to come in? I assume if I was paying an attorney they could hold papers for me when they arrive. And what things did you need to do before you had yours road worthy?

@ceb Clearly this is a huge undertaking for a 40+ year old car, and I'm not dumb enough to purchase a vehicle I didn't think would get me home one way or another (although I've done it before). Most vehicles in my price range *appear online* to be in very good condition, clean, original, and well taken care of. I am not interested in pretty paint jobs, original dash pads, or chrome accents. I am strictly in the market for original, mechanically sound, lowish mileage (but who really knows), and rust free. More interested at what the undercarriage looks like than the body.

I am well aware that I could be flying down to costa rica only to kick abunch of tires and fly home with a sun burn and my tail between my legs. Driving rusty worn out cruisers around costa rica, drinking imperials , and flying home empty handed still sounds fun to me! I'll make a few friends either way, and know better the next time.

As far as finding a mechanic yes, these are basic cars, labor is incredibly cheap, and the people are incredibly nice. The finding a mechanic question has come up multiple times already, but the truth is you cant trust any old mechanic in america either so you ask around.
For a road worthy truck I changed tires, brakes, suspension, tie rod ends, complete fluid and filter change.
 

yotadude520

Mini-Truck Enthusiast
Joined
Jul 12, 2013
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1,795
Location
Tucson, Arizona
Here's my take on this.

I flew to Denver and drove my current Toyota pickup almost 1000 miles home. This was a truck that had an extensive amount of work done by another member and I was still a little hesitant to do the drive. Turned out just fine and was an excellent trip.

Obviously you know that most of the FJ's you find down there are going to have been worked hard and put away wet. So prepare for the worst. Buy as many spare parts as you can afford to bring/ship down there that you can think of. Get a set of tires, shocks, tie rods, fluids, radiator, driveshaft u-joints, floor jack and a decent toolset (I personally prefer the Pittsburgh 225 piece toolset. It's what I carry myself). It would also be a good idea to bring some wire, straps and some electrical crimpers/connectors because god knows what you'll need to do to get all the lights working and legal. Worst case scenario, you end up needing all of these and then some. Best case, you use none and you got spare parts for down the road. Either way it's an investment and a wise one to make at that. I also think you're better off renting something and driving down there if you have all the parts rather than trying to fly with them or ship them. Not only will you make sure you have your parts, but you'll get a good feel of the way you're going to go back home.

I personally believe you can do this (adventure wise). I'm a little hazy on the importing laws but I SA/CA cruisers get brought in all the time. So much so that we have to look out for them when we're buying cruisers nowadays. Plus I've seen the Roadkill guys take things that haven't run in decades and take them halfway across the country, so I think it's definitely do-able. But your best two assets are knowledge of the vehicle and it's common problems and the tools and parts to fix it when it goes down. Bringing a buddy is a wise move too as you'll be safer in a pair and you'll have someone who speaks the language. As said before, that is invaluable.

Look into the import laws and call around. There's a couple of importers on this forum that can help you with the legality aspect of it.

I say if you can take the time, are willing to invest the money in the parts and can get the knowledge you'll need to keep you on the road, then there's no reason you can't do this. People have done crazier things. But you need to be well prepared for what you're doing and understand the risks of it. Map your route and take roads that aren't in an open strech for 100+ miles. Make sure there's gas stations along the way and towns you can stop in if you need help.

Lastly, be very picky with the cruiser you get. At the very least do a compression test (if you're going after a gas) and check for blow by if you're going after a diesel. Make sure you think it can get home. If you have the slightest doubt, walk away from it and look at another one. With any cruiser you check out try to drive it for at least 30 minutes and seriously look over the gauges (if they work) and look for it's quirks. Make sure you find one that you're comfortable driving home in, and go in with the knowledge that you might NOT find a cruiser that fits what you want. Be okay with flying back or renting a car or something. Definitely have a return ticket booked too in case things go south. Taking a loss and leaving your cruiser in the middle of nowhere is a small price to pay for a safe ride home.

I definitely think it can be done, and if you're up to it, count me along for the ride. Would absolutely love to see you do this.

-Will
 
Joined
May 6, 2015
Messages
447
man, I see gringos travel through Mexico in questionable looking rigs, albeit mechanically sound, at least demonstrated by the fact that they're on the road for weeks if not months at a time, looking for similar adventures such as the one you peruse. Putting things in perspective, you will not be driving highway speeds most of the time on your way back, as roads are not designed for that, so the rig you choose will keep up with that easily, provided the drive train is in decent shape and you replace some key parts before you star the drive, as mentioned before (steering links, tires, brakes and such). Let's not forget we are talking about one of, if not THE most durable and tough vehicles on earth.
I have also seen people buying those same imported vehicles already in the US, and then driving them hundreds of miles home. On the freeway.
As for the "safety" issue, you seem well educated and traveled to fall into the "it's zombie land" once you cross the border mindset. There have been 150 mass shootings in the US this year alone, so the odds of you finding real trouble along the way are not higher than the ones you'd find around the corner from your place. Having said that, if you find some snags along the way, they will be mostly paperwork and red tape, which can be avoided by doing your homework beforehand.
I'd say do it, plan ahead, take your time finding the rig you want, live the adventure you seek and if you find yourself near San Jose del Cabo, hit me up and I'll show you some kick ass surf spots, in my fj40 which by the way has traveled most of Mexico, from Cabo all the way to Canada and back, looking for surf spots and has only needed some basic repairs along the way.
 

1MOA

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Joined
Nov 7, 2017
Messages
1,504
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Warrenton VA
Get a transport permit from your state online once you enter the US and drive on that. Most states will give up to 10 days you just put your entry or start location and your home destination and apply.
 
Joined
Oct 27, 2019
Messages
27
Location
Texas
Curious how this planned out as well. I considered this option, as the cost of trucks looks very appealing when searching South America. I picked up my “restored” 43 for a cool $6800 USD. Given I considered driving it back, but the road doesn’t stretch the entire way from bogota, and the lack of time on my end, I opted to have it loaded on a ship.

I have an attorney on the ground that I was working with who offered to handle all the paperwork, purchasing, registering (as you have to be registered in the Colombian database to have the purchase in your name). He charged $1500 although I gave him $2000 in the end because the paperwork took a total of 6 months between all the steps and arranging a shipment. There was roughly $500 in ancillary fees.

The export itself cost me $1000 to get the truck from Bogota to Cartagena. From there it was $5260 for the actual shipment. Insurance was calculated into this, which I will get to momentarily. The brokerage on the US side was $1300 plus a $105 customs exam fee. Customs was a joke, and the truck even arrived with an opened 2 liter bottle of water from Colombia. The 4 extra wheels however did not arrive.

I went down to Houston to pick up the vehicle and was billed another $50 for a container cleaning due to “oil” the truck had leaked. Somewhere in the process, the rear axle had been cracked and back left wheel was seized to the frame. Add another $300 to get the truck transported up to Austin.

Once here it went to a local Japanese auto mechanic where we replaced both front and rear axle, repaired all the wiring that was ripped in transit underneath the vehicle, installed 2 new driveshafts, brake flush/work, linelock as there is no true parking brake on the truck, and a tune up totaling out at $7725.

So that sweet deal at $6800 now has me in at $25k. Given it’s no $80k restores 43 or an fj company cruiser between 150~200k, it’s still not as sweet a deal as I initially took it to be. Am I happy with the truck? Sure. Was it restored? Hardly...however whoever rebuilt the engine did it correctly and there’s not a single drop of oil coming from it, and it runs strong getting up to 70mph.

In reality, trucks from down there are pieces together to keep them on the road. Think my 2F is actually out of a 60, and I know the split T case is.

All that being said, keep in mind that “restored” means something different to everyone. Best of luck if you are still contemplating this endeavor.
 
Joined
Mar 6, 2020
Messages
6
Location
Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Would also love an update on this. Just bought an HJ60 here in Nicaragua, and when my wife and I leave (2-3 more years) our plan is to drive it back to the states. @4bo4 if you do this trip and find yourself in the Matagalpa, Nicaragua area (or just wanna surf on the coast) let me know!
 

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