Friday, June 2, 2023


What to buy, and why, before returning home from Mexico

This article is for all the RVing Americans returning home from Mexico. Before you cross that border when returning home from Mexico, WAIT! It makes sense to do some shopping first.

I am not going to give you suggestions for souvenirs and “junk.” We can all find the junk that appeals to us on our own without outside help.

Instead, the things in this article all have practical value. You should buy them south of the border before returning home from Mexico because:

  • They are either less expensive in Mexico, or
  • They are easier to find in Mexico than in the U.S., but
  • In some cases, they’re both!

Don’t forget services in Mexico, too!

In addition to bringing back actual THINGS, you also might want to consider services. Ask around on local Facebook groups for expats to get recommendations for the best service people.

People regularly cross the border and save half or more (sometimes much more) on these services:

  • Dentists: I just had four crowns done for less than half what it would have cost in the U.S.
  • Plastic surgery: I have not tried this, but lots of folks do come to Mexico for this.
  • Veterinary work: Again, a fraction of what it is at home. For routine visits, I usually get out for under $20. That would easily be $100 – $150 at home in the states.
  • Hair, nails, massages, and other spa services: These are far more affordable and you can treat yourself more often. My hairdresser near Ensenada does an amazing job. It costs about $30 for a cut and color (she caters to gringos, so she is more expensive than many).
  • Upholstery work: Does your rig need an upholstery facelift? Upholstery shops are plentiful.
  • Vehicle bodywork: Vehicle bodywork is another great bargain. I had excellent work done here for about 1/4 of the estimate I got in the U.S.
  • Mechanics (IF you find a good mechanic): Just as in the U.S., finding a decent, trustworthy mechanic can be a crapshoot. But if you find one, labor in Mexico is always less expensive than in the U.S. Not necessarily parts, though, as those must be imported, so it will depend on the job.

Things to buy before returning home from Mexico


I was going through receipts for my annual tax preparation on the same day I recently purchased propane here in Baja California near Ensenada. I came across a propane receipt from last year’s long, long RV trip. For a comparable amount of propane, the price I paid in Mexico was about one-third the amount I paid last summer in Minnesota. Fill your propane tanks before leaving Mexico!

Fuel (maybe)

Fuel prices can change, but it merits checking out before you leave. When I first moved part-time to Baja about six years ago, gas was more expensive here than in the U.S., as it is in most countries. However, with skyrocketing U.S. fuel prices, gas is slightly less in Baja than in California as of this writing. Fuel prices in Mexico are controlled by the government, so you don’t usually see the gouging we can in the U.S. Of course, in Mexico as in the U.S., the more remote the area, the higher the fuel prices tend to be.

Alcohol (in limited amounts)

Not all alcohol is a bargain in Mexico, but some is. Naturally, you will find deals on anything produced here. Shop for deals on tequila, mescal, Kahlua, etc. Tequila fans will also find an unparalleled variety of quality small producers you never see in the U.S. And the excellent Mexican beer is domestic and therefor low-cost in Mexico. Also, if you are a hobbyist who makes perfumes or works with essential oils or cannabis, know that botanica stores in Mexico sell high-proof food-grade alcohol for a fraction of the price of Everclear in the states.

Be sure to check for alcohol limits where you plan to cross the border, and be aware these rules can change depending on where you are from. For instance, California residents can bring less wine back than residents of other states. That’s a rule California’s wine industry lobbied for and won.


Beware stores touting heavy drugs like opioids. These are not real and a prescription is necessary for them in Mexico despite what hucksters in tourist areas claim. That said, you can often stock up on things like antibiotics, certain pain medicines, prescription skin creams, and the like. It always pays to ask at a reputable pharmacy if it is available over the counter.


hergas - things to buy when returning home from mexico
Cheri modeling her favorite jerga

Known as a jerga (pronounced herga), the iconic striped Baja surf hoodie that is sold at every tourist shop in the country is actually a good, practical item to bring back, for yourself and for gifts. They are inexpensive, they look good on everyone, they are warm and comfortable, and they have huge pockets! What’s not to like?


Real Mexican vanilla is considered some of the finest in the world. But a word of warning—do NOT buy the cheap vanilla you find in souvenir shops. Even in grocery stores, be sure you are buying PURE vanilla. The cheap, fake vanilla is made with synthetic ingredients, some of which are banned in the U.S. Pure vanilla extract is not cheap; but if you are a foodie, it is well worth it.


Mexico is one of the world’s largest coffee producers. Seek out small shops and roasters in your travels here and you’ll be well-rewarded with flavors you can enjoy long after you have returned home from Mexico.

Hot sauces

The array of hot sauces in Mexican supermarkets is simply staggering. And none of them are very expensive. Have fun exploring new ones and stocking up, for yourself and for gifts.

Dried herbs and botanicals

If you are into herbs and natural healing, you will have fun in the botanica stores where you can inexpensively source all kinds of herbs and botanicals you would have to special order at home.

Dried chiles and dried beans

You will find more varieties of both these foods in Mexico, especially if you shop at local farmers’ markets.

More things to stock up on at the Mexican grocery store:

Thing to bring when returning home from Mexico - Tajin and Chamoy
Frozen mango Margaritas with Chamoy and Tajin
  • Mexican Coca-Cola: The Coke in those little glass bottles is the “real thing,” meaning cane sugar and no high fructose corn syrup.
  • Mole sauce: Mole sauce is complicated and takes a lot of different ingredients to make, but there are lots of varieties of ready-made moles sold at well-stocked Mexican supermarkets.
  • Achiote: This red-tinged spice made from annatto seeds makes a terrific seasoning for pork or poultry (in fact, my friends are STILL raving about the Orange and Achiote Thanksgiving turkey I made about five years ago). It keeps more or less indefinitely, so I always bring some home.
  • Chamoy: I have become obsessed with this mild sour red hot sauce made from chiles and dried fruits. Use it on sweet and savory foods, as well as in drinks. For example, above is a picture of my Chamoy-enhanced frozen mango margaritas with a Tajin rim.
  • Tajin: Mentioned above, this is a chile, salt, and lime seasoning that Mexicans put on all kinds of foods, especially fruits!

What CAN’T you bring when returning home from Mexico?

Some things you will need to leave behind. These include:

  • Fresh produce
  • Meats
  • Alcohol, except in limited amounts
  • Cigarettes and cigars have limits
  • You cannot bring back anything that would be illegal in the U.S., for instance, Cuban cigars

Check out this link from the U.S. government for a full list of restricted items and more information.

Currently, the duty-free exemption for items brought back from Mexico is $800 per person as long as the items are in your possession. For any amount in excess of $800, you will be required to pay the appropriate duty.

For families, a joint declaration is possible. For example, two people may bring back a total of $1,600 worth of items. Big deal, you say. That is the same as two individuals. Right you are. However, this can be useful if the two people are bringing in goods of different amounts. For instance, one could have goods total $1,200 and the other $400.



Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicard is the author 8 published books on topics as diverse as US Citizenship to Cannabis Cooking. Cheri grew up in a circus family and has been RVing on and off her entire life.


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Neal Davis
23 days ago

Very interesting, Cheri. Thank you! Never been there, doubt that I ever will, but I’ll save your list against the small chance of being able to use it. Thanks again! 🙂 😎

Joseph Phebus
25 days ago

Appliances. Brought home a mini split purchased for half of what it would cost in the US.

Cheri Sicard
24 days ago
Reply to  Joseph Phebus

I am surprised. Appliances are usually more expensive in Mexico as they are imported for the most part.

Rolling Coal
25 days ago

We see many tourists buying honey to take home, be careful. The stuff sold by street side vendors and many small shops, usually without labels, is 50% corn syrup!

Cheri Sicard
25 days ago
Reply to  Rolling Coal

Honey you definitely have to be careful with. But if you get a good vendor it is amazing. We have one near where I live near Ensenada that has so many varieties and it is the real deal. But I have definitely bought corn syrup in the past! I think the trick with that one is not to shop where tourists go, check with a local who is in the know.

25 days ago
Reply to  Rolling Coal

My humble opinion is stay away from Mexico Americans aren’t very well loved there.

Cheri Sicard
24 days ago
Reply to  Terry

Your opinion is quite incorrect. I live in Mexico part time and I feel very loved and welcomed by the locals, and also by the Mexican government at large (obtaining legal permanent residency here is fairly easy). I know the 1000s of expats living here would agree with me. But we are all used to people who base their opinions on fear mongering press stories. Don’t believe everything you read or hear on the news.

Last edited 24 days ago by Cheri Sicard
25 days ago

I was quoted $4300.00 for a tooth implant in MN, had it done for $900.00 in Mexico. Very happy with it!

Cheri Sicard
25 days ago
Reply to  Greg

Dental work is a great deal. I just had 4 crowns done for less than half what it would cost in the states.

25 days ago
Reply to  Greg

And I still wouldn’t be able afford it.

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