Traveling to and from Mexico is not complicated. It all depends on where you are going, how long you are staying, and how you choose to get there. What you want to take with you on your trip and what you want to bring home after your visit also will determine the amount of preparations you need to make.
U.S. citizens seeking entry into Mexico must have a valid U.S. passport. In an effort to halt the flow of runaways and exploited children in and out of Mexico, children under 16 must be accompanied by both parents, or a legal guardian, throughout their stay in Mexico. If only one parent (or grandparent, or other guardian) is accompanying a minor under 18 into Mexico, they must bear a notarized letter from the child’s other parent (or guardian) granting permission to enter Mexico with the child, including the dates of travel, the accompanying adult’s name, contact information, and a notarized signature. U.S. citizens do not require a visa or a tourist card for tourist stays of 72 hours or less, providing they remain within the “Border Zone.” The border zone is considered 20 miles (32.18 km) from the travelers original point of entry. U.S. citizens traveling as tourists beyond the “border zone,” staying longer than 72 hours, or entering Mexico by air, must pay a fee to obtain a “Tourist Card,” also known as an FMM (formerly known as an FM-T tourist card). The FMM costs 190 pesos (roughly $20 dollars) and is valid for six months (180 days), allowing multiple entries into Mexico. The FMM can be obtained from Mexican consulates, Mexican border crossing points, Mexican tourism offices, airports within the border zone, and most airlines serving Mexico. The fee for the tourist card is generally included in the price of a plane ticket for travelers arriving by air. Now you have arrived in Mexico with nothing but your required documents in your hand and the clothes on your back. You will proceed through customs by entering the “Nothing to declare” line which consists of a “red light – green light” system for customs. When it is your turn in line, you will push a button that will illuminate a red or green light. If the light is green, you may now freely enter Mexico. If the light is red, you must report to customs for further inspection.
We can’t all be John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway, boldly venturing through Mexico with just our clothing filled with holes and hearts filled with adventure. Nowadays, we need our car, our computer, some spending money, or maybe even the family dog. This can all be accomplished with a little more paperwork and a lot more patience. You may visit Mexico in your vehicle without any permit as long as you remain within the border zone previously described (20 miles). Be sure you have the original and copies of:
• Mexican immigration permit: such as a tourist, business or immigrant permit and passport or birth certificate.
• Title or registration verifying ownership of the vehicle: A bill of sale is not valid proof of ownership.
• Certificate of canceled import permit for any prior temporary import permits.
• For leased, rental or company owned vehicles, you must obtain a letter from the actual owner authorizing you to take the vehicle into Mexico.
• If you plan to travel further into Mexico with your vehicle, you must obtain a Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. The temporary vehicle import permit will be valid for 6 months. You may obtain a temporary vehicle permit from the Banjercito (the official Mexican issuing agency) at the point of entry. The cost is approximately $34.00 U.S.
• Mexican auto insurance is mandatory for anyone driving a vehicle to Mexico. Liability insurance is required, and full coverage is highly recommended. Mexican auto insurance can be obtained online, prior to traveling to Mexico.
If you have nothing to declare at customs, you will drive through the traffic lanes at the border. The traffic lanes utilize the same “red light – green light” system as described before. If the light is green when you approach the inspection point, then drive through. If the light is red, it will be accompanied by a bell or buzzer sounding, you will be pointed in the direction of the customs inspection area by an officer, where you will need to pull over.
All tourists traveling to Mexico have the right to take with them their personal luggage duty free. If you are bringing items in to Mexico other than those needed for clothing and hygiene, they must be declared at customs. The customs declaration forms are obtained and completed at the same time as the FMM described earlier. All items must be declared at customs when entering Mexico, regardless of the length of stay or the distance being traveled from the border. The list of prohibited items is quite extensive, but the items that should absolutely be left at home include:
• Guns. They are illegal in Mexico. Do not attempt to cross the border with a gun and/or ammunition. You will be put in jail. (Permits to enter Mexico with a firearm for the purpose of hunting must be obtained separately, prior to travel).
• More than $10,000 in US currency or equivalent, or other monetary instruments. You must declare this, otherwise you are violating Mexican law.
• Illegal drugs and / or any controlled substances. This includes “Medical Marijuana.” While possession of the above items will likely land you in a Mexican jail, other items you bring may add up to hefty importation duties depending on the quantity you bring with you.
The most common items that are declared in excess of Mexican customs are (but not limited to):
• Some food items – especially plants and seeds.
• Cigars and cigarettes: Up to 20 packs per person is the maximum allowed.
• Liquor and wine (3 liters per person is permitted)
• Film or videocassettes (12 rolls/cassettes maximum)
• Medicine for personal use: In order to bring prescription medication into Mexico, you must have a valid prescription from your doctor.
Pets can be brought into Mexico from the U.S. You can bring 2 cats or 2 dogs or any combination thereof (lets not get complicated). Pets must be declared at customs accompanied with the following documentation:
• The name, age, and breed of the animal along with your name and home address.
• A statement that the vet has examined the pet and found it to be clinically healthy.
• A statement that the pet has been immunized against rabies within 12 months prior to entry; the type of vaccine used should be indicated. Alternatively, a copy of the vaccination certificate is acceptable. Pets less than three months old are exempt from this requirement.
• A statement that the pet has undergone a parasitic prevention treatment (which should be described). Alternatively, the certification may contain a statement that an examination of the animal showed it to be free from internal and external parasites. This information can be provided on an accompanying vaccination certificate.
• The vet’s signature along with the date signed, which can be no more than five days prior to your entry into Mexico.
While this guide covers the situations most commonly encountered when traveling to Mexico, it in no way implies that it is the complete list of prohibited items or every situation. For the most complete and up to date requirements for travel to Mexico, visit the Mexican Consulate or contact the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.