Citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most EU countries do not need visas to enter Mexico as tourists for less than 180 days. Other Europeans can stay for ninety days. Non-US citizens travelling via the US, however, may need a US visa.
Visas, obtainable only through a consulate (in person or by mail), are required by nationals of South Africa and many developing countries, as well as by anyone entering Mexico to work, to study or for stays longer than six months. Business visitors usually need a Business Authorization Card available from consulates, but nationals of countries exempt from a tourist visa can enter on business for up to thirty days on a tourist card. For more detailed information on who needs a visa, visit the website of the Instituto Nacional de Migración.
All visitors, regardless of nationality, need a valid passport and a tourist card (or FMM – Forma Migratoria Múltiple). The only exception applies to visits of less than three days to the 20km, duty-free strip adjoining the US border, into which you can come and go more or less as you please (though you still need a passport or photo ID). Visitors entering by land and passing beyond this Zona Libre (you’ll be sent back at a checkpoint if you haven’t been through customs and immigration) are also required to pay a M$295 derecho de no inmigrante entry fee, payable at a bank. Some land crossings have a bank at the border post, otherwise you’ll need to go to a bank to pay it before you leave Mexico.
Tourist cards are otherwise free, and if you’re flying direct, you should get one on the plane, or from the airline before leaving. A good travel agent should be able to arrange one for you, too, and they’re also issued by Mexican consulates (every major US city and most border towns have one), in person or by post. Finally, failing all these options, you should be able to get tourist cards at airports or border crossings on arrival. However, if they’ve run out, you’ll have to twiddle your thumbs until the next batch comes in, and if your passport is not issued by a rich Western country, you may encounter difficulty in persuading border officials to give you a card at all; it’s therefore preferable to get one in advance. Entering from Belize or Guatemala, it’s not unknown for border posts to run out of tourist cards, or for officials to (illegally) demand a fee for issuing them. To find the address of an embassy or consulate not listed here, see under “Representaciones” at sre.gob.mx.
Most people officially need a passport to pick up their tourist card, but for US and Canadian citizens entering by land, all that’s required is proof of citizenship (an original birth certificate or notarized copy, for instance, or naturalization papers), along with some form of photo ID (such as a driver’s licence). Passports are still best, however.
A tourist card is valid for a single entry only, so if you intend to enter and leave Mexico more than once you should pick up two or three. On the card, you are asked how long you intend to stay. Always apply for longer than you need, since getting an extension is a frustrating and time-consuming business. You don’t always get the time you’ve asked for and at land borders with Belize and Guatemala, they sometimes only give fifteen or thirty days (though they may give you more if you specifically ask). Immigration officers sometimes ask to see bank statements or other proof of sufficient funds for your stay, especially if they judge that you do not look sufficiently wealthy (or are from a developing country).
Don’t lose the tourist card stub that is given back to you after immigration inspection. You are legally required to carry it at all times, and if you have to show your papers, it’s more important than your passport. It also has to be handed in on leaving the country – without it, you may encounter problems and delays. Note that contrary to what crooked border officials may tell you, there is no exit fee when leaving Mexico.
Should you lose your tourist card, or need to have it renewed, head for the nearest immigration department office (Departamento de Migración); there are branches in the biggest cities. In the case of renewal, it’s far simpler to cross any of Mexico’s borders (or even fly to Cuba or Jamaica) for a day and get a new card on re-entry than to apply for an extension; if you do apply to the immigration department, it’s wise to do so a couple of weeks in advance, though you may be told to come back nearer the actual expiration date. Whatever else you may be told, branches of SECTUR (the tourist office) cannot renew expired tourist cards or replace lost ones – they will only direct you to the nearest immigration office.
Australia 14 Perth Ave, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600 t02 6273 3963.
Belize Corner of Wilson St and Newtown Barracks, Belize City t223 0193.
Canada 45 O’Connor St, Suite 1000, Ottawa, ON K1P 1A4 t1 613 233 8988, embamex.sre.gob.mx/canada; 2055 Peel, Suite 1000, Montreal, PQ H3A 1V4 t1 514 288 2502, wconsulmex.sre.gob.mx/montreal; 11 King St W, Suite 350, Commerce Court W, Toronto, ON M5H 4C7 t1 416 368 2875, wconsulmex.com; 1177 W Hastings St, Suite 411, Vancouver, BC V6E 2K3 t1 604 684 3547,
Cuba 518 C 12 (at the corner of Ave 7ma), Reparto Miramar, Municipio Playa, Havana t204 7722, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/cuba.
Guatemala 7–57 2ª Av, Zona 10, Apartado Postal 01010, Guatemala City
t2420 3400, embamex.sre.gob.mx/guatemala; 5 C 17–24, Zona 3, Quetzaltenango t7767 5542 to 4, wconsulmex.sre.gob.mx/quetzaltenango; 3-A Av 4-74, Zona 1, Tecún Umán t7776 8114, wsre.gob.mx/index.php/consulados/tecun-uman.
Ireland 19 Raglan Rd, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 t01 667 3105, embamex.sre.gob.mx/irlanda.
New Zealand 185–187 Featherston St, Level 2 (AMP Chambers), Wellington
t04 472 0555, embamex.sre.gob.mx/nuevazelandia.
South Africa Parkdev Building, Brooklyn Bridge, 570 Fehrsen St, Brooklyn, Pretoria 0181 t012 460 1004, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/sudafrica.
UK 16 St George St, London W1S 1FD t020 7499 8586, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/reinounido.
USA 1911 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20006 t1 202 728 1600, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/eua; and in nearly fifty other US towns and cities, including these near the border:
Arizona 1201 F Ave, Douglas, AZ 85607 1 520 364 3107, consulmex.sre.gob.mx/douglas 135 W Cardwell St, Nogales, AZ 85621 t1 602 287 2521.
Texas 301 Mexico Bvd, Suite F-2, Brownsville, TX 78520 t1 956 542 4431, consulmex.sre.gob.mx/brownsville; 2398 Texas Spur 239, Del Rio, TX 78840–8980 t1 830 775 2352 ort1 866 701 7777, wconsulmex.sre.gob.mx/delrio; 2252 E Garrison St, Eagle Pass, TX 78852 t1 830 773 9255 or 6, consulmex.sre.gob.mx/eaglepass; 910 E San Antonio Ave, El Paso, TX 79901 t1 915 549 0003, consulmex.sre.gob.mx/elpaso; 1612 Farragut St, Laredo, TX 78040 t1 956 723 6369, consulmex.sre.gob.mx/laredo; 600 S Broadway St, McAllen, TX 78501t1 956 686 0243, consulmex.sre.gob.mx/mcallen; 127 Navarro St, San Antonio, TX 78205 t1210 227 9145 or 6, wconsulmex.sre.gob.mx/sanantonio.
Duty-free allowances into Mexico are three litres of liquor (or six of wine), plus four hundred cigarettes or 25 cigars or 200g of tobacco, plus twelve rolls of camera film or camcorder tape. The monetary limit for duty-free goods is US$300 ($75 if arriving by land). If you are carrying more than US$10,000 with you, you must declare it. For full details, see waduanas.gob.mx (click on “English” top right). Leaving Mexico, note that it is illegal to take antiquities out of the country, and penalties are serious.
Non-US citizens travelling through the US on the way to or from Mexico, or stopping over there, may need a US visa. If there’s even a possibility you might stop in the US, unless you are Canadian or from a country on the US visa waiver programme (this includes Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Germany, but not South Africa), obtaining a visa in advance is a sensible precaution. Application will normally involve making an appointment for an interview at a US embassy or consulate, which should be arranged as far in advance as possible; visit the website of the US embassy in your country of residence for further details.
Citizens of countries on the visa waiver programme will need to have a machine-readable passport and to apply online for authorization to travel via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization at w cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta (this does not apply to arriving in the US by land); also, if your passport was issued after October 26, 2006, it must have an integrated information chip. On entry you will be given an I-94 or I-94W form. Be sure to return it when you leave the US: if it isn’t returned within the visa expiry time, computer records automatically log you as an illegal alien. If for any reason you do not manage to hand in your form when you leave the US, you can mail it (with a letter of explanation and evidence of your departure from the US) to: DHS-CBP SBU, 1084 South Laurel Road, London, KY 40744, USA.
Many US airports do not have transit lounges, so even if you are on a through flight you may have to go through US immigration and customs. This can easily take two hours, so bear the delay in mind if you have an onward flight to catch.
There are some forty frontier posts along the US–Mexico border. Many of them are only open during the day, and are more or less inaccessible without your own transport. For a full list, see
wapps.cbp.gov/bwt. The main ones, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are, from west to east:
San Diego, California (San Ysidro)–Tijuana, Baja California.
Calexico, California–Mexicali, Baja California.
Nogales, Arizona–Nogales, Sonora.
Douglas, Arizona–Agua Prieta, Sonora.
El Paso, Texas–Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.
Laredo, Texas–Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.
Brownsville, Texas–Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
Crossing the border, especially on foot, it’s easy to go straight past the immigration and customs checks. There’s a free zone south of the frontier, and you can cross at will and stay for up to three days. If, as likely, you’re heading further south, however, be sure to stop at the Mexican immigration office, pay the M$294 entry fee (derecho de no inmigrante), pick up a tourist card (FMM), and get it stamped and your bags checked. Otherwise, you’ll be stopped after some 20km and sent back to complete the formalities. See “Entry requirements”, for more information.
The area bordering the US, particularly Ciudad Juárez, and also Tijuana, is the biggest hotspot in Mexico’s drugs war. Extra caution should be exercised when crossing this area, especially by car.