Entering Mexico: What to Expect at Mexican Immigration and Customs

The Entry Process for Tourists to Mexico

Will they let you in? Do you have all your paperwork? Where did you stash your passport? Are you "allowed" to bring {fill in the blank} into the country? Do they speak English?

Entering any foreign country can be nerve-racking, but knowing what to expect when you pass through customs in Mexico will help ease your worries. Travelers to Mexico can expect to go through two distinct processes/areas: Immigration and Customs.

PREPARATIONS

Travelers to Mexico need to start planning for their entry six to twelve weeks beforehand by obtaining a passport at the nearest postal office or passport agency (find yours by clicking here). As of January 23, 2007, passports are required for air travel to and from Mexico and Canada for US citizens.

Once your passport document arrives by mail, keep it in a safe place. Once in travel mode, keep it on your person until your arrival. A passport showing your US citizenship is one of the most important (and useful) documents you will ever own.

PRE-ARRIVAL

The entry process for Mexico often starts on the airplane for those traveling by air. Flight attendants will often distribute tourist card paperwork and customs declaration forms ahead of time...it may be useful to bring a pen on your flight. This "tourist card" takes the place of an actual visa, as a visa is not required for short tourist stays in Mexico (see the U.S. Department of State's site).

Don't panic if this paperwork is not provided on your flight, though, as this just means you will fill out the paperwork at the airport. (Actually, you may want to panic once you see the long lines that this will generate!)

All forms are bilingual and provide clear instructions/questions: Why are you in Mexico? (tourist), How long will you be here? (enter dates).

Customs forms are similar, but instead ask about the types of things you are bringing into the country. Personal items are duty-free; that is you will not have to pay a tax to bring them into Mexico. You may also bring up to $300 (three hundred dollars) worth of gifts for friends and relatives, but you MUST be prepared to show the true worth of these gifts to officials if requested. You will want to be particularly careful with electronics and other higher cost items, as these most commonly cause problems. Checking the U.S. Department of State's website for specific directions and limitations shortly before your trip will serve you well.

Once you deplane and make your way to the airport (many flights deplane outside and a bus is used to transport passengers to the building), you will likely find yourself standing in a long, hot line with your flight mates. If you are lucky, you are indoors...if not..... then I hope you wore shorts!

IMMIGRATION

Passengers are queued first at immigration, with instructions and signage displayed bilingually. You will approach an immigration official generally stationed in some kind of booth who will need to view your passport and tourist card. At times, you may be asked questions such as who you are visiting and why, what city are you traveling to, or what do you plan to do in Mexico? You may also be asked about your citizenry and other related questions.

CUSTOMS

Upon passing through immigration, you are then queued to baggage, and finally to customs. Plan on handling your bags and luggage while waiting for customs officials to process other passengers. So, if you have small children to attend to you will want to pack light or be sure to use wheeled luggage and bring a stroller.

An interesting and somewhat fun aspect of Mexican customs is the red light/green light signal within the customs area. I have seen many children amused by this process! Each passenger must press a large button that will light up either a red light or green light. A red light means you will need top place your luggage on a table to be unzipped and searched. The screener is looking for contraband, but also for items that you failed to declare on your customs paper or items that you are planning to sell.

Therefore, if you are visiting Mexico with a partner or other family members, divide your baggage up evenly at the baggage center! That way, the ONE person who happens to get the RED signal won't hold everyone in your party up while all 40 of your bags are searched!

Meanwhile, those lucky enough to get a green light are free and clear and can proceed through the lines as directed.

Once you are clear of the customs area, you are free to move about the country!

Enjoy!

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Comments 21 comments

Laura 9 years ago

Wow! This is an informative article. Whether someone is a vacationer, or going to Mexico on a business trip -- they should find this piece helpful.

By the way, I found your article from a comment you left on my blog!


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cgull8m 9 years ago from North Carolina

I agree with Laura is very informative, I have bookmarked it for future use. Thanks a lot. Cheers.


ally 9 years ago

well thanks guys! as far as "bookmarked it for future use" I hope that means you are thinking of visiting! Although I have traveled to a decent amount of places, nowhere else pulls me back like Mexico! To that end, watch this space for more MX articles!

PS I am sure the process is similar for other desinations as well!


Jim Dawson 8 years ago

Can you still cross the border and get back to the U S using a pictured I.D. and Birth cirtificate or are you now required to have a passpot?


Allena 8 years ago

Nope, time has run out, you are now required to have a passport for Mexican travel (June, 2008).


luis 7 years ago

i was told today (August 4th, 09) that they are checking to see if you are sick and if you are then they will make you go back home. does anyone know if this is true? please give details if you have any information on this matter. thank you very much.


Allena 7 years ago

As of July 10-20, last time I was in MX, this is untrue. WHen you say "checking"-- do you mean proactively screening people? No. MAYBE passively-- like if someone is hacking up a lung in line... And on which side do you mean? Coming into US or going into MX? Either way I saw nothing at all, except signs talking about HOW to know if you are sick. The Flu is already on both sides of the border, so the border isn't anymore closed than usual for tourists.


Allena 7 years ago

Some new updates since I was in Mx 7/20/09. They've remodeled the customs area, it is very nice and new. The process is still pretty much the same.... and we always seem to get the red light for some reason! lol!


Pat 7 years ago

My husband and I are on special food due to allergies. If we carry a letter from the doctor are we allowed to bring in food. All of it is cooked and frozen and includes turkey meat, chicken, frozen fruit, rice, etc. We would not be bringing milk, yogurt or eggs.


Allena 7 years ago

Pat- that makes sense. But since you have special provisions, I would always make sure you are traveling during "office" hours or regular hours-- never early AM or night when everything shuts down! So much easier to see the right officer, etc.


adam 7 years ago

is it true that i should be careful on what i wear. not to look flashy cuz it draws attention


alex 7 years ago

do you think it is wise to bring my laptop with me on the plane entering mexico or keep it in my luggage?


Allena 7 years ago

Adam, depends on WHERE you go. In a high-tourist area you prob won't get much attention. In areas that don't have many tourists, well, let's just be honest, if you look like a gringo, they'll kinda notice you. I am a very blonde/white girl & somewhat youngish & travel to areas that are NOT touristy AT ALL. I have NEVER had a problem, after multiple trips. Nothing.


Allena 7 years ago

I've never put my laptop in my checked luggage! I always carry it, no matter where I'm going. :) I would suggest that.


Maxine 7 years ago

I also thought that this article was very informative. I am an Irish citizen and I would like to know if I need any special visa or anything if I plan on staying in Mexico for a long time?

Thanks.


Allena 7 years ago

Maxine,

If you're staying for much longer than a tourist visit, yes, you will need a different kind of VISA- a longer VISA- like a student visa. Why are you going? And for how long? THat will determin the type of visa you need. Generally stays of more than 30 days won't qualify for the easy tourist visa.


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Fresh_Flower 6 years ago from London

I'm going to Puerto Escondido for a few months (surfing). This hub was definitely helpful, thanks


DenverLasikEyeSurgery 6 years ago

WOW! So much great info. Thank you for taking the time to write this hub. I also Love your writing style too. Thanks, Kim


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toneyahuja 6 years ago from India

it is good on mexico customs visa related Customs. I am seeking some details about moving to New Zealand and the visa processing for New Zealand How cost and processing is essential for it. http://www.mynzimmigration.co.uk


shaqat beraverda 5 years ago

You know, if you really don't fly very much, you shouldn't complain because you don't have to deal much with this so-called invasion of privacy. But if you are someone that flies a lot, you should be thankful to know that your flight is a lot more likely to get you to your destination. So, instead of crying like a baby now, be thankful that you have a better chance of not having to have your family cry for you after your plane is blown out of the sky. Greg


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razztazz 5 years ago

Thanks for the advice. Will come in handy for my next travel.

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