What You Need to Cross the Mexican Border
An up-to-date guide to all you need to cross the Mexico border.
This page will help you at the Mexico border crossing.
As you may suspect (or have even experienced), the reality is that it’s typically much easier to cross the border into Mexico than to cross the border into the U.S.—even if you are a U.S. citizen.
You most certainly know it’s crucial to have the right documents and avoid transporting illegal items into or out of Mexico. BUT you probably also know that a majority of the time the horror stories of traveling across the border into the U.S. even with its more stringent border security protocols are dramatized. The problems are often due to people being unprepared or uneducated. The truth is millions of people have traveled to and from Mexico safely and have crossed in and out of the U.S. legally without hassle. That’s why you’re here. You plan to be one of those millions without issue.
You want to be prepared with everything you need going in either direction for every extreme situation. That way, in the unlikely event you are questioned or searched, you have everything you need. Then, you and your traveling buddies can continue on seamlessly.
What You Need to Cross the Mexican Border Checklist
Southbound Border Crossing Requirements
Mexico’s Border Patrol requires the following items for all persons visiting Mexico:
- A passport. Visitors to Mexico need either an Extended Drivers License (EDL), a VALID passport card, or a passport book with a blank page for each crossing. More information on obtaining or renewing a passport can be found here.
- A Mexico Tourist Visa: FMM (Forma Migratoria Multiple). According to federal law, visitors (any person who is not a citizen of Mexico— children, military, disabled persons, bikers, surfers, expatriates) in Mexico must have a Mexico tourist permit or visa.
The National Institute of Immigration (INM) is the authority in charge of regulating the entry, stay, and exit of foreign and Mexican citizens in Mexico. The INM issues tourist visas.
An FMM is sometimes needed beyond the border at immigration checkpoints set up throughout Mexico. One should always have their passport and FMM accessible to show Mexican authorities. How to Obtain an FMM:
- Go to the INM office at your port of entry OR apply for it online here at least seven days before you plan to enter Mexico.
- You will need to show your proof of US citizenship, your passport, or a passport card.
- The cost of a Mexico tourist visa is about $30 USD. (Note: In many instances, the FMM visa fee is included in a travelers’ airfare or in cruise packages).
- Stop by the INM office (even if you come prepared by filing online) The FMM must be stamped by an immigration office when you enter the country. If you have applied online, your wait will typically be shorter.
- Proof of Mexican Car Insurance. You can find more details here.
- Valid registration for all vehicles entering Mexico
- A vehicle permit from Banjerito. Banjerito is Mexico’s Banco Nacional del Ejército Fuerza Aérea y Armada, the government authority who issues vehicle permits. If you plan to drive beyond 16 miles, or beyond the permit-free zone, you will need to apply for a Mexican temporary vehicle import permit (TIP).
This permit is not required for driving anywhere in the Baja Peninsula (although, Mexican insurance is required). You will need the following to obtain a permit:
- Permit fee. permit costs vary so drivers will need to check with the Banjercito website to obtain specific information applicable to them. Cars will typically incur a fee of $44 while boats and RVs will cost about $50.
- A Refundable deposit. When paying for the permit, drivers must also expect to pay their deposit, a requirement for obtaining a Mexican driving permit. Deposit fees are applied in accordance with the year of the vehicle. Many drivers are often surprised to discover that deposits are much more substantial than the actual cost of the permit. Banjercito requires drivers to return their permits in person or lose their deposit.
- Auto registration or pink slip.
- Applicants must present their passports, resident alien cards, or records of naturalization.
- Vehicle’s VIN number.
- Home address.
- Dates of your proposed journey.
- Additional paperwork will be needed if a rental car or leased vehicle is to be used on your trip:
You can find a Banjercito office at border crossings; for more specific location information, check online with the Banjercito website
Luckily, much of the permit process can be handled from home online
However, drivers must pick up their permits in person and sign the final paperwork to obtain their Temporary Import Permit.
- Documents for Minor Children. Persons traveling with minor children should carry notarized consent from any parent not traveling with the child.
Travelers should consult their embassy’s website for more detailed requirements. If you are travel with minors that are U.S. citizens can consult the U.S. embassy page here.
- Documents for Pets. Current law states that pet owners may drive into Mexico with pets that are older than 3 months. The Certificate of Good health (77-043) is no longer required as of 2020.
Tips for Traveling with pets:
- Stock Up on Supplies—Many people have brought their pets to Mexico only to find that pet supplies such as food are much more expensive than in the states. Worse yet, some pets don’t cope well with pet food commonly found in Mexico. Just like people grow used to certain foods, so do pets. Do yourself and your pets a favor and make sure that you have plenty of supplies before starting your vacation.
- Be Aware of Limits—You can’t travel to Mexico with as many animals as you’d like. The current limit is two dogs or two cats. If you need to travel with more animals, then you will need to contact your Mexican consulate or embassy for more information.
- Vaccination records. Just in case your furry friend needs medical attention, it’s a good idea to have their health records on hand.
- Documents for Business Travel. Upon arrival in Mexico, business travelers must complete and submit a form (Form FM-N) authorizing the conduct of business. This does not include employment. The term is 30-days.
- Currency. If you’re planning a road trip to Mexico, you’ll want to have cash. Here are a few useful tips:
- You’ll need it to pay for tolls and gas. Many gas stations in Mexico only accept cash payments. While many of Mexico’s larger cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara do accept credit card payments, many do not. Street food vendors are also unlikely to accept credit card payments. Many upscale eateries will often accept credit cards, but cash is always acceptable.
- Many vendors throughout Mexico will happily accept your American dollars; however, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll pay more for items than if you stick to pesos. When you drive to Mexico, you might want to convert your cash to pesos before entering the country. You’ll be able to convert your dollars into pesos at banks or at money exchanges.
- Keep in mind that these places will charge you a fee to convert your dollars to pesos. It may be less expensive to make the conversion while you’re still in the U.S. o Exchange centers are available before crossing the border.
- It should be noted that travelers are limited to $10,000 maximum for entry and exit of the U.S. If you are traveling with cash or traveler’s checks in excess of $10,000 U.S. dollars, you must declare this on your form. It is perfectly acceptable to travel with these funds, but it is a serious crime not to report this on your customs form.
- Customs Information. When entering Mexico, travelers can expect to fill out a Customs Declaration Form. It is essential to fill this form out honestly as travelers are subject to random inspections. If you are chosen for inspection, they will check your luggage to make sure your forms are accurate.
Essentially, they will make sure you are following the Mexican customs rules. If you are traveling with cash or traveler’s checks in excess of $10,000 U.S. dollars, you must declare this on your form. It is perfectly acceptable to travel with these funds, but it is a serious crime not to report this on your customs form.
Aside from luggage and trunks of clothes, travelers can bring items for personal use:
- Two cameras.
- Two items of sporting equipment (i.e. bicycle, speedboat, surfboard, etc….).
- Tent and camping gear.
- Books and magazines.
- Five toys.
- Gear for handicapped individuals.
- Personal medications and medical devices (controlled narcotics and psychotropic drugs must be accompanied by prescription).
- Baby accessories.
You can also contact the Mexican consulate if you have any further questions.
- Pharmaceuticals and “over the counter” Medication. Always check to see the category that medication falls into in the country you will be traveling to. Oftentimes, different countries and states consider the same substances “over the counter” in one place controlled or even illegal in the other country.
The US Customs and Border Patrol recommends the following for persons traveling with medication:
- “Take what you need. No more. No less.”
- Declare your medication with customs.
- Bring medication in its original packaging.
- Bring your doctor’s prescription order.
- Firearms. The US Department of State warns US citizens against taking any firearm or ammunition into Mexico without prior written authorization from the Mexican authorities. Entering Mexico with a firearm, or even a single round of ammunition carries a penalty. The penalty may be up to five years in prison, even if brought by accident.
If you are a hunter taking a gun into Mexico follow these guidelines. Shotguns are allowed when you prove to Mexican Authorities upon entrance to Mexico that you will be hunting.
- Vaccines are required and recommended for travel by the CDC.
Northbound Border Crossing Requirements (United States Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
If you are traveling from the U.S. to Mexico and then back to the U.S., it is assumed you have all of the above-recommended items for border crossing. In addition to the above items, you should note the tips below for a seamless return to the United States.
If you are traveling from Mexico to the U.S. and then back to Mexico, you will want to note the tips listed below for a smooth border crossing, but you will also want to gather the applicable items listed above for your return to Mexico.
- Remember to return Vehicle Permits and Stickers. Get your deposit back!
If your trip to Mexico warranted a vehicle permit be sure to return the permit and stickers in person before leaving the country.
If you do not return your permit in person, you risk losing your entire deposit (typically around $400) or having to make the trek back to Mexico simply to return this paperwork.
- Be prepared to be patient. Travel across the border into the U.S. often takes 1-3 hours. The U.S. border often has long car lines for entry.
ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and CBP, Customs and Border Protection, are the two entities that monitor border crossing into the U.S. They are diligent in their enforcement of border protection. ICE and CBP are mostly concerned with border crossing requirements related to:
- A Valid ID or Permit – everyone entering must be documented and identifiable.
- Firearms, fireworks, contraband, fruits, and unprepared food.
- Importation of business goods that are tariff eligible.
- Plan ahead for the wait!!
- Check the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, border crossing website for estimated wait time.
- Bring snacks.
- Bring entertainment for small children.
- When it’s your turn, be ready: Have your documents out, remove hats and glasses, be mindful that cameras should not be used, and remind passengers that they should act respectfully and refrain from joking about serious border crossing concerns.
- Be sure to have a valid passport.
- It used to be that travelers to Mexico could cross and recross the border with little more than a driver’s license. Today, of course, passports are a must for getting back into the U.S. When crossing the border, customs officials must be presented with a passport or passport card or the traveler will not be permitted to enter the U.S.
- To apply for a passport or renew yours, click here.
- Passports should be valid for six months following your date of entry.
- Have documentation ready to present for your pets.
- As general rule cats and dogs must be free of disease, have a rabies certificate and a distemper vaccine (The vaccine must have been given at least 30 days before your travel)
- More details on requirements for pets entering the U.S. can be found here.
- Check the state and local laws of your final destination in the U.S. regarding pets. In the U.S., each municipality has its own laws regarding allowable pets. For example, some states require, a general certificate of health issued by a veterinarian for dogs entering their state.
- Complete a CBP Declaration Form. Many travelers crossing back to the United States from Mexico return with a wide variety of goods and souvenirs. Be prepared to declare any items you purchased in Mexico to Customs officials.
- Declaration forms can be found at the border or online.
- In most cases, travelers will not have to pay a duty to bring them into the U.S. if they collectively fall under the $800 personal limit. However, some items like wine, cigarettes, cigars, and perfume may have imposed duties, nonetheless. (Expert Tip: Keep your receipts during your trip to easily document your purchases when you get to the border).
- Declare alcohol.
- Federal and state regulations allow you to bring back one liter of an alcoholic beverage for personal use duty-free.
- Some states may allow you to bring back more than one liter, but you will have to pay any applicable Customs duty and IRT.
- Declare pharmaceuticals and “over the counter” Medication.
- Always check to see the category that medication falls into in the country you will be traveling to. Oftentimes, different countries and states consider the same substances “over the counter” in one place controlled or even illegal in the other country.
- As a general rule drugs purchased outside the US if not FDA approved will not be allowed.
- The US Customs and Border Patrol recommends the following for persons traveling with medication:
“Take what you need. No more. No less.”
- Declare your medication with customs.
- Bring medication in its original packaging.
- Bring your doctor’s prescription order.
- Guns and Ammo must be imported through a LICENSED importer, dealer, or manufacturer.
- Fruits and Vegetables are not recommended. Most fruits are prohibited.
- Cuban cigars are prohibited.
- illegal drugs. ICE has zero tolerance. Any type of illegal drugs, in any amount, may result in serious fines, seizure of the vehicle, federal record, and/or imprisonment.
- Switchblade knives are prohibited.
- Sea turtle boots or any other articles of endangered species (i.e. spotted cats, coral, crocodile, elephant, etc.) are prohibited.
- Be ready for a brief interview with a border official. CBP officers will typically ask about the following:
- Nature of your trip.
- Items that you are bringing back to the US.
- SENTRI/READY LANES/FAST PASS “MEDICAL PASS” LANES. SENTRI stands for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection.
These passes are useful for travelers who cross the border often because they transform a frustrating three-hour wait in congested traffic into a ten-minute turnaround.
If you have a SENTRI card or another acceptable travel card, you may enter the U.S. via the Ready Lanes.
Remember that everyone in the vehicle will need to present a SENTRI card to use this lane the SENTRI cards expedite the customs process since cardholders are prescreened and determined to be low-risk travelers.
Not every border crossing, however, is equipped with Ready Lanes at this point; however, many border crossings are planning to install them.
A Fast Pass “Medical Pass” is available for persons who are traveling across the border for the purpose of medical treatment. Some hotels and pharmacies offer access to Fast Passes. Fast Pass Lanes were created to allow the ill and the elderly a less tenuous border crossing and are available for those in need. If you believe you may qualify, you should check with your physician, pharmacy, or hotel in Mexico regarding requirements for obtaining a pass.