About 18 million U.S. citizens visit Mexico each year, while nearly half million Americans reside there year round. Although the majority of visitors enjoy their stay, a small number may experience difficulties and serious inconveniences. Travel conditions in Mexico can contrast with those in the United States. Before you go, learn as much as you can about your destination.
Know Before You Go
As you travel, keep abreast of local news coverage. If you plan a stay in one place for longer than a few weeks, or, if you are in an area where communications are poor, experiencing civil unrest or some natural disaster, you are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration takes only a few moments, and it may be invaluable in case of an emergency. Consider the following precautions:
Leave a detailed itinerary and the numbers of your passport or other citizenship documents with a friend or relative in the United States. Bring your U.S. passport. It is required by law. Carry at least one form of photo identification (other than your passport) and the name a contact with you at all times.
Keep photocopies of your airline or other tickets, credit card informaation and a list of travelers checks with you in a separate location from the originals and leave copies with someone at home.
Leave things like unnecessary credit cards and expensive jewelry at home.
Use a money belt or concealed pouch for passport, cash and other valuables.
Do not bring firearms or ammunition into Mexico. It is against the law and you will be imprisioned if you do so.
Passports are required for entry into Mexico and return to the U.S. Tourist cards or FMT (for up to 180 days) available at border crossings, cruises and airlines serving Mexico, are required. Minors require notarized consent from parents if traveling alone, with one parent, or in someone else’s custody. Business travelers must complete form FM-N (30 days) authorizing the conduct of business, but not employment, for a 30-day period. If the business traveler departs and re-enters, the 30-day period begins again. For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers may contact the Mexican Embassy (202) 736-1000, or any of the Mexican consulates in major U.S. cities. In response to the increased interest in immigration matters in the U.S., Mexican authorities may scrutinize more closely the visa situation of U.S. citizens residing or working in Mexico. U.S. citizens planning on working or living in Mexico require an appropriate visa (FM-2 or 3).
Visitors intending to participate in humanitarian aid missions, human rights advocacy groups or international observer delegations should contact the nearest Mexican Consulate or Embassy for guidance on how to obtain the appropriate visa before traveling to Mexico. This is particularly relevant in light of the tension and polarization in Chiapas and the international interest in the situation there has attracted.
Health problems sometimes affect visitors to Mexico. It is wise to confirm or obtain international health insurance coverage and or obtain a short term or trip travel assistance coverage before you travel. In some places, particularly at resorts, medical costs can be as high or higher than in the United States. Medicare/Medicaid does not cover you when you are outside the United States. If your health insurance policy does not cover you internationally, it is strongly recommended that you purchase a policy that does. Quote and purchase Travel Medical Insurance for Mexico here.
Beware of purchasing souvenirs made from endangered wildlife. Mexican markets and stores abound with wildlife, most of it prohibited from international traffic. You risk confiscation and a possible fine by U.S. Customs if you attempt to import virtually any wildlife from Mexico. In particular, watch out for and avoid all products made from sea turtles, including such items as turtle leather boots, tortoise-shell jewelry, and sea turtle oil cosmetics; fur from spotted cats; Mexican birds, stuffed or alive, such as parrots, parakeets, or birds of prey; crocodile and caiman leather; black coral jewelry; wildlife curios, such as stuffed iguanas.
U.S. visitors to Mexico may bring a dog, cat or up to four canaries by presenting the following certificates at the border:
(1) Pet health certificate signed by a registered veterinarian in the U.S. issued no more than 72 hours before the animal enters Mexico
(2) Pet vaccination certificate showing that the animal has been treated for rabies, hepatitis and other. Certification by Mexican consular authorities is not required for the health or vaccination certificate. A permit fee is charged at the time of entry into Mexico.
Mexico Auto Insurance
U.S. (or Canadian) auto insurance is not valid in Mexico. You need to purchase Mexico auto insurance. A good rule of thumb is to buy coverage equivalent to what you carry at home. Quote and purchase Mexican auto insurance from authorized insurers (Mexican carriers) here.
Motor vehicle insurance is invalid in Mexico if the driver is found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Regardless of whether you have insurance, if you are involved in an accident, you will be taken into police custody until it can be determined who is liable and whether you have the ability to pay any judgment. If you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you are almost certain to spend some time in jail until all parties are satisfied that responsibility has been assigned and all physical damages and bodily injuries (medical bills and judgements included) paid. Quote and purchase Mexican auto insurance from various authorized insurers online here.
Bringing Your Own Airplane or Boat to Mexico
Private aircraft and boats are subject to the same Mexican customs regulations as are motor vehicles. When you arrive at a Mexican port in your private boat, you can obtain a temporary import permit. You can quote and purchase Mexico Boat Insurance here.
Flying your own plane to Mexico, however, is more complicated. Well before your trip, inquire about private aircraft regulations and procedures from a Mexican consulate or Mexican Government Tourist Office.
Avoid public intoxication. It is against the law to be drunk in public in Mexico. Certain border towns have become impatient with teenage (and older) Americans who cross the border to drink and carouse. This behavior can lead to fights, arrests, traffic accidents and even fatalities. If narcotics are found in your vehicle, you will be arrested and your vehicle confiscated.
While traveling in Mexico, you are subject to Mexican laws and not U.S. or any other country’s laws. Tourists who commit illegal acts have no special privileges and are subject to full prosecution under the Mexican judicial system. Never drink and drive in Mexico.
The Mexican government permits tourists to exchange dollars for pesos at the fluctuating free market rate. Check the current exchange rate here. Personal U.S. checks are rarely accepted by Mexican hotels or banks. Major credit cards are accepted in many hotels, shops and restaurants. An exchange office (casa de cambios) usually gives a better rate of exchange than do stores, hotels or restaurants.
Tourists should enter Mexico with only the items needed for their trip. Entering with large quantities of an item a tourist might not normally be expected to have, particularly expensive appliances, such as televisions, stereos or other items, may lead to suspicion of smuggling and possible confiscation of the items and arrest of the individual.
Mexican regulations limit the value of goods brought into Mexico by U.S. citizens arriving by air or sea. You can check current Customs and immigration reculations here.
Driving to Mexico
People are often surprised when inconveniences occur because they were unaware of the laws regarding crossing the border. The government of Mexico strictly regulates the entry of vehicles into Mexico.
If you are traveling within the Border Zone or Free Trade Zone (including the Baja California Peninsula and the Sonora Free Trade Zone) there are no procedures to comply with. If you wish to travel beyond the Free Trade Zones you will need to purchase a Mexico Vehicle Import Permit. You can do so online clicking here.
Do not, under any circumstances, allow someone else to drive the vehicle if the owner is not in it. The vehicle could be confiscated. Upon your departure from Mexico, the permit must be canceled (returned) at Mexican Customs.
And for goodness sake, don’t forget to purchase your mexinsurance! It can be purchased online at one of the top-rated US brokerages that specialize in tourist auto insurance here: www.mexinsurance.com.
Military and law enforcement checkpoints aimed at detecting narcotics, alien smuggling, and firearms traffic are located at various places throughout Mexico. Areas known to possess these checkpoints include the Yucatan peninsula, Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero. Many checkpoints will have a red flag marker and are operated by uniformed officials; however, others will not be marked and are manned by police/military officers, not in uniform. These checkpoints may have “spiked devices” and are sometimes used to deflate tires of vehicles attempting to evade these checkpoints.
Additional Safety Tips
In large cities, take the same precautions against assault, robbery, or pickpockets that you would take in any large U.S. city. Be aware that women and small children, as well as men, can be pickpockets or purse snatchers. Keep your billfold in an inner front pocket; carry your purse tucked securely under your arm; and wear the shoulder strap of your camera or bag across your chest. To guard against thieves on motorcycles, walk away from the curb and carry your purse away from the street. Do not leave your belongings unattended. Keep your passport and other valuables in a safe place.
Be wary of persons representing themselves as Mexican police or other local officials. It is not uncommon for Americans to become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by Mexican law enforcement and other officials. Mexican authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. You must, however, have the officer s name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint. Make a note of this information if you are ever involved with police or other officials.
Be alert to your surroundings. Problem situations in Mexico may be different from those you are used to, and safety regulations and their enforcement are generally not equivalent to U.S. standards. It is recommended that you purchase travel assistance that will provide you with a hotline for immediate assistance as well as non-emergency guidance. Quote and purchase Travel Medical Insurance for Mexico here.