Crossing the Border – Mexico & the United States
As published in the 2008 Travel Life Directory
U.S. and Canadian citizens must show proof of citizenship (a passport or certified birth certificate with a photo ID). After this has been verified, you’ll receive a Mexican Tourist Card, approximately $20, available through Mexican consulates or at the border immigration office. The card is good for one entry of a maximum of 180 days, and you must keep it with you at all times when in Mexico. This permit must be given to officials upon departure. If you lose your Mexican Tourist Card you can obtain a copy or permission to leave the country from the local Immigration Office.
U.S. citizens do not require a visa or a tourist card for stays of 72 hours or less within the "border zone," defined as an area between 20 to 30 kilometers of the border with the U.S., depending on the Mexican state.
Children traveling without both parents or guardians will need a notarized letter from the absent parent or guardian authorizing the trip.
Returning to the United States
U.S. law requires that you document both your U.S. citizenship and identity when you reenter the United States. The best document to prove your U.S. citizenship is a valid U.S. passport. Other documents that establish U.S. citizenship include an expired U.S. passport, a certified copy of your birth certificate, a US Military ID if on active duty, a Certificate of Naturalization, a Certificate of Citizenship, or a Report of Birth Abroad of a U.S. citizen. To prove your identity, either a valid driver's license or a government identification card with a photo is acceptable.
The following frequently-cited documents are NOT sufficient proof to enter the United States: U.S. driver's license alone, Social Security Card, a non-certified photocopy of a U.S. birth certificate, a notarized Affidavit of Citizenship signed at the airport in the U.S., or a voter's registration card.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative(WHTI) will soon require all travelers to and from the Americas, the Caribbean and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted form of documentation to enter or reenter the United States. The program will be rolled out in phases, according to this proposed schedule:
June 1, 2008 - Passports are required for anyone crossing at a land border, as well as by sea. (Note: As of January 23, 2007, passports are required for all air travel from within the Western Hemisphere for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda, so if you plan to fly or cruise, you will need to have a passport sooner than if you plan to travel outside the United States only by RV or car.) For details call the National Passport Information Center at (877)487-2778 or visit www.travel.state.gov
U.S. citizens returning from international travel may bring back $800 worth of merchandise, including 1 liter of alcohol, duty free. The next $1,000 worth of items brought back is subject to a duty of 3%.
In addition, be aware that some U.S. border states (most notably, Arizona) have imposed restrictions on liquor, wine and beer imports from Mexico. If you are planning to bring back alcoholic beverages, inquire about these restrictions from the liquor control office of the state through which you plan to return. For questions on returning to the U.S., please contact U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at 877-227-5511 or www.cbp.gov.
What You May Bring
Mexican regulations limit the value of goods brought into Mexico by U.S. citizens arriving by land to $50 U.S. per person. Other travel-related items may also be brought in duty-free. Amounts exceeding the duty-free limit are subject to a 32.8 percent tax. Unless you prepare ahead, you may have difficulty bringing computers or other expensive electronic equipment into Mexico for your personal use. To prevent being charged an import tax, write a statement about your intention to use the equipment for personal use and to remove it from Mexico when you leave. Have this statement signed and certified at a Mexican consulate in the United States and present it to Mexican customs as you enter Mexico.
Currency: Take travelers checks with you. 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.
Pets: U.S. visitors to Mexico may bring a dog or cat by presenting the following certificates at the border: (1) A pet health certificate signed by a registered veterinarian in the United States and issued not more than 72 hours before the animal enters Mexico; and (2) A pet vaccination certificate showing that the animal has been treated for rabies, hepatitis, pip and leptospirosis. 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.
Firearms: Mexico has severe penalties for taking in any type of firearm, weapon, or ammunition without first obtaining written authorization from Mexican authorities. It does not matter whether U.S. citizens are licensed to carry the firearm in the United States, or if they unintentionally transport it while driving in their vehicle
CB Radios: American tourists are permitted to operate CB radios in Mexico. You must, however, obtain a 180-day permit for a nominal fee by presenting your U.S. citizens' band radio authorization at a Mexican consulate or Mexican Government Tourist Office and marine services.
For further information, travelers may contact the Embassy of Mexico at (202) 736-1000,
portal.sre.gob.mx/usa or any Mexican consulate in the United States.
Driving in Mexico
RVers wishing to travel beyond the border zone with their RVs must obtain a temporary import permit or risk having the vehicle confiscated by Mexican Customs. To acquire such a permit, submit evidence of citizenship, title for the vehicle, a registration certificate and a driver’s license to a Banjercito branch located at a Mexican Customs office, and pay a processing fee, about $25. Mexican Customs law also requires the posting of a bond at a Banjercito office to guarantee the departure of a car from Mexico within a time period determined at the time of the application. For this purpose, American Express, Visa or MasterCard credit-card holders may provide credit-card information; others will need to make a cash deposit of between $200 and $400, depending on the age of the car. In order to recover this bond or avoid credit-card charges, travelers must return to the same Mexican Customs office immediately prior to departing Mexico. For further information, U.S. citizens should inquire at Mexican Customs offices about appropriate permits for their vehicle.
Mexican auto insurance is sold in most cities and towns on both sides of the border. U.S. automobile liability insurance is not valid in Mexico, but some collision and comprehensive coverage issued by U.S. companies is valid. Therefore, when you cross the border, purchase auto insurance adequate for your needs in Mexico. Mexican insurance is required for all vehicles, including rentals. Upon your return, return the permit sticker at any point of entry. If you forget, you must drive to the Mexican border to return the sticker/permit.
U.S. drivers licenses are valid in Mexico. Mexican Customs laws require that vehicles must be driven by the owner, or the owner must be inside the vehicle. Otherwise, the vehicle may be seized by Mexican Customs and will not be returned under any circumstances.
For detailed information on how to bring a car into Mexico, refer to the publication Tips for Travelers to Mexico available on the U.S. State Department Web site: travel.state.gov.
Travelers are advised to consult with the Mexican Embassy or the nearest Mexican consulate in the U.S. for information prior to entering Mexico; more information is available at (800) 44-MEXICO or visitmexico.com
If you plan to drive, learn about your route from an auto club, guide book or a Mexican government tourist office. Some of the newer roads have very few restaurants, motels, gas stations or auto repair shops. For your safety, have your vehicle serviced and in optimum condition before you leave for Mexico. It is wise to bring an extra fan belt, fuses and other spare parts. Pack a basic first-aid kit and carry an emergency water supply in your vehicle. Unleaded gasoline (magna sin) is generally available.
If you have an emergency while driving, call the Ministry of Tourism's hotline at (55) 5250-0123. They also have a national toll free number: 1-888-401-3880. Or dial (55) 5250-8221, extension 130/297, to obtain help from the "Green Angels," a fleet of radio-dispatched trucks with bilingual crews. Services include protection, medical first aid, and mechanical aid for your car and basic supplies. You will not be charged for services, only for parts, gas and oil. The Green Angels patrol daily, from dawn until sunset. If you are unable to call them, pull off the road and lift the hood of your car; chances are good they will find you.
You can also call the Mexican "911": in Mexico City, dial 060; in the rest of Mexico, dial 066. In Mexico City, dial 5346-8733, 8730, 8154, 8734 for police with English translators.
If an American is injured in an accident and needs immediate medical attention, call the Mexican Red Cross at 5395-1111, 5557-5758, 5557-5759, or 5557-5760. While the service is free, a donation is requested. The Red Cross ambulance will deliver the patient to the nearest Red Cross hospital, which provides basic care. The patient may then choose to be taken to a private hospital.
U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. If your insurance policy does not cover you in Mexico, it is strongly recommended that you purchase a short-term policy that does.