U.S. and Canadian Residents Entering Mexico

General Guidelines

U.S. and Canadian tourists must carry proof of citizenship. A valid passport is the most convenient, since it ensures problem-free re-entry into the United States, serves as a photo ID and facilitates many transactions, such as cashing traveler’s checks. The U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments also recognize a birth certificate (must be a certified copy from the government agency that issued it). A driver’s license, baptismal certificate or voter registration card is not proof of citizenship.

Automobile Insurance: U.S. automobile insurance is not valid in Mexico. It must be replaced by insurance from a Mexican company. Arrange for full coverage, including property damage and public liability, with a reliable Mexican insurance company having complete adjusting facilities in cities throughout Mexico. AAA offices in Arizona, California and Texas can help you obtain this before you go.

Tourist Cards: The Mexican government assesses a 170-peso (at press time, approximately $18 U.S.) tourist entry fee for each visitor entering Mexico for pleasure or on business. The fee must be paid in order to have your tourist card validated if you plan to remain anywhere in Mexico for more than 72 hours, or stay less than 72 hours and travel beyond the 26-kilometer (16-mile) border zone.

A government-issued tourist card (actually a form) is available upon presentation of proof of citizenship from Mexican government tourism offices, Mexican consulates in the United States and Canada, or immigration offices at official points of entry. If you’re entering Mexico by land it is advisable to obtain your tourist card prior to leaving the United States. If you’re arriving by air, the tourist card is distributed on the flight.

If arriving by land, the tourist entry fee is paid at a branch of any bank operating in Mexico (a list of banks at which the fee can be paid is shown on the back of the tourist card form). Upon payment the tourist card is stamped with an official "Fee Paid" designation. Although the fee may be paid at any time prior to leaving the country, it is recommended that it be paid at the border. All visitors are required to produce verification of payment by showing the "Fee Paid" stamp on their tourist card upon departing Mexico. If arriving by air, the fee is included in the price of the ticket charged by the airline. If arriving by cruise ship, the fee is collected upon disembarking or is included in the purchase price of a cruise, but only if the stay is longer than 72 hours.

Exemptions are as follows:

  • Visitors traveling by land or sea anywhere in Mexico and staying less than 72 hours
  • Visitors traveling by land to destinations within the 26-kilometer (16-mile) border zone, regardless of length of stay
  • Those visiting as students (as defined by Mexican immigration laws)
  • Visitors traveling by land beyond the border zone and staying more than 72 hours but limiting their visit to the following destinations/ tourist routes:
    • Tijuana to Ensenada, B.C.
    • Mexicali to San Felipe, B.C.
    • Sonoita to Puerto Peñasco, Son.
    • Ciudad Juárez to Paquime, Chih.
    • Piedras Negras to Santa Rosa, Coah. or
    • Reynosa to China, N.L., and Reynosa to Presa Cuchillo, Tamps.

The single-entry tourist card is valid for up to 180 days and must be returned to Mexican border officials upon leaving Mexico. A multiple-entry card allows unlimited entry into Mexico within the 180-day period. If a tourist card is not used within 90 days of issuance it becomes void. Carry your tourist card with you at all times while in Mexico. If you lose it, a duplicate can be obtained from local immigration officials.

You must be out of the country by the end of the validity period, or you will be subject to a fine. Extensions of up to 90 additional days can be obtained from Mexican immigration officials only when a physician verifies that you are too ill to travel. When applying for their tourist cards, minors (under 18) traveling without their parents–i.e., alone or with friends or relatives–must present proof of citizenship (a valid passport or birth certificate) and a notarized, signed letter of consent from the parents granting permission for the minor to travel in Mexico. Even if one parent goes along, a minor must submit from the absent parent a notarized, signed letter of consent, or when applicable,divorce, death certificate or guardianship papers.

Alcoholic beverages

Both federal and state laws govern the importation of alcoholic beverages. When regulations conflict, state laws supersede. For this reason it is important to know the import limits of your state of residence as well as the state of entry.

The federal government permits each resident who is 21 years of age or older to bring into the United States one liter of alcohol duty free once every 30 days. However, most states restrict the quantity of alcoholic beverages that may be imported, and state law prevails if you arrive in a state that permits a lesser amount than what you have legally brought into the United States.


Gifts in packages with a total retail value not exceeding $100 may be sent to friends or relatives in the United States free of U.S. customs duty or tax provided that no recipient receives more than one gift shipment per day. Gifts may be sent to more than one person in the same package if they are individually wrapped and labeled with the name of the recipient. Perfumes valued at more than $5 retail, tobacco products or alcoholic beverages may not be included in gift packages. The designation "Unsolicited Gift," the name of the donor and the retail value of the contents must be clearly marked on the outside.


A flat rate of duty of 10 percent will be applied to the first $1,000 worth (fair retail value) of merchandise in excess of your customs exemption of $400. The sales receipt functions as proof of value. Family members residing in one household and traveling together may group articles for application of the flat-duty rate. Articles must accompany you to the U.S. border. The flat-duty rate may be taken only once every 30 days.

Canadian Exemptions

Citizens who have been outside Canada at least 48 hours may bring back, duty and tax free, articles not exceeding $200 (Canadian) in retail value. The exemption can be claimed any number of times a year. After an absence of 7 days or more Canadian citizens may bring back duty and tax free goods up to $500 in value. The $500 exemption may be claimed regardless of any $200 exemption taken on a previous trip and requires a written declaration. The two exemptions may not be combined at one time.

Canadian residents can claim duty- and tax-free entry for articles (excluding tobacco products or alcoholic beverages) that do not exceed a total value of $50 upon return from each trip abroad of at least 24 hours.

In general, items brought into Canada under a personal exemption must be for personal or household use, souvenirs, or gifts for friends or relatives.

On either exemption ($200 or $500) are the following limitations: 50 cigars, 200 cigarettes, 14 ounces (400 grams) of tobacco, and 40 ounces (1.1 liters) of wine or liquor or 300 ounces (8.5 liters) of beer or ale (equivalent to 24, 12-ounce bottles/cans). All exemptions are individual and may not be combined with that of another person to cover an article valued at more than the maximum exemption.

You may be requested to prove the length of your visit outside Canada. Dated sales receipts for goods or services received constitute valid proof and should be kept.

All declared goods associated with the $200 personal exemption must accompany the purchaser to the Canadian border; declared goods associated with the $500 personal exemption may follow the purchaser by mail.

Gifts sent to friends or relatives from Mexico are an exception and do not count against a resident’s personal exemption as long as a gift is valued at no more than $60 Canadian and does not consist of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products or advertising matter. Make sure a gift card is enclosed to avoid misunderstanding. Since parcels to be shipped must first be examined by Mexican government customs officials, consider having a customs broker or a forwarding agent handle these important details before you leave Mexico.

Canada grants to residents who have been abroad at least 48 hours a special 8 percent combined duty and GST (Goods and Services Tax) rate on the next $500 value in goods (except tobacco and/or alcohol) in excess of maximum exemptible amounts, provided the goods are of Mexican origin. Regular duties apply on any amount over that.

Vehicle Regulations

Both a temporary vehicle importation permit and a promise to return vehicle form are required for vehicle travel beyond 26 kilometers (16 miles) of the border. Permits are not required in the Baja California peninsula (the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur), unless the vehicle is put on a ferry bound for the mainland. In the state of Sonora, a free "Sonora Only" pass good for 6 days can be obtained at the 21-kilometer (13-mile) immigration checkpoint on Mex. 15 south of Nogales. A sticker is placed on the vehicle, which must be returned to the same booth where you obtained it when departing Sonora. If you plan to drive beyond the Sonora state border, a temporary vehicle importation permit and windshield sticker also must be obtained.

To obtain these documents from a Mexican government tourism office, Mexican consulate or an immigration office at an official point of entry, the vehicle owner must be 18 years of age or older, have a valid U.S. or Canadian driver’s license, present proof of citizenship (passport, birth certificate or affidavit of citizenship), and provide proof of ownership (the original current registration) for each vehicle being taken into Mexico. Information on the application for temporary vehicle importation must match the information on the promise to return form; the same requirements apply to both.

At the point of entry (mainland border crossings or transporting a vehicle by ferry from Baja California to the mainland), an $11 (plus tax) administrative fee must be paid using a major credit card (American Express, MasterCard or VISA). The card must be in the registered owner’s name and issued by a U.S. or Canadian bank or lending institution. Cash, checks, money orders or a credit card issued by a Mexican bank will not be accepted. After the fee is paid at a Banjército (Bank of the Army) branch office, a sticker is applied to the vehicle’s windshield.

If the vehicle owner does not have a major credit card, a bond (based on the value of the vehicle) must be posted with a Mexican bonding firm (Afianzadora) at the point of entry. This is a costly procedure that involves much paperwork.

The temporary importation permit is generally issued for 90 days; extensions of up to 90 days can be obtained from Mexican immigration officials. Only one permit will be issued per person, for one motorized vehicle at a time. It should be carried with you (not left in your car) at all times while in the country. The temporary importation permit, promise to return form and windshield sticker must be returned to Mexican customs officials at the border for cancellation, either before or on the expiration date shown on the promise to return vehicle form and prior to re-entering the United States. Those failing to comply will be fined.

In addition to the completed temporary vehicle importation permit and promise to return vehicle form, the following documents must be presented at the point of entry: acceptable proof of citizenship, a valid driver’s license, a current vehicle license/registration receipt, a tourist card and a copy of the ownership certificate. The registration receipt should be carried in the car at all times while in Mexico.

It is not mandatory for a group of people arriving in Mexico in the same vehicle to leave in the same vehicle; however, the individual who obtained and filled out the temporary vehicle importation permit must leave the country in the same vehicle in which he or she arrived.

If the temporary vehicle importation permit or the promise to return vehicle form is lost or stolen, replacement documentation can be issued by Mexican customs offices to the vehicle importer as long as a certified document is obtained from the U.S. Embassy (U.S. residents) or the Canadian Embassy (Canadian residents) or one of their consulates attesting to the loss.

Leaving Mexico

When you leave Mexico, applicable documents (temporary vehicle importation permit, promise to return vehicle form and windshield sticker) may becollected at an interior inspection point, but usually they are returned to Mexican immigration and customs officials at the border. Be sure to return all documents if you do not plan to re-enter Mexico on a multiple-entry tourist permit. Returning U.S. citizens must present to U.S. customs officials valid proof of citizenship, either a valid passport or a birth certificate; the latter must be a certified copy from the government agency that issued it.

If you entered Mexico with a car or any other motor vehicle, you must leave the country with your vehicle. Motorists traveling north to the U.S. border are subject to official Mexican agricultural inspections at stations along the highways. All fruits, vegetables, houseplants and other plant matter will be inspected.

To be taken out of Mexico, cultural artifacts or property items such as pre-Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture or murals, clay figurines, original paintings and other works of art (not handicrafts) will need an export certificate. Valuable religious and archeological relics are the property of the Mexican government and may not be taken out of the country. Once customs officials are satisfied that U.S. or Canadian residents have the right to be admitted to the United States, they examine your baggage thoroughly. To expedite the trip through customs, keep sales slips handy and have all your purchases in one bag if possible.

U.S. Exemptions:

Each visitor to Mexico may bring back, duty free, articles not exceeding $400 in retail value. The exemption is allowed once every 30 days. Duty must be paid on all items in excess of this amount. Payment of duty is required upon arrival.

Gifts that accompany you across the U.S./Mexico border are considered to be for personal use and are included in the $400 exemption. Articles purchased and left for alterations or other reasons do not qualify for the $400 exemption when shipped at a later date. The $400 exemption may include no more than one liter of alcoholic beverages and no more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars.

Restricted or prohibited articles: To prevent the introduction of plant and animal pests and diseases into the United States, the agricultural quarantine bans the importation of certain fruits, vegetables, plants, livestock, poultry and meats. All food products brought into the United States must be declared. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also prohibits the importation of any kind of pet obtained in Mexico.

For additional information regarding restricted items, write for the free booklet "Travelers’ Tips," available in English, Spanish, Italian or Japanese from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250. For information about permits allowing the importation of some restricted articles, contact the nearest U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service office or write to APHIS, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 6505 Belcrest Rd., Hyattsville, MD 20782.

Certain items are prohibited entry by law, including narcotics and dangerous drugs, obscene articles and publications, hazardous items (fireworks, dangerous toys, toxic or poisonous substances), switchblade knives and lottery tickets. Goods purchased in Mexico but originating in Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya or North Korea are not admissible.

One foreign-made article of a type carrying a protected U.S. trademark–for example, cameras, binoculars, musical instruments, jewelry or watches – may usually be brought into the United States under your personal exemption, provided the article accompanies you for private use and is not sold within one year of importation. Some perfumes are limited to one bottle; a few are prohibited altogether. If you intend to purchase perfume, be sure to inquire about trademark restrictions beforehand.

Endangered wildlife species or products made of any part of these species are prohibited. This includes products made from sea turtles, as well as all ivory and ivory products made from elephant or marine mammal ivory. Such live birds as parrots, parakeets or birds of prey, widely available on the market in Mexico, can be brought into the United States subject to inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Birds must be quarantined upon arrival for at least 30 days in a USDA-operated facility at the owner’s expense. Quarantine space must be reserved in advance; for information contact a USDA office.

If you are thinking of returning to the United States with any purchased articles made of fur, any animal skin other than cowhide leather, whalebone or any product manufactured wholly or in part from any type of wildlife, write to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 3247, Arlington, VA 22203-3247 for information about regulations.