As you’re probably already aware, the basic document you need for international travel is the passport – which is what you’ll now need if you plan to travel from the United States to Mexico. You can find complete instructions for applying for a passport at the United States Department of State website. Basically, you’ll need to complete an application, provide proof of identity and citizenship, turn in two photographs and pay the required fee.
Some additional steps are required for minors under the age of 16 – particularly, the documentation requirement from parents. In general, it takes an average of four to six weeks to receive your passport after you’ve applied, although expedited service is available when a special need exists. However, be aware that an additional fee is charged for expedited service – plan ahead if you anticipate needing your passport. The expiration date of your passport should be well after the last day of your planned visit – preferably by at least six months. If your passport isn’t valid for a period of six months from your date of entry, you may have difficulty entering the country.
If you’re traveling to Mexico for pleasure and you’ll be staying for less than six months, you’ll need a document known as a Mexican Visitor’s Permit (FMT). If you’re flying to Mexico, you can usually obtain one at the airport or in-flight to Mexico. If your airline doesn’t provide them, you can pick one upon your arrival and complete it before going through customs. Many airlines include the fee for this permit in their airfare – others will require you to pay the $25 fee separately when you arrive at customs. If you’re staying within 24 kilometers of the Mexican-United States border, you’ll be inside the so-called “free zone,” and won’t need an FMT. Or, if you’re traveling on a cruise ship that will be docking at a port in Mexico, you won’t need an FMT as well.
If you’re traveling to Mexico on business and will be staying for a period of less than 30 days, your FMT will suffice. However, if you’re traveling to Mexico on business and will be staying for a period of more than 30 days and up to one year, you’ll need to request an FM3 business visit permit. As long as you meet certain criteria, this permit will allow you to work and live in Mexico for a period of up to one year.
For periods of time longer than those listed above, you’ll need a visa – either an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa depending on your status. For more details on applying for the visa, contact the Mexican consulate in your area.
When entering Mexico, you’ll be required to complete a customs form. Luggage is inspected randomly, either in cursory or extensive detail. In addition, there are limits on the materials you can bring into the country. For example, personal items such as clothing and toiletries are limited to what you’d be reasonably expected to use during your stay. You may bring with you two cell phones, one laptop computer, and a limited amount of fishing equipment, alcohol and cigarettes. You’re also limited as to what you can take with you out of Mexico and into the United States. However, because customs regulations change frequently, it’s a good idea to review these custom regulations again shortly before your trip.