Mexico is one of my favorite countries in the world and I highly recommend spending some time there.
If you're a U.S. citizen planning a vacation to Mexico, you'll be happy to hear you don't need much in the way of documentation in order to visit this beautiful country! Read on to discover just what you need to make sure you have with you in order to cross the border south.
Passport or PASS Card?
To return to the U.S. from Mexico by land, sea or air, you must present a passport or PASS card (available to anyone) or Enhanced Driver's License (residents of some U.S. states can get these) at the border.
Please be aware that you can no longer use proof of U.S. citizenship, like an embossed birth certificate, with a government issued photo ID (more on those below) to get into or out of the country. Regardless of your ID choice, you will also need a Mexico tourist card, which you'll be given to fill out on the plane or at the border if you'll be traveling overland.
Identification Acceptable for Crossing U.S./Mexico Borders by Land
It was the case for decades that U.S. citizens could use a combination of proof of U.S. citizenship, like a birth certificate and a driver's license or other state-issued photo ID, to return from Mexico to the U.S. At that time, it was still the case that passports weren't needed to return from Mexico by land even after it became necessary to use a passport to return to the U.S. by air.
All of that changed back in 2009, and you must now have a passport, PASS card, Enhanced Driver's License or other acceptable ID. A full list of IDs you can use is below:
- Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST)
- State Issued Enhanced Driver's License (when available)
- Enhanced Tribal Cards (when available)
- U.S. Military Identification with Military Travel Orders
- U.S. Merchant Mariner Document when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business
- Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card
- Form I-872 American Indian Card
Related: How to get an American passport
Tip: it is far cheaper to get a passport at your leisure than to rush a passport just before you need it. If you need to rush a passport application, though, do it yourself -- there's no need to pay even more to a passport expediting service.
Related: Learn how to expedite a passport application
How to Get a Mexico Tourist Card
A Mexico tourist card, also called an FMT, is a government form declaring that you have stated the purpose of your visit to Mexico to be tourism, and it must be carried with you while you are visiting Mexico. Although more than one kind of Mexico visa exists, this is a simple declaration of your intention to vacation in Mexico for no more than 180 days. It's essentially a standard arrivals card you have to fill in when entering most countries. At immigration, they'll attach a departure card to your passport to hand back when you leave the country. Make sure to fill this in in advance of arriving back at the airport to save time when passing through immigration.
If you are driving to Mexico, you can get a tourist card at or near the border. If you are flying to Mexico, you will get a tourist card on the plane.
Where Will I Need to Show My Documents in Mexico?
Whenever you cross the Mexico border, you will need to show your travel documents.
If you are flying into Mexico, you will need to show your travel documents to the Mexico customs agents before you leave the airport. You may have to show your travel documents again before picking up your luggage. When you leave Mexico by plane, you will need to show your travel documents before you pass through security and before you board the plane. You'll be expected to hand in your departure card as you pass through immigration, as well, so make sure not to lose it while you're in the country.
If you are driving into Mexico, you will need to show your identification before you cross the border.
You will get a tourist card at or very close to the border, and you'll be expected to carry this with you at all times while you're in the country. If you are driving out of Mexico, you will need to show all of your travel documentation before you can cross back into the United States.
Remember to Keep Track of Your ID and Tourist Card
You will need to turn your tourist card in when you leave Mexico, and you might need ID at different points during your Mexico visit, although after seven months spent traveling across the country, I've never been asked for mine.
While it's rare for you to need to produce yours, it's best to keep everything on your person at all times, just in case you are asked. The last thing you want is to be taken down to the police station because you can't produce your ID.
Tip: Don't Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a travel essential, so if you're going to be going to Mexico and you're organized enough to be researching which documents you need, there's no excuses for not getting insured. There's plenty that can go wrong on a vacation to Mexico: your overnight bus could be in a crash; you could get pickpocketed while walking around a market; you could contract dengue fever; you could fall from your hotel balcony (it's happened.)
If something serious happens while you're in Mexico, you need travel insurance. The costs of medical care can often add up to far more than you'd spend on insurance, and if it's so bad that you have to be repatriated to the United States, you could find yourself in seven figures worth of debt. It's not worth taking the risk: get travel insurance.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.