Mexico tourist cards (Forma Migratoria Multiple, also known as FMT or FMT visa) are a government form declaring that the stated the purpose of a visit to Mexico to be tourism. Although more than one kind of Mexico visa exists, a Mexico tourist card essentially says the holder has the intention to vacation in Mexico for no more than 180 days. The form requires minimal information including name, nationality, date of birth, the purpose for visiting, and address of stay in Mexico.
Tourists can think of it as a visa on arrival, as it functions in the same way, even though it's not technically a visa.
Who Needs a Mexico Tourist Card?
Travelers staying in Mexico for more than 72 hours or traveling beyond the "border zone" need Mexico tourist cards. The tourist, or border zone, can extend up to 70 miles into Mexico, as it does near Puerto Penasco, southwest of Tucson on the Sea of Cortez, or about 12 miles, as it does south of Nogales. American citizens can travel within the border zone without a tourist card or a vehicle permit. Generally, the tourist zone extends until the first immigration checkpoint south of the U.S. border in Mexico, and the crossover point usually has clear signs of notification.
Getting a Mexico Tourist Card
If flying into Mexico, passengers will be given a tourist card and instructions for filling it out on board—the cost of a tourist card (about $25.00) is included in the fare, so travelers won't need to pay upon arrival. The card is stamped at customs/immigration in the Mexico airport, showing the visitor is in the country legally.
If you're driving, taking the bus or walking into Mexico, the tourist card is given at the border inspection station/immigration office after showing ID or passport proving your U.S. citizenship. Visitors need to go to a bank and pay the card fee, and it will be stamped to show payment was made. The next step is returning to a border immigration office to have the card stamped again—proof the holder is visiting the country legally.
The Mexican Tourist Card is a non-laminated piece of paper about the size of a credit card that will be stapled into the passport after arriving in the country.
Using the Card
Should the need to speak with Mexico officials while in the country arise, travelers may need to produce the tourist card as part of identification. Typically, the tourist card is placed inside the passport by officials when entering the country. Visitors will also need to surrender the tourist card when departing Mexico for the United States, whether at the airport or the land border; have it ready, along with identification or passport, and plane ticket or driving documents.
If the tourist card expires before departing Mexico, expect possible hassles, arguments, and fines at the border.
If a tourist loses the Mexico tourist card, they have to pay to replace it, which should be done as soon as possible. Go to the nearest immigration office in the country, or try the immigration office at the nearest airport, to pay a fine (reports vary from $40-$80) and receive a new card at the same time. It shouldn't take more than a few hours in total. Bring all relevant documentation, including travel tickets, receipts, and passport should the officials request proof of length of stay.
Technically, it is possible to be deported from a country without a passport stamp or the proper visa and documents, but reports are rare that this step is taken for travelers who have misplaced their tourist card, and the majority simply pay a fine and are reissued a new card.