Mexico tourist cards (also sometimes called an FMT or FMT visa) is a government form declaring that you have stated the purpose of your visit to Mexico to be tourism, and which must be carried while you are visiting Mexico. Although more than one kind of Mexico visa exists, a Mexico tourist card is a simple declaration of your intention to vacation in Mexico for no more than 180 days.
You 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 Mexico Tourist Cards?
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 in the border zone without a tourist card or a vehicle permit. Generally, the tourist zone extends until the first immigration checkpoint south of the US border in Mexico -- if you get there, you'll know it.
How Can I Get a Mexico Tourist Card?
If you're flying to Mexico, you'll be given a tourist card and instructions for filling it out on board your plane -- the cost of a tourist card (about $25) is included in your plane fare, so you won't need to pay for it in cash when you arrive. The card will be stamped at customs/immigration in the Mexico airport, showing that you are in the country legally.
If you're driving, taking the bus or walking into Mexico, you can get a tourist card at the border inspection station/immigration office after showing your ID or passport proving your US citizenship. You'll need to go to a bank to pay for the card (about $20) -- it will be stamped to show that you've paid.
You will then return to the border immigration office to have the card stamped -- the stamp shows that you are in the country legally.
How Much is the Mexico Tourist Card?
It is 332 Mexican Pesos, roughly 20 U.S. dollars.
What Does it Look Like?
It's a piece of paper/card that will be stapled into your passport when you arrive in the country. There's a photo of one as the main image in this article.
Who Wants to See My Mexico Tourist Card?
If you find yourself needing to speak with Mexico officials while in the country, you may need to produce your tourist card as part of your identification. You will also need to surrender your tourist card when you depart Mexico for the United States, whether at the airport or the land border; have it ready, along with your id or passport, and your plane ticket or driving documents. As it's just a piece of paper, it'll usually be stamped into your passport, so you can carry that around with you to make sure your tourist card is with you at all times.
It is rare to be asked for yours, though, and I haven't heard of it happening to anyone who has traveled there.
If your tourist card has expired, prepare for hassles, arguments, and fines, both if you're asked for it or when you leave the country. Do not let it expire before you leave Mexico.
I've Lost My Mexico Tourist Card - What Should I Do?
If you lose your Mexico tourist card, you'll have to pay to replace it, which you should do as soon as possible. You should be carrying the tourist card at all times while in Mexico, so it's important to get it replaced. Go to the nearest immigration office in the country, or try the immigration office at the nearest airport, where you can be issued a new tourist card and pay a fine (reports vary from $40-$80) at the same time. It shouldn't take more than a few hours in total.
I once neglected to get a Mexico tourist card altogether. I experienced a certain period of trepidation, as technically, I was in the country illegally -- I went to the nearest airport's immigration office, explained the situation (that I had flown to San Diego, been driven to Baja, flown from Tijuana to Guadalajara, and taken a bus to Puerto Vallarta).
The exasperated official waved away my laborious excuse-making, had me fill out the tourist card form, charged me $40, and sent me on my way. It's possible I was very lucky; I had brought my ticket receipts, showing how long I had been in the country (two weeks). It's entirely possible that you can be deported if you are in any country without a passport stamp or the proper visa and documents that country requires.
So that's what you need to know: make sure you get your Mexico tourist card and carry it with you while you're in the country.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.