Mexico Travel Planning FAQs and Answers

A view of Tulum

M Swiet Productions/Getty Images 

Heading to Mexico? Fortunately, traveling in the country is easy and safe for the most part, so you won't have to do much planning. This article should cover any questions you might have about traveling to Mexico. 

Learn about documents you need to get before leaving, whether you need shots to visit Mexico, all about driving in Mexico, where to stay, and how to get around. 

Do I Need a Passport to Travel?

U.S. citizens generally need a passport to return to the U.S. from Mexico by air, land or sea. You can also use a PASS passport substitute or a special driver's license available in certain states, or other documents okayed by the U.S. government.

Do I Need a Visa? What's a Tourist Card?

You do not need a visa in order to visit Mexico.

Travelers staying in Mexico for more than 72 hours or traveling beyond the "border zone" do, however, need 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. It must be carried while you are visiting Mexico and is a simple declaration of your intention to vacation in Mexico for not more than 180 days.

What Do I Need to Drive in Mexico? Where Can I Get Mexico Road Maps?

You're going to have a great time driving in Mexico, but you need to understand driving rules in Mexico, Mexican car insurance, Mexico vehicle permits and how to cross the border into or from Mexico.

How Much Money Do I Need to Budget?

Plan on $25 a day for budget Mexico travel, including food and transport within the country, but follow some rules.

First, assume anything you like in the U.S., like Coke or McDonald's, will cost the same in Mexico (Coke *is* cheaper than it is in the US, but don't count on eating and drinking like you do in the US and saving any real money). Eat local produce and street food to get by cheaply. Beer is cheap.

Secondly, take local buses, not cabs, and travel overland rather than flying. 

When it comes to accommodation, it really does depend on what sort of travel style suits you. We usually spend around $15-20 a night per person in Mexico on a nice, safe, and clean guesthouse. 

Do I Need Shots?

You don't need to specifically get any vaccinations before heading to Mexico. You could see your doctor beforehand to see if they recommend getting anything specific, but for the most part, most tourists don't bother with anything. 

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that mosquitoes can be a real risk in Mexico, whether it's dengue or zika. Look up whether either disease is flying rampant through where you'll be visiting, and if so, take precautions against getting bitten. 

Lots of traveling worry about traveler's diarrhea in Mexico, but I haven't had it once, and I've spent eight months in the country. I recommend eating local and heading to the street food stalls that are busy -- the locals know what's good to eat and it's extremely rare you'll get sick from eating the same things. 

Should I Make Reservations? Where Should I Stay?

We make reservations when we travel in Mexico, because we prefer to have peace of mind that we'll have somewhere to stay that night and that we know it'll be comfortable and safe. 

If you prefer not to make reservations in advance when you travel, you'll be fine doing so in Mexico. There are plenty of hostels, hotels, and guesthouses in all of the major tourist spots, and you'll be able to find a bed just by turning up and asking about availability. 

When it comes to where to stay, you'll have lots of options, ranging from $5 a night dorm rooms in hostels to $500 a night luxury hotels on the beach. We like to stay in private guesthouses while we're in Mexico. I'll usually pay around $25 a night and receive a clean, comfortable room, with fast internet and hot water showers, usually in a central part of town. 

Do I Need to Learn Spanish?

You can get by with English in Mexico, but the locals will appreciate it if you use what little Spanish you do know, so make sure to learn a few key words before you arrive. 

If you'll be heading off the typical tourist track, bear in mind that it'll be harder to find locals who speak English. We spent a full month living in Guanajuato, for example, and only ran into three locals who could speak English -- we would have struggled to cope in restaurants, as there were rarely English menus available. 

One thing we would recommend is that you download the Google Translate app before you leave. Not only will it help you to translate everything you need to know on the go, but it also has a live translation feature that is exceptionally helpful in restaurants. It works by turning on your phone's camera and then when you hold it over any words, it live translates it into English for you on the screen. 

Some helpful Spanish phrases we recommend learning are: 

  • "Please" - "Por favor" (POR fah-VOHR)
  • "Thank you" - "Gracias" (GRAH-see-ahss)
  • "Can you help me?" - "Puede ayudarme?" (PWEH-dhe ah-yoo-dh-AHR-meh)
  • "Where is...?" - "Donde esta...?" (DHOHN-dheh ehs-TAH)
  • "How much is it?" - "Cuanto cuesta?" (KWAHN-toh KWEH-stah)

 What Should I Take With Me? 

  • The items you should take with you to Mexico depends on where you'll be visiting and at what time. If you'll be taking a beach-hopping trip in summer, you can fit everything you need in a small carry-on backpack (we use and recommend the Osprey Farpoint 40L). If, however, you'll be traveling inland and visiting some places at high altitude (Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Miguel, Mexico City, for example), you'll want to make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes with you. 
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