Mexico’s tourist visa policy is a bit confusing. The system has two different sets of rules that change depending on where and how you enter the country. This guide will help you determine whether or not you need a visa to visit Mexico. I will also explain exactly how the FMM visitors permit works. Finally, I will explain how to avoid paying for your visa twice as that is a common problem that tourists face.
The first point to clear up is the fact that Mexico doesn’t really issue tourist visas on arrival. They use something called an FMM or Forma Migratoria Múltiple. This is a document that you fill out on arrival in Mexico. It is a visitors permit that allows you to travel anywhere in the country.
This guide is designed for those who are eligible to travel to Mexico without a pre-arranged tourist visa. Before continuing, make sure that the country that issued your passport is on this list of countries that don’t require a visa to visit Mexico. If It’s not, you’ll have to apply for a visa before you arrive in Mexico.
Table of Contents- Do I Need a Visa to Visit Mexico?
This is a pretty long article. Use the links below to help you navigate the page.
- The FMM Visitors Permit Explained: What is it and how does it work?
- Entering Mexico from the US: The Northern Border Entry Process
- Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP) Explained
- Flying into Mexico: The Entry Process
- Entering Mexico from the South: Crossing from Guatemala or Belize
- How to Avoid Paying the Mexico FMM Visitors Permit Fee Twice
- A Few Border Crossing Tips
A Note About the FMM Visitors Permit: What is it and How Does it Work?
When you arrive at the point of entry, no matter where you enter Mexico, you’ll be handed a document to fill out called the FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple). The FMM is a visitors permit that allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days. During this time, you can live, tour, study, or attend various events in Mexico. You are not allowed to work or earn money in Mexico.
This FMM asks for standard travel information such as:
- Date of birth
- Passport number
- Purpose of your trip
- Entry date and date that you plan to leave Mexico
- Address of the place that you plan to stay
If you enter by air, you may get a slightly different form that asks for the flight number and airline that you arrived with. Sometimes you have to fill the form out yourself, and sometimes the immigration official just fills it out for you.
How Much Does the FMM Entry Permit Cost?
- For stays less than 7 days– No charge.
- For stays between 7 and 180 days- 533 pesos (about $26).
- Stays longer than 180 days- You must leave Mexico and come back to buy a new FMM entry permit. You can travel overland to the US, Guatemala, or Belize to do this. You could also fly out of the country and return. There is no rule stating how long you must leave before returning for a new FMM. It really depends on the Immigration official. Sometimes they don’t care and allow you to cross right back over immediately. Some tell you to come back the following day. Usually, they don’t care.
Visiting Mexico From the US: The Northern Border Entry Process
This is the border that I have the most experience with. Having spent over a year living in Tijuana and working in San Diego, I have crossed this border hundreds of times. The process of crossing and obtaining an FMM at Mexico’s northern border is a bit different than the rest of the country. Here’s how it works for crossing by foot and in a car.
Walking Across the Northern Border to Visit Mexico
When you cross the northern border to Mexico on foot, you must show your passport and pass through immigration and customs. The process is the same for entering Baja and the Sonora Free Zone. The steps are as follows:
- Enter the immigration building and get into the line for non-Mexican residents.
- Once you reach the immigration desk, the official gives you an FMM form to fill out. Fill it out and hand it to the official along with your passport.
- If you indicate on the form that you are staying less than 7 days, the official will stamp your passport and send you through. (Skip to step 7 if staying less than 7 days)
- If you indicate on the form that you are staying for more than 7 days, the official will direct you to another window to pay the FMM entry permit fee of 533 pesos (about $26).
- After you pay the fee, you will be given a piece of paper with a stamp that confirms that you have paid. That is your receipt.
- Go back to the immigration desk and present your receipt to the official. They will stamp your FMM and passport and send you through. Keep your receipt and FMM. If you lose them, you could have to pay again.
- After passing through immigration, continue on to customs. You will be asked to place your luggage on a belt to pass through an x-ray scanner to check for contraband. Occasionally customs searches bags. If you have something to declare, go up to a customs desk and pay your tax before proceeding to the scanner.
- You can now exit the building. You’re in Mexico.
Driving Across the Border to Visit Mexico
The process is slightly different when you drive into Mexico from the North. Typically, cars are not stopped when driving into Mexico unless something looks suspicious. The Tijuana border, in particular, is the busiest crossing in the world. They just don’t have the manpower to check every vehicle entering.
What you need to cross depends on how long you plan to stay and your destination in Mexico. Choose the scenario below which fits your trip.
- If you will be staying in Mexico for less than 7 days and not leaving the Baja Peninsula or Sonora Free Zone- You don’t need anything. Just drive across and enjoy your trip.
- If you will be staying in Mexico for more than 7 days and not leaving the Baja Peninsula or Sonora Free Zone- After you cross the border, you must park your vehicle and go into the immigration building to get an FMM. Follow the process above for walking across the border.
- If you will be staying in Mexico for less than 7 days and are leaving the border free zones- You have to get a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP). I explain the process of getting a TIP below.
- If you will be staying in Mexico for more than 7 days and are leaving the border free zones- You need an FMM and TIP. For the FMM, you must drive across the border, park, then follow the steps above for walking across the border. I explain the process of getting a TIP below.
Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP) for Mexico: What is it and When do you Need it?
TIP is a document that allows you to temporarily bring your vehicle into Mexico. The idea is similar to a carnet de passage. Mexico wants to make sure that you bring your vehicle back with you when you leave. TIP is valid for 180 days and allows you to drive anywhere in Mexico. A TIP is required for cars, motorhomes, and boats.
If you plan to drive anywhere outside of the Baja Peninsula or Sonora Free Zone, you need to get a TIP. Here is a map of the Sonora Free Zone.
Banjercito issues the TIP. They are the only agency which issues this document. To apply, visit the Banjercito website here.
How to Get a TIP
You have 2 options:
- Buy it online- You must apply 7-60 days before travel to Mexico. To apply, you can upload the required documents in PDF format and pay the fee by credit or debit card.
- Get it in person- You can also buy a TIP in person at various Banjercito locations along the border. Additionally, some Mexican consulates sell the TIP.
To buy a TIP, you need the following documents:
- Drivers license
- Proof of Mexican auto insurance
*If you are financing or leasing your vehicle and don’t have the title, you may require a letter of permission from the bank or leasing company.
How Much Does the TIP Cost?
The current fee is 1022.60 Pesos or about $53. You also must pay a deposit which is refunded when you bring your vehicle back to the US. The amount of the deposit depends on the age of your car.
- 2007 and newer- $400
- 2001-2006- $300
- 2000 and older- $200
Flying into Mexico: The Entry Process
When flying into Mexico, you’ll be given a visitors permit or FMM to fill out. Usually, the flight attendant hands out the form on the plane. Otherwise, they are available at immigration at the airport.
You will not be charged the visitor’s permit fee at the airport on arrival. Simply hand over your passport and completed FMM form to the immigration official. They stamp it and send you through. You can stay up to 180 days for any purpose as long as you’re not making any money.
Tip: Check your ticket to see if you’ve already paid the entry permit fee– Most airlines include the 533 pesos (about $26) visitors permit fee in the price of the ticket. If you’ve already paid the visitors fee, be sure to print your ticket so the immigration official stamping you out doesn’t try to charge you again when you exit.
The process for leaving Mexico is a bit different depending on how long you stayed and where you exit. This is where it gets confusing. There are a number of scenarios. Find your situation below.
Flying Out of Mexico
- If you are staying in Mexico for less than 7 days and are leaving by air- Check your ticket to see if the airline charged you for the visitor’s permit. If they did, contact the airline for a refund as you don’t need to pay the fee. They probably won’t refund it but it’s worth a try.
- If you are staying in Mexico for more than 7 days and are flying out- Check your ticket to see if you have already paid the visitor’s permit fee. Print the ticket to show proof when you exit. If you have not already paid the fee, be prepared to pay 533 pesos when you leave the country.
Exiting Mexico Overland
- If you are staying in Mexico for less than 7 days and are exiting overland- You have nothing to worry about. You won’t be charged when you exit.
- If you are staying in Mexico for more than 7 days and are exiting overland to the South- Check your ticket to see if you have already paid the visitor permit fee. If you have, print the ticket to show proof when you exit. B prepared to pay the 533 peso fee when you leave if you haven’t already paid it.
- If you are staying in Mexico for more than 7 days and are exiting overland to the North- You won’t be checked upon exit. You avoid paying the 533 peso fee unless the airline already charged you.
I don’t know why the airline handles the visitor’s permit fee. It just complicates the whole process. It would make much more sense if everyone was charged either on entry or exit at immigration across all ports of entry. It’s basically just a money grab. Many tourists stay for fewer than 7 days and end up paying the fee anyway because they don’t know any better. Many tourists end up paying twice because they aren’t aware that the airline already charged them.
Entering Mexico From the South: How to Cross The Border From Guatemala or Belize
Crossing into Mexico from the Southern border works the same way as entering through the airport. Most tourists make this crossing by bus. The process is as follows:
- Once the bus reaches the border control of the country you are leaving, exit the bus with your passport so immigration can stamp you out. Usually, you don’t need to collect your luggage for the exit procedure. The bus staff will let you know either way.
- If you are traveling from Belize to Mexico, there is an exit fee of 40 Belize Dollars or 20 USD. If you are traveling from Guatemala to Mexico, there is no exit fee. Many times immigration will try to collect a 10 Quetzales (about $1.50) exit fee. This is a scam. You may be able to talk your way out of it or just pay it and move on. They may not even ask. It just depends on the immigration official that you talk to.
- After getting stamped out, get back on the bus. You’ll drive for a few minutes to Mexican immigration.
- Once you arrive at Mexican immigration, collect your luggage and get in line.
- Someone will hand you an FMM visitors permit form to fill out. Complete the form while you wait.
- Present the completed FMM along with your passport to the immigration official.
- After reviewing the documents, you’ll be stamped in and send to customs. You will not be charged anything upon entry.
- At customs, you will be asked to place your bag on a belt to pass through an x-ray machine. Some borders have a system where everyone presses a button at customs and a light goes on. If it is green, you are free to go. If it is red, they search your bag. This is just a random system for checking bags for contraband.
- After clearing customs, you are free to load your luggage and get back on the bus.
Overall, this crossing is pretty smooth. Wait times typically aren’t too long. The only scam you may encounter is the ‘exit fee’ at the Guatemala border. The Belize exit fee is kind of annoying but there is no avoiding it. Mexican immigration officials are always pleasant and professional in my experience.
Paying the Visitors Permit FMM Fee When Exiting Mexico
When you leave Mexico, you will have to pay the 533 pesos (about $26) visitors permit fee if you have stayed in the country for more than 7 days. If you have stayed for less than 7 days, there is no fee.
There is one way to avoid paying the fee. That is to exit through the northern border to the United States. At this border, Mexico doesn’t have passport control upon exit. You just go straight to US immigration. Because no one is there to check your FMM or collect the fee, you can get away without paying and nobody is the wiser.
How to Get the FMM Visitors Permit Online
This is a fairly new system that I haven’t tried out yet. You can visit the application page here.
Most people just go through the process at the airport on arrival or at the border. If you’re the kind of person that likes to organize things in advance, you can give the new system a try. Share your experience in the comments below. I’m interested to hear how the online FMM process goes.
How to Avoid Paying the Mexico Visitors Permit Fee FMM Twice
Many travelers end up paying the FMM fee twice and think they got scammed*. There is no scam. The fee is legitimate. Mexico just has a confusing system for collecting it. As we have seen, at some ports the fee is collected on arrival and at some, it’s collected upon exit. Many airlines include the fee in the ticket. Here’s how to avoid paying twice:
The northern border is the only part of Mexico where you must pay the 533 peso fee on arrival if you will be staying longer than 7 days. At the southern border and when exiting by air, the fee is collected when you leave. The reason the north is different is because there is no passport check on the Mexican side when you exit from the north. No stamp. No nothing. You go straight to US immigration.
I don’t know why Mexico doesn’t check passports upon exit in the north. It probably has something to do with the volume of people crossing. For example, the border at Tijuana is the busiest crossing in the world. Tens of thousands cross every day for work. Evidently, Mexico decided that it just wasn’t practical to check them all so they just changed the permit fee policy.
This is a problem if you plan to enter Mexico in the north and exit in the south or fly out. For example, many backpackers enter Mexico from the US at Tijuana, travel down Baja and through the rest of the Country before flying home or continuing to Central America. Many travelers also decide to fly out of Tijuana airport to save money on flights.
The only way to avoid paying the fee twice is to keep your receipt. It is your proof of payment. Show it to the immigration official at the airport or border when exiting and they will not charge you a second time.
If the airline charged you for the visitor permit fee when you purchased your ticket, simply print the receipt so you have proof that you’ve already paid.
Nobody is trying to charge you for the visitors permit twice. They just need to see proof that you’ve already paid.
I didn’t know any of this when I traveled through Mexico last year. I flew from Tijuana to Mexico City and traveled around Southern Mexico. When I crossed to Guatemala, I received an unpleasant surprise. I had lost my receipt and had to pay a second 533 peso fee. I tried to talk my way out of it but the guy wasn’t having any of it.
Really, he was right. I had no proof that I had paid. In the south, it’s standard procedure that the fee is collected upon exit. I paid for it and got on with my day $25 poorer.
Border Crossing Tips When Visiting Mexico
- If you know you’re going to have to pay the visitor’s permit fee when you leave, make sure you’re carrying enough pesos. The current fee is 533 pesos. Most borders accept dollars too but you’ll end up paying more with the exchange rate. Pretty much all borders have an ATM or currency exchange nearby but it’s best to be prepared.
- Some border towns are dangerous. Particularly in the north. Do a bit of research on the specific border that you plan to cross. These days it’s best to avoid Juarez, unfortunately. Tijuana is pretty safe and is an excellent place to visit. It’s actually one of my favorite cities in Mexico.
- Keep your receipt when you pay for your visitors permit so that you can prove that you’ve already paid.
- Don’t overstay. You probably won’t be deported but there is a fine. Making a visa run once every six months isn’t’ too bad.
- Don’t travel without an FMM. It’s possible to drive across the border in the north and enter without any documentation. This is fine if you’re just visiting a border town. Once you travel further into the country, you could be stopped and checked at a police checkpoint. If you’re caught without the FMM, you will be fined or sent back to the border to get one. I met an overland traveler who didn’t get an FMM when he entered in the north. He ended up paying $100 in the south to exit.
- If you lose your FMM, visit a local immigration office. They can reissue a new visitors permit for a fee of around $50.
Final Thoughts: Do I Need a Visa to Visit Mexico?
While living in Mexico, I have crossed from San Diego to Tijuana hundreds of times and have never had a problem. The entry and exit process is always smooth and easy. All of the immigration officials that I have encountered have been professional. I have never encountered a scam while passing through Mexican immigration. Overall, it’s an easy country to visit. Hopefully, this guide has cleared up any uncertainties that you may have had.
Have you visited Mexico lately? Share your experience entering the country in the comments below!
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