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Do You Need a Passport to go to Mexico?

In most cases, the answer is yes. The majority of travelers will need a passport to travel to Mexico but there are some exceptions. If you’re flying into Mexico, you need a passport. If you’re driving across the border, you’ll need a passport book, passport card, enhanced driver’s license, or SENTRI card. It is possible to travel to Mexico on a closed loop cruise with a photo ID and birth certificate. Minors under 16 can also travel to Mexico by land or sea with just a birth certificate.

The travel documents you need to go to Mexico depends on several factors including where and how you’re entering the country, your nationality, and the length of your stay. Whether you’re flying to Mexico, driving across the border, or visiting Mexico on a cruise ship, this guide will help you determine whether or not you need a passport to go to Mexico.

In this guide, we’ll also cover other travel documents you may need to enter Mexico including the including the FMM permit, the passport card, Trusted Traveler program cards, the temporary vehicle importation permit, temporary and permanent residency visas, and more. We’ll also outline Mexico’s entry requirements.

Tijuana, Mexico
Tijuana, Baja California
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This guide focuses on U.S. and Canadian travelers but most of the info applies to travelers of other nationalities as well. I’ve spent the past 3 years living in Mexico. During that time, I’ve crossed the border dozens of times both by land and air. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.

Table of Contents

Do You Need a Passport to Go to Mexico?

Yes, you need a valid passport to go to Mexico in most cases.

In the past, U.S. citizens could visit Mexico without a passport. All that was required to cross the border was a driver’s license. When the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) passed in June of 2009, the rules changed. Now, most visitors will need a valid passport to enter Mexico.

There are some exceptions to this if you’re driving or taking a cruise to Mexico. In the following sections, I’ll outline all of the travel documents you’ll need.

Traveling to Mexico by Air

A valid passport is required to fly to Mexico Only passport books are accepted for entering Mexico by air. Passport cards are not accepted for international air travel.

Everyone needs a passport book when flying to Mexico. This includes children of all ages. There are no exceptions. Once you arrive in Mexico, the Mexican authorities will check your passport and stamp it. Your passport is the only document you need to bring with you when traveling to Mexico by air.

Depending on which airport you fly into, you may also have to submit a completed FMM form (forma migratoria multiple). You will most likely receive this form on the plane. A flight attendant will hand it to you during your flight. Alternatively, you can pick one up in the airport. Complete the form before going through immigration. At some airports, this form is no longer required. It is being phased out.

In some cases, Mexican authorities might also ask to see some supporting documents about your trip. For example, they may ask to see your hotel reservation or proof of onward travel.

The US Mexico border crossing
The US-Mexico border crossing at Tijuana

Traveling to Mexico by Land

Whether or not you need a passport to go to Mexico by land depends on your destination and how long you’re staying in Mexico.

If you’re staying within the border zones (12-15 miles or 20-25 km from the border) and staying for less than 72 hours, it is possible to visit Mexico without a valid passport and without an immigration form (FMM), according to this guide from the Mexican Government. You will still need to present identification.

Accepted forms of ID include:

  • Passport book
  • Passport card
  • SENTRI card or Global Entry card
  • Enhanced Driver’s License

A passport is required to travel to Mexico by land If you’re traveling beyond the border zones or if you’re staying in Mexico for longer than 72 hours. Both passport books and passport cards are accepted for crossing the border on foot and in a vehicle.

In addition to a passport, you will also need to get an FMM visitor’s permit. You can get this document at the border or online in advance. You need a valid passport to apply for an FMM.

When driving across most land border crossings into Mexico, no one will stop you to check your passport. You need to park and go to immigration. Follow the signs for ‘something to declare.’ You’ll find parking here. From there, you can walk to the immigration building obtain your FMM and have your passport stamped.

When driving to Mexico, you will also need a valid driver’s license, proof of Mexican auto insurance, and your vehicle’s registration. Depending on your destination, you may also need a temporary import permit. You may or may not be asked to show these documents at the border.

For more in-depth info, check out my guide: Driving to Mexico.

Highway into Tijuana, Mexico
The highway into Tijuana

Traveling to Mexico by Sea

The rules for traveling to Mexico by sea are similar to the rules for traveling by land. In most cases, you need a passport book or passport card to enter Mexico by sea.

There is an exception. If you’re traveling to Mexico on a closed-loop cruise that starts and ends in the U.S. and does not stop at any ports outside of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), it is possible to take a cruise to Mexico without a passport.

A closed-loop cruise is a cruise that starts and ends at the same port. For example, if your cruise starts in San Diego and travels to Acapulco then returns to San Diego, it’s a closed-loop cruise.

U.S. citizens can travel to Mexico on a closed-loop cruise with just a driver’s license or other government-issued photo I.D. and an original copy of their birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or naturalization certificate. No passport is required.

It’s important to note that most cruise lines recommend that you carry a valid passport. Some cruise lines even require that every passenger has a passport. The reason is that you may need a passport book in an emergency situation.

For example, maybe you have a medical issue and you need to fly home. In this case, you’ll need a passport to re-enter your home country. Maybe you miss your departure and you need to fly to the next city to meet the ship. You’ll need a passport to board the plane, even for a domestic flight within Mexico. To be safe, it’s best to bring a passport with you when entering Mexico by sea.

If you’re traveling to Mexico on your own boat, you will need a passport or passport card. There are no exceptions. You will also need to stop at immigration to get an FMM visitor’s permit. You can get an FMM at your first port of call in Mexico. Before you travel, you should check to make sure the port where you intend to enter Mexico has immigration and customs offices. Some smaller ports do not.

You’ll also need to obtain a temporary boat importation permit. You’ll need to obtain this document before you enter Mexican waters. You can read more about temporary boat importation here.

Mexico City

Traveling to Mexico with Children: Do Kids Need a Passport to go to Mexico?

Whether or not a child needs a passport to go to Mexico depends on the mode of travel and their age. When traveling to Mexico by air, children of all ages need a passport book. Even infants. There are no exceptions.

Children under the age of 16 can travel to Mexico by land or sea with just a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or a naturalization certificate. These documents are accepted for entering Mexico and re-entering the U.S.

Those under the age of 19 can also travel to Mexico and re-enter the United States with a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or a naturalization certificate as long as they are traveling with an adult chaperoned organization such as a school group, sports team, religious organization, or a social or cultural organization.

In all other cases, the child will require a passport.

When a single parent or legal guardian plans to travel to Mexico with their children, they must carry an original notarized consent letter from the other parent or any other person who has legal custody of the child. This document will be required when re-entering the United States. This rule is in place to prevent child abduction. It ensures that both parents are aware that the child is traveling to Mexico. For more in-depth info on consent letters, check out this guide.

If the child is a Temporary Resident, Temporary Student Resident, or Permanent Resident of Mexico, one parent must complete a SAM (Formato de Salida de Menores). This is required by INM (Mexico’s immigration authority).

What are Valid Travel Documents for U.S. Citizens Entering the U.S.?

The documents required to enter Mexico and enter the U.S. may be different depending on your mode of travel.

When you’re flying to the United States, you will need to present a valid passport before you’re allowed to board your flight.

If you’re entering the U.S. by land or sea, you’ll need one of the following documents:

  • A valid passport book or card
  • A trusted traveler program card (SENTRI card or Global Entry card)
  • An enhanced driver’s license
  • Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)

If you’re traveling on a closed-loop cruise, you can re-enter the United States with your original birth certificate and driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID.

In all other cases, you’ll need a passport.

If you are not a United States citizen, you may also need a visa to enter the United States. For more information, check out this guide.

Is a Passport Required for Taking Domestic Flights in Mexico?

Yes. You need a passport to fly domestically in Mexico. To board a domestic flight in Mexico, you need to present some form of ID as well as your boarding pass. If you are not a Mexican citizen or resident, most airlines will only accept a passport as identification.

If you are a Mexican citizen or resident, you can take domestic flights in Mexico without a passport. You just a government-issued ID or residence card.

Can Canadian Citizens Visit Mexico Without a Passport?

In most cases, Canadian citizens must have a valid passport to travel to Mexico. A passport is required to enter Mexico by air.

What Happens if I Travel to Mexico Without a Passport?

If you try to fly to Mexico without a passport, you simply won’t be allowed to board your flight. The airline won’t issue you a boarding pass.

Cruise ship companies also check your travel document before you’re allowed to board the ship. If you don’t have a passport or alternative travel document, you won’t be allowed to board.

If you try to walk across the border to Mexico without a passport, you will most likely be denied entry. These days, immigration checks everyone’s travel documents.

It is possible to drive to Mexico without a passport. When you drive across the border at most crossings, you usually are not stopped unless you look suspicious for some reason. You can simply drive into Mexico without stopping. There is no passport control on the U.S. side or the Mexican side.

If you drive into Mexico without a passport, you can create several problems for yourself. Most importantly, you will be in Mexico illegally. You won’t have a valid FMM tourist permit. If you’re stopped at a checkpoint or by a police officer, you could be fined or deported.

You’ll also run into issues when you’re trying to return to the U.S. You won’t have a valid travel document to get back into the country. In this case, you’ll be sent to a secondary inspection where you will be questioned. You’ll have to prove your citizenship or residency before you’re allowed to re-enter the U.S.

Do You Need a Visa to Go to Mexico?

No. Most travelers don’t need to arrange a visa in advance to visit Mexico. The FMM tourist permit works like a tourist visa. You can obtain an FMM tourist permit on arrival or online. All you need is your passport. Check this list to see if you’re eligible for an FMM.

Some travelers do need to arrange a visa in advance. If you plan to stay in Mexico for more than 180 days, you’ll need to apply for a temporary resident visa. This visa allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 1 year and can be renewed. Permanent residency visas are available for longer-term residents.

Some nationalities also need to apply for a visa in advance to travel to Mexico. If your passport was issued by one of the countries on this list, you’ll need to apply for a visa at your nearest Mexican consulate or embassy. In order to do this, you will need a passport.

What are the Entry Requirements for Mexico?

For most travelers, all you’ll need to enter Mexico is a valid passport with at least one blank page for an entry stamp. The passport must remain valid for the duration of your trip.

If you’re flying into Mexico, you may also need to have a return ticket or an onward ticket. This is a common requirement.

You should also have a booking confirmation for accommodation for at least your first night in Mexico. If immigration asks you where you’re staying, you can show them the reservation.

How Long Does My Passport Need to be Valid to Go to Mexico?

Your passport must be valid for the duration of your trip to Mexico. Most countries require that your passport have at least 6 months of validity. This isn’t the case with Mexico. If you’re planning to stay in Mexico for 2 weeks and your passport is only valid for two weeks, they will still let you in. You just have to leave before your passport expires.

Information About the Various Travel Document You can Use to Travel to Mexico

Passport Cards

A passport card is a smaller, wallet-friendly version of a passport book. It proves your U.S. citizenship and identity and allows you to re-enter the country when returning home from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda. A passport card contains the same information as a passport book including your name, photo, passport number, date of birth, place of birth, nationality, and signature.

The main benefit of a passport card is its compact size. Your passport card fits in your wallet with the rest of your cards. It’s the same size as a credit card.

A passport card is also cheaper than a passport book. A passport card costs $65 and a passport book costs $165.

Passport cards also have a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that contains your information. The RFID chip is scanned at the port of entry. Having an RFID enabled card allows you to use the ‘Ready Lane’. This can speed up the crossing.

Keep in mind that passport cards can only be used for land and sea travel. They are not valid for flights. When buying a new passport book, consider buying a passport card along with it. It can come in handy.


Trusted Traveler Program cards are ID cards that are issued to low-risk travelers by the U.S. government. They allow you to use special lanes to speed up the border crossing when returning to the U.S. from Mexico. There are several different types of trusted traveler cards.

The SENTRI card is designed for overland travel between the U.S. and Mexico. SENTRI stands for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection. A Global Entry card can also be used.

To apply for a SENTRI card, applicants must complete an online application, pay an application fee, and undergo a background check. The SENTRI card is valid for 5 years. Not everyone is eligible. For example, if you have a criminal record, you may not be accepted.

A SENTRI card makes significantly reduces the wait at the border. For example, the wait to cross from Tijuana back to the U.S. might be an hour and a half. With a SENTRI card, you might be able to cross in less than 5 minutes.

Enhanced Driver’s License?

An enhanced driver’s license (EDL) is a special type of driver’s license that allows you to cross into the United States from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean without a passport.

To get an EDL, you must provide proof of U.S. citizenship, identity, and residency. Enhanced driver’s licenses can be renewed like regular driver’s licenses. They are valid for 4-8 years depending on the state that issued the card.

EDLs are available to U.S. citizens who live in Washington state, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont. An EDL typically costs around $30-$40 more than a regular driver’s license.

The FMM Form (Forma Migratoria Multiple)

The FMM form (Forma Migratoria Multiple) is a travel document that allows citizens from a number of countries to travel to Mexico without having to apply for a visa in advance. FMM entry permits are available to citizens of the U.S., Canada, U.k., European Schengen Area countries, Australia, and a number of other countries.

The FMM Visitor’s Permit allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days. You can obtain an FMM entry permit on arrival at the port of entry or online in advance. To get an FMM visitor’s permit, you simply fill out a simple form with basic travel info.

If you’re staying in Mexico for less than 7 days, the FMM is free. If you’re staying for more than 7 days, it costs 595 pesos (about $30).

For more info, check out my guide to the FMM Tourist Permit.

It’s important to note that the FMM entry permit is currently being phased out. Instead of a paper form, they simply stamp your passport book. All of the rules remain the same.

The Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TIP)

The Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP) is a document that allows you to temporarily drive a foreign-plated vehicle in Mexico.

You only need this document if you plan to drive outside of the free zones. The free zones include the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo, most of the state of Sonora (the Sonora Free Zone), and the border zone (around 20-25 km or 12-15 miles from any land border).

To apply for a TIP, you will need a valid passport. You will also need Mexican auto insurance, a valid driver’s license, and your vehicle’s registration.

The temporary import permit is issued by Banjercito (a Mexican government-run bank). You can apply for it on their website and at Bajercito locations at most border crossings as well as certain Mexican consulates. If you apply online, you must apply 7-60 days before your trip. If you get your TIP in person, you can apply right before you cross.

For more in-depth info, check out my guide to the Temporary Import Permit.

You will also need temporary Mexican auto insurance. You can buy insurance at a kiosk near the Mexican border before you cross or online before your trip.

I always use Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. Click the link to get a free quote in just a couple of minutes.

A beach in Cancun

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to travel to Mexico by air, you will need a passport. If you’re traveling by land or sea, a passport isn’t necessarily required. You can use a passport card. If you’re traveling on a closed loop cruise, you can visit Mexico with just a birth certificate and photo ID.

When traveling to Mexico, it is recommended to have a passport, even if you don’t need one so you can fly home in the event of an emergency.

If you travel between the U.S. and Mexico frequently and you want to breeze through the border, consider getting a SENTRI card.

It’s also important to note that the rules can change without notice. Before your trip, it’s best to double-check which travel documents you need so you don’t end up getting denied entry at the border.

Have you traveled to Mexico lately? Share your experience crossing the border with or without a passport!

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