What to expect and what to do when you reach the border

In this section we describe Mexico’s requirements and procedures to obtain:

1. Tourist Permits – issued by Mexican Immigration

2. Temporary Vehicle Import Permits – issued by Mexican Customs

Tourist Permits, issued by Mexican Immigration, are required if you plan to travel beyond the border area, usually south of Kilometer 25 (about 16 miles). A Tourist Permit is required for each person in your party who is over 2 years old. The only exception is for travel to Rocky Point/Puerto Peñasco in the State of Sonora, where Tourist Permits are not required for anyone.

Temporary Vehicle Import Permits, issued by Mexican Customs, are required for vehicles traveling south of the border zone. The big EXCEPTIONS are Temporary Import Permits are NOT required for travel in the following geographic areas in Mexico:

HOW TO OBTAIN PERMITS

Tourist Permit FMM - Immigrations

In some locations the permits are issued at Immigration Offices right at the border - Mexican side. In other locations they are offered some distance south from the border (i.e., Kilometer 21-50). At or beyond that point you may encounter check points where Tourist and Vehicle Permits may be inspected.

As of September 15, 2015 Mexican authorities in Baja California are requiring Tourist Permits for all pedestrian crossings, even into Tijuana. Since this is quite an impediment to cross border commerce, it will be interesting to see how long this requirement lasts.

Each person in your party who is older than 2 years must obtain a Tourist Permit. To obtain the permit you will be required to present proof of citizenship, which may be in the form of a passport, birth certificate, or voter registration. Beginning June 2009 a passport is required for re-entry to the U.S., so that is really the best document to use to obtain your Mexican Tourist Permit.

The application form for the Tourist Permit is in English and Spanish, is short, and takes only a couple of minutes to complete.

Tourist Permits are issued for periods of 1 day to six months, depending upon your length of stay. If you plan to stay in Mexico as a tourist more than six months, you are required to depart the country every six months and obtain a new Tourist Permit upon re-entry.

As of November 2015 there is no charge for a Tourist Permit of up to 7 days duration. The cost for a permit of 8 days – six months is 332 pesos, U.S. $20 - $22 depending on the exchange rate. If you have to pay the 332 pesos, might as well get it for six months, especially if you frequently travel back and forth across the border.

Once the Tourist Permit is issued, you must go to a bank and pay the applicable fee. A bank is usually located nearby the office issuing the permit. You do not pay where the permit is issued. The process may vary from location to location, but generally the officer issuing the permit gives you a payment slip to take to the nearby bank.

Once paid, the bank teller will stamp the permit “Pagado” or “paid" in two places: on the top and the bottom. The teller will separate the form and give you part of it to return to the immigration officer as evidence of payment.

Double check to make sure your copy is stamped “Paid” before you leave the teller window.

Once paid at the bank, return the slip stamped “paid” to the immigration office. The officer will then stamp “paid” on your copy of the Tourist Permit and hand you your copy of the permit. Again, the process may vary from location to location.

Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit - Customs

Once you obtain your Tourist Permit, you will obtain your Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit. This is usually done on the same premises where the Tourist Permit is issued or at a nearby location.

A permit is required for each vehicle, including travel trailers and other vehicles you have in tow. Permits are issued for from one to 180 days.

The permit cost is about $44 (December 2015) for cars, SUVs, and pickups, depending on the exchange rate. RV and boat permits cost more but are good for 10 years.

Note 1:

Only one permit per person is allowed for self-propelled vehicles. However, in 2006 a “tourist friendly” exception to this rule allows a permit for a second power unit being pulled behind a motor home to be issued in the same name as the permit for the motor home.

For convenience we recommend the dates for the Vehicle Permit correspond with the dates of your Tourist Permit.
A MUCH easier way to obtain the Temporary Vehicle Import Permit is online. If you do so, your permit will usually be delivered to your home in just a few days. You can apply online up to 180 days in advance but we recommend you apply at least three weeks in advance for this convenient service, especially in the run-up to the very busy Christmas travel season.

The Mexican government agency responsible for issuing vehicle permits, Banjercito, has made great improvements to the online process. The website advises using Internet Explorer for your web browser, so if you have difficulty using a different browser, switch to Internet Explorer.

NOTE 2:

Before starting the vehicle permit application process you must go to the following webpage: http://www.inm.gob.mx/index.php/page/Pre_Autorizacion/en.html in order to apply for your immigration pre-authorization. The vehicle permit will be issued for the same period as that stated on your immigration pre-authorization. Furthermore, once you‘ve entered Mexico you must go to an immigration office to exchange your pre-authorization form for the proper FMM Tourist Permit.

Once you have the immigration pre-authorization, go to the English language version of the website address to apply for your vehicle permit online:

NOTE 3:

You will be asked to select the country you are from . . . but you may not find the “United States”. That is because the drop down list uses the Spanish language name for the U.S.; scroll down and ESTADOS UNIDOS if you are from the United States.

Also, if you put a “period” in your street address, for example after “N” for north (N.) it will not allow you to proceed, nor does it tell you why you cannot advance.

When you input your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) the program will automatically default the Year and Make of the vehicle.

In addition to the cost of the permit, a refundable security deposit is required. The purpose of the deposit it to create an incentive for the vehicle owner to make sure the vehicle leaves Mexico prior to the expiration date of the temporary import permit. For more details, see NOTE 5 below.

When you receive your Vehicle Importation Permit via courier (DHL) you will need to scan and email or fax them the original of the following documents:

NOTE 4:

You have a choice of presenting either the Vehicle Registration or Title to obtain your Vehicle Permit. It is risky to travel with the Title and very problematic if you lose it. If you do travel with your vehicle Title, do not leave it in your vehicle. The Vehicle Registration is a much smarter and safer choice.

NOTE 5: VERY IMPORTANT!

The following information appears on the Banjercito website (December 2015):

“The Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP) has issued a decree which states that beginning on June 11, 2011 anyone applying for a temporary import permit for vehicles must make a deposit in the amount determined by the following table:

Vehicle Year Model

Amount to be paid in Mexican Pesos based on applicable exchange rate

2007 and later

400 USD

2001 until 2006

300 USD

2000 and earlier

200 USD

"This deposit is compulsory and can be paid by credit card, debit card, or cash (in US Dollars only). Users must keep in mind that if the deposit is charged to a credit card, the charge will be made in Mexican Pesos and will be calculated based on the exchange rate of the day on which the payment is made. This deposit will be refunded to the same credit card on the next banking business day after the vehicle is fully returned and based on the exchange rate of that day."

"The vehicle must be returned on time and within the time period stated on the temporary import permit. If the vehicle is returned after the stated time period, the entire deposit amount will be transferred to the Office of the Treasury on the day following the expected return date, as allowed by current law” (author’s emphasis).

While you can pay the security deposit in cash or via credit card, it is MUCH easier to pay via credit card because when you return the permit to be cancelled, the agent will scan the permit, which triggers an automatic credit back to your credit card. If you paid in cash, you will have to go inside the office and wait in line to receive your cash deposit back.

NOTE 6:

If the vehicle is leased or rented, or if the vehicle belongs to someone else, you may be asked to present a notarized statement from the leasing or rental company or the legal owner, authorizing you to take the vehicle to Mexico.

NOTE 7:

If you obtain your temporary import permit in Mexico, when the paperwork is complete, a Customs official may accompany you to your vehicle where he/she will place the import decal on the inside of the windshield, top, center, above the review mirror. In some locations they will simply give you the decal and paper work and you put the decal on your windshield.

If you obtained the import permit via the Internet, you will place the permit decal on the inside of the windshield, center, top, above the review mirror.

In addition to the decal you will be given a paper copy of the import permit. Keep the paper copy in a safe place because you may be asked to show it a checkpoint down the road.

NOTE 8: VERY IMPORTANT! When you complete your trip in Mexico or the Vehicle Permit is about to expire, to receive the deposit back, you must return the permit to Mexican Customs for it to be cancelled.

To cancel the Permit and receive the credit card or cash deposit back, stop at the Customs office before you leave Mexico. On most highways leading north to the U.S. there is a location roughly 15 miles south of the border where you can turn in your permit. These locations are well marked with signs in English and Spanish. They are usually convenient drive-up kiosks. The official will remove the decal from the inside of your windshield, cancel the permit in their systems, and give you a receipt confirming the permit has been cancelled.

If the location is not a drive-up, go inside and tell the official you wish to cancel your vehicle permit. The official may accompany you to your vehicle and remove the permit from the windshield, or they may tell you to remove it and bring the decal back to the Customs office window.

When the permit has been cancelled, you will be given a document confirming cancellation. We strongly recommend keeping this confirmation, at least until you obtain a new permit for your next trip to Mexico.

Note 9:

If you do not cancel your Vehicle Permit you will forfeit the credit card or cash deposit, but much more important, you will not be allowed to obtain a permit for another vehicle in the future.

Note 10:

EXCEPT FOR RVs, tourists are not allowed to bring vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of 7,500 pounds or greater. At some border crossing they do not pay close attention to vehicle size, but others, most notably across from the El Paso, Texas area, this rule is pretty strictly enforced. Again, RVs 7,500 or less are not a problem.

Note 11:

Beginning in 2008 and continuing to the present (December 2015) we have heard of tourists having difficulty obtaining vehicle permits at the crossings in and around Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso. For that reason, if you plan to cross at these border locations, it is advisable to that obtain your vehicle permit online.

Pesos versus Dollars

Mexico’s currency is the Peso. You can make your visit there infinitely more convenient by exchanging your dollars for pesos, thus enabling you to make all of your purchases in pesos.

It can get pretty confusing when buying gasoline with dollars and wonder how the purchase compares to the cost at home because not only are you converting dollars to pesos, you are also converting liters to gallons!

When you pay for your purchases in dollars, you empower the other party to the transaction to determine the exchange rate; you will almost always end up paying more for than if you had paid in pesos.

Where to get pesos:

On both sides of the border at most border crossing areas you will see money exchanges/Casas de Cambio businesses. They advertise their price to Buy and Sell pesos and dollars. Remember, for your entry into Mexico you are buying pesos and selling dollars. On the U.S. side these exchanges are often located at a window inside a convenience store or gas station and are found to be secure. We often get a couple hundred dollars’ worth of pesos at one of these locations on either side of the border.

When we need more pesos once into Mexico we use ATM machines inside banks.

We avoid ATM machines in super markets, convenience stores, and hotel lobbies due to the incidence of credit card cloning/skimming. Hotels usually have the least favorable exchange rates.
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