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Mexico Entry Requirements - Required Travel Documents for Travel to Mexico

A CBP agent checks a passport at the US Mexico border

It is one of the most common questions we have received over the past 20 years helping readers like you with their travel document needs:

Do you need a passport to go to Mexico?

The simple answer is yes. US citizens are required to present a valid passport book or passport card when entering Mexico.

There are also some alternative travel documents that can be used in place of a passport depending on where and how you plan to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Mexican authorities have made a real effort to strengthen border security. As such, there are strict rules about considered a valid travel document to visit Mexico.

The following items are considered valid identification documents for traveling to Mexico:

  • A U.S. passport book (required for all international air travel to Mexico)
  • A U.S. passport card
  • An enhanced driver's license (EDL)
  • A trusted traveler program card (NEXUS card SENTRI card, FAST card, or Global Entry card)
  • An enhanced tribal card (ETC)
  • A military identification card (only for members of the U.S. armed services on official maritime business)
  • A Military ID with official orders that require travel to Mexico or through the country's borders

The items listed above are all considered WHTI compliant documents (more on this later). While a passport book is the only acceptable document for international air travel, the rest of these options can be used at most land and sea ports of entry to Mexico and back into the United States.

Note: Not every port of entry has the RFID card readers required to accept any WHTI compliant document other than a passport book. When planning travel to Mexico, travelers should be sure they have the proper type of identification documents accepted by the customs and border protection services at their planned port of entry.

The following documents are not acceptable substitutes for a valid passport:

  • a birth certificate
  • a standard driver's license
  • an automobile registration
  • a naturalization certificate
  • any other government issued photo ID that is not expressly a WHTI compliant document

While many of these are required documents for getting a passport, none of them are considered a valid travel document on their own for entering Mexico.

Currently, a valid passport book is the best option for all U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico. It is the most reliable and versatile way to travel internationally. If you have a valid passport book, you can be sure it will be accepted at every US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Instituto Nacional de Migracion (National Migration Institute) checkpoint.

Regardless of how you plan to travel to Mexico, U.S. citizens who do not have a passport book or a passport card should apply for one well in advance of their trip.

If you are planning a trip to Mexico soon, be sure to consider expedited passport processing options. In some cases, registered passport courier services can help you get a passport in-hand is as few as 24 hours.

Our expert recommendation for passport expediting services goes to Rush My Passport. Their courteous and professional team has offices across the US at the ready to help you get a new passport or renew an existing one quickly and without hassle. With their help, you can save both time and money compared to the costs of getting a rushed passport on your own.

It is worth noting that there are some alternatives to a passport book that will allow US citizens to enter Mexico and reenter the US. However, there are limits to how and where these can be used. For example, none of these alternatives is acceptable for air travel to Mexico or other countries.

Using WHTI Documents to Cross the Mexico Border

A CBP agent checks a driver's travel document at the US Mexico border

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) was established in 2007 to both strengthen border security and make it simpler to travel between Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and some Caribbean Islands. The program is ideal for US, Mexican, and Canadian citizens who must regularly travel back and forth across land or sea border crossings for work, family, or other reasons.

The most common of the WHTI compliant documents is the passport card, but they all essentially work the same way. Presenting one of these documents to Mexican immigration authorities will allow you to enter Mexico by land or by sea.

The same works in reverse. WHTI-approved travel documents meet the entry requirements for US citizens seeking passage back into the United States through most Customs and Border Protection checkpoints.

So, while US citizens must still always present a valid passport or valid identification when crossing back and forth across these borders, the WHTI compliant documents make life more convenient for frequent travelers in a number of ways:

  • RFID chips embedded in Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative documents speed up the process of crossing the border by land or sea.
  • Passport books have limited number of pages. Without WHTI alternatives, travelers who cross North American land and sea borders often would need to renew passports more frequently. This would cost travelers a lot of time and money.
  • Passport books are bulky. Conversely, a passport card, enhanced driver's license, SENTRI card, or other card issued as part of the Trusted Traveler Program can fit in a standard wallet or purse just like any credit or debit card. This makes life easier for those who need to carry travel documents with them as part of their daily routines.
  • Document condition matters. Passports and all pertinent travel documents must be in good condition. Mexican immigration may not accept washed, mutilated, or otherwise damaged passports, and require their carriers to return to the United States.

    WHTI documents are more rigid and durable than even the most recent version of the US passport book. That said, significantly damaged WHTI travel documents will be rejected the same way a damaged passport book would be.

If your international travel plans are focused solely on Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative countries (and don't involve international air travel), this may be a great way to travel to Mexico without a passport book.

Requirements for Minors Traveling to Mexico

A mother and baby on a beach in mexico at sunset

Getting a passport for a minor (considered by the State Department to be all U.S. citizens under the age of 16) is the best way to ensure flexibility when traveling to Mexico or any international destination.

For one thing, a passport book is the only way for a child (or anyone) to board and international flight.

This may not seem like a big deal, but should there be an emergency that requires travel abroad, a child will remain grounded without a valid passport book. This goes for traveling to Mexico and back, as well.

There are some acceptable WHTI documents that a minor can be eligible for (a passport card being one), but they carry the same limitations on ports of entry as they do for adults. Chief among them: WHTI documents cannot be used for air travel to Mexico or anywhere else.

In the specific case of traveling to Mexico, there are some other unique circumstances carved out for minors without passports:

  • Children who are U.S. citizens and under age 16 arriving by land or sea from contiguous territory can travel to Mexico from the United States without a passport. They must present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card when entering Mexico and when returning to the United States.
  • Children under the age of 19 who are U.S. citizens traveling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organization or sports team, may present these documents as well; however, they must also provide documentation from the supervising organization, contact information, and letters of consent from a legal parent or guardian.

In either case, a passport book is still the most convenient option to ensure maximum travel flexibility.

Tourist Travel

friends dining in mexico with a mariachi band

A visa or tourist card - also called a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) is now required for all U.S. citizens visiting as tourist for six months. Previous exemptions for short stays (less than 72-hours) or stays within the border zone no longer apply.

This Mexican tourist card is mandatory for all leisure visits by land, sea, or air. These FMM cards serve as your entry permit and can be purchased at Mexican consulates, Mexican border crossings, tourism offices, airports, and airline offices.

You can acquire this Mexican tourist card in advance of your trip and save yourself the time and stress of filling out the documentation while traveling.

Mexican immigration officers and other law enforcement entities have the right ask visitors to provide proof of their legal status at any time. As such, travelers are expected to keep their tourist cards with them at all times.

Any non-Mexican citizen must must present a valid form of travel documentation-as well as their Mexican tourist card-upon request.

It is worth noting that, on occasion, travelers that have been unable to produce proper documentation have been detained by Mexican officials. Border protection and security is a big deal across North America, not just in the United States. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep photocopies of your passport and tourist card in case the originals are damaged, lost, or stolen.

While these tourist cards remain valid for up to 180 days, U.S. citizens must return the cards when they depart Mexico. Visitors who are unable to present their card may encounter significant delays and be asked to file a police report, pay fines, and/or go through the process of obtaining an exit visa.

Do You Need a Passport for Closed Loop Cruises?

No. Even if you don't have a valid passport yet, it is possible to visit Mexico as part of a closed loop cruise. You must present a valid form of identification to board, but you do not need to have a valid passport book or passport card.

Closed loop cruises are unique travel itineraries in which a cruise line starts and ends its journey from a port within the United States.

While these cruises may travel through waters controlled by other countries (or even dock at a foreign port of entry), the US citizens on board are not required to have a valid passport. Travelers can board and remain on the cruise with whatever valid identification documents the cruise line accepts.

This is a great way to travel without a passport, but it can also be quite limiting. A cruise line may advertise particular voyages as a closed loop cruises, but still offer excursions on land for travelers with valid passports or WHTI compliant documents that meet the entry requirements of the port. Being able to present a valid passport opens up the maximum potential for making the most of a cruise to Mexico - closed loop or otherwise.

Business Travel

a man and woman have a business meeting at a conference table

Travelers visiting Mexico for business must also complete and submit Form FFM. This form authorizes visitors to conduct business, but not to obtain employment. Business travelers, other non-tourist travelers, or any visitors remaining for more than 180 days must have a Mexican visa and a valid passport to enter the country. U.S. citizens can apply for a Mexican visa at the Mexican Embassy or any Mexican consulate.

For travelers expecting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border on a regular basis, the SENTRI card issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may be worth acquiring. It allows access to speedy commuter lanes, drastically reducing time spent waiting in line at CBP checkpoints.

Similarly, the FAST card allows commercial drivers (typically trucks) access to dedicated lanes through most North American border crossings.


A yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked in front of a Mexican cantina

Any U.S. vehicle traveling beyond the Mexican border zone may be confiscated unless the driver is able to present a temporary import permit (TIP). Incarceration, fines, or vehicle seizure may result from driving into the Mexican interior without this documentation.

Obtaining this permit involves producing several required documents:

  • evidence of citizenship
  • a vehicle title
  • a valid vehicle registration
  • a valid driver's license

There is a processing fee, as well.

In addition to the items listed above, drivers must also post a bond at an office of the Banjercito (the Mexican Army Bank) to guarantee that the vehicle will be exported by a certain date. This monetary deposit can be made by cash or credit card.

Posting this bond at a Mexican customs office or certain Mexican consulates will allow you to avoid additional fees and charges. You will receive a refund of your deposit as long as you leave Mexico before your Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) entry permit expires.

Be warned, travelers should never accept the service of individuals outside of official permit offices or consular agencies offering expedited service. These services are largely fraudulent and lack the authority to accept deposits, issue proper documentation, or handle deposit refunds.

Vehicles traveling in the Baja Peninsula or vehicles with the "Only Sonora" program are exempt from this requirement. This program allows any vehicle that enters at a land border in the Sonoran region to travel without a permit as long as it does not leave the region.

What may be brought into Mexico

U.S. citizens must declare the value of any gifts they are carrying when they enter Mexico.

There is a $75.00 duty free limit for entry by land, and a $300.00 limit for entry by air.

Alcohol and tobacco products always incur a duty. Personal effects will not incur a duty unless they exceed certain limits specified by Mexican customs. Undeclared items may be seized by customs.

Regulations are in place regarding imports, exports, and property donations, and visitors should contact the Embassy of Mexico or a Mexican consulate if they need details.

Before packing, consult our guide of the items NOT to pack for an international trip.

Dual Citizenship

Dual U.S./Mexican nationals should carry citizenship documentation for both countries when traveling to Mexico. In the case of Mexico, this means carrying both a U.S. and Mexican passport.

Mexico considers U.S. citizens born in Mexico or to Mexican parents to be dual citizens of Mexico. Dual citizens may be required to complete a period of military service in Mexico, and may have difficulty receiving U.S. consular assistance in the event of arrest or other emergencies. Dual nationals must declare their U.S. citizenship when returning to the United States.

The Border Zones

A hillside view of the US Mexico border

The immediate border area between Mexico's northern sates and the southern United States is known by many names:

  • The Border Zone
  • The Free Zone
  • The Free Trade Zone
  • The Liberated Zone
  • The Hassle-Free Zone
  • The Perimeter Zone
  • Zona Libre

Initially, this area stretching 12-20 miles across the Mexican border, was designed to encourage travel and trade between Mexico and US travelers. As such, there were no FMM entry permit or Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TIP) requirements. Passports were still a necessity, though.

This changed in 2015. The Mexican government required all those traveling to Mexico to get an FMM permit to enter the county. As it stands now, the only benefit to the Border Zone area is that a TIP is not required for vehicles that are not registered with Mexican documentation. Passports (or WHTI equivalents) and FMM are now always required for US citizens entering Mexico.

Still have questions about the requirements for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border? The Bureau of Consular Affairs website is the best source for further information about current regulations.

Should you need to obtain travel documentation quickly, be sure to visit our guides on how to expedite your passport and visa applications.

Top 5 Questions About Expedited Passport Couriers

1. How can you get a passport when you're in a hurry?
2. What exactly does a passport expediter do?
3. Are passport expediting services legitimate?
4. How can I identify a reliable passport expeditor?
5. Is expedited passport service worth it?

Get answers to these questions and more in our Ultimate U.S. Traveler's Guide to Passport Expediters.

You can also visit our library of articles about passport expediting.

About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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