US Travel to Mexico
…what you need to know before you go…
A few years ago I went to Europe and couldn’t believe how easy it was to travel to a different country.
I had all my documents ready and was preparing myself for a showdown with an immigration official.
But there wasn’t even a border crossing!
In fact, there wasn’t even a sign welcoming me to a new country.
I was at least expecting something saying, “If you’re an illegal immigrant please report to the nearest police station…”
How different it is from the US-Mexico border!
There are definitely no huge walls to climb over in Europe.
And no shows on cable TV about illegal immigrants who look like Al Pacino in Scarface.
However, there are rules, restrictions, and guidelines for Americans traveling to Mexico.
So, here is my succinct guide to everything you need to know.
Do I Need A Visa To Visit Mexico?
US citizens don’t need a visa to visit Mexico.
In fact, citizens from most EU countries don’t need a visa to step into the wonderful world of ponchos, siestas, and getting hideously drunk at 11am.
But don’t go thinking you can retire here without giving the local authorities a heads up.
By arriving without a visa US citizens are allowed to stay for up to 180 days.
Mexican Tourism Permit
To enter Mexico, all foreigners need a permit called an FMM.
You can get them at the border, on the plane, or from travel agencies.
It’s also known as the tourism permit.
Then when you go through the border, the customs official will fill out the section about your length of stay.
They should put 180 days.
But sometimes they put 15 or 30, or some other inconvenient number.
Therefore it’s always good to ask for the maximum.
Here is where the Mexicans are cheeky.
The actual tourism permit is free.
But you have to pay a tourist fee.
It’s like a tax for not being from Mexico.
A bit unfair if you ask me.
Especially when I tell you that it’s a $25 USD tax!
When you pay make sure you get your tourism permit stamped so it’s clear that you have paid – and get a receipt!
Travel Documents For US Travel To Mexico
Europeans hear this statistic that the majority of Americans don’t have a passport.
The truth is that we didn’t always need one.
When traveling to Mexico by land, US citizens used to only need either a passport, passport card, or an enhanced driving license.
However, recent law changes mean that Americans need a passport if they with wish to travel beyond the frontier zone and into Mexico proper.
The best and most convenient way to get to Playa Del Carmen is by air.
However, when traveling to Mexico by air then you must have a passport.
So no turning up to the airport with some dodgy excuses about your dog eating your passport.
US Travel To Mexico – Visiting The Frontier Zone
So the Europeans don’t have the border.
But between the US and Mexico there is a 30-km frontier zone.
You don’t need a tourism permit if you only visit this frontier zone and you stay for less than 72 hours.
So if you want a quick tequila and a chat in Spanish before recrossing you’ve saved $25 USD.
But if you want to visit Playa Del Carmen, you must get the permit.
Mexicans Think Americans Are Rich
I showed a Mexican friend my bank statement and he was shocked.
Like many Mexicans he assumed all Americans are loaded.
There is absolutely nothing you can do about this phenomenon.
Mexicans will treat Americans differently than fellow Mexicans.
They will expect more from you and be annoyed when you don’t whimsically whip out your cash.
I know it’s hard, but try not to lose your temper over this, unless you’re one of those US pensioners who walk around in full khaki and wear socks with sandals.
It’s classic tourists like these that make Mexicans think we’re rich.
You will have to learn to accept that this is the way of life here.
Americans Are Very Welcome In Playa Del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen is a very welcoming destination, and it doesn’t discriminate on nationality.
It’s a diverse city, and you’ll find people living here who come from all over the world.
Including Americans like me.
Almost everyone will welcome you with a smile and an ‘hola,’ and by the end of your vacation, you’ll have a load of new friends.
Familiarizing Yourself With Mexican Culture
Even if you cross the border with just a drivers license, it’s important to remember that you’re in a foreign country and must respect the local culture.
So it’s always good to brush up on the basics of Mexican etiquette before you arrive.
They speak Spanish in Mexico.
So don’t be as ignorant as the English tourists.
Learn some basic Spanish travel phrases before you go.
America is famous for massive burgers and endless fast food stores.
In Mexico the food isn’t about drive-thrus and supersized soft drinks.
It’s so much better than that.
But you should first get a quick glimpse of Mexican food and how to pronounce the different dishes.
The more you immerse yourself, the better your experience.
US Travel To Mexico – In Two Lines
To make it very easy I’ll condense everything into two lines.
- US citizens don’t need a visa but will need to get a tourism permit on arrival in Mexico.
- And if you arrive by air you’ll need a passport.
There you have it! Rufus’s simple guide to US travel to Mexico.
See you on the beach…
Lots of love,
It’s your turn! Is there something that you want to say about the subject? Please leave your comments below!
Coming to playa del Carmen and hearing all the warnings for this area is it really that back.
Thanks for the question. The warnings are crap. Complete nonsense. I was out last night, the night before, and two days before that.
There are people everywhere. It’s high season here. There is a high security presence. Your biggest concern should be making sure you know the taxi rates so that the taxi drivers don’t try to overcharge you. Really. No joke.
The warnings that you’re hearing are about an explosion in a ferry that takes passengers from here to Cozumel. However, if you read between the lines, you’ll see that the ferry company is owned by the father of the former governor who embezzled a whole bunch of money before being caught in Panama. He is now in jail here.
The explosion took place on the boat as it was parked on the ferry dock. Although ~25 people were injured, nobody was killed. (I’m not saying this is a good thing, but just that it is an extremely isolated incident that was clearly politically motivated.)
Take a look at this article. Be sure to read it in entirety to see what I mean.
You’ll be fine here. I live here. Thousands of other expats live here. Try telling them about your concerns and they will laugh out loud.
Don’t believe the propoganda. People from countries around the world are cancelling their children’s foreign exchange opportunities because they are afraid their kids are going to get shot in American schools. Can you believe that? Their kids are more likely to die on a plane crash getting to the US than being shot in the classroom!!! But the media preaches this hyper-dramatic crap for one reason: to keep you sitting on your ass glued to the television watching their garbage programs.
Don’t buy the propoganda. You’ll be fine here and will even enjoy your trip. Just turn off/block out the “news” that you see and you’ll be better off.
Thankyou Rufus I already booked it and figured this, but others in group are concerned can’t wait!