Posted August 1, 2017 by & filed under Border Crossing, Driving to Mexico, Free Zone.

Mexico Hassle Free Zone sign

The Mexico Free or Border Zone was designated by the Mexican government to make it easier for travelers to enter Mexico and improve tourism along the U.S. border. Vehicles driving in these zones do not need a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP). And, for stays less than 72 hours in the Free Zone, a tourist visa is not required.

Additionally, goods—with the exclusion of alcohol, cigarettes, cigars and race horses—can be imported into Mexico duty free, as long as within these boundaries. This way resources can be moved easily across the border for manufacturing and assembly plants. And, once produced, the items can be exported outside of Mexico duty free, giving companies incentive to produce in Mexico, and in turn, creating more jobs for Mexicans living there.

The ‘Free zone’ designation is actually short for ‘Hassle Free Zone,’ but the area has many other names including: Border Zone, Perimeter Zone, Liberated Zone, the Free Trade Zone and ‘Zona Libre’ (in Spanish).

What are the free zone perimeters?

Sonora Free Border Zone MexicoThe Mexico Free zone encompasses areas along Mexico’s northern and southern borders. Yet, the entire Baja peninsula and a large portion of Sonora are included in the free zone. For all other Mexican border states, it is the area between 20 and 26 km (12 to 16 miles) from the border.

The Sonora designation is important, because it’s illegal to cross out of the Free Zone without a Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. The free zone in Sonora lies to the northwest of Mexico Federal Highway Number 2, starting at Agua Prieta. It extends through Cananea, to where it intersects with Mexican Federal Highway 15 in Imuris. From Imuris, all of the areas to the north and west of Mexico Federal Highway 15 are included. Kilometer 98, southeast of Empalme, is where the free zone ends.

Mexico makes it easier for those traveling outside the Free Zone in Sonora by offering the Sonora-only Temporary Importation Permit.

What are the benefits of traveling in the free zone?

The primary benefit is you do not need a TIP, which saves time and money. Quick and last minute trips to Mexico are faster and easier, as a TIP requires time at the border or online to obtain the permit. You will need proof of citizenship, proof that you own the vehicle and a Mexican tourist card (Forma Migratoria Múltiple or FMM), a refundable deposit and a fee. All requires some preplanning.

What if I accidentally travel outside the free zone without a TIP?

It is illegal to travel outside the Mexico free zone without a TIP. Your vehicle could be confiscated and you could be escorted back to the border or taken to jail.

Do I need Mexico Insurance if I travel in the Free Zone?

Absolutely. Liability insurance provided by a Mexican insurer is required to drive your vehicle in Mexico. Without liability insurance, you could be detained until you can prove the ability to pay damages in an at-fault accident. Mexico laws continue to get stricter, so be prepared with Mexico insurance.

Do I need a passport to travel to the Free Zone?

Yes, a passport or passport card is required to travel anywhere in Mexico. It is possible you will not be asked to present it, but it is the law.

If you’re on the fence about where to travel in Mexico, you may want to consider the free zone for the ease of access, quick border crossings and loads of fun!

29 Responses to “What is the Mexico Free/Border Zone?”

  1. Rocio R

    Hi I will be visiting San Carlos soon. Is that within the limits or would I need to get a TIP, FFM or permit from Banjercito?

  2. anonymous

    We work part time and rent a home in Texas. We want to spend the rest of our time in a rental home in a border town in Mexico doing volunteer work. That means we will be going back to USA every week or two. Are we required to have any permits to be in Mexico on the border for a week or 2?

    • Roxanna Brock McDade

      If you are staying in a place that is in the Free border zone you do not need to get a permit. If you are not, you need a permit. It lasts for 6 months, so you can go back and forth as much as you want. When it expires, you can get a new one. You will need to check with your landlord or with Banjercito (with your address) to see if you need one.

  3. Michelle Hunnewell

    Hello, I have been doing my research and think I am down to two questions. I plan to obtain my Mexican insurance about 2 weeks before I travel and my tourist visa upon crossing at San Ysidro. I see that I don’t need a TIP as I will only be traveling on the Baja Peninsula. My questions are:
    * Do I still need to bring my purchase contract for my car (it’s been five years…not sure I can find it, or I’ll get a copy) and also a letter from the Lienholder (Ford Credit) with permission to leave the US in the car? This is confusing becasue the Banjercito website says I will need the contract and the letter but the contract must be less that 3 months old. This maes no sense becsue Ford states that they will not issue a letter for 6 months or 1 year from purchase date. Also someone who just bought a car and mu ch less to lose by running off with a car than someone like me…who has been paying for 5 years, faithfully to the creditor. Please advise.

    * Since I will have a Global Entry and will be driving back and forth to California, does the clock start ticking again every time I leave and reenter?

    Thank you.

    M.H. in Sacramento, CA

  4. Marc

    I want to travel from Arizona to Mexicali. How can I determine if the address of a hotel is in the free zone. Traveling to Hotel Colonial Mexicali, Blvd Lopez Mateos 1048, Mexicali, BC, 21000 Mexico

  5. Melony Smith

    I want to check out Ajijic. If I drive, is there a bus or other transportation to get from Border to there without having to drive.

  6. Karina

    Hi I am traveling to Tijuana and will stay there for about 6 days. Will I need an FMM since I am staying more than 72 hours in the ‘free zone’? Thank You.

  7. Fred M.

    I want to retire in Mexico. I do not quite qualify for the monthly income requirement. If I retired in a free zone can I live there without needing to get a tourist visa or permanent visa?

    • Anonymous

      Is the free zone of 20-25 km circling all around Mexico even along the coast (because after all that IS the border of Mexico)? The map in the article seems to indicate a thin green zone circling all around Mexico?

      • Roxanna Brock McDade

        I can see how it would be confusing. No the free zone in the green area (free zone) indicated in the map extends from the border all the way to the coast. This is for Baja and the indicated portion of Sonora only. Other coastlines, outside the 20-25km distance from the border, are not in the free zone. However, the 20-25 km free zone also applies to Mexico’s southern border.

    • Albert

      Quintana Roo is a free zone. I live there. I know.

      Quintana Roo – the state of Quintana Roo on the border with Belize is also a free zone. Foreign plated vehicles may circulate in the state without an import permit, as long as the registration is current in the home country. The exception to this is federal land, in particular the Cancun airport.
      Overland Mexico Travel – WikiOverland

    • Albert

      Yes Rick, it is a free zone. I live there. But the hard part is getting there without passing through other states that require it. BUT, once you are here, you can cancel your TIP and drive free in the state. I have 3 vehicles here from the US and understand the process.

  8. Shelly

    Do kids need a passport to travel to Mexican Free zone? I thought a birth certificate worked.

  9. Veronica

    I am traveling from CD Juarez to Puerto Penasco. Do I still need to get a TIP?

    • Roxanna Brock McDade

      The free zone extends between 12 and 16 miles from the US border with Mexico. If you are driving through Mexico, then you will likely go outside the free zone, according to Google maps. You could ask Banjercito at the border to be sure.


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