What is the Mexico Free Zone?

Last Updated: August 4, 2021 by
Categories: Border Crossing, Driving to Mexico, Free Zone

A day trip, an overnighter, even a longer stay – visitors to certain areas of Mexico must obtain a temporary importation permit (TIP) in order to drive their non-Mexican vehicles across the border.

However, some of the more popular tourist destinations lie within what’s known as the Mexico Free Zone, or Mexico Free Border Zone – an area of the country that does not require a vehicle permit and have reduced customs requirements.

Why a Free Zone?

The Mexico Free Zone was established to bolster trade and tourism in the country’s border areas.Non-Mexican vehicles driving in these zones do not require a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP), allowing travelers to save time and money when planning their Mexico trip. This is especially beneficial to frequent visitors from US-based border states as well as for travelers who have made last-minute travel plans or are making quick trips to the country.

In addition, all goods—with the exclusion of alcohol, cigarettes, cigars, and race horses—can be imported duty-free, within the free zone boundaries.

The free zone also creates greater economic growth in Mexico by allowing resources to move easily across the border for manufacturing and assembly plants. The resulting products can then 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 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' (Spanish).

Mexico Free Zone Perimeters

Map showing the Sonora Free Zone

The Mexico Free zone encompasses areas along Mexico’s northern and southern borders states, typically 12 to 16 miles from the border (20 to 26 km). Also, the entire Baja peninsula, a large portion of Sonora, and Quintana Roo lie within the free zone.

Within the Mexico Free Zone, travel without a temporary importation permit (TIP) is allowed and unrestricted.

The Sonora zone 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 the areas to the north and west of Mexico Federal Highway 15 are part of the free zone. Kilometer 98, southeast of Empalme, is where the free zone ends (see map).

Knowing where the zone ends is critical: Crossing out of the free zone without a vehicle permit is illegal. Your vehicle could be confiscated, and you could be escorted back to the border or taken to jail.

What Do I Need to Travel in the Free Zone?

Within or without the Mexico Free Zone, travelers to the country need to be aware of certain travel requirements.

A Valid Passport

All foreign visitors are required to have a valid passport or passport card to travel anywhere in Mexico. It is possible you will not be asked to present it, but it is the law.

Mexico Visitors Permit

All foreign visitors to Mexico are required to carry a Mexico visitors permit (Forma Migratoria Múltiple or FMM) regardless of where they travel, including within the Mexico Free Zone. To obtain the FMM permit, you will need a valid passport. If you arrive by land and leave within seven days of your arrival, there is no fee for the FMM permit.

Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP)

A TIP is not required for those driving in the free zone. However, if there is a chance you will drive your foreign-plated vehicle outside the free zone you will need to purchase a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit(or TIP) before you leave the border. You cannot purchase a TIP in the interior of Mexico. To obtain a TIP, visit Banjercito, the official issuing agency in Mexico.

Mexican Vehicle Insurance

If plan to drive your car, truck, van, SUV, motorcycle or motorhome across the border, even if you will be staying inside the free zone the entire time, you must have a valid, in-force policy that includes Mexican liability insurance coverage. The coverage is mandatory and must be obtained from Mexico-based insurance companies.

Even if you have insurance in your home country, you must purchase Mexico car insurance. Mexican authorities do not recognize insurance from other countries.

Visit Mexpro for a free quote.

Current Driver’s License

You will need a current driver’s license if driving your foreign-plated vehicle in Mexico.

Vehicle Registration

Mexican authorities often check to be sure you are the legal owner of the vehicles, and to verify that the Vehicle Identification Numbers all match your paperwork. Vehicles that do not have current registration documents, can be confiscated and impounded by the Mexican authorities.

Customs Checkpoints

With the free zone designation, Mexican customs checkpoints have been moved further into the interior of Mexico, 12 to 16 miles (20 to 26 kilometers). If you reach a customs checkpoint and need a TIP to continue into Mexico, you will be turned around and sent back to the border to obtain a permit.

Other checkpoints exist further in Mexico, and your TIP compliance could be checked at any time on your trip. Since it is illegal to travel outside the free zone without a TIP, your vehicle could be confiscated, you could be escorted back to the border and/or taken to jail.

Remember, you cannot purchase a TIP in the interior of Mexico.

Quick Trips, Easy Decisions

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!