What is the Mexico Free/Border Zone?
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).
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?
The 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 require 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!