Before You Go to Mexico: Crossing the Mexican Border By Car | Mexpro

Before You Go to Mexico

More than 20 million Americans travel to Mexico every year, and a large portion choose to drive. When traveling to a foreign country, it's important to know the legal requirements for entering and leaving, so you can avoid expensive, inconvenient situations that could delay or disrupt your trip.

If you're driving to Mexico, crossing the Mexican border by car, and planning to use your vehicle in Mexico, here's what you need to know before you go, when you cross the border, and what you'll need and can expect upon returning to the U.S.


Requirements for Entering Mexico


Travelers must have a valid passport to visit Mexico. Alternatively, a passport card (not valid for air travel) can be used ONLY if you will be staying in the border zones. A passport card cannot be used for travel to the interior of Mexico, even by land, no matter what the U.S. government website says.

Keep a copy of all your documents in your hotel to facilitate replacement, should they be lost or stolen. If you are asked for your documents by Mexican officials, they want to see the originals, not copies. If all you have are copies, you will be detained until your "condition of stay" status is verified. (No, they will not let you go back to your hotel to get them.)

It's not a bad idea to visit the Embassy of Mexico website, in case there have been any recent changes to the requirements. You can also call the Embassy at (202)736-1000 or visit any Mexican Consulate in the U.S.

Note: The application process for a U.S. passport can easily take ten weeks or more, so don't wait until the last minute to submit your application. There is an expedited process available for an additional charge, but even that can take two weeks or more. Find more information on obtaining a passport at the website.


Citizens of the U.S. and Canada do not require a tourist visa when visiting Mexico as tourists, journalists, students, or on business, provided their stay does not exceed 180 days. For stays longer than 180 days, you must apply for a Mexican Resident visa.

Tourist Permit (Mexico Migratory Form or FMM)

The Mexico Multiple Migratory Form or Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM) is a tourist permit and is not the same as a visa. All non-Mexican visitors are required to obtain an FMM.

Although the paper FMM has been phased out at Mexican airports, they are still issuing paper FMMs at the land borders. So, you need to plan on stopping to ensure your paperwork is in order when you cross the border.

The FMM is free if your stay in Mexico is less than seven days. Beyond that, an FMM can be issued for up to 180 days for a cost of $687 pesos (about $39 USD, May 2023). However, the official granting the FMM can assign any expiration date (less than 180 days) at their discretion.

The agents you see at the Mexico border crossing are customs officials (Aduanas) and not immigration. They should not ask to see your FMM because it is not their job, and they are not allowed to check your immigration status.

Thus, you must stop and go into the immigration office (INM) to get your FMM, or get it stamped if you purchased it online. If you bought your FMM online, bring your printed receipt with you or you will have to pay again.

If there is no Immigration location at the border, go to the "something to declare" area and let the agents know you need an FMM.

There can be serious consequences for not having an FMM when you travel to Mexico, including:

  • Insurance claims may not be honored.
  • You could be placed in immigration detention for up to 90 days and ultimately be deported back to your country of origin.
  • In the event of an emergency requiring you to fly out of México, you could face delays.

While you are out and about in México, you are required to carry your passport and FMM with you. If you are a legal resident of México, you should have your resident's card. Copies are not good enough. Remember, if you are asked for your documents by Mexican officials, they want to see the originals, not copies.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) (U.S. Citizens Only)

You are not required to enroll in STEP, but it makes it easy for you to get messages if there is a security issue in the area in Mexico where you'll be traveling. It also makes it easier for the State Department to find you in the event of an emergency.


Requirements for Driving in Mexico

In addition to the items mentioned above, you will need the following if driving a vehicle in Mexico.

Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP)

If you plan to ONLY drive within Mexico's free or border zone there is no requirement for a TIP. However, if you are traveling beyond the free zone, you MUST get a TIP to temporarily 'import' your vehicle into Mexico. This is not something you want to skip! If you are caught in a TIP required area without one, your vehicle will be impounded. Oftentimes the fines and fees to get your vehicle back will be more than it is worth.

Even if Mexican border agents do not confirm you have a TIP, there are various checkpoints within the interior of Mexico where this is one of the first things they'll check.

The cost of a TIP is currently $59 (May 2023). There is an additional refundable deposit of $200 to $400, depending upon your vehicle's age. Your deposit will be refunded, when you cancel your permit, before its expiration date, at the border upon leaving Mexico. TIPs are valid for up to 180 days (usually the length of time given on your FMM or on your Temporary resident's card) and allow for multiple entries and exits.

You will need the valid original registration and possibly your original title to get a TIP. You need to have a document that shows you as the owner of the vehicle. If your registration does not have this designation, then you will need your title.

Read our Vehicle Import Permit FAQs if you have questions. Apply for your TIP online now through the Banjercito Website.

Letter of Permission for Financed, Borrowed, Rented Vehicles

If you are not the owner of the vehicle you will need a notarized letter of permission from the lienholder, rental company, or owner giving you permission to take the vehicle to México. You will need this to get a TIP, but it is also legally required to drive the vehicle in Mexico.

Vehicle Title**

Although it is not required (unless needed for obtaining your TIP), it is a good idea to have your vehicle's original title with you while in México. If your vehicle is impounded or in an accident, you will need the original title to get it out of impound.

** Canadians need their certificate of registration. México knows that Canada does not issue titles.

Driver's License

U.S. and Canadian driver's licenses are recognized in Mexico, so you do not need an international driver's license. Always carry your original valid license with you when driving in Mexico, not a copy.

If you do not have a valid non-Mexican driver's license, your Mexico insurance policy will be rendered invalid.

If you plan to rent a car in Mexico, you will need your driver's license.

Note: A driver's license CANNOT be used to get across the border to go to México, because a passport is needed to get an FMM.

Mexican Vehicle Insurance

Regardless of what your U.S. or Canadian insurer may tell you, Mexico does not recognize your foreign-issued liability insurance. Only Mexican auto liability insurance meets Mexico's legal requirements. Additionally, most comprehensive and collision coverage won't be valid in Mexico.

The U.S. State Department strongly recommends U.S. drivers purchase a full coverage Mexico vehicle insurance policy that also includes the cost of bail, in case you are determined to be at-fault in a vehicle accident while in Mexico.

Mexpro suggests you purchase your Mexican insurance only from an A-Rated Mexico insurer, as they can be trusted to take care of your vehicle, its occupants, and third parties if you need to file a claim. All Mexpro policies include our exclusive MexVisit® travel assistance product, that includes bail bond, auto and personal legal assistance, medical, and roadside assistance coverage.


Crossing the Mexico Border

When you cross the Mexican border by car, the Mexican border agent will likely not ask for your passport, FMM, driver's license, proof of insurance, or TIP. Even though they do not, you are required to have these items.

You must get your FMM at Mexico Immigration at the border, or get it stamped if you purchased it online. Do not leave the border without it.

You will be asked for your passport every time you exchange U.S. dollars for pesos, likely when you check into your hotel, and on many other occasions while visiting Mexico.

If your vehicle gets pulled over at checkpoints within the interior of Mexico, you will most likely be asked for your FMM and TIP, if required. Sometimes an FMM can be used to get discounts at hotels and restaurants.

If you are walking across the border, be sure to have your passport, and get your FMM (or get it stamped if you purchased it online).


Returning to the U.S. from Mexico

If you have a TIP and are not planning to use it again, or if it is nearing its expiration and you will not be coming to Mexico before its expiration, you must cancel it at a Banjercito location at the border.

Find which border crossings have Banjercito locations in: Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.

To return to the U.S. you will be required to show U.S. Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) agents at the border a valid passport, a passport card (valid for land travel only), a green card, or another acceptable form of WHTI-compliant identification.

If you do not have one of these forms of identification, whether you did not bring one with you or if you lost your passport, they will still let you in (they have to), but you could be sent to secondary inspection and/or your return will be delayed while they verify who you are.

The border agent will ask what you are bringing from México. Simply tell him or her what you have with you. You are allowed to bring up to $800 USD duty free to the U.S.

Occasionally CBP officers may perform random searches of your person or vehicle to check that you've adhered to the legal requirements for entry into the U.S. If you allow them access and comply with their requests (and are legal) you should be on your way in 30 minutes or so.

If you have further questions on border crossing, please read these articles on our blog or search our website for a specific topic.