Every tourist to Mexico must have a Mexican-government tourist permit. Some travelers also need a visa that they must arrange in advance.

From tourist permits to visas and the identification that will get you across the border, here's the paperwork you need to visit Mexico.

What you need to know about visas in Mexico

Every tourist must have a Mexican-government tourist permit called a Forma migratoria múltiple (FMM; tourist permit). These can be obtained on arrival or completed online in advance of your trip. Citizens of the US, Canada, EU countries, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland are among those who do not need visas to enter Mexico as tourists. Passports must have more than 6 months' validity and visits must not exceed 180 days. US citizens traveling by land or sea can enter Mexico and return to the US with a passport card, but if traveling by air they will need a passport.

Citizens of China, India, Russia and South Africa are among those who do need a visa. Find the relevant embassy from this list and make an application online. However, Mexican visas are not required for people of any nationality who hold a valid US, Canadian or Schengen visa.

A huge archway acts as a landmark at the end of a busy commercial street
The San Ysidro US border crossing is a 10-minute walk from downtown Tijuana © Denis Kabanov / Getty Images

Tourist permit for Mexico

You must fill out the Mexican Forma migratoria múltiple (FMM; tourist permit) and get it stamped by Mexican immigration when you enter Mexico, and keep it till you leave. It’s available at official border crossings, international airports and ports. At land borders you have to ask for the tourist permit.

The length of your permitted stay in Mexico is written on the card by the immigration officer. The maximum is 180 days, but they may sometimes put a lower number unless you tell them specifically what you need.

A colorful signpost near a beach shows many different arrows and distances to different locations worldwide
Check with your local embassy or consulate if a visa is required © Letmefix / Shutterstock

The fee for the tourist permit is around M$500 (approx USD30), but it’s free for people entering by land who stay less than seven days. If you enter Mexico by air, the fee is included in your airfare. If you enter Mexico by land, you must pay the fee once you arrive or at a bank in Mexico at any time before you re-enter the border zone to leave Mexico (or before you check-in at an airport to fly out of Mexico). The border zone is the territory between the border itself and the INM’s control points on highways leading into the Mexican interior (usually 12 miles/20km to 18 miles/30km from the border).

Most Mexican border posts have on-the-spot bank offices where you can pay the DNR fee immediately on arrival in Mexico. Your tourist permit will be stamped to prove that you have paid.

Look after your tourist permit because you need to hand it in when leaving the country. Tourist permits (and fees) are not necessary for visits shorter than 72 hours within the border zones.

Work and volunteer visas

If the purpose of your visit is to work (even as a volunteer), report, study or participate in humanitarian aid or human-rights observation, you may well need a visa whatever your nationality. Visa procedures might take a few weeks and you may be required to apply in your country of residence or citizenship. Check with your local embassy or consulate.

Traveling to Mexico via the US

Non-US citizens passing (even in transit) through the USA on the way to or from Mexico should check well in advance on the US’s complicated visa rules. Consult a US consulate or visit the US State Department's visa wizard for further guidance.

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