What's a Tourist Card?
A Tourist Card is a Mexican visa required of all foreign visitors.
The formal name of the visa is "FM-T Visa".
There is only one exception to this requirement:
a visitor staying in the "border region" for less than 72 hours.
Where's the "border region"?
For most visitors to Baja California this region will be the Tijuana - Ensenada - Tecate triangle. To the east the region will extend just a few miles into Mexico, with the exception of the corridor to San Felipe.
Must I show some ID?
Absolutely! There are only a few officially accepted forms of identification allowed (any exceptions to this occur at the pleasure of the immigration official). A
- passport (current!),
- birth certificate and a current photo ID,
- voter registration certificate and a current photo ID
are all acceptable. The voter registration certificate may be a copy as long as it is stamped by the appropriate authority. An official looking stamp with a signature goes a long way in Mexico!
Special Note: Beginning in 2000 there are indications that a regulation requiring a passport may be put into effect. Even if this is enforced, there will certainly be a transition period where birth certificates and voter registration certificates will be accepted by some, if not most, immigration officials. One problem area will be the airlines, where they don't have the power to be flexible. To be on the safe side, you should seriously consider getting a passport, if you don't already have one. (U.S. citizens: good for 10 years at a cost of $60 initially, and $40 for a renewal.)
Click here (http://travel.state.gov/passport_services.html) to visit the U.S. State Department's Passport Services and Information Page.
Will a Tourist Card cost me anything?
Yes! The fee is currently 185 pesos (about $20.50US in November, 2001). Mexican government officials are not permitted to collect fees directly, so the fee must be paid to a Mexican bank. The exception to this is when you're commercially flying into Mexico. In that case the airline will include the fee in your ticket price and take care of the payment.
Some travelers have reported paying an extra service charge imposed by certain banks. In late November, 2001 I paid 185 pesos at the Army bank (Banjercito) in Ensenada - the immigration official in Ensenada had written the amount on the visa form, and the bank kept to that amount.
Can I use the Tourist Card for another visit?
Yes, as long as the visit occurs within six months of the time the card is first validated, and you are not flying into the country. You should make sure the issuing official knows you intend making "multiple entries" and would like the visa issued for 180 days. You may have to get an extension indicated on the form when you are leaving the country, or when you make a return visit.
If you are making repeated visits by commercial airline, you'll have to effectively pay the fee on each flight into the country. No mechanism has yet been devised to separate the fee from the price of the ticket, and coordinate the paperwork with immigration.
What constitutes a Tourist Card?
The form itself has three parts: one for you to keep, one for the Mexican government, and a smaller form for the bank. Two stamps ("sellos") are required on your part of the form in order to make it official:
- an entry stamp from immigration,
- a bank stamp showing that the visa fee has been paid.
The time limit within which to obtain the bank stamp is not clear at this time. When the process began, it was rumored that there would be a four day "grace period" allowed. I have now seen statements that it is only necessary to get the bank stamp before leaving the country. This would mean before driving north through either of the possible immigration checkpoints (Guerrero Negro and Maneadero).
The Tourist Card form will have the following title information at the top of the form:
TURISTA O TRANSMIGRANTE
FORMA MIGRATORIA PARA TURISTA (FMT) O TRANSMIGRANTE (FM6)
MIGRATORY FORM FOR FOREIGN TOURIST (FMT) OR TRANSMIGRANT (FM6)
INTERNACION TERRESTE / ENTRANCE BY LAND
The information required consists of: full name, permanent address, sex, married/single, principal destination in Mexico, number and expiration date for a passport (if that is used for identification), occupation, and method of transportation.
Where do I get a Tourist Card?
Tourist Cards can be obtained at most border crossings.
At the San Ysidro/Tijuana crossing the office is located near the "To Declare" section of the Mexican secondary inspection (far right-hand lane as you approach the border). At night, the official may move to a small office near the walking entrance - in back of the offices lining the "To Declare" area.
One way to reach their office is to pull into the "To Declare" section of the inspection area, explain that you have nothing to declare but would like to park while obtaining a Tourist Card. I've also parked in the red curb zone early in the day when the inspection area is not congested (with the agreement of an inspection offical).
As of April, 2000 there is an office of Banco Bilbao Viscayo located in the Secondary area (next to the Migracion office) which is staying open 24 hours, seven days a week! This will make it very easy to take care of the entire transaction in one place.
Many years ago in Mexicali, you would get cards in an office right at the crossing area. If someone has current information, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I've never tried to obtain a card in Tecate. Again, anyone with current information should email me so I can provide the information here.
In Ensenada, the Migracion office is located just off the "short route" through the waterfront part of the city (on the old road past the boatyards). When taking the short route through Ensenada (see the "Places" Page on the Baja Highway Page), you'll make a turn to the left turning inland from the water. At the first stoplight make a sharp right-hand turn onto the old road (not a turn for large RVs!). You'll find the Migracion office just past the Capitania del Puerto building. Hours are 8AM to 8PM.
With the entrance to this part of Ensenada having been relocated, the parking is not quite so severe in the area of the Migracion office. However, it's easier to walk to a bank then have to park in a more crowded zone, and then have to return to the Migracion office for the final stamp.
Where do I pay the Tourist Card fee?
Unfortunately, the fee must be paid at a place other than the immigration office where you first get the paperwork. (At the San Ysidro crossing a bank is located just next door to the immigration office.) The following Mexican banks have been authorized to handle this payment (taken from the back of the Tourist Card form):
Banca Serfin Citibank Mexico Bancomer Banco Inbursa Bancrecer Banco Industrial Banco del Centro Banco Interacciones Banjercito Banco del Sureste Banamex Ixe Banco Banco Santander Mexicano Banca Afirme Banpais Banjo del Bajio Banco Inverlat Ing Bank Mexico Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Banco de Tokio Mitsubishi (Mexico) Banco Internacional Banco Regional de Monterrey Banca Promex Abn Amro Bank (Mexico) Banrural Fuji Bank (Mexico) Banorte
Will I be asked to show my Tourist Card?
Very likely. If you are driving the Baja peninsula, you will probably encounter immigration officials at the agricultural inspection station at Guerrero Negro.Note: These officials may be able and willing to issue Tourist Cards, but I would not recommend counting on it. If you encounter them while driving north, they will especially be looking for the bank stamp on your Tourist Card to make sure you've paid the fee.
If you fly out of the country, you must produce a validated Tourist Card at the airport before boarding the plane. If your Tourist Card shows entry by automobile or boat, and you are flying out of the country, you may be asked to explain or document what is happening with the car or boat you arrived in (if you leave such a vehicle in Mexico, technically it must be left with a "bonded" storage yard).
In any involvement with the police you will be asked to show your Tourist Card. This could come about because of an accident, or because a policeman stops you for an alleged traffic violation.
What if I'm caught without a Tourist Card?
In recent times, the fine has been $400 pesos (about $43US in September, 1999). Of course, the matter of the fine will be accompanied by a certain amount of hassle in dealing, in an adversarial way, with the immigration officials. Be especially aware of landing in this position in La Paz - the officials there have been very tough on this matter.
Here is the English version of the legal statement on the back of the new Tourist Card:
FOREIGN TOURIST AND TRANSMIGRANT MIGRATIORY FORMTHE PRESENT MIGRATORY FORM IS SUBJECT TO DUTIES, ACCORDING TO FEES ESTABLISHED IN ARTICLE 8, FRACTIONS I AND VII OF THE FEDERAL DUTIES LAW
RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS
ALL FOREIGNERS MUST PROVIDE TRUE AND ACCURATE INFORMATION IN FILLING THE PRESENT MIGRATORY FORM. FAILURE TO DO SO IMPLIES VIOLATIONS TO MEXICAN LAW.
SUBMISSION OF THIS FORM TO MIGRATION AUTHORITIES UPON ENTERING AND DEPARTING THE COUNTRY IS MANDATORY. THIS DOCUMENT IS PERSONAL AND NON-TRANSFERABLE AND ALLOWS THE BEARER TO STAY IN THE COUNTRY ONLY DURING THE AUTHORIZED TIME PERIOD. IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENGAGE IN ACTIVITES OTHER THAN THOSE STATED AND AUTHORIZED BY THE PRESENT MIGRATORY FORM.
IF FOR UNFORESEEN REASONS, AT THE TIME OF DEPARTURE YOU WERE UNABLE TO RETURN THIS DOCUMENT TO THE MEXICAN MIGRATION AUTHORITIES, SEND IT BY MAIL TO: SECRETARIA DE GOBERNACION, INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE MIGRACION/SECRETARIAT OF THE INTERIOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MIGRATION.
- ACCORDING TO ARTICLE 42, FRACTION I OF THE GENERAL POPULATION LAW, FOREIGN TOURIST ARE AUTHORIZED BY THE SECRETARIAT OF THE INTERIOR TO ENTER INTO THE COUNTRY FOR A PERIOD OF UP TO SIX MONTHS, NON EXTENDIBLE, FOR RECREATION OR HEALTH PURPOSES, FOR ARTISTIC, CULTURAL, SPORTS AND OTHER NON PROFIT ACTIVITIES.
- IF THE AUTHORIZED PERIOD OF STAY IS LESS THAN 180 DAYS, THE HOLDER MAY APPLY FOR ONE OR MORE EXTENSIONS TO THIS DOCUMENT AT THE CLOSEST MIGRATION OFFICE.
- ADMISSION IS AUTHORIZED BY THE SECRETARIAT OF THE INTERIOR UNDER ARTICLE 42, FRACTION III OF THE GENERAL POPULATION LAW. FOREIGNERS IN TRANSIT ARE THOSE WHO WITH PERMISSION OF THE SECRETARIAT OF THE INTERIOR ENTER TEMPORARILY INTO THE COUNTRY IN TRANSIT TO A THIRD COUNTRY AND MAY TO STAY WITHIN MEXICAN TERRITORY FOR 30 DAYS.
- BE ADVISED THAT YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CHANGE YOUR CURRENT MIGRATORY STATUS.
- BE AWARE THAT UNDER THIS STATUS YOU WILL BE UNABLE TO REQUEST AN EXTENSION TO YOUR STAY.
June 26, 2000 - Carol & Bob Billups:
Both in March and this trip we were asked for tourist cards. In March at San Ignacio, this trip at Guerrero Negro. We had our FM-3's, but I shudder to think what they might do if you don't have the FM-T now that it costs $16.
May 7, 2000 - Fred Metcalf:
Here's my latest experience with obtaining a Tourist Card (a good experience!).
I parked in the "To Declare" area (far right-hand lane) at the San Ysidro crossing, explained to a customs official that I was just going to the immigration office, and was given permission to leave the car there. It was 8AM on a Sunday which meant that there was no official in the office next to the parking area, and I had to walk to the office by the walk-over crossing (walk through the office just to the north of the Migracion office - there is an open back door giving access to the walk-in area).
The process involved (1) filling out the form in the Migracion office and showing my passport, (2) taking the form to the bank next to the parking area (open 24 hours), paying the 170 pesos and getting the bank stamp on the form, (3) taking the remaining portion of the form back to the Migracion office to get their official stamp. About 20 minutes required to accomplish all this.
Received December 3, 1999 from Dave Clapp:
While the Tiajuana border crossing is closer to my home in Carlsbad, I chose to try the Otay Mesa crossing to obtain the permit.
I parked behind McDonalds close to the US customs building, walked across the border and stopped at "Migracion," the first building on the right as you cross the border, and clearly marked. They were exceptionally polite and as helpful as my lack of proficiency in Spanish would permit.
I inquired about a place to pay and was given vague directions, again my lack of command of Spanish was the culprit here. It took me twenty minutes of walking around the maze of buildings with inadequate identification to find the bank (really a small annex of a bank). The teller was most helpful, but hindered by my Spanish. The fee was $16.50. After the bank stamps your form you must go back to the "Migracion" office for the final stamp.
I was told the limit to the life of the permit was three-months so mine is good for 90 days. I have heard that they may be valid for as long as six-months but I was told three.
I highly recommend the smaller less busy Otay Mesa border crossing. I would still park on the US side and walk over - didn't need insurance for the errand (I'm going on the trip later this month for which I will have insurance). Suggest to others, please, that they ask for directions frequently after they leave the "Migracion" office to go to the bank. I could have saved ten minutes of walking if I had done so.
US Border officials and our Customs people did not even know about the requirement which has been in effect since July 1, 1999. Don't expect crisp information from them on this matter.
Received October 14, 1999 from John and Leslie McGrath:Thought you might be interested in our little encounter in Ensanada Migracion Officina.
There were absolutely no problems - it was the typical Baja experience: I struggle with my Spanish ... and the officer speaks in perfect English; then boom, boom and out the door we go to have a great breakfast of fish tacos, tourist cards in hand.
Glad we got them, as I suspect that every military person that stopped us was too! Always polite with no problems, but with long conversations about our beat up mountain bikes.
The following experience is one I had two months after the new system went into effect.
On Tuesday (August 31) Marilyn and I left for our first drive to La Paz following the change in Tourist Card procedures. We were carrying a number of replacement items for our trailer, and did not want to argue the legality of our imports with the customs officials in the Mexican secondary area. This left out the possibility of parking in the "To Declare" zone and walking over to get our new cards.
Since there had been some reports of problems with the Ensenada immigration office earlier in the year, we decided it would also be best to avoid that source for the visa paperwork.
What we hit upon was the idea of just stopping at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego. We could also obtain a CB permit there according to historical precedence. Since I'd not stopped there in over eight years, we scouted out the location while in San Diego the previous weekend.
On Tuesday we arrived at the consulate in the late morning and easily found a parking place one street over. We had to wait in line for no more than several minutes before our turn came up (this idea was really working great!).
The official at the counter couldn't have been more helpful. She immediately produced the forms and filled in most of the information from our passports. Out came the official stamp ... wump! ... we had that ever-so-important official stamp, plus 180 days with "Entrada Multiple" stamped boldly on the form!
When I asked for the CB permit, she explained (twice, because I was insistent) that such permits had not been required for over six years. Not necessary!
Wow! This was great - soooo easy and soooo official.
As I walked out and looked at the Tourist Card, it appeared much like the old one, but there was a blank space left in the "official" area, I assumed for the bank stamp.
A couple of hours later we arrived at the checkpoint south of Maneadero. Waved through the PGR check, we pulled up to the immigration check. There were two US cars stopped there, and both seemed to be without Tourist Cards or "proper" ID. Well, we thought, we'll show these folks how it's done by "pros."
When the immigration official came over I displayed our stamped forms - expecting to be immediately waved through. Ha! He quickly explained that our forms were no good, and tore them up!
After leading me over to his van, he produced the new form, which is very different from the old. Using the "desk" he'd set up in his van, we completed the new forms on the spot.
After this humbling experience, I decided to query him on the CB permit matter. His response was that "Of course you need a CB permit. You can get one at the Highway Patrol office behind the old Hotel Riviera in Ensenada."
I skipped a return trip to Ensenada, and drove down the highway with the tall whip antenna pulled over the cab of the pickup. Never once was I asked about a CB.
Now, for the bottom line: Don't count on getting the straight scoop from the Mexican Consulate in San Diego - they seem to be out of touch with their parent country.
And finally, the matter of going to a bank to pay our $150 peso visa fee ... well ... manaña.
On June 14, 1999 I received the following report from John and Peggy Rahkola (regular contributors to the Travelers' Reports Page):
We just had an experience that is hard to believe even for Mexico! On June 11, we stopped at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, picked up our tourist cards and crossed the border. As we have always done, we stopped at Immigration in Ensenada to have them stamped.
The immigration officer REFUSED to stamp them. He said they had to be stamped in Tijuana, and that had been the law since 1945. We explained that we had always gotten them stamped in Ensenada. He said you had never been able to get them stamped in Ensenada.
We asked if he would make an exception for us and stamp them this time. He said "absolutely not - you have to go back to Tijuana." He said the law is changing July 1 and you will have to pay. We said we understood that, but it was not yet July 1. We asked to speak to a supervisor, and he told us he was the chief of immigration. He did not have on a name tag or a badge so we cannot identify him.
There is no possibility of a misunderstanding due to a language barrier, as this person spoke perfect English. He was very arrogant and extremely rude, both in his demeanor and the way he spoke.
On February 12, 1998 Charlie Gannett described a good experience at the Ag Inspection Station (Guerrero Negro):On January 23, we passed through the ag checkpoint at Guerrero Negro and were asked for our tourist cards. We usually get them at Santa Rosalia and show our toll reciepts for proof of when we entered the country, but now you can get them at this checkpoint. The officials were courteous and friendly. There was no charge. This will be great for travelers heading directly south.I personally would not recommend waiting to get a Tourist Card at the Guerrero Negro Ag Inspection Station. Legally, you are required to have one between Ensenada and the Ag Station.
- In a Travelers' Report dated January 7, 1998, Natalie Thompson related that some members of her group were charged $20US for not having a Tourist Card when passing through a checkpoint near LA Bay.
This sounds to me like a case of some soldiers exercising an authority they did not really have - however, when they are carrying the weapons, there is a great deal of apparent authority!
- In January, 1998, some neighbors in La Paz reported having to each pay a 400 peso ($50US) fine for "being in the country illegally." They had shown expired FM-2 "Rentista" books at the checkpoint at Guerrero Negro, and been told to get them renewed in Tijuana, but were allowed to continue on to La Paz. After arriving in La Paz they went to the Migracion office to see about getting the visas renewed there. At that point they were hit with the fine, before being issued either a Tourist Card or a new FM-2.