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Mexico Travel Planning FAQ

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You need to do some Mexico travel planning before you head south -- do that with this pre-trip Mexico travel planning FAQ for backpackers. Learn about documents you need to get before Mexico travel, whether you need shots to visit Mexico, about Mexico water, toilets and phones, all about driving in Mexico and where to get Mexico maps and guidebooks. See some Mexico travel picture galleries, too.

Also see: Beginner's Guide to Mexico Travel

Do I need a passport to travel to Mexico?

US citizens generally need a passport to return to the US from Mexico by air, land or sea. as of June 1, 2009. You can also use a PASS passport substitute or a special driver's license available in certain states, or other documents okayed by the US government.

Do I need a visa in Mexico, and what's a tourist card?

No visa needed for Mexico travel. Travelers staying in Mexico for more than 72 hours or traveling beyond the "border zone" need a Mexico tourist card. A Mexico tourist card, also called an FMT, is a government form declaring that you have stated the purpose of your visit to Mexico to be tourism, and which must be carried while you are visitong Mexico. Although more than one kind of Mexico visa exists, this is a simple declaration of your intention to vacation in Mexico for not more than 180 days.

What do I need to drive in Mexico? Where can I get Mexico road maps?

You're going to have a great time driving in Mexico, but you need to understand driving rules in Mexico, Mexican car insurance, Mexico vehicle permits and how to cross the border into or from Mexico. Learn about those, and find Mexico maps:

  • Free online Mexico maps

  • City maps

  • Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel Maps

  • Gulf of Mexico (like Baja) maps

    Mexico road atlases

How much money do I need to budget for Mexico travel?

Plan on $25 a day for budget Mexico travel with food and local transport, but follow some rules.

  • Assume that anything you like in the US, like Coke or McDonald's, is going to cost the same in Mexico (Coke *is* cheaper than it is in the US, but don't count on eating and drinking like you do in the US and saving any real money). Eat local produce and get adventurous with street food to get by cheaply. Booze and beer are not cheap.
  • Take local buses, not cabs.

Plan on $12-15 / day for lodging.

Do I need shots before I travel to Mexico?

Nope, you don't need special shots for Mexico travel. You should try to guard against food and water-borne parasites that cause traveler's diarhhea, though, and avoiding mosquito bites can be important in any country.

Should I make reservations in Mexico? Where should I stay?

Making reservations in the sort of Mexico accommodations appealing to student travelers isn't easy and isn't usually necessary or even possible. I seldom get answers to faxes or emails with reservations info or questions before I go, but I've never had trouble staying where I want to in Mexico without a reservation. You can try calling, but have a translator nearby when you make the call if you don't speak Spanish.

Do I need to learn Spanish before I visit Mexico?

You can get by with English in Mexico, but you need a few words of Spanish if you're going to communicate even the basics once you get away from the resort areas. Take a pocket-sized phrase book and memorize these before you go:
  • "Please" - "Por favor" (POR fah-VOHR)

  • "Thank you" - "Gracias" (GRAH-see-ahss)

  • "Can you help me?" - "Puede ayudarme?" (PWEH-dhe ah-yoo-dh-AHR-meh)

  • "Where is...?" - "Donde esta...?" (DHOHN-dheh ehs-TAH)

  • "How much is it?" - "Cuanto cuesta?" (KWAHN-toh KWEH-stah)

How should I pack for Mexico?

You can carry what you need for Mexico beaches (temps range from 70-90 degrees) and the mountains of Mexico (very, very seldom gets below freezing in winter) in one backpack -- carry zip-off pants that convert to shorts, a pair of warm socks and wear walking shoes or hiking boots. Remember to bring a phrasebook!

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