Who Needs Mexico Tourist Cards?Travelers staying in Mexico for more than 72 hours or traveling beyond the "border zone" need Mexico tourist cards. The tourist, or border zone, can extend up to 70 miles into Mexico, as it does near Puerto Penasco, southwest of Tucson on the Sea of Cortez, or about 12 miles, as it does south of Nogales. American citizens can travel in the border zone without a tourist card or a vehicle permit. Generally, the tourist zone extends until the first immigration checkpoint south of the US border in Mexico -- if you get there, you'll know it.
How Can I Get a Mexico Tourist Card?If you're flying to Mexico, you'll be given a tourist card and instructions for filling it out on board your plane -- the cost of a tourist card (about $25) is included in your plane fare. The card will be stamped at customs/immigration in the Mexico airport, showing you are in the country legally.
If you're driving, taking the bus or walking into Mexico, you can get a tourist card at the border inspection station/immigration office after showing your id or passport proving your US citizenship. You'll need to go to a bank to pay for the card (about $20) -- it will be stamped to show that you've paid. You will then return to the border immigration office to have the card stamped -- the stamp shows that you are in the country legally.
Who Wants to See My Mexico Tourist Card?If you find yourself needing to speak with Mexico officials while in the country, you may need to produce your tourist card as part of your identification. You will also need to surrender your tourist card when you depart Mexico for the United States, whether at the airport or the land border; have it ready, with your id or passport and your plane ticket or driving documents. If your tourist card has expired on these occasions, prepare for hassles and fines. Try not to let it expire before you leave Mexico.
I've Lost My Mexico Tourist Card - What Should I Do?If you lose your Mexico tourist card, you'll have to pay to replace it, which you should do as soon as possible as you should be carrying the tourist card at all times while in Mexico. Go to the nearest immigration office, or try the immigration office at the nearest airport, where you can be issued a new tourist card and pay a fine (reports vary from $40-$80) at the same time.
I once neglected to get a Mexico tourist card altogether. I experienced a certain period of trepidation, as technically, I was in the country illegally -- I went to the nearest airport's immigration office, explained the situation (that I had flown to San Diego, been driven to Baja, flown from Tijuana to Guadalajara, and taken a bus to Puerto Vallarta). The exasperated official waved away my laborious excuse-making, had me fill out the tourist card form, charged me $40 and sent me on my way. It's possible I was very lucky; I had brought my ticket receipts, showing how long I had been in the country (two weeks). It's entirely possible that you can be deported if you are in any country without a passport stamp or the proper visa and documents that country requires.
Learn all about passport requirements for travel in Mexico in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and learn what kind of identification and travel documentation you need to visit Mexico.