A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!


Visit Expedia…

Expedia is my favorite place to book airfare, and they handle hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc. I like the organization of the site for figuring out what flights I want. Click on the suitcase to take a look.

I was very pleased to win an award for this blog! Even better for you: click through for lists of all sorts of award-winning travel blogs.

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

A friend of mine is thinking of travel to Mexico, to explore it as a place to live and work. I don’t know if he has ever been here before. I started to write him a long email, and then realized that this would be interesting to others as well.So here are some opinions and some facts (true so far as I could tell at the time of writing but always worth checking further). Guess I should add the usual disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer (though when I tried to persuade my father of things when I was a kid, he told me I should become one).

Getting a US Passport

Here’s the link to the US Department of State information on getting a passport. There are links from that page for getting your first passport, renewing one, where you can apply for a passport near where you are, and so on. It typically takes several weeks, so if you have a gleam in your eye about travel to Mexico, start by getting a passport.

I just did a Google search on: passport usa, and there are a number of ads for companies that will expedite getting you a passport. One place I looked at charged from $60 to $180 on top of government fees, depending on if you needed it in nine days or one.

By the way, once you get your passport, take very good care of it! A valid US passport commands huge sums on the black market these days. We have a scanner at home, and we left at home color copies of the main pages of our passport. We also carry copies with us.

This is probably a good place to point out that dealing with Mexican bureaucracy is a bit different than dealing with U.S. bureaucracy. In the states, it tends to be more or less consistent. In Mexico, it’s a lot less. Officials may be very helpful or casual, or the total opposite. If you get frustrated, try not to let it show. Be polite and patient. If someone has just told you that something is impossible, try to reframe your question to find a way to do what you want. Going to a different border crossing, or going back to the same one when a different shift of workers are there, are good last-resort ideas that you probably won’t need to consider. We’ve never had to.

Getting Your Mexican Tourist Visa, FM-T

This is typically done at the border, though it might be possible ahead of time at Mexican consulates in the United States. Also called “tourist card,” your FM-T tourist visa is required for any travel to Mexico other than a short trip to border towns. The FM-T can be issued for up to 180 days, and the official you deal with has the power to give you a shorter one. We always ask for 180 days, and we always get it. The last time I asked, the Mexican official said “Of course.” When they ask us where we are going, we always tell them the farthest place we have in mind, to add to our credibility.

Once you are given your FM-T, you go to a bank and pay a fee for it, and they stamp the FM-T. You have a short time period before it’s required that you’ve done this, but usually there is a bank close by, so we do it immediately if the bank is open. Eventually, it’s a good idea to get a photocopy of your FM-T, to keep separate from it. Mexican regulations say you have to have your FM-T with you all the time, so in the unlikely event that you were robbed, having the copy would make things easier.

To bring in a car, it must be registered in your name. Have your registration with you, which you would anyway, and also have a copy of your vehicle’s title with you. If you are not listed as the owner on the title — as is the case if you are making payments on the car — then I think you need some piece of paper giving you permission to travel to Mexico in the vehicle. Your US car insurance is worthless in Mexico, and we get our Mexican car insurance online ahead of time from a company called Lewis and Lewis. They came well recommended, and there are likely other good firms too.

I’ve heard that you can be required to have a reasonable amount of money to cover your costs in Mexico, but we have never been asked. Now that Mexican ATMs are widespread, we go to Mexico with some American cash, some Mexican pesos if we can find a place to change money in a US border town, and our ATM card. If we didn’t change money in the US, we do it right away in Mexico, at a bank or Casa de Cambio.

FM-T or FM-3?

The FM-T allows you to be in Mexico as a tourist for up to the amount of time you have been given. For years, the practice of many US citizens living in Mexico has been to simply go to the border just before their tourist card is due to expire, cross into the US, maybe do some shopping, and then go right back into Mexico. Many people have done things this way for years, and I have no idea if break any Mexican regulations. But with the greater use of computers in Mexican government offices, at some point this method may become less viable.

The FM-T does not allow you to take a job in Mexico. Plenty of people do work in Mexico anyway, but they are taking some risk. I imagine the worst is likely to be deportation. There are no statistics available, naturally, on how many foreigners work in Mexico with tourist cards but my impression is that there are a lot of them, based on how many I have met and what I’ve read here and there.

The FM-3 visa comes in at least a dozen different varieties, and all I want to do here is alert you to the existence of this class of visa. To work legitimately at a Mexican job or to live fulltime in Mexico as a retiree or otherwise, research getting an FM-3. Mexican consulates in the US issue these visas, and each consulate is given quite a lot of leeway by the Mexican government as to what requirements they establish for giving out FM-3s. But you aren’t allowed to freely shop around! Each Mexican consulate has responsibility for a certain geographic region of the US. You can also apply for the FM-3 in the part of Mexico you have established an address in. If you get one in the US, I think you must go to the appropriate government office in Mexico within a specific time from

Fly, drive, or bus?

Here I’m thinking about what to do if your travel to Mexico is to research living and working possibilities.

If your time is very limited, then flying is probably the best choice. But if you can make a longer trip, or don’t have any specific time you have to return home, then driving or taking buses are much better choices, giving you a lot more flexibility. The Mexican bus system goes everywhere, and the first class and deluxe buses are very nice, with bathrooms. Good prices too.

One Response to “Traveling to Mexico on a Tourist Visa, if You are Thinking of Living or Working in Mexico”

  • Susan says:

    I need to renew my tourist visa so I can fly back to the US, I drove down, but now my visa has expired

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