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By Plane

Mexico has dozens of international and domestic airports throughout the country. Among the major airports and their airport codes are Mexico City (MEX), Cancún (CUN), Acapulco (ACA), Guadalajara (GDL), Puerto Vallarta (PVR), Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (ZIH), and Los Cabos (SJD). There is one major Mexican airline, Aeroméxico, and a handful of newer, low-cost carriers.

Arriving at the Airport -- Immigration and Customs clearance at Mexican airports is generally efficient. Expect longer lines during peak seasons, but you can usually clear immigration and customs within a half hour.

By Car

Driving is not the cheapest way to get to Mexico, but it is a convenient way to see the country. Even so, you may think twice about taking your own car south of the border once you've pondered the bureaucracy involved and the security situation across areas you're planning to travel. One option is to rent a car once you arrive and tour around a specific region. Rental cars in Mexico generally are clean and well maintained, although they are often smaller than rentals in the U.S., may have manual rather than automatic transmission, and are comparatively expensive due to pricey mandatory insurance. Discounts are often available for rentals of a week or longer, especially when you make arrangements in advance online or from the United States. Be careful about estimated online rates, which often fail to include the price of the mandatory insurance.

If you have additional questions or you want to confirm the current rules, call your nearest Mexican consulate or the Mexican Government Tourist Office. Although travel insurance companies generally are helpful, they may not have the most accurate information. To check on road conditions or to get help with any travel emergency while in Mexico, call tel. 55/5089-7500 in Mexico City, which is staffed by English-speaking operators.

In addition, check with the U.S. Department of State (www.state.gov) for warnings about dangerous driving areas.

Car Documents -- To drive your car into Mexico beyond 25km (16 miles), you'll need a temporary car-importation permit, which is granted after you provide a required list of documents . The permit can be obtained after you cross the border into Mexico through Banco del Ejército (Banjercito) officials with Mexican Customs (aduanas), or at Mexican consulates in Austin, San Francisco, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Bernardino. For more information, call tel. 877/210-9469 in the U.S. or visit www.banjercito.com.mx.

The following requirements for border crossing were accurate at press time:

  • Passport.
  • A valid driver's license, issued outside of Mexico.
  • Current, original car registration and a copy of the original car title: If the registration or title is in more than one name and not all the named people are traveling with you, a notarized letter from the absent person(s) authorizing use of the vehicle for the trip is required; have it ready. The registration and your credit card must be in the same name. If the car is leased or rented, be sure to have a copy of the contract.
  • Original immigration documentation: Likely a tourist card.
  • Processing fee and posting of a bond: You have three options for covering the car-importation fee: pay $29 at the border, pay $39 in advance at a Mexican consulate, or prepay $49 online at www.banjercito.com.mx. If you apply online, it takes about 2 weeks before you can go into the Banjercito office to get your permit. You will generally need a credit card to make this payment. Mexican law requires the posting of a bond at a Banjercito office to guarantee the export of the car from Mexico within a time period determined at the time of the application. For this purpose, American Express, Visa, or MasterCard credit card holders will be asked to provide credit card information; others make a cash deposit of $200 to $400, depending on the make/model/year of the vehicle. To recover this bond or avoid credit card charges, go to any Mexican Customs office immediately before leaving Mexico.

If you receive your documentation at the border, Mexican officials will make two copies of everything and charge you for the copies. For up-to-the-minute information, a great source is the Customs office in Nuevo Laredo, or Módulo de Importación Temporal de Automóviles, Aduana Nuevo Laredo (tel. 867/712-2071).

Important reminder: Someone else may drive, but the person (or relative of the person) whose name appears on the car-importation permit must always be in the car. (If stopped by police, a nonregistered family member driving without the registered driver must be prepared to prove familial relationship to the registered driver -- no joke.) Violation of this rule subjects the car to impoundment and the driver to imprisonment, a fine, or both. You can drive a car with foreign license plates only if you have a foreign (non-Mexican) driver's license.

You must carry in the car at all times your temporary car-importation permit, tourist permit, and, if you purchased it, your proof of Mexican car insurance. The temporary car-importation permit papers are valid for 6 months to a year, while the tourist permit is usually issued for 30 days. It's a good idea to overestimate the time you'll spend in Mexico so that if you have to (or want to) stay longer, you'll avoid the hassle of getting your papers extended. Whatever you do, don't overstay either permit. Doing so invites heavy fines, confiscation of your vehicle (which will not be returned), or both. Remember that 6 months does not necessarily equal 180 days -- be sure to return before the earlier expiration date.

Mexican Auto Insurance (Seguros de Auto) -- Liability auto insurance is legally required in Mexico. U.S. insurance is invalid; to be insured in Mexico, you must purchase Mexican insurance. Any party involved in an accident who has no insurance may be sent to jail and have his or her car impounded until all claims are settled. U.S. companies that broker Mexican insurance are commonly found at the border crossing, and several quote daily rates.

You can also buy car insurance through Sanborn's Mexico Insurance, P.O. Box 52840, 2009 S. 10th, McAllen, TX (tel. 800/222-0158; fax 800/222-0158 or 956/686-0732; www.sanbornsinsurance.com), in daily, monthly, or yearly time periods. The company has offices at all U.S. border crossings. Its policies cost the same as the competition's do, but you get legal coverage (attorney and bail bonds if needed), roadside assistance, and for a premium, vandalism protection. You also get a detailed guide for your proposed route. Most of the Sanborn's border offices are open Monday through Friday; a few are staffed on Saturday and Sunday. AAA auto club (www.aaa.com) also sells insurance.

Returning to the U.S. with Your Car -- You must return the car documents you obtained when you entered Mexico when you cross back with your car, or within 180 days of your return. (You can cross as many times as you wish within the 180 days.) If the documents aren't returned, serious fines are imposed (50 pesos for each day you're late), your car may be impounded and confiscated, or you may be jailed if you return to Mexico. You can only return the car documents to a Banjercito official on duty at the Mexican aduana building before you cross back into the United States. Some border cities have Banjercito officials on duty 24 hours a day, but others do not; some do not have Sunday hours. See www.mexbound.com/mexican-vehicle-permits.php for a listing of office hours.

By Ship

Numerous cruise lines serve Mexico. Some (such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean) cruise from California to the Baja Peninsula and ports of call on the Pacific coast, or from Houston or Miami to the Caribbean (which often includes stops in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel). Several cruise-tour specialists sometimes offer last-minute discounts on unsold cabins. One such company is CruisesOnly (tel. 800/278-4737; www.cruisesonly.com).

By Bus

Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com), or its affiliates, offers service from around the United States to the Mexican border, where passengers disembark, cross the border, and buy a ticket for travel into Mexico. Many border crossings have scheduled buses from the U.S. bus station to the Mexican bus station. 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.