<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Document Requirements for RVing in Mexico
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.



The Paper Chase
Documents, Permits & Regulations

By David Eidell (Updated 10/09)

[ED NOTE 09/2011: The requirements for entering Mexico can change frequently, and it is critical to get the latest information before crossing the border. However, this article will provide some insights on exactly what to look for and what to expect.]

The Mexican federal government has bent over backward to make the process of obtaining a "tourist card" and "motor vehicle temporary importation permit" as easy as possible. With those two documents you can visit the entire country for a period of up to 180 days (of course the clerk who fills out your forms must write "180" in the number of days allowed box, on each form).

At the point of entry you will first have to obtain your tourist card before going to another window for your Temporary Automobile Importation Permit.


TOURIST CARDS are not really a card at all but a flimsy three by seven inch carbon copy of a form that you must fill out at the office of "MIGRACION" which is usually very prominently placed within the complex that contains the CAR PERMIT office. In order to obtain a tourist card, you will need proof of citizenship which means presenting a valid passport. No instrument other than a valid passport is now accepted to obtain a tourist card. No more birth certificates!

NOTE: As of this writing the old “FMT” tourist card is being replaced by the “FMM” card which is supposed to be computerized or shortly become so. The database to be created is rumored to help prevent foreigners residing in Mexico from exiting Mexico for a short time then re-entering with a newly obtained card. Federal Mexican law supposedly requires that a tourist card is to be obtained for 180 days in any one year span of time. The new FMM card is also supposed to tie-in your tourist card to your vehicle permit. A few rowdy college-age spring breakers manage to get deported every year and the new FMM card database is supposed to weed them out, along with other blacklisted sociopaths such as foreigners convicted of drug offenses and convicted felons.

Each and every person needs a tourist card, even infants, if you venture further than the border zone or stay anywhere in Mexico for 72 hours or longer. BOTH PARENTS must be present when a child under 18 is issued a tourist card. If only one parent is present, then written notarized permission must be submitted by the absent parent. If one or both parents are deceased, a letter on a government agency letterhead that specifies custody of the child will be accepted. Many grandparents have taken their grandchildren and had no problem without a letter of permission, but you never know. The new FMM tourist card may tighten things up. The most appropriate permission within a notarized letter specifies that it is OK for the child to enter Mexico and specifies the date of entry and exit, along with the names and driver license number of the adults involved.

I used to ask for the maximum allowable time (180 days) even though I knew that my stay would probably be shorter than that. My reasoning was that some unscrupulous official down the line could start to ask for a bribe in order to allow the full maximum allowable stay in Mexico. With the FMM tourist card limit of 180 days in any calendar year it may be wise to apportion the amount of time you wish to actually spend on the current trip and save the rest for your next trip.

Don't claim to be "Just passing through Mexico in order to get to Belize or Guatemala". Immigration may decide to give you a TRANSMIGRANTE type of Tourist Card that allows 15 days to transit Mexico. The transmigrante permit cannot be extended, amended or changed---you must exit Mexico within fifteen days, no excuses. IMPORTANT: If you end up with a transmigrante tourist card your CAR PERMIT will also be limited to 15 days. The cost of the transmigrante tourist card and 15 day car permit is exactly the same as for regular tourist cards which like a car permit.

Ask the immigration official if he can include your children on your tourist card (this new provision is supposed to take effect "soon"). Because each tourist card costs almost thirty five dollars, inclusion of children can save some money. In any event, the immigration official will direct you to pay for the card immediately at a nearby bank, then return so that he can complete stamping the card and tearing off his copy. The bank will accept your Dollars or Pesos as payment, then affix a large rubber stamp imprint on the bottom of the form. Note: All immigration offices now require visitors to pay for their FMT at a nearby walk-to bank. Keep your tourist card safe and clean. If you lose it you will have to go to the nearest office of immigration and apply for a duplicate. Duplicates cost significantly more than the original tourist card. Keep in mind that you can remain in Mexico for a maximum of 180 days, and not six-months. Mexican Border officials at the Belize border insist on a one hundred peso payment for them to affix yet another rubber stamp on your FMT that says "Doble Entrada (Multiple Entry).

IMPORTANT UPDATE NOTE: Mexican immigration stations on the border with Belize and Guatemala have resumed issuing regular 180-day Tourist Cards to those folks who wish to wish one. The days of arguing with officials about them only issuing "Transmigrante" Tourist Cards seem to be over for good. But heads-up about that new FMM tourist card described above.

Automobile Bonding

Mexico requires all "foreign" automobiles, motorcycles, motorbikes over 500cc, dune buggies, camper trucks, motor homes, and bus conversions to obtain a certificate of "temporary importation" along with a holographic decal that is affixed to the inside upper corner of the driver-side windshield. Basically the permit is a deterrent to guard against visitors from selling, giving away or abandoning their vehicle while in Mexico.
The maximum time limit for a motor vehicle to remain in Mexico is 180 days (NOT SIX MONTHS!), and is usually keyed to the date and time limit as specified on the designated owner Tourist Card. For instance if your Tourist Card specifies a time limit of 90 days, then the motor vehicle permit will also specify 90 days. Note: Make sure that your driver license will not expire while you are on your trip. Car permits limit the number of days to the number of remaining days on your license.

Two motor vehicles can be bonded by one driver as long as one is a motorhome and the driver elects to obtain a special. New, 10-year RV Import Permission (The cost is around fifty dollars). Ask at the Banjercito window if your pickup truck with a slide-in camper qualifies as a motorhome. A driver can list one motorhome and one other motor vehicle on the same permit using a single credit or debit card. If a solo person arrives driving a motor home with dune buggy in tow, he can bond both using a motor home AND a car bonding permit. Motorcycles less than 500 cc. do not need to be bonded but they may or may not be listed as "accessories" to exit along with your car. ATV's require bonding and are allowable on a single permit if it is a ten-year motorhome permit.
A Single driver CANNOT bond two motor vehicles unless one is a motorhome; for example a single driver with a pickup truck carrying a motorcycle larger than 500 cc cannot obtain a permit for both.

If you are driving a financed motor vehicle, you must present (To the Mexican Permit Bonding Agent) a letter of authorization issued by the (legal owner) lender authorizing you, the registered owner to take the motor vehicle into Mexico. The letter must be written on stationary with the lender's letterhead, must list the vehicle physical description, the license plate and the VIN number. The letter seems to be more authoritative if sealed by a notary public. However the letter must be signed and titled by a senior officer of the financial institution.

Step up to the Car Bonding Window, and lay these documents down for the clerk to review:

1. Your freshly obtained Tourist Card
2. Your valid driver license (must not expire while you are in Mexico)
3. The current registration forms or vehicle title for the vehicles to be bonded. Expired registration forms are not acceptable although the presence of an ownership certificate bearing the owner’s name will supersede an expired registration.
The name on the Driver License, Car Registration and Credit or Debit Card must be the same. Spouses can use the same credit card to bond an additional motor vehicle but must have their own valid driver license
4. NOTE: You may be asked to submit photocopies of numbers one through three above. In that case, there will be a handy booth nearby that performs that service for a very modest fee.
5. Official ownership receipts for motorbike, ATV, etc.

After reviewing your documents and copies, the car bonding clerk will enter your personal data into his computer. Then he will ask you for a valid Big-2 credit card (VISA, Master Card) or VISA, ATM, check card. AMERICAN EXPRESS CARDS ARE NO LONGER ACCEPTED.

Important Note: The Car bonding fee can only be paid on-the-spot by a Big-2 valid credit card or valid ATM Check Card which displays a VISA Card logo. CASH IS NOT ACCEPTED, only the cards will work.

The clerk will ask you "Credit Card or ATM Card"? He will subsequently check the method of payment into the appropriate box on the bottom of the form. Specifically this new wrinkle means that ATM cards with the VISA or Master Card logo are now officially accepted by the car bonding folks. You may have read somewhere that the cards "Look similar to a credit card so they were confused and accepted like one". This is no longer the case. ATM cards are officially accepted and so officially checked-off right on the application form.

The motor vehicle under bond must exit Mexico before the permit expires or the vehicle can be confiscated and hefty fines assessed. The entire vehicle bonding process is computerized and the data base keeps an extremely reliable record whether the vehicle has been properly taken out of the country.

To exit Mexico correctly with a motor vehicle you must stop on the way out, and present both your original certificate of bonding along with the scraped-off holographic decal from your windshield. You will be issued an official receipt showing that you complied with the law (keep this document safe, you will understand shortly). The certificate is entitled RETORNO DEFINITIVO and looks similar to a car permit. DON’T LOSE IT!

If you fail to exit Mexico, or fail to stop at the border bonding station and return the paperwork and decal, the computer will after 180 days from initial date issuance of permit "blacklist" the owner so that he can not take a subsequent motor vehicle into Mexico. Few things in Mexico work as diligently as this computer program. If you violate the terms of the temporary import agreement you will be denied subsequent entry with a motor vehicle; you can bank on it.


In a nut shell this widely believed hogwash is pure baloney and I researched the issue to my satisfaction that it was nothing more than urban legend.

The entire car bonding program was instituted not for the benefit of Americans and Canadians, but rather the owners of specially licensed "Frontera" automobiles in the Mexican border zone states that parallel the US. There are two general classes of license plates in these areas, the first is "National Plates" that allow the car to be taken, even sold anywhere in Mexico, and then there are "Frontera Plates" meaning the car was purchased and imported from the USA, and the owner is paying a special higher Mexican State license fee. Used cars are very expensive especially those with "National Plates".

Cars with Mexican Frontera Plates must undergo exactly the same car bonding fee with credit card as do American and Canadian motor vehicles. But here's the hitch: Whereas Mexico cannot touch American or Canadian credit cards for one red centavo above the official bonding fee (Currently around thirty four dollars US), Mexicans with Frontera plates can have their Mexican Credit card "debited" automatically. I checked with the "Big-2" companies and they all emphatically stated that Americans and Canadians would first have to sign a contract wholly apart and separate from the card bonding agreement before any type of "automatic fine” or card debit could be assessed. "This amounts to a contract" spokespersons agreed, and it would have to meet our criteria and our criteria are strict about identifying an instrument such as what you are describing". Enough Said, Mexico cannot touch a credit card or ATM card without the owner's approval!

IMPORTANT NOTE: The on-site processing of payment of your car permit assures the Mexican government that your identity documents and motor vehicle registration documents are not counterfeit. There really is no way for Mexican officialdom to authenticate your documents, so the next best thing was instituted (that the name on the documents matches the name on the credit card and that the credit card functioned to pay for the car permit (rather ingenious).

But, make darn sure that you turn in your hologram decal and car permit certificate as you exit Mexico for the last time. Only the Nogales Banjercito has an easy to turn in your permit facility. Before you start home, ask fellow RV'ers if they are familiar with the route that you plan to use to exit Mexico, and detailed information about how to go about turning in the car permit. It is no fun at all to have to turn around after crossing into the USA, to turn in your car permit. All of the vehicles and accessories as listed on your car permit must be present as the official cancels your car permit and issues a document (RETORNO DEFINITIVO) that states that you have met all of the provisions of returning the vehicle to the border.

ALL CAR BONDING ACTIVITY IN MEXICO TAKES PLACE AT THE BORDER! Interior Mexican Customs agents and offices merely shrug when presented with a question or problem about a bonded motor vehicle.

Ten year permit motorhomes may remain in Mexico as long as the permit is valid, but towed motor vehicles must depart when the owner departs. The vehicle must re-enter the USA before the 180-day permit expires.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are planning on crossing from the mainland over to Baja California with your motor vehicle and plan to turn in your car permit YOU MUST DO SO AT THE DOCKING PORT IN BAJA CALIFORNIA. Don't drive up the peninsula and expect officials in Ensenada or Tijuana to cancel your car permit. They won't and you will be stuck. The same thing for issues and questions about car permits in mainland Mexico---Officials cannot do a thing for you, even at the main Customs building in Mexico City. They will tell you to return to the border.

MOTORHOMERS TAKE NOTICE! Only one motorhome permit can be issued to any one driver with credit card. The permit is good for ten years but if you leave Mexico without turning it in, you cannot do so later on without returning the vehicle and yourself to the Mexican border. Mexican consulates cannot cancel a car bond permit nor can the permit be mailed to Mexico City. An authorized representative of the Mexican government must (himself) scrape off the hologram decal and collect the vehicle bonding paperwork right at the border. You will be given a receipt document entitled RETORNO DEFINITIVO. Don’t lose it! If you for any reason whatsoever fail to turn in your 10-year permit, you cannot bond another motorhome and after the permit expires in ten years you cannot even get a regular 180-day permit. The Mexican car bonding database computer never forgets and is utterly ruthless!

I always turn in my tourist card when I turn in my car permit. Roadside checks may become commonplace when returning to the USA collecting an FMM. Time will tell.