Mexico is an enormous country with tons of great places to explore. Nobody can blame you for wanting to stay there longer than you had originally planned – you are not certainly not the first person to extend their Mexican vacation.
Getting straight forward information on how to renew your visa from the authorities is none too easy. Added to this is the problem that the behavior of Mexico’s immigration officials is unpredictable so there is no guarantee that staff at your nearest office will follow formal regulations to the letter.
The best source of the most up-to-date information on visa regulations will always be the official state website of the Mexican Immigration Authorities. But if you’ve got better things to do with your time than wade through dense immigration laws, check out our short summary of the relevant sections of Mexico’s tourist visa regulations and extension / renewal procedures.
Do I Need a Visa to Visit Mexico?
Residents of a long list of countries do not need a visa to travel to Mexico. These include, among others, nationals of:
- Costa Rica
- Hong Kong
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
If you’re from one of the places on this list, you will be allowed to travel in Mexico on a visitor’s permit known as the Forma Migratoria Multiple, or FMM. Should you wish, you can submit an application online to immigration authorities up to a week prior to arrival. Most people, however, chose just to get the permit upon entry to the country as there is no real advantage in applying beforehand.
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When reaching the border point, you will need to fill out the immigration form and present this to the Mexican authorities, together with your passport. In theory, immigration officials can ask for you to provide evidence that you have sufficient finances to pay for your stay, as well as evidence of an onward / return ticket.
In reality, the bored looking immigration official is more likely to give your papers only a cursory glance before stamping your form and passport. Together with your travel documents, they will return to you a stamped portion of your immigration form. Make sure you don’t leave this as you will have to surrender it back to officials when you leave.
The FMM will cost you just under USD 25 to obtain. However, you’ll only have to pay separately at the border if you’re arriving by bus / car. Those coming to Mexico by plane, or as part of a cruise, will already have paid this tax as part of the cost of the original ticket. Don’t pay twice.
How Long Can I Stay in Mexico on a Tourist Visa? Can I Renew or Extend It?
The most usual thing for immigration officials to do is grant you 30, 60 or 90 days on your FMM on arrival. If there’s any chance at all that you might stay longer, try and ask them for a longer visa just before they stamp your passport. This might invite further questions as to your exact return date and travel plans so be prepared to answer these if you do.
For those that didn’t know about, or didn’t manage to get, the full 180 days on their first FMM, don’t panic. It is still technically possible to extend your permit from the initial 30 or 60 days you were given, to the full 180 days.
To do so, you’ll need to head to an immigration office near to where you are staying armed with your passport, visitor card (Remember? The one from before that you were keeping safe), together with proof that you can financially sustain yourself during your stay (cash, travellers checks or credit cards usually do). Immigration offices are located in most of the major urban centers and tourist hubs (a full list of branches is available here).
It is a bit of a hassle getting the visa extension done. You’ll have to first go to the office, wait in line, fill out some forms, go to the bank next door, wait in line, make a USD 35 or so payment, then return back to immigration, wait in line, hand over your proof of payment and then get the visa extended. Make sure you get to the immigration office soon after they open (usually 9am) to minimize the time you’re waiting.
Adding to the fun and games is the fact that some local immigration offices refuse to extend FMM permits / tourist visas, and say that the only way to stay longer is to leave the country and return. This isn’t true, but this knowledge won’t help you at all if you find yourself up against inflexible bureaucrats.
Rather than spending all day arguing, try coming back another day to see if you can get a different answer from a different member of state. If this doesn’t work, you can also try visiting an entirely different immigration office to see if you have better luck there. Once these options are all exhausted there probably is nothing else for it, but to do as they say, and leave the country and return.
Come what may, however, the maximum time you can stay in Mexico on one FMM is 180 days. Extensions beyond this period are not possible. You are still able to spend longer in the country, but you will first either need to apply for another sort of visa (a complicated and costly business) or, more simply, just leave the country and come back in for another 180-day visitor permit.
What Are the Cheapest / Quickest Options for Leaving and Returning?
Doing the visa run can be a chore, but the best way to approach it is to combine it with a trip of a few days or more out of the country. Flying somewhere is obviously the most convenient way to do things, but won’t be the cheapest. Depending on where you find yourself, you might also be able to a land border crossing without much difficulty. The easiest and quickest option depends a bit on your starting point.
For those in northern Mexico, your best bet might just be to nip over the border into the US. Convenient crossing points are at Tijuana, where you can walk over into San Diego, or at Nuevo Laredo, which is about a three-hour bus trip from the Mexican city of Monterrey.
However, if you’re hanging out round Cancun or in the Yucatan peninsula, more generally, it’ll be far easier to head down into Belize. From downtown Cancun, you can catch a bus for the approximately 7-hour ride to the border city Chetumal. If you’re further south, in Chiapas, then Guatemala is an easier option. It’s about four hours from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital, to the Guatemalan border.
How Long Do I Have to Stay Away Before Returning?
This is a difficult question to answer definitively, because it depends a bit on the discretion of the border official who happens to be examining your forms and passport upon entry back into Mexico.
Technically, there is no strict period of time that must pass before you can return. But, immigration officials are allowed to deny you entry to the country if they think you are being dishonest. If, for instance, they believe you are trying to gain access to the country as a ‘tourist’ when you are, in reality, living / working there, they would be within their rights to deny you an FMM.
So, while you theoretically can just cross the border and then turn straight back, you might be better not to risk doing so if you can avoid it. Taking a few days to explore somewhere else, or to visit friends and family, is probably more sensible than just leaving one immigration both only to turn around and enter another.
Do I Need to Pay an ‘Exit Tax’?
A lot of visitors are told by border officials when they leave Mexico that they have to pay an exit tax (of around USD 30). While this is a legitimate tax, the majority of tourists will not have to pay it at the border as it will have already been included in the original price of the plane / boat ticket.
To avoid having to pay twice, make sure you carry proof of your air travel into the country, preferably with a breakdown of the airline charges and the taxes. Most airlines send this to all customers as a matter of routine, but if yours hasn’t make sure you contact them prior to arriving at the border.
If the border official still insists on you making the payment, this might be because they want to pocket the cash for themselves. One tip which might help if you find yourself in such a situation is to demand a receipt for the tax you’re paying. This will mean that the payment has to be officially registered, making it more difficult for the border guard to take the cash for him or herself.
Strangely enough, immigration officials often become much less enthusiastic about charging you this fee once you make such demands.
What if I Lose My Immigration Form or Overstay My Visa?
All the constant moving about and travelling means it’s easy to misplace that tiny little bit of paper that immigration gave you on arrival. If you do, it’s not the end of the world, but is likely to cost you some cash.
You need to give this form back when you leave the country, but if you don’t have it, you might get fined. Better to avoid this by going to the local immigration office (see link above for their locations) and pay about USD 30 for a replacement card. Wait until you get to the airport and the fine will be higher and delay longer; potentially meaning you miss your flight.
There are also penalties to pay if you overstay visa by a relatively short period. The exact size of the fine depends on the length of the overstay, but can total up to several hundred dollars. Long overstays can get to be an altogether more serious matter and can make it much more difficult to return to the country later. You have been warned!
Visa rules change regularly. We do our best to keep up with the new regulations, but the odd change occasionally slips us by. If you think any of the above info is no longer true, we'd love it if you could let us - and other travelers - know by adding a comment below. Many thanks - LatinTravelGuide.