Mexico - Formalities
Laws and regulations are interpreted differently in different parts of Mexico, and historically there has been some differences between the Pacific and Caribbean sides. Generally speaking, officialdom on the Pacific side has been extremely easy to get along with, especially since they did away with having to clear from one domestic port to the other.
That has not always been the case on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, where some rogue officials have caused some serious problems for visiting mariners over the years. It is strongly advised that ALL foreign boats visiting the east coast of Mexico (including those from the USA) arrive with a zarpe from their last port of call. In 2012 boats have had problems on the Caribbean side of Mexico when arriving without a Zarpe.
For US boats obtaining a Zarpe is difficult, but not impossible. In many ports Zarpes are only issued to commercial vessels. For details on how to get a zarpe before departure from the US and the consequences if arriving in Mexico without one, see report here.
Formalities can be time-consuming, but in the major ports there are maritime agents who will do the formalities for a fee, as will some of the marinas.
New immigration rules published October 2012 state that boats arriving from foreign countries must alert officials in their proposed port of entry 24 hours in advance by electronic means. How mariners are to do this and who they are supposed to contact is not specified. Because of the confusing wording of the rules, this may only apply to vessels carrying passengers for hire. See report with more information here.
On arrival in Mexico, yachts must go to the nearest Port of Entry, with the Q and courtesy flags flying.
Normally, Immigration must be cleared first. It is recommended yachts arrive with a Tourist Entry Form (FMT) for every crew member (or visa, if applicable). Both can be obtained in advance from a Mexican consulate or from the Immigration Office on arrival.
Then, the captain should proceed to customs with the ship's papers, the Tourist Entry Forms and clearance papers. The Temporary Import Permit (TIP - see below) is not part of the clearing in procedure and is obtained from Customs immediately after a vessel has cleared in. In reality however, some Customs officials will not clear the boat into the country until the TIP paperwork has been processed.
Quarantine next, although this is not always requested.
Finally the Port Authority (API). A fee based on tonnage is assessed by API at the first port of entry and must be paid at the port captain's office.
As well as the zarpe and ship's papers, six crew lists in Spanish are required. Crew list forms (in Spanish) can be obtained either before or after arrival, on payment of a fee. All officials will stamp and sign all crew lists and each official will keep a copy.
For cruising in Mexican waters a health permit will also be required. Health officials may inspect the yacht, or the crew may be required to visit the hospital for a health clearance.
Once you have cleared into the country, it is no longer necessary to clear in and out with the port captain at each subsequent port, provided you log in with a local marina and the marina keeps a record of arrivals and departures.
Temporary Import Permit (TIP)
A TIP is required for boats normally planning to stay in Mexican waters for more than 3-5 days and allows you to leave your boat in Mexico when you fly out and/or need to import parts for your boat duty free (although some officials have differing interpretations of the regulations).
The Mexican Government invite you to start your application on line prior to entry into Mexico, unfortunately however application via the website requires an address in either the USA or Canada. If you don't have this, you will need to obtain the TIP at the first port of entry which has a customs office.
Some ports are better at dealing with the TIP paperwork than others (see reports adjacent). On the West Coast of Mexico cruisers recommend the following ports: Cabo San Lucas, Ensendada, Huatulco, La Paz, Mazatlan & Puerto Vallarta. On the Caribbean side of Mexico, Cancun is the only place a TIP can be obtained.
See documents for more details.
Note: Puerto Morelos on the Caribbean side of Mexico currently requries the use of an agent for clearing in and out, making this an expensive port to enter or leave the country.
The port captain, Customs and Immigration must be visited with six more copies of the crew list, and a departure clearance form (zarpe) obtained from the port captain. Although this document may not be requested when clearing into the next country (note: Hawaii require an exit zarpe from Mexico), it is necessary to have it in the event of being stopped by a Mexican Navy boat while still in Mexican waters. If wishing to stop anywhere in Mexico after clearing out, this should be put on the outward clearance by the relevant official. The cruising permit and tourist cards must be returned.
Any registered marina can clear boats in and out of port for their clients, which means that boats can be serviced during marina working hours, not just during bureaucratic hours at the Capitania and Migracion.
Last updated June 2013.
Crew members will not be allowed off their boats until the vessel has been inspected by Immigration. See New Immigration Rules.
Passports must be valid for the length of your stay in Mexico. Some nationalities will be granted a tourist card on arrival, others must obtain a visa in advance (see below).
A new regulation, introduced January 2012, states that anyone sailing within 24 miles of the coast of Mexico must be in possession of a visa. These visas however are for fishing boats fishing in Mexican waters but never going ashore. The regulation does not apply to sailboats that will be calling at Mexican ports.
Cruisers have reported on the Southbound Group that they were boarded in La Paz Bay by the Mexican Navy checking paperwork and ensuring that crew were legally in Mexico. Other cruisers report that on arrival at Isla Mujeres they were granted a tourist card without difficulty.
Mexico's enforcement of its immigration policies often tends to be inconsistent from port to port — and sometimes from month to month.
A Tourist Card will be issued on arrival as follows:-
For stays of 180 days; citizens of EU countries (except nationals of Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic and Slovenia), Canada, Japan, USA, Andorra, Argentina, Bermuda, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Singapore, Switzerland and Uruguay.
For stays of up to 90 days; citizens of Australia, Iceland, Israel, Korea (Rep), Monaco, South Africa, Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic and Slovenia.
For stays of up to 30 days; citizens of Venezuela.
A tourist card is needed to leave the country, and if lost it takes about a week to replace. Passports and tourist cards must be carried at all times.
All other countries require a visa, to be obtained in advance.
Nationals of the following countries require special authorisation before a visa can be granted:-
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, China (PR), CIS, Colombia, Congo (Dem Rep), Croatia, Cuba, East Timor, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Grenada, Haiti, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Korea (Dem Rep), Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of), Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia & Montenegro, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Yemen and holders of Palestinian documents. Authorisation takes approximately three to four weeks.
If coming from Belize it is advisable to arrive in Mexico either with a tourist card or a visa obtained in advance. These can be obtained from the Mexican consul in Belize City. It is imperative that those who wish to stay longer ask immigration at the first port of entry to stamp the passport for the entire period allowed under Mexican law.
Visa/Tourist Card Renewals
Renewal of the tourist card beyond the permitted time can be done in Mexico City at the Secretaria de Gobernacion, Direccion General de Asuntos Jurídicos, Avenida Juarez 92, 2nd floor (postal address: CP06500), Tel. 535-2718. If one has proof of possessing US$500 per month of intended stay, renewal of tourist cards and visas, which can take several weeks, can be done at a local immigration office. However, in an emergency a local immigration officer can extend a card for a few days, with telephone approval from Mexico City.
Last updated July 2012.
The only firearms allowed in Mexico are sporting guns which must have a valid Mexican hunting licence, obtained in advance. Other firearms must have a permit, and be declared to the authorities on arrival, who will keep them in custody until departure.
The penalties for having an unauthorised gun on board are severe and can lead to seizure of the yacht and imprisonment of the captain. Officials now use a drug/gun sniffing dog to search boats on arrival.
Although "Vessels in Transit" do not have to pay import tax on boat parts, avoiding such payment is very difficult. The correct procedure is as follows: the owner of the vessel should go with the ship's papers to the port captain of the nearest marina, who will issue a letter stating that the vessel is in transit. The sender of the parts is then instructed to send the package to the port captain, marking the name of the marina and correct address, then the boat owner's name and vessel's name. "Vessel in Transit" must appear on the package. The shipment will come directly to the port captain, thus bypassing customs and, if all runs smoothly, the goods will then be handed over to the vessel's owner without any dues to be paid. As in the case with most formalities in Mexico, things may not work out in practice, in which case the services of a customs agent will greatly simplify matters, but his fee must be weighed up against the money saved in import dues. There are reports also of shipping agents charging extra fees.
Yacht custody Leaving the yacht in Mexico for over six months is possible if it is left in an authorised marina, if the owner is a foreign national and not resident in Mexico. The owner or his legal representative must visit the yacht at least once a year to renew the custody.
Last updated March 2012.
Water should be treated everywhere in Mexico. Several cruising sailors have contracted parasites either from contaminated water or food which had come in contact with such water, such as salads, fruit or ice cream.
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended if visiting rural areas.
There was an outbreak of a new virus in early April 2009, initially named "Swine Flu", that appears to have originated near Veracruz, Mexico. For more details see www.bajainsider.com.
Temporary Import Permit (TIP) - Importacion Temporal de Embarcaciones
You are eligible to stay in Mexico for 5 days without a TIP.
For those with an address in the USA or Canada and an American or Canadian passport, a TIP can be obtained in advance, online, at www.banjercito.com.mx. The cost is approx. US$60 and it takes around 7 days to receive the TIP in the mail.
For all others, the TIP must be applied for at the first port of entry (note: only a few ports can process this paperwork). Documentation is likely to take longer to be processed. Private boats must take to Immigration their valid tourist card (“visa”) and boat registration.
IMPORTANT: No matter if you apply for a TIP online or in person, when the form asks for the "serial number" of your boat, the form is NOT asking for your boat's documentation number, but for her HIN (Hull identification number). What to do if you boat is pre-1974 and didn't have a HIN number, or is a foreign boat that never had a HIN number? Contact the Coast Guard documentation office to get a document which reflects this. As for owners of non-U.S. documented boats with no HIN number, there does not appear to be an answer to this and officials should be consulted.
Vessels owned by a company must provide their boat registration, certificate of incorporation (notorised), and if the captain is not the owner of the vessel then a document signed by the owner of the vessel stating the captain can act on the owners behalf (in some places this must be an original copy).
In some ports, copies of documents are not acceptable and in order to get a TIP you must have your documents notorised by a public notary. In Mexico this makes the document legal (check with your agent).
The TIP allows you to leave your boat in Mexico when you fly out and/or need to import parts for your boat duty free. It is valid for 10 years regardless how many times the boat exits and re-enters Mexican waters.
It is advisable to ensure that you leave a copy of your TIP (and other necessary documents) with the marina if leaving the boat. See this report for the possible consequences of not doing so.
When entering Mexico, it is advisable to have all possible places the yacht might visit listed on the TIP, including the last port intended for exit from the country.
The TIP contains a boat inventory and it is advisable to list everything here to facilitate importing spare parts duty free. If any replacement parts you subsequently import are listed on the TIP they can be imported without paying duty. This can be subject to different interpretation by customs officials. There is a guideline for obtaining the clearance documents required to bring in parts at www.clubcruceros.org.
You can renew the TIP online, but not until the old permit has expired. Again, the new TIP should take 8-10 days to arrive by mail.
Note: To avoid problems with the authorities, be sure to have the original (current) registration/documentation, original of the TIP, and current insurance binder ON THE BOAT (and copies in the marina office if leaving the boat). It is important to make sure that all information on the various documents are consistent.
Necessary Current Documents when sailing to Mexico
It is recommended to have both the originals and about five copies of each.
1) The original of your vessel documentation — with current stamp — or state registration.
2) Passports for the entire crew.
3) Proof of Insurance — mostly only required by marinas.
4) Fishing Permits — even if you're just carrying fishing gear.
5) Mexican Tourist Cards — pick them up at your first port.
6) Crew List
7) Notorised permission letter for children who are minors if they are not accompanied by both their parents.
8) Letter of Authorization if a captain is to be left in charge of the boat.
Each person on board must have a fishing licence if such tackle is carried on board. Spot checks are made, and simply having fishing tackle on board is considered by the Mexican authorities sufficient reason to need a licence. The cost ranges from just under 100 pesos for a day to an annual licence costing about 500 pesos(2011).
The licences can be obtained online at www.clubcruceros.org or www.bestbajafishing.org/fishing-permits.php or from the Mexican Fisheries Department, 2550 5th Street, San Diego, California 92103-6622, USA or on arrival from the local Fisheries Department.
Last updated February 2014.
It's important to note that the uniformity of training and interpretation of regulations is often varied and subject to some unknown time warp in Mexico.
Clearance fees are likely to vary from port to port.
Customs Fees: There is a fee for the Temporary Import Permit (TIP).
Immigration Fees: US$26 per passport.
A port tax (derechos de puerto) must be paid, the receipt for which must be shown to the Port Captain when clearing in.
Overtime is charged for clearance outside of office hours.
Some ports (Puerto Morelos/El Cid Marina on the Caribbean side for example) require the use of an Agent for clearance. Agent fees can be substantial (approx. US$150 to clear both in and out).
Last updated June 2013.
Chartering of foreign yachts is only allowed if marketed through a marina or authorised third party if the marina or third party has entered into a rental agreement with the owner and is responsible for all fiscal obligations. A permit must be obtained from the Ministry of the Treasury and Ministry of Communications and Transport.
Turtles are protected and no products made from turtles are allowed to be exported.
A permit is necessary to stop at Isla Contoy, north of Isla Mujeres, which is a nature reserve. The permit can be obtained from the office of the nature reserve, located in Rueda Medina, on Isla Mujeres.
From January 2008, it is a requirement that each person involved has a finshing licence. These can be obtained via the website www.conapesca.sagarpa.gob.mx/wb (in Spanish only) and cost about USD45.
Animals require a veterinary health certificate and cats and dogs also require an anti-rabies vaccination certificate. Both certificates must be shown to a Mexican consul to obtain an import permit for the animals.
Visitors from the USA to Mexico may bring a dog or cat by presenting the following documents:-
1) A Pet Health certificate signed by a registered Veterinary registered in the U.S. and issued not less than 72 hours before the animal enters Mexico, and which also includes a statement that the animal is free of parasites.
2) Pet Vaccination Certificate showing that the animal has been treated for rabies, hepatitis, pip and leptospirosis.
Certification by a Mexican consular authorities is not required for the health or vaccination certificate.
A permit fee may be charged at the time of entry to Mexico.