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.
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. See Noonsite/USA/Formalities for the details. In many ports Zarpes are only issued to commercial vessels. Read the consequences of arriving in Mexico without one in the 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.
This quick reference Guide to Visiting Mexico by Private Boat may also be helpful for those planning to visit the country. This is unofficial, general information and may not accurately reflect everywhere in the country; however, cruisers have reported that it is helpful.
New immigration rules now state that boats arriving from foreign countries must alert officials in their proposed port of entry 24 hours in advance by electronic means. This can be done via a marina. If advance notification is not possible there will be a delay of 24 hrs on arrival before clearance can be undertaken. The law also requires an 8 hour notice period prior to departure.
Register in advance by using the Banjercito website (https://www.banjercito.com.mx/registroEmbarques/). A fee of $306 Mexican Pesos fee per person is payable by credit card. The card owner must also be the person responsible for the boat. Instructions on which office to email the completed form to are shown on the website. The returned email with the entry authorizations, together with the receipt for the fees paid must be kept on board the boat at all times. It is advisable to complete a form for each person on board separately (paying with the same card). On this form, when filling in the number of people on the boat, enter one. Permission is for a single entry visit only, and for a maximum of 180 days.
On arrival in Mexico, yachts must go to the nearest Port of Entry, with the Q and courtesy flags flying.
Immigration must be cleared first. It is recommended yachts arrive with the FMM (Forma Migratoria Multipe) as described above.
Immigration will also want to see:
- Registration of the vessel
- Copies of the passports of crew traveling on board
- Boat Insurance
- Zarpe from last port of call
- Captain's license
Then, the captain should proceed to Customs with the ship's papers, the FMM 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.
Sanitation (Health) 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 (Importada, or referred to by some as a cruising permit) 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 (see guidelines by Latitude 38 on how to do this here). 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. Modification of Banjército´s online system is being made to allow the Temporary Import Permit to be mailed to an address in Mexico.
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 (so including visits to Isla Mujeres), 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.
A minimum of eight hours notice of departure is required by law.
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 March 2017.
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 (known as an FMM (Forma Migratoria Multiple)), 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.
See this Official list of countries whose passport holders do not need a visa in advance.
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.
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 September 2016.
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.
Even if leaving the boat for only a short time, ensure that the marina has copies of all the necessary documents, including the TIP.
Last updated September 2016.
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 have been changes in Mexican law regarding prescriptions for controlled medications. Visitors who require new prescriptions or need to refill existing prescriptions are required to get a new prescription from a Mexican licensed physician. Cruisers using tourist visas in Mexico should be sure to carry sufficient medications (and their original prescription) to last for the duration of their visit. This is particularly important if you use Coumadin/Warfarin (to prevent blood clots). Previously, this medicine could be purchased over the counter without a prescription. But it is no longer available and there is no replacement that's exactly equivalent.
ZIKA VIRUS ALERT: (September 2016) There have been recent safety alerts from the US State Department, UK Foreign Office, and Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding travel to parts of Central and South America, Africa, southern Asia, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific islands. Mexico is an area of interest due to mosquito transmission risk. There is growing concern about the rapid spread of the ZIKA Virus and the impact of the virus on pregnant women and babies. ZIKA is transmitted by mosquitos in tropical and sub-tropical climates, and there is currently no cure or vaccine. This situation is evolving rapidly, so please refer to the CDC’s dedicated website if you are intending to cruise in one of the effected areas.
All documents must be the original copies.
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/registroVehiculos. The cost is approx. US$50 and it takes around 7 days to receive the TIP in the mail. Modification of Banjército´s online system is being made to allow the Temporary Import Permit to be mailed to an address in Mexico. It's also worth reading this latest advice from Latitude 38 as applying online still has its problems.
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.
Cancelling the TIP
If you leave Mexico and are never coming back with your current boat, you don't need to cancel your TIP.
However, if you leave without cancelling your TIP, then sell your boat to someone who plans to go to Mexico, they may not be able to Import it, and will be liable for LARGE fines.
If you leave Mexico without cancelling your TIP and then go back to Mexico after the expiration date, YOU will be liable for LARGE fines.
You can cancel your TIP by going to the Aduana at the nearest airport. You can also cancel it at the Banjercito in the port where you are checking out of Mexico.
Remember, YOU are responsible for cancelling the TIP. Don't assume that it will be done unless you specifically ask for it.
- 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.
Before you buy a boat that might have been in Mexico, make sure that her TIP has been cancelled. A new TIP cannot be issued for a boat that already has one. To get an old TIP cancelled requires presenting the old TIP itself, or pieces of it, and the previous owner's exit zarpe from Mexico.
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 — required 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 January 2017.
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: Approx. US$22 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). For the ports that do not require an agent (La Paz, for example), it is possible to avoid this US$150 fee.
Last updated March 2017.
One regulation that is not enforced in every port, is that authorities will seize and destroy any meats not labeled as having been inspected by the USDA, the Mexican department of agriculture or the similar agency of another government. See comment at bottom of page.
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.