Do You Need a Passport to Go to Mexico?

Mexico is a popular travel destination, especially those of us living in the USA.  Places such as Chichen Itza, or the famous Tulum ruins perched on the edge of the sea are high on many US traveler’s bucket lists.  So it’s important to understand what type of documentation is needed to cross the border and enter Mexico, or be admitted back into the USA.  In this post, we’ll explain passport requirements for Mexico and other things to consider before you visit.

Do You Need a Passport to go to Mexico?

Yes! A United States citizen traveling to Mexico must have a current U.S. passport that is valid for the duration of your trip. While there are some countries that require a passport that will remain valid even after a traveler’s scheduled date of return to the U.S. (like 6 months afterwards), but this is not the case with Mexico. However, it is a good idea to account for any possible delays in your trip, so planning to travel with a passport that will only remain valid for a few days after you plan to return is not wise. 

Travelers arriving by car must show their passport at the border, and an additional permit is required to travel beyond the 12-mile “border zone.”

What about a visa? You don’t need to apply for a visa to go to Mexico. The U.S. is one of 67 visa-exempt countries recognized by the Mexican government. Visitors from any country not on that list need to apply for a visa to stay in Mexico for more than 24 hours.  However for a trip lasting more than 180 days, a U.S. citizen does need to apply for a tourist visa.

** This information is accurate as of the date of this post, but it’s always important that you double check with the US Department of State prior to your trip to verify the most current information.

Can I Still go to Mexico Without a Passport?

It’s true that until 2007, U.S. Citizens only needed to present a form of official ID, like a driver’s license or a birth certificate, to enter Mexico and a few other countries, such as Canada and the Caribbean. I do remember these days!  When I was growing up, we popped in and out of Canada numerous times – especially in college when we went on our ski trips up to Banff and Whistler.  But that’s no longer the case.

A law called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative governing travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean went into effect in stages—initially, a passport was only required for travel by plane, but identification restrictions eventually expanded to travel by land or boat as well.

Currently, the only countries that do not require a passport for citizens to visit are United States Territories, like the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Guam.

So that means that even though US travelers used to be able to visit Mexico without a passport, that is no longer the case.  Travelers must now have a passport for all travel to Mexico. It is very important to remember that the requirements for entering Mexico are the same as the requirements for returning to the United States.

Do I Need a Passport to go on a Cruise to Mexico?

Ah yes, there is a bit of confusion about this and we get asked this question a lot.  Technically speaking, yes all U.S. citizens entering Mexico on a cruise should follow the same rules as they would by land or air.  While it is technically legal for minors under 15 to enter Mexico by sea with only a “proof of citizenship,” like a birth certificate; it is also legal for adults to travel by sea with a passport card (a credit-card sized ID, issued by the passport office), rather than a full passport.  However, since the process for getting a passport and passport card is basically the same, you might as well get a full passport.

Do I Need a Passport on Closed Loop Cruises

It is also technically permitted for adult passengers on “closed-loop” cruises to travel without a passport. A closed-loop cruise departs and reenters from the same U.S. port. Travelers on this kind of trip may travel with only proof citizenship, such as a birth certificate, passport card or driver’s license. This is not the case for any cruise that begins in a U.S. port but returns to a different one, OR a cruise that begins and ends at a port in another country.

You will receive instructions from your cruise in advance that will inform you what kind of identification you need to bring, and you will not be allowed to board the ship without it, even if you don’t plan to leave the ship at all when it is docked.

However, it is NOT recommended that a traveler of any age travel without a full, unexpired passport book. If anything happens that necessitates a return to the United States by air, a traveler must follow the requirements for air travel, which means a birth certificate or passport card will not be valid.

An illness or a breakdown of the cruise ship may require a traveler to return to the U.S. by plane. To prepare for unexpected emergencies, cruise passengers should make sure that they’re eligible for any kind of re-entrance to the U.S., which means an official U.S. passport no matter their age.

What If I Never Leave the Cruise Ship?

Regardless if you never leave the cruise ship, it is recommended that you always travel with a valid passport for the same reasons mentioned above.  Even if you are on a “closed-loop” cruise or if you never plan to get off the ship, you never know what type of emergency could happen.  There could be times where you need to enter another country to fly home or something which will require you to have a passport.  You definitely don’t want to be stuck!

How to Get a US Passport

It’s amazing just how many US residents don’t have passports!  The good news here is that getting a US passport is not a difficult process.  All you need to do is go to the US Department of State website and download and complete the appropriate forms.  Print your application and then go and get your passport photo taken, then submit all your docs.

In fact, we wrote a whole blog post on how to get a US passport in 5 easy steps!  Definitely check out that post for exact details on what you need to do and where to go to get your passport photo taken properly.

Plan Your Trip to Mexico With Our Mexico Travel Guide!

Mexico is a great travel destination, and well worth it for US visitors to go through the process of getting a process.  Be sure to check out our full Mexico travel guide for all of our Mexico travel planning tips and advice to help you plan an awesome trip to Mexico!



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