--July 1 2008
(LifeWire) - For a long time, entering Mexico from the United States required only a valid US driver's license and maybe a birth certificate for good measure. The ease of entry made it possible for everyone from weekenders to businessmen to slip back and forth with minimal hassle or expense. However, post-9/11 security and an increased effort to tamp down on illegal immigration and child abduction has resulted in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). US citizens crossing the Mexican border must now approach the experience as if they are visiting a European country. People traveling with children should do a little advance legwork to make sure they have the required legal documentation to embark on their family vacation. Here's what you need to know about crossing borders into Mexico with children:
If You're Traveling to Mexico by Air
If you do not already have one, it's time to apply for a passport. Although there are other documents that are accepted by land and sea (see below), a passport is your only choice for acceptable official identification for re-entry into the United States (or if you're a US citizen traveling to Mexico from a third country). Note that no matter how young your child is, he or she is required to have his/her own passport. Be sure to apply for your passports well in advance of your trip; application or renewal processing can take four to six weeks, particularly before the summer travel season. More information about applying for passports is available at the US Department of State's website.
US citizens do not need a visa to visit Mexico for up to six months. You'll need a tourist card, however, if you're staying for more than 72 hours and beyond 20 miles of the border. The fee for the form (around $20 to $25) is usually included in the price of your plane ticket, and you'll receive the form to fill out before you land.
If You're Traveling to Mexico by Land or Sea
The passport rule is slightly more flexible if you're traveling to Mexico by land or sea. You can still show a government-issued photo identification and a copy of your birth certificate to cross the border, although you may be sternly reminded to bring your passport next time. Come June 1, 2009, you must present a passport, a passport card or a WHTI-compliant document.
The US Passport Card is a slightly less expensive alternative to a passport, but it's restricted to land and sea travelers to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. The State Department website has a very useful FAQ that will help you determine whether the passport card is a better choice for your family's travel needs.
With land or sea arrivals, you'll also receive the form for the tourist card (see above), which you must pay for in cash.
If Only One Parent or Legal Guardian Is Traveling
Mexico is especially vigilant about child protection. A parent or legal guardian traveling alone with a child to Mexico must have a notarized letter granting the absent parent or guardian's permission for the trip - don't leave home without it or you will be turned away. (Legal guardians should also be prepared to show official proof of guardianship.) Legally separated and divorced parents should also carry a copy of the document that details the legal custody arrangements. Single parents can also show official documentation that there is no other parent (such as a birth certificate that does not list a father, or the absent parent's death certificate).
If You Are Not the Parent or Legal Guardian
Whether you are a grandparent, aunt, cousin, or family friend traveling with a child, you should take a notarized letter signed by the child's parents or guardians that grants you permission and includes the details of the trip (flights or itinerary with dates) and the address(es) and phone number(s) of the parents.
You might also consider taking a medical treatment authorization letter, in case the child needs medical care during your trip.
Your Final Document Checklist for Your Mexican Vacation
- Passports for adults and children arriving by air
- Passports, passport cards, or WHTI-compliant documents for adults and children arriving by land or sea
- Visa if you are not a US citizen, or a tourist card for stays longer than 72 hours beyond the border zone
- A notarized letter granting permission to travel, if you are a parent traveling alone with child or non-parent traveling with child
- Proof of sole custody, if you are a separated/divorced/single parent
- If you're driving to Mexico, you'll need Mexican auto insurance. If you don't want to buy it from a roadside broker on your way, your local AAA offers coverage.
- Want to know if you'll have to amuse restless kids in the car? Mexican border wait times are updated on the US Customs and Border Protection website.
- You'll make your border crossing faster and easier if you stay within the regulations for what you can bring with you into Mexico and what you can take home with you on your return journey.
- Always check the U.S. State Department's website for the latest requirements for travel abroad. The website also features helpful Country Information Sheets.