The Paisano Program: Help getting through Mexico’s Borders

With the holidays around the corner, a lot of people will be traveling to Mexico to visit their family and friends. For a safe and easy trip, it is important that you understand and comply with Mexican laws, and take a few precautions. To help travelers get through the border with ease, Mexico’s Federal Government introduced the Paisano Program. Volunteers from the program are stationed at Mexican borders and access points such as airports and bus terminals providing accurate paper work and information to travelers. The program runs year-round for the protection of people entering, transiting or leaving Mexico. Their focus is to bring better service and safety to people returning to their home country. They hope to control and eventually eliminate the incidents of abuse, theft, corruption and extortion at Mexican borders, while making travel easier for people during the holiday season.

It is a good idea to find out what you need to know and what to have with you when traveling to Mexico. According to the Paisano Program, you need to prove your citizenship, then declare your items at Customs and do a temporary importation of your car. Read on to find out more information about these steps to ensure a smooth, successful and safe trip to Mexico. And remember, volunteers from the program will be at the border to help.

What documents do I need to prove my citizenship in order to enter Mexico?

When you arrive in Mexico, you will need one of any of the following documents to prove you are a Mexican citizen: a passport, birth certificate, military ID, Matricula Consular Certificate, or Declaration of Mexican Nationality or naturalization document. If you do not have the aforementioned documentation, you may simply state your citizenship. As a Mexican Citizen you will need to complete a free form (migratory FEM) for statistical information. If you have any questions about any of these forms of identification, contact your local Mexican Consulate office: from Mexico dial 01 800 201 85 42 and from the U.S. call (877) 210- 9469. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are a foreigner entering Mexico, you will need a Mexican tourist card – officially the forma migratoria para turista (FMT) – that must be completed and stamped by Mexican immigration officials when you enter Mexico, and kept until you leave. It’s available at official border crossings and international airports and ports. At the US–Mexico border you will have to ask for the card, because they are not automatically provided. Though the tourist card itself is free of charge, it brings with it a tourist fee of about $23 USD which must be paid for in Pesos ($294). This fee is called the derecho para no inmigrante (DNI, nonimmigrant fee). Look after your tourist card because it may be checked when you leave the country. You can be fined for not having it. If you are a Mexican citizen, it is important that you have the correct documentation (listed above) with you to prove your citizenship so you are not charged this fee.

How do I go about getting a Mexican Passport?

To make your trip into Mexico, and back to the U.S. faster and easier, it is recommended that you obtain a Mexican Passport through the Mexican Consulate office. To do this, you need to make an appointment by calling 1-877-MEXITEL, or 1-877-639-4835. Operators are available between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. You will be provided with an appointment date, and you will be required to bring the following documents:

  • A certified copy of your Mexican birth certificate, or a Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization Charter or Declaration of Mexican Nationality.
  • A photo ID and Voter registration card, education certificate from Elementary or Middle School and Mexican military service card.
  • Present two photographs, in color, without glasses, uncovered head, front view, with a white background that have been taken up to 30 days prior to the processing of the passport.
  • Fill out the application form in blue or black ink.

For minors, the OP-7 Form must be completed, and the documents above must be submitted. You will also need:

  • Certified Copy of parents’ Marriage Certificate
  • Official photo ID of the father and mother— with both names being the same as what is stated on the child’s birth certificate.

If you already have a Mexican Passport, and need it to be renewed, call the number listed above. Once you receive your appointment date, you need to bring your previous passport and two color photos. There will be a fee to renew your passport.

What is a Matricula Consular and how do I get one?

The Matricula Consular is an identification card issued by the Government of Mexico through its consulate offices to Mexican Nationals residing outside of Mexico. The purpose of the card is to prove that the holder is a Mexican national living outside of Mexico. It includes a Government of Mexico issued ID number and a photograph and address (outside of Mexico) of the Mexican National it is issued to. To obtain your Matricula you need to schedule an appointment with the Consulate office by calling 1-877-MEXITEL or 1-877- 639-4835, operators are available between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday-Friday. You will be required to bring the following documentation in order for your card to be processed:

  • Certified Mexican birth certificate, or Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization Charter or Declaration of Mexican Nationality.
  • Official Mexican photo identification such as a passport, military ID, voting card
  • Provide proof of address such as a water, electricity, gas or phone bill.

What should I do when crossing the border?

When arriving at the border, you will notice two sections, or lanes, (one of which you will need to enter). The two lanes are the “Nothing to declare lane” and the “Self –declaration lane”.

  • Go to the “Nothing to declare lane” when you’re sure what you have brought with you to Mexico will not exceed the permitted limit.
  • Go to the “Self-declaration Lane” when you bring items worth more than the personal and family exemptions ($75 USD normally/$300 USD during the holidays).

If you choose the wrong lane by mistake, you can ask a Customs inspector for an appraisal of your goods, so you can pay the correct duties and taxes. Remember, when your belongings are being inspected, you must be treated with courtesy and respect. The inspectors must also handle your belongings gently and with care, but you also must be sure to follow and comply with Mexico’s border laws.

What do I need to do for the temporary importation of my car in order to travel safely through Mexico with U.S. issued license plates?

If you plan on driving to Mexico, you will be able to temporarily import your car for a maximum of 180 days. You need to obtain and fill out the appropriate paperwork which can be found online, at your local Mexican Consulate office in California, or at the Banjercito offices located at the Mexican border. To find the forms online visit: or If you decide to do this over the internet, you will receive the permit and sticker for your car within 7 working days. This is the easiest and fastest way of obtaining your permit. In order to obtain the permit, you will need the following items:

  • Documents proving your migratory status (passport, birth certificate, naturalization certificate, etc.).
  • Vehicle property title, registration, invoice or lease contract in the importers name, original or copy.
  • A document that proves the return of the past imported vehicle, if it applies.
  • A credit or debit card issued outside of Mexico with the name of the importer. If you do not have a credit or debit card, cash deposit of $200 USD to $400 USD (depending to your vehicle year and model). The deposit will be returned when the vehicle is presented before the expiration date of the permit.

The cost of obtaining the permit at the border is $32 USD plus taxes, at the Mexican Consulate office it will cost $40 USD plus taxes, and via the internet, it will cost $48 USD, shipping included. Please remember that the credit card used and all documents provided must be in the name of the vehicle owner. The vehicle owner must also be present and in the vehicle when it arrives at the border.

It is important to note that you make sure to cancel your vehicle permit at the border before you leave Mexico and obtain a receipt. Failure to turn in your vehicle permit before the expiration date may result in very high fines or you may be denied entry on your next trip.

If you encounter abuse from Mexican authority officials while you travel in Mexico, you may file a formal complaint by calling the numbers below. Remember, everyone’s circumstances are different, and not all situations are covered in this article. Please visit or call the Mexican Consulate toll-free for more information. To contact the Consulate from the U.S. dial 1 (877) 210-94-69, from Mexico dial 01 800 201 8542. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.