Traveling to Mexico seems to evoke our deepest-seeded fears about the country. Built upon decades of negative press–because, let’s face it, the good news never escapes–first-time visitors frantically search whether it’s safe to travel to Mexico or what are the latest travel warnings.
And they’re fair questions; the news reports, after all, are real. But what proportion of the locals see the horror blasting across your screen? Not many, in a country of 120 million people, in a geographical area almost half the size of the EU countries combined. As much as you wouldn’t go down a dark alley in any capital city, you don’t visit the states where the cartels operate (although, even locals still live there, quite fine).
Instead, you’ll find a Mexico of xylophone bands and mariachis playing live music on the streets, art and history on every corner, color everywhere, and amazing food (so good, it’s been recognized by UNESCO).
But it doesn’t mean you should travel with free abandon, or not brush up on a few basics before traveling to Mexico. Is it even safe to eat the food, or drink the water? What’s the best time to travel–it’s either dry or wet–and do you need a visa to enter Mexico?
We explain the tips to know before traveling to Mexico – and have the best holiday you’ve ever had. There’s a reason why there’s a big divide because those cautious first-time
What Do I Need To Know Before Traveling to Mexico?
- When is the best time to travel to Mexico?
- When is the cheapest time to travel to Mexico?
- Do I need a Mexican travel visa?
- What documents do I need to travel to Mexico?
- Do I need a passport to travel to Mexico?
- Should I exchange money before I travel to Mexico?
- Do I need travel vaccines for Mexico?
- What illnesses do I need to watch out for?
- Do I need health, travel or car insurance?
What Do I Need? A Checklist for Traveling to Mexico
- Many nationalities don’t need a visa to travel to Mexico, but you should double check if this includes you or not.
- There are two types of electric socket in Mexico. Plug type A has two flat parallel prongs and plug type B has an additional, round grounding pin. Mexico has 127V supply voltage and 60Hz. The voltage is the same as the US, but you might need a two-prong adapter if your appliance has a third prong, as some places still only have the older, two-prong sockets (although good hotels have both, anticipating this issue). You can find cheap ones in Mexico, and at airports.
- Bring proof of your health or travel insurance, copies of prescriptions and emergency contact details.
- Pack prescription medicines if you have specific health problems. It is not difficult to get medication over the counter in Mexico, but the name or active ingredients may vary.
- If your Spanish is poor, you may consider bringing some basic medications, otherwise, pharmacies are widespread. Think about antacid, diarrhea medicine (Lomotil or Imodium), oral rehydration solutions or salts, antihistamines, or pain and fever medicine.
- You should not drink tap water in Mexico. Good rules to follow: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it. If you eat raw vegetables or fruits, clean them with filtered water (and, some would argue, disinfectant too).
- Mexican families travel a lot during school holidays in July and August, Christmas, Easter, and on national holidays, meaning hotels can get booked up in advance and businesses may be closed. Check the holiday calendar to see if it will affect your trip.
- The weather in Mexico varies greatly from one coast to the other. In central Mexico, take some form of jacket no matter when you travel. A light, a rain-proof jacket is ideal during summer (or just wait out the short downpours, like the locals), or a slightly bulkier one for winter evenings (it’s still warm during the day). The coasts are hot and humid in summer, so pack light, but you can still find
usefor a thin jacket or shawl when there’s rainstorm and atevening. Bring at least one pair of enclosed shoes, either for rain (summer), or chilly evenings (winter).
- Parts of Mexico are high altitude; the capital of Mexico city sits at around 2,200m. Take tablets if it affects you,
otherwisedrink lots of water after you arrive, eat carbohydrates, and be aware that altitude increases the effects of alcohol and strenuous activity (it makes you feel so tired).
- Check that your medication isn’t illegal to bring into Mexico. For example, pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed, is a controlled substance in Mexico. If in doubt, contact your local Mexican embassy or consulate.
- You may want to consider a map (or off-line map downloads
),because cell-phone and internet coverage is limited in many remote areas.
- Check the latest travel warnings for Mexico, which relate to both violence and natural disasters.
- If you’re traveling between states or near international borders, you may be stopped by Mexican immigration authorities for immigration checks. You’ll need to be able to provide your passport and FMM slip. Copies are not accepted. If you’re unable to produce these documents, you may be detained, held at an immigration holding center, and ultimately deported.
- Make sure if you book adventure activities (paragliding,
sky diving, scuba diving etc) that you choose reputable companies, otherwise, safety precautions and equipmentmay not meet international standards.
- All visitors pay an immigration fee, included in their plane ticket, which will be payable by those who enter by land.
The Best Time To Travel To Mexico
Mexico is one of those blessed countries that any time of the year is pleasant – but for different reasons. The summer months are gloriously hot and humid, with a few hours of rain to cool it down. Some prefer the dry winter months, where temperatures are comfortably lower, and rain is rare. Spring and Autumn are generally the nicest nice times to travel, with neither extremes of weather.
But Mexico is a big country, and many mistakenly assume it is ‘hot’ everywhere. Temperatures get quite low in higher elevations (30–40F), like Mexico City, Toluca and San Cristobal de las Casas. This makes Spring the best and hottest time to visit Central and Southern Mexico, while summer is almost cool and refreshing with intense–but usually short–downpours and comfortable sleeping temperatures.
Coastal areas, on the other hand, tend to have their medium to high seasons from October to May. June through September gets rather hot and humid – and its hurricane season until November. Take note of black or red warning flags on beaches, when you should avoid the water.
Then other states, like along the US border and Baja California Peninsula, can go years without rain, with intense dry heat in the summer, and even snow in winter (do a search for snow in Chihuahua!).
Festival days are also one of the best times to visit Mexico and get smothered in culture, like Carnival in February and Holy Week around Easter.Spring is a good time to see Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca city (end of July), and in Autumn there is the famous Day of the Dead, plus Mexican Independence Day, and the Festival of Cervantino in Guanajuato.
The best time to travel to:
- Cancun – winter, during dry season from mid-December to March, along with the winter and spring breakers. But mid-December to early January can be up to 50 percent more expensive.
- Puerto Vallarta – from November to March, with little rain, and temperatures lower than 80. There’s the Feast of the Virgin de Guadalupe on December 12, and Restaurant Week falls around the end of May.
- Cabos – from mid-December to Easter, with holidays and special events particularly busy, such as fishing tournaments in October and November and whale watching from December to March.
Cheapest Time To Travel To Mexico
Spring months usually have slightly lower prices – but you might be contending with Spring breakers. You can also see hotel and package deals around early December, after New Year’s, and in June.
As the weather varies from one area to the next, the cheapest travel time depends on where you plan to go.
- Mexico City: it gets coldest around February, with temperatures at 60–70s in the day, but at 40s at night. March to May are the best, when it’s not too cold, and rainy season hasn’t started, and October to November is pretty pleasant, too.
- Cancun: low season is from May to November, with deals especially in the heart of the hot, rainy season in May and August. September and October are also cheap because it’s hurricane season.
- Los Cabos: Cabo San Lucas sits where the Pacific Ocean meets the Gulf of California. You can find lower prices from around May to June. Hurricane season runs from July to September, and prices reflect this.
- Acapulco: similar to the Caribbean, the Pacific coast is hot, humid and rainy during the summer months. Hotels and airfares are typically cheaper between June and September. The months on either side of summer tend to be cheaper, which Spring breakers love, too.
- Puerto Vallarta: low season runs from July to October, when temperatures reach low 90s and prices drop up to 40 percent. Although, rates can rise during school holidays, from July to August.
What Documents Do I Need To Travel To Mexico?
- A tourist visa, if you plan to stay longer than 6 months (180 days) or if your country doesn’t have an agreement with Mexico.
- At least two empty pages in your passport
- A passport, valid for your length of stay and up to six months. Driver’s licences and IDs are not sufficient to enter Mexico.
- It is wise to take photocopies of your passport to carry around for ID purposes, and leaving your passport in your accommodation (if it’s safe).
- Proof of health insurance (photocopies of your agreement, or a health card).
- The address of where you will be staying; you’ll need to write it down on the immigration form.
- A copy of your prescription, especially if you take drugs from this list that are considered illegal to bring into Mexico (although, you could still be arrested even with a prescription; if in doubt, contact your local embassy). It should have the physician’s letterhead and include the generic mneducube name.
Mexico Travel Requirements
- Take tourist card with you at all times
- At all times, you should carry your stamped ‘Forma Migratoria Múltiple’ (FMM) given upon arrival.
Officialshould carry their residency card issued by the Mexican government. It is also advised to carry photocopies of the information pages of your passport and entry stamp.
- Weapon laws in Mexico vary by state, but it
isgenerallyillegal for travelers to carry firearms, knives, daggers, brass knuckles, ammunition (even used shells), or weapons of any kind. Illegal firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico is a major problem, and the Department of State warns all U.S. citizens against taking any firearm or ammunition into Mexico. If you are caught entering Mexico with firearms or ammunitions, you will be imprisoned.
- If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. consulate immediately. The Mexican government is required by international law to contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate promptly when a U.S. citizen is
arrested,if the arrestee so requests. This requirement does not apply to dual nationals.
- You can not bring in, nor take out, more than USD 10,000 on your personal self.
Mexican Travel Visa & Permits To Travel to Mexico
When you arrive, you need to obtain a ‘Forma Migratoria Multiple’ (FMM) and have your passport stamped. These are either handed out on the plane, or you can grab one while waiting in the line to pass through the immigration booths. You must present this card upon departure, so failure to get it can result in detention or deportation.
Most visitors do not need to arrange a visa before travelling to Mexico (this includes you, if your country is listed here). You will however need to fill out an immigration form upon arrival, and hand it back in when you leave. You can pre-apply here if you have six months passport validity from your travel date, otherwise, you can get them in-flight or at the gate. You may be asked to show a return ticket out of Mexico before being allowed in, sometimes asked before even boarding your flight.
If you cross via the border, you may not see an immigration officer. In siuch cases you need to identify the nearest office and clear your immigration status before continuing. Ask the customs officials hwere it is; it should be nearby the border. If you fail to get yoru immigration card upon entry, it is usally more complicated to do it after you’ve left the border area.
If you lose or damage your form, you can get it replaced at the immigration office at any international airport in Mexico, which is around $500.
You will need to get a Mexican Visitor’s Visa if your country is listed here. Any foreigner is exempt if they hold a visa or permanent residence from the US, Canada, Japan, UK and the EU. Business travellers are also exempt if they from the APEC region (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) and have a APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC).
A visitor’s visa allows up to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days provided you don’t earn any income (which may include rental income from Mexican properties). You can volunteer, study for less than six months, travel, or attend business meetings or other business functions without monetary earnings from Mexico.
In such cases you will need to contact your local Mexican embassy, download this form, and collect the documents that they request. See the fees, and book an appointment with your closest Mexican Embassy online.
Cruise passengers do not generally need a visa. If you enter by land and travel more than 25 kilometers into Mexico, you will need an entry permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple – FMM), an INM office. Even if Mexican officials do not explicitly direct you to do so, you may be asked to present it during or upon exit of your trip – or pay a fine.
Check the permit requirements if you enter by sea.
The law permits Mexican immigration authorities to deny foreigners entry if they have been convicted of a serious crime in Mexico or abroad.
For longer stays, you will need to apply for a permit that is relevant to your situation (see this form, or in Spanish). In the case that plan to work, you first need permission from the National Immigration Institute in Mexico (NUT), after which you will receive an authorization number (NUT number) to finish your visa application.
- Mexico’s Immigration Portal (only in Spanish)
- Mexican National Institute of Migration’s (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) website
Mexico Travel Vaccines & Illnesses
There are no mandatory vaccines required to enter Mexico, although you should be up-to-date on routine vaccines, especially Tetanus.
The CDC also recommends certain vaccines for food and water-borne illnesses, such as:
- Hepatitis A
Many visitors travel without these vaccines, and usually only consider them if going to remote areas (ie. field researchers) or for adventurous travellers or eaters. Other recommendations include Hepatitis B, malaria and rabies vaccines, which become more important if you plan on getting a tattoo or piercing, have a medical procedure, have relations, or work closely with animals.
You may consider bringing medication for travelers’ diarrhea, which is much more common than the above illnesses, even just from your stomach adjusting to the spicy diet. Cases of food and water bugs have increased in recent years, more so in tropical areas, such as the Riviera Maya between the months of May and June. The common culprits include raw dairy products, undercooked fish and meat, soft fruits such as raspberries, and salads and herbs, such as coriander, basil, and lettuce. Watch out for restaurants that don’t look clean or appear to have improperly prepared food – you might walk away with the dreaded Montezuma’s revenge, a witty reference to the defeat of Aztec ruler Moctezuma II by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes. Fruit with a peel is less risk, especially if street fruit vendors cut it in front of
Although Mexico is a risk area for malaria, it is classed as low risk. Major resort areas and the US-Mexico regions are free of Malaria. Mosquito avoidance–but not medication–is recommended if you visit Durango, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Sonora, Tabasco, and Quintana Roo. You might consider tablets (Malaria prophylaxis) if you plan to spend time in areas such as Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Nayarit, and Sinaloa.
Zika is still a risk in Mexico, although there have been few reported cases and it is rare if you travel above 2000m altitude (like Mexico City). Dengue and Chikungunya cases have also been confirmed, although there is no vaccine, so you can only try to avoid mosquito bites with repellent and by take care in remote and coastal areas, at dawn and dusk. Pregnant women should avoid non-essential travel to Mexico.
If you intend to get vaccines, you should visit your doctor four to eight weeks before travel. You should also watch for any fevers after you return, as some parasites can take up to 10 days to show.
Air pollution in Mexico City can be problematic for some visitors, more so during the dry winter months and for those with asthma and chronic lung and heart conditions.
What might surprise you is that more injuries and deaths are probably caused by poisonous scorpions, seen in the Pacific Coast (from Sonora to Oaxaca), the center states of Morelos, the State of Mexico, Guanajuato, and Durango. Keep an eye out when visiting Mexico’s rural areas and during any outdoor activities, especially during spring and summer.
For emergency medical assistance, dial 060, 065, 066 or 068 and ask for an ambulance (ambulancia). In Mexico City, you can use the emergency buttons on visible CCTV cameras to connect to emergency services. If you are transferred to a medical facility, make sure you get a quote first and contact your health insurance company as soon as possible.
- CDC Health Information
- NHS Travel Vaccines & Advice
- Australia Government Health Advice
- Vaccine Advice from Ireland TMB
Why Can’t You Drink The Water In Mexico?
Tap water in Mexico in generally not portable, and you’ll find bottled water in abundance and inexpensive (a dollar or less for 1L). You might read that some areas have portable water – and it’s true that it is purified at the source. But there is the possibility of contamination en route to where you are–unstable ground, old infrastructure, cracked water and sewage lines near each other–hence even Mexicans find tap water repulsive and stick to home-deliveries of 20L garrafones (large bottles).
Some resorts and hotels have on-site purification systems, and there will be a specific notice that you can drink the water. Otherwise, most hotels provide a small bottle free of water.
In addition, visitors with sensitive stomachs should be aware when eating leafy greens and raw vegetables.
Ice is another tricky topic. Many restaurants buy filtered-water ice, and you can generally trust high-end hotels, bars and restaurants. But it’s still a lottery and thus most say to avoid it. On the other hand, expats and Mexicans take ice without too many problems. Just look around to see what others do.
In rural or remote areas, ice and water quality is less of a sure thing, so you need to judge depending on where you are, and the quality of the establishment.
Cholera is considered a low risk in Mexico, along with Typhoid, although visitors should always take food and water precautions.
Should I Exchange Money Before I Travel To Mexico?
The currency is Mexican pesos (MXN), where 1USD = around 18–20 MXN. You’ll quickly end up with numbers in the 1,000s but don’t be alarmed – 500 MXN equals around USD 25–30.
Most bank ATM’s accept foreign credit cards and debit visa cards, and you’ll also typically be able to pay with card in large supermarkets and shops. There are ATM’s in all international airports, where you can take out money immediately upon arrival if you need it. If you have a bad exchange rate or high fees with your local bank, then you might consider bringing money with you.
However, there have been some reports of theft at airports, after travelers change large sums of money. Limit how much you take out, for example, 1000–2000 pesos is sufficient
Travel, Car & Health Insurance For Mexico
Not all hospitals will accept direct payment from your insurance company, meaning you will have to pay upfront and claim it back later.
Also, most providers do not accept US domestic health insurance or Medicare/Medicaid plans. Injuries, rather than infectious diseases, pose the largest risk of death among healthy travelers to Mexico. In one review, the leading cause of death to all US travelers to Mexico was injuries (51%), and 18% of deaths resulted from motor vehicle crashes.