Entering Mexico: How Long Can You Stay On Different Visas?

Mexico how long can you stay
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
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From the roaring surf beaches of the Riviera Nayarit to the sugar-soft sands of Cancun, the lush jungles of the Yucatan to the canyonlands of Guanajuato, there are oodles of amazing places to explore in the tequila-soaked country that’s south of the US border. If you – like thousands of others – find yourself tempted by Mexico, how long you can stay will likely depend on where you come from and your purpose of travel.

The good news is that Mexico actually has some of the most relaxed tourism entry requirements on the planet. It’s something that has helped it to become a major destination for globetrotters and expats alike over the last few decades – just one glimpse at the gringo coffee sippers in San Miguel de Allende and the spring breakers in the Cancun Hotel Zone should testify to that!

This guide will run through all the ins and outs of visas in Mexico, how long you can stay as a tourist, and what requirements you’ll need to satisfy at the border after jetting into CDMX (that’s Mexico City) or Puerto Vallarta. It’s also got some tips on how long you should be staying in Mexico to really start shortening that bucket list…

Mexico Visitor Permit , or Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM)

Mexican band
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

All hail the Mexico Visitor Permit. Known locally as the Forma Migratoria Múltiple, or just FMM for short, this is the admission pass to the land of tacos and tequilas that makes crossing the border and crossing again so darn easy. Notice we say admission pass. That’s because this one’s technically not an official visa at all, but more of a permit for entry.

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They are super easy to get. First, check that you hold a passport from one of the countries that’s on the HUGE list that are eligible. We really do mean huge – everywhere from the Switzerland to San Marino, Iceland to Israel is included. So too is the entirety of the European Union and (woohoo!) the United States of America.

All good? Good. The next step is the simplest of all. Don’t worry about a thing and just book that flight to Mexico. You’ll be given a short information card to fill out either onboard the flight itself or in the airport arrivals hall after touchdown. It’s nothing complicated – just your first name, your last name, passport numbers, your date of birth…the usual stuff.

Once that’s all filled out, join the queue at border control and wait your turn. It usually takes a matter of seconds for the guard to stamp your passport and form and viola: You’re free to enter Mexico. Start dreaming of those jalapeno enchiladas and rich mole sauces, folks!

The FMM pass officially has no fixed length. That’s all at the discretion of the border guard who handles your entry. However, 99% of the time they award the maximum period, which is a whopping 180 days. That’s almost half a year in Mexico, how long you can stay in Thailand without a visa multiplied by three! Nice, eh?

Some more details about the Mexico Visitor Permit

Ruins in CDMX
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

The vast majority of people who enter Mexico as a tourist will make use of the uber-simple FMM, the Mexico Visitor Permit. It’s easy to see why. It’s quick, there’s no application required (although an all-new online portal has recently opened up if you want to speed up your border crossing), and it offers plenty of time in the country.

It’s not without its downsides, though. First off, the FMM cannot be extended. It’s valid for (usually) 180 days. That’s it. There’s no way you can hit a local immigration office and add more time if you’re really loving life on the Yucatan coast. You have to leave the country on or before the specified date. Digital nomads used to Indo, take note!

On top of that, Mexican bureaucracy comes into play here because this whole system still relies on paper. You’ll be given a stub of your admission card at the airport, and you absolutely MUST keep it safe. Losing it is a real headache, requiring you to attend a municipal office and apply all over again, usually answer some probing questions, and pay $40 in fees at a local bank branch. Not nice when all you want to be doing is lazing on the white sands of Playa Tortugas, amirite?

How many times can I use the FMM?

Mexico beaches
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Officially, there are no limits on how many times you can use the FMM permit. On paper, that means you can travel north to south, east to west, in Mexico, how long you stay is limited only by the 180 days on the card. Then, if you need any more time, you simply jet out of the country and then back in again, when, in theory, you’ll be issued another Mexico Visitor Permit for another 180 days.

We say in theory because there have been recent reports of border guards cracking down on abuse of the FMM system. It seems some people have been using the pass as a way to reside in Mexico full time (*ahem* digital nomads *ahem*), which isn’t what it was originally intended for.

If you come with a passport filled with Mexico stamps and a travel history (that’s all recorded on one big online database these days, by the way) that shows multiple entries and reentries to the home of tequila, you might want to think about applying for a short-term residency permit instead.

Getting an FMM if traveling by land

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Millions of travelers go the overland route to Mexico, whether via the dusty Chihuahuan Desert and the border gates in El Paso-Juarez or down the coast to the party town of Cabo San Lucas via Tijuana. It’s a bucket-list experience, offering a chance to cruise the Mexican highways all the way to your holiday spot. That said, it’s not without its dangers, and means you’ll need to make special arrangements when it comes to getting that Mexico Visitor Permit.

The good news is that you don’t need to go through any admin if you stay within the 21km-wide border strip that lies along the US, Belize, and the Guatemalan border with Mexico, along with the entire states of Baja California and Quintana Roo (the home of Cancun). If you do venture further than those areas then you’ll need to plan to stop at an official immigration post to pay your visitor fee (just over 500 MXN, or $24), and complete the process for getting the FMM.

Other types of visas for Mexico

Palm tree in Mexico
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

The chances are you’ll be from one of the many countries that can get the 180-day FMM entry to Mexico. However, there are some nationalities that aren’t eligible, most notably Russian, Ukrainian, and Turkish nationals. If that’s you, then don’t worry – tacos and habanero salsa could still be on the menu this year. You simply have to complete an online Electronic Visa Authorization. That’s a sort of pre-clearance for travel that will allow you 30 days in Mexico in total.

How long do I need to stay in Mexico?

A man in Mexico
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Mexico is one of those countries where we think you could spend a whole lifetime and still never get bored. In fact, plenty of people do just that! The reason is that it’s such a vast and diverse place that there’s all sorts to get stuck into, from hiking mist-clouded volcanoes to swimming in cenotes to lazing on the white-sand beaches of the Caribbean.

That said, if you’re a first-time traveler and just want to get a taste of what life is like in the country south of the border, we’d say three to four weeks is just about perfect. That’s not enough time to do everything – obviously! But plan your trip right and you should be able to get a good feel for Mexico, its people, its culture, and its food.

The good news is that a stay of under a month fits comfortably into the almost-six-month allowance that’s given with the Mexico Visitor Permit. That means you shouldn’t need to make any special visa arrangements when you travel. It’s just a case of filling out that form on the airplane and getting the slip when you pass through border control. Easy.

Some of the bucket-list experiences we’d 100% say are worth considering during your time in Mexico are:

  • Explore CDMX – CDMX is the local name for Mexico City. Two to three days here is usually enough to see the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan and explore the atmospheric districts of Roma and Condesa.
  • Cancun and the Riviera Maya – A 100-mile stretch of coastline down the western edge of the Yucatan, famed for its party hotels and white-sand beaches.
  • Tequila – The place, but also the drink. Head here to sample the potent tipples of Jalisco state.
  • San Miguel de Allende – A gorgeous colonial town that’s a fav among US expats and vets, sporting one of the most handsome plazas in the country.
  • Morelia – A fairy-tale town of stunning cobbled alleys and churches.
  • Puerto Vallarta – The beaches to the south of this port city are pure paradise. The beaches to the north are Mexican surf territory extraordinaire.

How long can I stay in Mexico as a tourist? – a conclusion

This guide outlines all the ins and outs of traveling to Mexico, how long can you stay in the land of rodeos and rambunctious tequila bars, and what options there are for extending your trips. Most folk only really need to know about the FMM, or the Mexico Visitor Permit, because it’s widely used by passport holders of countless nationalities for everything from short holidays to half-year trips. The upsides are that it can be used as often as you like (within reason) and hardly requires any admin, just a quick form at the border.

Travelers of some nationalities will have to do pre-clearance electronic visas, while long-term residents of Mexico should consider applying for an official residency permit rather than continuously refreshing FMM passes. Other than that, vacationing in this sun-kissed corner of North America should be pretty darn simple.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.