Do You Need a Passport to Go to Mexico?

Everything you need to know about travel requirements to visit the United States’ southern neighbor.

A female tourist stands in front of a Mexican pyramid

What documents are necessary to visit Mexico’s wondrous destinations?

Photo by Shutterstock

With colorful fiestas, lively cities, dense jungles, some of the world’s greatest archaeological monuments, and roughly 7,000 miles of coastline prime for sunning and snorkeling, Mexico is a popular destination for U.S. travelers. And if you’re eyeing a trip across the southern border, you might be wondering what the travel requirements are, particularly whether a passport is necessary or if an alternative document is available. Here’s what you need to know.

Do you need a passport to enter Mexico?

Yes, Americans need a passport (or appropriate alternative travel document) to visit Mexico.

In the past, visiting Mexico with just a driver’s license or birth certificate was possible. However, in 2009, the U.S. Department of State implemented the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which requires all U.S. citizens and legal residents to present a valid passport when entering or re-entering the United States from Mexico by land, sea, or air. The initiative was made “to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States.” It made passports the standard document for travel between the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

Acceptable alternative documents for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border

If you’re a U.S. citizen without a traditional passport, you can use a few other documents to visit Mexico.

Passport card

The U.S. government introduced the passport card as a convenient and cheaper alternative to the traditional passport book; it is good for land and sea travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. The passport card is wallet-size (much like a driver’s license) and includes information about its owner, including full name, nationality, place of birth, gender, dates of issue and expiration, a unique ID number, and photo.

Passport cards, however, are only accepted for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Mexico. Air travel to Mexico still requires a passport book.

SENTRI pass

There’s also the SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) pass, which is a trusted traveler program similar to Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

The program requires prescreening and provides participants with a special card that can be used in place of a passport for land border crossings (by car or foot). While primarily aimed at frequent cross-border travelers, these programs offer a convenient option for those looking for efficient travel between the two countries.

Enhanced Driver’s Licenses

A handful of U.S. states offer Enhanced Driver’s Licenses, which contain additional security features that allow them to be used in lieu of a passport for travel to Mexico by car. Enhanced Driver’s Licenses are available in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington.

Do you need a passport on a cruise that stops in Mexico?

Americans can also travel to Mexico (and certain other Caribbean islands) without a passport if they’re on a “closed-loop” cruise.

Basically, a closed-loop cruise leaves from and returns to the same U.S. port for embarkation and disembarkation. The rules for sea travel were established under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and allow Americans to travel to Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Mexico without a passport, specifically on closed-loop sailings. However, some cruise companies require (or at least recommend) that you have a passport in case of emergency (such as a medical issue that causes you to fly home early).

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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