Mexico and the USA share a border. They also share a considerable amount of cross-border trade and traffic. Indeed, thousands of Americans travel into Mexico regularly for many reasons. If you only go a few miles within Mexico, then you might remain within the country’s free zone. What is it? What are you allowed to do and not to do within this area?
The free zone helps create easy border crossings for those traveling between the two countries. Even so, it remains a place where nearly all immigration and customs laws remain in effect. Make sure that before crossing into this zone that you meet all requirements.
What is the Free Zone
The border between Mexico and the U.S. is a line measuring over 1,900 miles in length. It encompasses land, sea and river borders, like Texas’ own Rio Grande. While technically an international frontier, the border is not barren. Multiple cities and towns in both the U.S. and Mexico sit astride the border. Many roads and border crossings help individuals and goods move across the border.
Trade and travel between the two countries generated more than $1 trillion in economic value for the U.S. in 2016. That’s a lot of money and a lot of opportunity, and you might play a part in those incentives. To help improve those relations, the U.S. and Mexico established a so-called free zone near the border.
The free zone is an area with different customs and travel standards than those in Mexico’s interior. It extends about 15 miles into Mexico. When you enter the zone, you have a few legal incentives to make regular business in the country easier.
However, don’t get confused. A border crossing check is a process that all Americans must follow if they want to enter Mexico. A visit to the free zone is still international travel. Therefore, you will have to meet all requirements to cross the border in the first place. Offenses committed within the free zone will remain subject to Mexican law. Therefore, you must do your diligence when crossing into the zone.
Travel Exceptions Within the Free Zone
Many people use the Mexican free zone for regular business. Some of the customs restrictions that you face in other parts of Mexico might not apply within this zone.
As long as you stay within the free zone for the duration of your travel:
- You can import certain goods, except for things like alcohol, tobacco products and certain livestock, without tax. This is a duty-free zone.
- Foreign drivers in the zone do not need a temporary vehicle import permit (TIP) for Mexico. However, if you plan to drive outside the zone for any reason, you’ll likely need the permit.
Certain parts of Mexico have extended free zones. For example, the entire Baja peninsula is a free zone, as well as a significant portion of the state of Sonora. However, within Sonora you still have to stay within certain portions of the state to remain in the zone.
Your Responsibilities in the Free Area
Upon crossing into the free zone, you must obey Mexican law. Therefore, you’ll have to start this process at the border.
- Have your proof of identity (your passport) ready when crossing. Your passport must remain active and current throughout your stay. You need it within the free zone.
- In most cases, American tourists will not need visas. However, visas might apply for those entering Mexico to conduct business, study or stay longer than 180 days. If you don’t know what you need, check with the U.S. State Department to learn about your exact requirements.
- All tourists, even in the free zone, must get a tourist card if they will stay in Mexico more than 72 hours. The card is a Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM) from the Mexican government. The FMM is not a visa. It is your permission and validation to enter Mexico. This card will remain active only for 180 days and you will have to hand it in when leaving the country. You must obtain the FMM before travel. You cannot use the FMM for business-related travel.
- If you bring your car into Mexico, the vehicle must carry a Mexican car insurance policy. American coverage will not work in Mexico. However, Mexico still requires all drivers and vehicles to have insurance. Therefore, you’ll need coverage, even if you only plan to travel in Mexico for one day. You can maintain a Mexican policy long-term if you make frequent border crossings.
- You will likely face fees and a refundable safety deposit to bring the vehicle into Mexico.
Traveling within the Mexican Free Zone often saves you considerable hassle. However, you will still need to meet all legal requirements to enter the country. Start your research ahead of time, and you’ll likely face very few challenges.
Also Read: Your Vehicle Safety When Traveling in Mexico