Mexico getaways are an easy, inexpensive way for Americans to take an international vacation. They’re especially popular for west coast residents who can hop on a short flight or take a cruise from San Pedro or San Diego.
But passport requirements for Mexico have changed so many times in the past several years that many travelers are confused about whether they need a valid passport or not.
In 2007, passengers returning to the U.S. by air were required to have a valid passport. But those re-entering the country by land or sea could re-enter the country with a certified birth certificate and a driver’s license.
By 2009, that had changed, although some exceptions were made for children.
Beginning in March of 2010, all U.S. Citizens who travel beyond the “border zone” — the area in Mexico within 20 miles of the U.S. border – are required to have a valid Passport Book or Passport Card. And all U.S. citizens over the age of 16 returning to the United States by air must present a valid U.S. Passport Book. A Passport “Book” is a conventional passport with pages for visas and stamps.
What’s a Passport Card?
If you’re returning to the U.S. by land or sea, a U.S. Passport Card is all that’s required. At $55 per adult, and $40 per child, it’s less expensive than a Passport Book, but it can only be used for travel by land or sea from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.
Passport Cards use the latest Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips to access your information from a secure government database.
Those who plan to do more international travel should go ahead and invest in a Passport Book. If you’re getting a passport for the first time or you haven’t had one in more than 15 years, you must apply in person.
You’ll need to complete the application form – don’t sign it until the agent tells you to – and provide proof of U.S. citizenship and identification. In most cases, a certified birth certificate and a valid driver’s license will work. You’ll also need to provide a photocopy of the front and back or your ID. This should be on one side only of an 8-1/2” x 11” sheet of paper.
A 2” x 2” color photo that’s less than six months old is also required. You can follow the instructions at the State Department website and take it yourself, or have them taken at WalMart, Kinko’s FedEx, or a U.S. Post Office.
Adult passports are currently $110 plus a $25 Execution Fee. It takes four to six weeks to process, and your passport will be valid for ten years.
Check with the State Department to make sure passport requirements haven’t changed.