Important changes to Mexicos Tourist Card: Visitors to the interior of Mexico must have a valid FMT -- better known as a tourist card (for extensive details, see The Peoples Guide To Mexico). In July of 1999, Mexico replaced the previous free-of-charge version with a new and improved multiple-entry tourist card.
Some tourists grumble about the fee (about $18 at todays exchange), but as far as were concerned, the new tourist card represents an improvement -- at least at first glance. Unfortunately, our personal experience indicates that Mexican immigration officials are themselves confused about this new form.
In theory, the new FMT (Forma Migratoria Turista) is valid for multiple entries during a period of 180 days. When Lorena and I got ours at the border station south of Nogales, the official didnt even bother to ask how long wed be in the country: bang! we got the maximum allowable stay of 180 days. (My in theory remark refers to what happened when Lorena tried to use this tourist card to leave and re-enter Mexico a month later -- keep reading.)
A second change to the tourist card is only important if you drive into Mexico: the new FMT no longer includes the notation that you are temporarily importing a vehicle. In the past, anyone who had a tourist card with a vehicle attached, had to take the vehicle out of Mexico when they themselves departed, or go through a paperwork hassle in order to leave it in bond at an authorized Customs lot.
In other words, if you drive into Mexico and have the new version of the tourist card, you now have the option of leaving and re-entering the country without the car. You must still take the vehicle out of Mexico before the tourist card expires, but youre otherwise free to come-and-go during the 180 day period. (If you havent already read my report on the proposed cash bond for drivers, be sure to do so here.)
Because Lorena would be returning home for a visit soon, we decided to test this by having her take out the vehicle import permit in her name when we crossed into Mexico.
Now for the inevitable confusion that seems to accompany every change in Mexicos byzantine redtape.
A month after driving into Mexico, Lorena flew from Guadalajara to California for a family visit. At the Guadalajara airport, the American Airlines ticket agent did everything in her power to take Lorenas tourist card away from her. According to what wed been told at the border, Lorenas tourist card was valid for multiple entries for another five months. When our protests and explanations fell on deaf ears, Lorena simply refused to hand the tourist card over. The ticket agent finally gave in, but she clearly didnt know, or understand the change in the law.
Here comes the kicker: when Lorena returned to Mexico, all of the planes tourists were given the older, single-entry version of the FMT. Lorena didnt bother to fill out this form. After landing, she presented the multiple-entry tourist card shed been given in Nogales several weeks previously to the immigration officials at the airport.
They refused to accept it.
When she protested vigorously, they offered her a fresh copy of the same new FMT, but told her it was only used for residents. It would also cost her another $18. When Lorena declined to accept the new FMT, they had her fill out the old version shed been given on the plane, and authorized it... for a stay of just 90 days.
Is anyone else confused here?
Weve learned two things from this experience: first of all, even if the new tourist card is valid for multiple exits and entries, dont count on it. Second, if you surrender your tourist card while it is still valid, youll probably have to cough up another $18 when you return to Mexico.
Last but not least: the 180 peso fee isnt paid at the border, but inside Mexico, in virtually any large bank. You dont need to do this immediately, just be sure to pay before you leave Mexico. The bank takes your pesos and rubber stamps the tourist card. ¡Hecho!