Kicking back on the white sands of Cancun, Mexico, for just an hour feels like a vacation. A few days or weeks feels like a dream – so it doesn't seem entirely unfair that you need a passport to do the trip. If you are thinking of making do with a passport card, that much-cheaper alternative to a passport book, don't do it if you plan to arrive by air.

Passport Requirements

Going out of the country for the first time is so exciting! For U.S. citizens getting your passport can seem daunting, but it’s not bad if you know everything you need to get the right documents. To get a U.S. passport you need a photo ID and evidence of citizenship (a birth certificate or naturalization certificates). When you go through a port of entry officials will be able to make sure you have everything you need.

Flying to Cancun

Most American tourists visiting Cancun arrive on an airplane and go through the Cancun Airport. That's partly because, unlike Tijuana and Ensenada, Cancun is a long way down there, all the way to that part of Mexico's fish tail called the Yucatan peninsula. It's a long, long drive from the border, and an even longer one if you start somewhere like Maine or Minnesota and many travelers prefer air travel. Here's the rule: you must have a passport book to get into Mexico and back from Mexico if your mode of transportation is airplane.

This rule applies to people of all ages, including newborns, toddlers and older children too. The exceptions are very few. These are the Americans who can fly into Cancun without a passport:

  • Citizens on active duty with the U.S. armed forces if they have military ID as well as travel orders
  • U.S citizens who are in the merchant marine traveling with the U.S.-issued Merchant Mariner Document
  • Permanent residents of the United States can't get a passport, but they can fly into Cancun with a permanent resident card or other evidence of permanent residence status and required documentation

Driving or Boating to Cancun

If you are driving through the Mexico border all the way to Cancun you'll need certain travel documents, including a valid passport book. However, those who arrive and depart by land or by sea don't need a passport book. Rather, you can use the significantly cheaper passport card. It's about the size of a driver's license and is valid for land or sea entry to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean or Bermuda. As well, when you drive you will need to get a temporary import permit if the car you’re driving is registered in the U.S. and you’re traveling beyond the border zone. Mexican authorities can impound a vehicle that enters a country without the proper registration.

But you'll have to add to that passport card other documents if you are driving to Cancun or taking a boat. If you enter Mexico by land and plan to travel to Cancun (or anywhere else further than 25 kilometers into Mexico), you must obtain an entry permit, also called Forma Migratoria Multiple (Multi Migratory Form or FMM). The INM (National Migration Institute) can also help you obtain an entry permit. This may also be referred to as a tourist card. Get this at an immigration checkpoint since you'll have to present it at immigration checkpoints you pass.

If you enter by sea, piloting your own vessel, you'll need to get a Mexican boating permit before you go from a Mexican embassy or consulate. Private boats are more likely to be stopped by the coast guard. If you enter Cancun on a cruise ship the process is a little different. A closed-loop cruise you will not need a passport and can use other forms of ID to visit the ports. There are other cruise lines where you will need to bring your passport. Make sure to check with your cruise to ensure you have the correct entry requirements needed. It’s important to have the correct documents because some cruise lines will make stops in Jamaica and you could have the chance to explore the town.

Minors Visiting Cancun

If you are taking your child on your Cancun vacation, be sure that the child has a passport. But you also need to bring the other parent along, or, in his absence, a signed and notarized document from him consenting to the child's travel.

Things to Be Aware of

Many people visiting Mexico experience robberies in which people will force victims to use their credit card or debit card to withdraw money at ATMs. Make sure to be cautious and hold your money close to you when walking around the city.