Do I really need a birth certificate to visit Mexico and come back?
February 22, 2005 10:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm scheduled to leave for Tijuana, Mexico this Thursday .. I've tried but have exhausted all possibilities for getting a copy of my birth certificate before then. Someone told me that I only need a driver's license if I'm going less than 100 miles past the border ( in San Diego ). Is this true ? Will I run into trouble if I decide to go with only my driver's license? I don't have a passport either. Thanks !
posted by jason9009 to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (15 answers total)
I am not American so I didn't want to chance it, but my husband and his mom went to Tijuana when she came to visit and all they showed was their driver's license. Neither even had their passports and there were no problems.
posted by karen at 10:26 PM on February 22, 2005

If I am not mistaken, a picure ID of some sort is sufficient for a short trip in Tijauna. A valid US driver's license should do nicely.
posted by wsg at 10:30 PM on February 22, 2005

Driver's license is all you need.

Take this from someone who lived in San Diego and went down there (past Tijuana even) zillions of times.
posted by vacapinta at 10:33 PM on February 22, 2005

I haven't been in the last few years (post 9/11, not sure if it's different now) but for several years before that I lived in San Diego and went to TJ, Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, San Miguel, San Felipe, etc. whenever possible and I never needed anything beyond a U.S. driver's license (and often not even that) to get back in to the US.

I'm suddenly jealous. Have fun!

Or what vacapinta said.
posted by mkdg at 10:45 PM on February 22, 2005

They always asked us questions, never even looking at the ID. We had them in our hands at the ready (passport for me, drivers license and birth certificate for my brother), but they've never checked them in three trips. This was crossing at Tijuana and Mexicali/Calexico in the last year.
posted by letitrain at 11:46 PM on February 22, 2005

> CROSSING INTO MEXICO: Officially, all Americans crossing from the United States into Tijuana are required to show proof of citizenship, such as a notarized birth certificate or passport. Unofficially, Americans have gotten in with just a driver's license or the equivalent.

You may also wish to review the State Dept. guide for travel in Mexico (which repeats the official line). The distance covered by the 72-hour visa exemption seems to be just 20-30km, though. And don't forget, if you're driving, you'll need Mexican auto insurance.
posted by dhartung at 1:14 AM on February 23, 2005

I'm sure a driver's licence is ok for TJ, the whole economy there is based on Americans taking short trips. When I went to Vancouver a few years ago (post 9/11), I had my passport, but my friends only had their d.l.'s. Coming back over the border, the guards gave my friends crap for not having another form of i.d. Which is kind of dumb, as most Americans don't even have passports.

On a related note, border patrol guards can be complete dicks.
posted by zardoz at 2:26 AM on February 23, 2005

Birth certificate? To go to Tijuana? Dude, just have your drivers' licence unless you plan to leave the Baja peninsula.

Many auto insurance policies cover you a certain distance into Mexico as well (like 100 miles).

Have fun. I'm going to Oaxaca next month. Many previous trips into Mex, this one I'm looking forward to very mucho.
posted by telstar at 5:14 AM on February 23, 2005


1) I'd like everyone who's spoken up to say if they've crossed the border since 11-Sep-2001. I know that Canadian crossing became more difficult. I've never crossed into Mexico, so I don't know.

2) Auto Insurance: Trust *nothing.* Call. It may be a policy in San Diego to automatically add Mexico coverage, but it sure isn't in St. Louis. Give your agent a call.

Ditto with mid-country rental cars. If the rental agreement doesn't cover Mexico, and you cross, technically, you've stolen the car, and things could get very nasty at an otherwise minor traffic stop.

3) Kids? If you have kids involved, bring their birth certs. Border crossings globally are getting more picky about this.

4) In the current climate, the right answer, even for Canada/Mexico, is a US Passport. Personally, I wouldn't cross without that, or with legal ID and legal proof of Citizenship. The fact that INS makes the same point repeatedly is clear -- yes, you may well not have any problems, but if you do have problems, it is your own fault.

More importantly, if something stupid happens and the US tightens up the borders, you may find yourself seriously stuck. Odds are low, but it could happen.

Also, if you get into trouble in Mexico, not having proof of US Citizenship may make getting help from the US Consulate problematical.

I tend to look at things like this as an equation. What are the chances of something going wrong, and what are the consqeuences if they do? When the chances are low and the consequences are low, ignore it. When the chances are high, protect yourself. The harder question is low chance, but large consequence. Only you could answer that.
posted by eriko at 5:52 AM on February 23, 2005

I was in Tijuana this weekend. They asked me what my country of origin was, and didn't even look at my license, but I had it out anyway. I hope the weather clears up for your trip.

I bought two bottles of tequila on a credit card, and the receipt said $320.22. They guy told me it was in pesos, but I called my bank anyways. That was the only weird thing that happened, but it was in pesos and I only got charged about $28.
posted by andrewzipp at 6:44 AM on February 23, 2005

Every time I've gone to Mexico, I've just used my birth certificate and Social Security card and had no problems. And I flew well over 100 miles past the border (Acapulco).
posted by SisterHavana at 8:04 AM on February 23, 2005

Whoops, I mean driver's license and Social Security card.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:05 AM on February 23, 2005

Let me add a bit more here:

To answer eriko's #1, yes, I have been down there in the past year and was asked for my drivers license where it was briefly inspected and passed back to me.

Also, my parents go down to Tijuana every couple months mostly to buy Mexican groceries they cant get in San Diego. My mother doesnt have a birth certificate or a passport.

Although it is true what eriko says that border crossings have been clamped down, this isnt especially true for Tijuana. Its an extremely porous border and the most crossed border crossing in the world and has always been the exception.

Also, the US Consulate is aware of the huge tourist/college crowd in Mexico. No, they will not turn you away because you do not have a passport. My opinion is that eriko is going beyond being cautious, which I approve of, in to some slight scare-mongering.

Also, there are two distinct border checkpoints: The one you pass going into Mexico and manned by Mexican officials and the one you have to pass in order to re-enter the United States.

Getting into Tijuana is easy. You dont even need a drivers license. That checkpoint is essentially unmanned. There are a few Mexican police hanging around but they seem to just be there for show or in case a huge truck drives by with a flashing neon sign that says "Transporting Illegal Drugs!!"

While in Tijuana you should have no problem. The place is crawling with American tourists. Just be sure you stay in the touristy areas unless you know someone there or really know what you're doing. There are some truly scary parts of town there.

Getting back into the United States requires, as others have pointed out just a drivers license. That said, there are two checkpoints to get back in the US. Everyone here is also talking about the Primary Checkpoint. This is a series of gates manned by US customs officials. They are very pleasant and will ask you how your trip in Mexico was, as you for a form of ID etc.

Ok, now for the unsaid part. If you are some college kid driving an SUV with blaring rock music then, no problem. However, if you draw the suspicions of the Primary Checkpoint guys in any way, they wil generally ask you to open up the trunk of your car and take a look around. I've noticed that the tendency to get checked out by these guys is based on:

1) How trashy your car is (trashier=more suspicious)
2) The color of your skin (darker=more suspicious)
3) Language (Broken or non-existent English=suspicious)
4) Stuff (A car packed full of bags, items, etc= suspicious)

Based on the above, they might decide, instead of letting you pass through, to send you to the Secondary Checkpoint. Everyone who has driven to Tijuan has driven past it. Its this big enclosed parking lot just past the primary checkpoint.

If you get sent there, you have to park your car and wait for an inspector to come by, check things out, ask perhaps for more questions or more ID and maybe ask you to take stuff out of your car. Also, drug-sniffing dogs are usually being led around too.

I'be been sent to this secondary area a couple times and, again, it wasnt a huge deal as long as you behave.
posted by vacapinta at 10:04 AM on February 23, 2005

I was in Tijuana last Spring, showed my DL and went on my way.
posted by wsg at 12:00 PM on February 23, 2005

thank you all so much ! All the responses are very appreciated ... Im on my way tomorrow :)
posted by jason9009 at 3:23 PM on February 23, 2005

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