US citizen vacationing in Mexico: What can I bring?
October 25, 2007 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Taking a little vacation in Mexico City ... what am I allowed to bring into Mexico? The information that I'm finding online is either contradictory or stale. Obviously, I'd like to avoid any situation where I'll be fined or imprisoned.

Is there a limit on cash? Can I bring two cell phones (one US'ian, one Mexico'able)? Laptop, iPod, digital camera and related accessories? Aspirin, tylenol, ibuprofen? Cigarettes?

I'd venture to guess most responses will fall under one of two categories: "things that are legal" and "things that you can get away with."

Also, what must I bring? I have all my travel documents in order, but what one item will I be unable to live without while traveling? What must I not bring?

posted by kindachris to Travel & Transportation around Mexico City, Mexico (5 answers total)
This English page from the Mexican customs service should answer most of your questions. It suggests that just a single phone can be brought in duty free, though you can bring in up to $300 worth of additional items duty free, so that might cover you. The rest of your specifics are covered. I have, previously, taken in more than the 5 allowed DVDs (I had 50ish because I moving here), but I declared them, and the customs officer had no problems when he was told that they were a) originals, and b) for personal use; so obviously they have some power of discretion. In general, declaring anything that's technically against their rules is typically always going to be better than them finding it on a random inspection. My guess is that the phone won't be a problem.

In terms of things not to bring, be sure to leave your Garbage Pail Kids cards at home (seriously). Really, the rules are pretty obvious and generous: as long as you're not bringing in excessive amounts of goods that a customs officer suspects you might be trying to sell, pirated goods, cash over $10k, munitions, or illegal drugs, you should be just fine with customs. Read up on the green light/red light luggage inspection technique on that customs page so that you know what to expect, at least.

As for essentials, it's nice to remember that if worse comes to worse, the only things you really need are your passport and a credit card; anything else you can live without. Oh, and your plane tickets.
posted by bunyip at 10:19 PM on October 25, 2007

You can bring all that stuff mentioned and as much cash as you can stuff into a suitcase. HOWEVER, leaving the US with $10000+ cash requires you to declare that with US Customs before you leave [terrorist funder!]. You will also have to declare that cash with the Mexican Aduana when you arrive in the DF. I'm sure you'd be bringing in less than that. All the gizmos you plan on taking are fine and will not raise an eyebrow. I bring in the same stuff w/o problem. There's some arcane rules about too many blank cassettes and rolls of film. For tourist purposes there's nothing to worry about.

You can't bring weapons or illegal drugs. You can bring in 20 packs of cigarettes. You can bring in OTC medicine like asprin, etc in personal use quantities. There's a limit on the alcohol too. You can go to jail if you are trying to smuggle in illegal items. You can be fined if you fail to declare dutable items -- items for resale, too many cigarettes or booze etc.

When you arrive, if you have things to declare -- like commercial goods for retail, you'll have the chance to do so. Otherwise, you'll exit the customs area by pushing a button. If the light turns green you throw your bag on the x-ray machine [for stuff like drugs and weapons, etc] and you're free to go. If the light is red, you'll have to have your bag inspected. In the countless times I've entered Mexico by land and air, I've gotten the red light once. The inspector unzips your bag and looks for obvious contraband quite quickly and lets you on your way. If they do find something you've lied about on your customs declaration form, you'll either be fined or detained.

What must you bring? As long as you have your passport, you're fine. If you forget something, you can buy it in Mexico City. Consumer electronics will cost more, so if you forget your digital camera, it will be sometimes 30% more than in the US. Stuff like batteries are the same price more or less.

What must you not bring? Weapons and drugs.
posted by birdherder at 10:30 PM on October 25, 2007

You can bring laptop, ipod, cameras, medicines, etc. as long as they are for personal use. A lot of people have two or more cellphones here, so it's not a problem either.

Bring your medicines, they are easy to find in Mexico but you might not find the same brands or variety.

Supposedly, you can't bring pornography (similar to the postal restriction in the US) but I have never known anybody who had a problem with that. Just wrap it or something if you must.

Bunyip and birdherder descriptions are very accurate, the probability of having your bags inspected is low.
posted by clearlydemon at 10:52 PM on October 25, 2007

I forgot, bring your books. You will only find bestsellers in English in most bookstores, and they are more expensive that in the US. If you don't want to carry them back, buy used books and give them away before you return.
posted by clearlydemon at 10:55 PM on October 25, 2007

I've been to Mexico City a billion times (give or take) and never even considered what I was carrying: as you'll learn from the McDonalds, Starbucks, Home Depots and Wal-Marts, it ain't exactly an exotic country anymore. The guidelines online sound extra harsh. In practice, the worst thing you're likely to encounter will be a couple of uniformed guys at the airport who will shrug and laugh at your funny accent while they stamp your passport.

Birdherder's right about electronics. They're from 30 to 100 percent higher across the board, which I always find frustrating. I'm often tempted to pick up an extra iPod or two at the Dallas airport, then sell it to someone for twice what I just paid... but I'm not that industrious.

Don't forget any of your cables or chargers or accessories. While replacements should be available, selection is often poor and prices high (see above). I forget such things a lot and always end up paying double or triple for a replacement in Mexico. My personal stupidity tax.

Also, YMMV, but everyone I know in Mexico always wants me to bring batteries -- 9v, AA, AAA alkalines or rechargeables -- since those are quite expensive there.
posted by rokusan at 11:25 PM on October 25, 2007

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