Mexico: Being Prepared for Random Immigration Checks

Last week, the presence of Mexican immigration officials at the police checkpoint on the south side of Playa del Carmen surprised a few of our expat friends who have been in Mexico less than a year. They were apparently unaware that Mexico’s immigration enforcement strategy includes random inspections throughout the interior of the country.

When it comes to immigration enforcement, Mexico is fairly strict. In 2016 alone (the last year with complete statistical information), Mexico sent 159,182 foreigners back to their countries of origin.

Linda and I have been stopped twice by immigration officials since we moved to Mexico less than three years ago. Both times, we were passing through a police checkpoint and as soon as the immigration official saw us, we were told to pull over. I’m still trying to guess which one of us looks more like an undocumented immigrant, Linda or me?

It was a bit intimidating the first time that it happened because they had us pull over behind an immigration detention van. Fortunately for us, we always carry proof of our legal presence in Mexico and we were immediately released upon presenting it to the official.

Proving Legal Presence

If you don’t feel like sitting in the back of an immigration van for 30 minutes while you wait for your significant other to send you a picture of your resident card (this happened to a friend of ours), then I recommend you start carrying pictures of your pertinent documents on your phone.

I confirmed with an immigration official that pictures of the documents would suffice to prove legal status during a random inspection.

Of course, you could elect to carry the actual documents but then you run the risk of losing them or having them stolen. Besides, if you spend most of your time in a swimsuit like we do, it just isn’t practical to have the originals with you at all times.

Let’s take a look at what documents you should have pictures of:

Temporary or Permanent Resident Card Holders

Take clear pictures of the front and back of the resident card. It is not necessary to have a picture of your passport.

Tourist Card Holders

If you’re wearing bracelets from one of the hotels and driving a rental car, chances are that you won’t be bothered by the immigration folks; however, it never hurts to be prepared.

Take a picture of your personal information page of your passport (that’s the one with your photo on it) and a picture of the tourist card (when applicable). The tourist card is Section Two of the FMM (shown below).

Let’s Wrap This Up

Statistically speaking, the probability of being stopped by immigration while visiting Mexico is fairly low. Unless of course you’re riding with us, in which case you can count on it.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking for to maximize their retirement income. In 2016, they started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) sharing their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border. The blog has been viewed over two million times and the articles have been republished in numerous periodicals across Mexico.

35 Comments on "Mexico: Being Prepared for Random Immigration Checks"

  1. Diane McNair | April 1, 2018 at 7:51 am |

    As usual, great information Paul! Have a blessed Easter!

  2. Nancy Melching | April 1, 2018 at 7:55 am |

    Hi Paul. I’ve been following your blog and enjoy it and have learned lots. Thanks so much for that. We travel to Mexico and love it. Since you’re the only link I have, I thought maybe you could help me. My son in law needs surgery to have nasal polyps removed. Because the doctors here have dropped the ball (for the last 5+ yrs.), they have progressed to the point where surgery would cost upwards of $10,000. They never ordered a CT scan which would have diagnosed the problem while it was still minor. He has no insurance because he can’t afford it and the deductible is so high it wouldn’t have covered it anyway. I was just wondering if you, or someone you know, would know of a doctor in Mexico that specializes in that type of surgery. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, I truly understand. But desperation leads us to do things we probably wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. He’s in misery and does lawn care which means another summer of sickness. They both work hard but just make ends meet. A $10 to $15,000 surgery would wipe them out. If you’re able to point us in the right direction we would be eternally grateful. Thanks for even reading this, Paul. Happy Easter to you.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 1, 2018 at 8:06 am |

      I’m so sorry to hear about your son-in-law’s condition. I don’t personally know any doctors who specialize in this; however, I recommend using the following directory to locate specialists and contact them directly. Most likely, they will be able to point you in the right direction:

      http://directoriomedicodeplayadelcarmen.com.mx/

      Always remember this too, medical treatment is a service and if the price you are quoted seems to high, don’t be afraid to tell them that and negotiate a bit.

  3. Paul, what’s the recommendation for proof of status for those in the process of applying for a resident card? I assume there is some paperwork that will be provided by INM, but as we plan to use an attorney to assist, I’m concerned there may be a time when we’re without much documentation.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 1, 2018 at 8:02 am |

      Yes, there is paperwork. You should have a copy of a form showing it’s in process. If your attorney didn’t give you one of those, just take a picture of the temporary visa they put in your passport and then you can explain it’s being processed.

  4. They used to stop you about every ten feet when traveling south of Cancun, I always just give therm my passport with my tourist card in the front and say I dont speak spanish. I am a bus rider so we get stopped alot then all the officials climb on board. Just have your tourist card and passport ready. I would never let them nearly phone.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 1, 2018 at 8:08 am |

      They love to stop the buses and question passengers. That happens all over Mexico.

  5. Ethel aka Fran | April 1, 2018 at 8:20 am |

    Interesting! Easter blessings to you and Linda!! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!

  6. Charles Benfante | April 1, 2018 at 8:25 am |

    I have lived here for over 4 years and never have been stopped. Don’t even remember seeing an immigration van where I am at. I hope this will not break my luck although I am a permanent resident

  7. Nancy Melching. | April 1, 2018 at 8:25 am |

    Thanks Paul, we will look into it.

  8. Cherry Scott | April 1, 2018 at 8:37 am |

    Many thanks as always for this very helpful information. I’ve been here four years. I’ve never been stopped but there is always a first time.

  9. Karen DeWity | April 1, 2018 at 9:30 am |

    Great advice, per usual. We read every word of your blog. We started the Spanish lessons but the key is to use what you learn daily and that’s a habit my husband I need to work on.

  10. Jean Ann Kezlan | April 1, 2018 at 9:55 am |

    Good advice, however, I often have a problem with people accepting my Permanent Resident Visa card as identification. Even in Banamex …my bank for over 12 years. They always want my passport. I present them with a copy of the first page of the passport and it seems to satisfy….after checking with more people. The bank seems to change employees often and the new ones do not know me.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 1, 2018 at 10:54 am |

      Banks prefer your passport but for immigration verification purposes, all you need is the resident card.

  11. adriana vela | April 1, 2018 at 11:06 am |

    Great article Paul! Happy Easter to you and your wife.

  12. On the way to San Felipe, sometimes immigration is at the military checkpoint at kilometer 142 north of town. They also sometimes walk door to door in checking. Both are very rare but I always carry a copy of my Permanente card.

  13. Thanks, great advice. Just took the pictures. Also, thanks for the spanish lessons. I’ve learned a lot.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 1, 2018 at 11:52 am |

      I’m glad you enjoy the Spanish lessons. If people keep watching them, I feel inspired to go back and make more of them 🙂

  14. The US should learn from Mexico for random immigration checks and deport undocumented immigrants like Mexico does. Thoughts?

  15. Pat Adams | April 1, 2018 at 1:17 pm |

    These random Immigration checks by Mexico: Do they happen on the Baja Peninsula? I sure haven’t experienced this in BCS. At the police check points entering and leaving La Paz the police look at my husband and me, I ask them if I can pass, and they wave us on. I assume that’s what most ex-pats’s experiences are. The police are looking for some types of folks, but we are not they. We’ve basically assumed that their method is profiling. We don’t match the targeted profiles.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 1, 2018 at 1:23 pm |

      They do them all over the country but they do profile. The police won’t bother you about immigration but sometimes they work with the immigration folks at checkpoints for an operation. The immigration folks typically have white or brown shirts on.

  16. Gerald Andres | April 1, 2018 at 1:27 pm |

    Greetings and Happy Easter. Today’s blog is very timely for me. I’m returning to the States next week for a couple of weeks. I noticed the customs form in your blog and it brought up a question. Last time the wife and I (she’s a native) went to the States she was given this form for me to take to the Security window for something to be checked. I don’t know if the wife mentioned I was a new permanent resident of not. When I returned, last year in May, it was my first time using my permanent resident card with my passport and the custom lady was surprised I had that form. I asked for it back because other times in the past I had to have it for the next step in entering MX and she said I didn’t need it. Can you explain what happened? I’m not sure if I need to fill that form out or not this time. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Gerald Andres.

  17. Thanks Paul. Great advise! Happy Easter and God’s blessings upon you and your family!

    I have not been stop yet in the 10 years me and my wife have been going back and fourth. Currently hired an attorney to start my residency permit in Merdita Yucatan. It helps that my wife is Mexican originally from Mazatlan but she too at times feels like an immigrant in her own home country (Mexico).

    We carry copies of our docs and secure the originals and it works well as proof of entry.

    Great blog. Thanks.

  18. They should do the same thing in the States.

  19. Miguel Castillo | April 1, 2018 at 9:46 pm |

    Thank you so much for this reminder and information. As Cherry Scott mentioned, I have never been stopped but there may always be a first. I will being traveling back down to Mahahual this summer and this is my reminder to make copies of passport and other documents and make sure i carry them with me at all times. Once again thank you so much for your blog.

  20. cheryl okerlund | April 1, 2018 at 9:49 pm |

    I asked both my attorney and the immigration officer in Chapala if a noterized copy of my temporal visa was sufficient to carry and they both said no, that I need to carry the card. Guess it depends who you talk to.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 2, 2018 at 6:24 am |

      If you’re traveling internationally or you need actual actual ID for some purpose, you’ll need the actual card. If you suddenly find yourself in a random immigration check, the pictures should be sufficient to eliminate any reasonable suspicion that you are in the country illegally. That’s the purpose of the checks.

  21. Gerald Andres | April 1, 2018 at 10:00 pm |

    Thank you, that was exactly what I needed to know. One last question, when I return and submit section #1 do I just show my Permanent resident card or do I present my passport also? Thanks again.

Comments are closed.