Mexico: How Much ‘Stuff’ Can You Bring Duty-Free and Which Items Are Exempt?

I’ve been getting quite a few questions from readers lately about how much “stuff” they’re allowed to bring into Mexico without being charged a duty and which items, if any, are exempt from that tax.

The folks who ask these types of questions generally fall into two categories: 1) People who are moving to Mexico from either the U.S. or Canada, and 2) people who already live in Mexico but return to their countries of origin to do some extensive shopping from time to time.

I had a little free time this morning so I decided to do a quick post on the topic.

Duty Exemption (Monetary Limits)

The thing that I’ve always found unusual about Mexico’s Custom’s rules is that many of the monetary limits are set in U.S. dollars and not pesos. This is one of the times.

You’re permitted to bring a certain dollar amount of goods, not including “personal luggage” (next section), into Mexico without being charged a duty. As you can see from the following chart, the limits vary depending on how you enter the country and whether or not you’re a Mexican citizen:

Method of EntryDuty Exemption AmountWhen It Applies
By Land (Non-citizens)$300 USDAll Year
By Land (Citizens)$300 USD except during set dates established by the Paisano Program, then the limit is $500 USDThe period of the Paisano Program for fiscal year 2019 will be as follows:
Easter: March 29 to April 29, 2019.
Summer: June 17 to August 19, 2019.
Winter: November 1° to January 8, 2020.

This exemption only applies to Mexican citizens who are not border residents.
By Air and Sea (Everyone)$500 USDAll Year

The duty exemption of each member of a family can be accumulated if they travel together in the same means of transport, except if you are a border area resident. The rules are different for those folks. I’ll be doing a future post about border area residents (i.e. definitions and limitations).

You may prove the value of the goods that are part of the duty exemption with invoices or sales receipts. In case of not having these, the customs officer at the port of entry will be able to determine the value of the goods.

The following goods are NOT allowed to enter under the duty exemption:

  1. Alcoholic beverages.
  2. Manufactured tobacco.
  3. Automotive fuel, except the contained in the fuel tank of your vehicle.

Goods Considered “Personal Luggage” and Exempt from Duty

The following items are considered part of your “personal luggage” and do not count toward the monetary limits in the following section:

  • Goods of personal usage, such as clothing, footwear, and personal care products, according to the length of the trip, including a wedding dress, baby items like a chair, carry cot, baby walker and stroller, among others, including their accessories.
  • Two cameras or video recorders, photographic material; 6 portable cell phone equipment or other wireless networks; a global positioning equipment (GPS); an electronic agenda; a laptop, notebook, or similar; a portable copying machine or printer, a computer burner and a portable projector, with its accessories.
  • Two personal sport kits, four fishing rods, 3 sailboats (with or without sail) and its accessories, trophies and awards, as long as they can be transported by the passenger.
  • A portable device for recording or reproduction of sound or mixed; two digital sound or image recording, one portable DVD player, one set of portable speakers and their accessories.
  • Five laser discs, 10 DVD discs, 30 compact discs, 6 software packages and five storage devices for any electronic equipment.
  • Books, magazines, and printed documents.
  • Five toys, including collectible toys, one video games console as well as five video games.
  • One pressure measuring device, one glucose measuring device, or mixed and its reactants, as well as medicines for personal use (in case of psychotropic substances medical prescription must be shown).
  • Hand luggage, bags, trunks and suitcases or any other item necessary for the carriage of the luggage.
  • One binocular and one telescope.
  • Two musical instruments and their accessories.
  • One tent and other camping items.
  • One hand tool set with its case, which may include a drill, tweezers, spanners, dice tool, screwdrivers, and power cables, among others.
  • Passengers over 18 years old are permitted to enter a maximum of 10 packs of cigarettes, 25 cigars or 200 g of tobacco, and up to 3 liters of alcoholic beverages and 6 liters of wine.
  • Senior adults and people with disabilities can introduce items that overcome or reduce their limitations without paying additional taxes such as walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, among others.
  • Three pets, provided that they have the proper documentation.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Generally speaking, if you exceed the monetary limits you’ll be charged a duty of 16% on the overage. I use the term “generally speaking” because the duty percentage can vary for specific types of items (e.g. tobacco, alcohol).

A couple of our newest neighbors recently flew into the Cancun Airport with 20 suitcases containing their old possessions from the States. Obviously the Customs folks at the airport took an interest in them, and long story short, they ended up paying just over $700 in taxes to import their stuff.

If you’re moving to Mexico permanently and you plan on bringing a lot of things along with you, you might want to consider applying for a special certificate at the Mexican Consulate that allows you to import your household items duty-free. It’s called a certificado de menaje de casa. I’ll be doing a separate post on this topic in the near future.


* The information in the post was obtained from Mexico’s official government website: https://www.sat.gob.mx

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About the Author

Qroo 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 to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

56 Comments on "Mexico: How Much ‘Stuff’ Can You Bring Duty-Free and Which Items Are Exempt?"

  1. If you bring in more than 3 liters of alcohol the tariff is 90% of the beverages cost. You will need a receipt or they will estimate the cost based on their costs for alcohol in Mexico.

    • That’s pretty high. I’ve found that alcohol isn’t that expensive in Mexico anyway. Most of the major supermarket chains will run frequent promotions on alcohol (3 for 2 etc).

  2. Connie Achterberg | October 4, 2019 at 9:12 am | Reply

    Thank you Paul, this helps us a lot. We are moving to Mazatlan on November 1, flying from Vancouver, bringing art supplies for a project to beautify parts of our street,with a small group of people.

  3. Lori Hartmann | October 4, 2019 at 9:31 am | Reply

    Goods Considered “Personal Luggage” and Exempt from Duty

    The following items are considered part of your “personal luggage” and do count toward the monetary limits in the following section:

    So please clarify. The items you listed are exempt and do or do not count towards the $500 exemption per person. Just a little confused. We take those type of items with us when we travel. Having just bought, would we be able to bring additional “stuff”?

    • Those items are exempt from duty and don’t count toward the dollar thresholds. Meaning that you can bring additional items with you. For example, if you bought some new pots and pans in your luggage, the dollar threshold would be applied to those items but not your clothes, medications etc. Many of the expats do quite a bit of shopping when they go “home” and those limits are important for them to know.

      • So our personal electronics are exempt in the total. Phones, laptops, watches, readers, etc would add up to $500 very quickly!

        • Those items are all included in “personal luggage” which means you they are exempt from being charged a duty, and they don’t count toward the monetary caps. It’s a win-win. 🙂

  4. Very interesting and time worthy for me as we will be making our move to Mexico in February. Looking forward to your post regarding the “certificado de menaje de casa. My plan has been to bring precious items with me on the airplane and possibly ship my clothes and shoes. I have been told that shipping via DHL, etc. can be a little interesting in that sometimes the boxes never arrive or sometimes boxes have been opened and things have been removed. I also understand that it is quite expensive. My theory is that if some of my clothes don’t arrive, I have an excuse to purchase a new wardrobe. 🙂

    • In our area, DHL and FedEx are extremely reliable. We haven’t heard of anyone having any problems with lost or stolen items.

  5. Have receipts for everything that is not free of duty. If you don’t have the original, print out something from eBay or Amazon in order to show the value. Total it up to be sure you’re under the limit and then put it in your back pocket and only take it out if pulled over for search. I used to hold the receipts in my hand and my husband felt I was getting pulled over because I was “asking” for a search by having receipts in my hand. He was right! I’ve only been pulled over one time since I started doing it his way. I would think that having receipts was a sign I was prepared and not to mess with me, but I guess not!

  6. 6 Sailboats?

    I plan on bringing my small kayak at some point. It is less than 8′ long and weighs 27 pounds.

    • That was copied and pasted directly from their site but the Spanish version says “3 deslizadores” so I changed the number above. Their translation of deslizador is sailboat but the Spanish version says with or without sail. Ah, another case of lost in translation…lol.

  7. 6 Sailboats?

    • That was copied and pasted directly from their site but the Spanish version says “3 deslizadores” so I changed the number above. Their translation of deslizador is sailboat but the Spanish version says with or without sail. Ah, another case of lost in translation…lol.

  8. I helped a Mexican family move back to Mexico in early August, 2019. We loaded a van full of their personal items, mostly used clothes but also including a couple of TV’s and PC’s. Some friends of the family (NOT family members) drove this van from San Diego to Ensenada. They were surprised to be charged US$500 when they crossed the border at Tijuana. I don’t know any more details, but they were very surprised at the high charge and assumed that the border guards were probably cheating them, but they couldn’t do anything about it at the time.

  9. Good to know…. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

  10. Welcome to Mexico where things are not always as they are!

    A very informative and well written article. I think the bottom line is that you should understand the limits and always be prepared.

  11. Betty McIntosh | October 4, 2019 at 10:41 am | Reply

    My husband and I are going to San Juan, Jalisco, Mexico for 5 months. We will be crossing the Canadian Bordering, Sarnia into the states and stoping at Duty Free. We will be buying some vodka and cigarettes. Can we bring these into Mexico?

    Thanks
    Betty

  12. Hi Paul. I saw “laptop, notebook” on the list. What do you think about an all-in-one flat desktop computer? It would fit in my big hard side luggage.

    • Desktop computers don’t fall under that. The neighbors just discovered that one on their latest trip down.

  13. Paul, your list is amazing. Good work for any morning.

  14. Cynthia J. Blanton | October 4, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Reply

    If you are a Mexican permanent resident returning to Mexico from the US by air and you have less than $500 in new items, which line do you get in – Nothing to Declare or Something to Declare (whatever it is called)? Thanks.

  15. Great info Paul. How does one go about finding the rules that apply to “border area residents” and what defines a border area resident. Thanks!

  16. I currently live in the mountains of NEW Mexico, and, given very limited local retail options, I rely on amazon for many purchases. As an example: I need to wear a very good sunscreen (like Neutrogena UltraSheer) every day due to my past medical history. Is amazon available to you for delivery? If so, do the duty charges make it a too-expensive option? Thank you so much for this informative blog.

    • Hi Peter. Amazon is available here and we have an Amazon Mexico. Goods shipped in from outside of Mexico that are valued at over $50 USD will be taxed. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your shipments under that dollar amount or you may get a notice to head down to the FedEx office to pay the taxes before you can get your package.

  17. Cassandra Garcia | October 4, 2019 at 2:05 pm | Reply

    Can’t seem to find an answer to this question… we are permanent Mexican residents. My mom wants to give me an oriental rug for our house in Merida. Can we bring in an oriental rug? Seems like I read somewhere that this is a potential problema. Can you clarify? Mil gracias.

    • I have never seen anything in any of the Customs rules that would prevent you from importing the rug. However, the nice ones are quite expensive and it may not be worth the paying the 16% duty.

  18. I have a Permanent residency and my partner has Temporary. We just bought a house in Mexico and want to drive down with a packed SUV with a couple of chairs, dishes, sheets, towels, silverware, miscellaneous hand tools and garden tools. All the items are old and used and we don’t have receipts. What kind of documentation do we need?

    • It’s helpful to have an inventory list with approximate values. You can list any large items separately and then by box. For example, box #1: kitchen utensils/ value $20 USD.

      It’s not required to do this. You could just tell the Customs folks, if they ask, that everything in the car is worth about $500 USD and see if that works. People do it both ways.

  19. You have a typo in your text, which is why people are asking about it. You say that personal items DO count towards your personal exemption. I believe you mean DO NOT count.

  20. To Peter: You can buy very high SPF Neutrogena sunscreen (that’s the brand I use, too) at Walmart in Mexico. Walmart is Mexico’s largest retailer, and you can buy just about anything there that you’d find at a good U.S. drugstore. Amazon Mexico also delivers, but in a year living in Mexico I haven’t needed to order anything online.

  21. Ardith Johnson | October 4, 2019 at 7:53 pm | Reply

    I’m bringing some gifts for friends who live in Cancun on my vacation. Nothing big, some clothes for the kids, a couple baseball caps, do I need these receipts?

    • It’s always beneficial to bring receipts or the Customs folks will determine the values and that might not be to your advantage.

  22. I hate to say this but from experience there is no such list that they actually follow. It all just depends on the employee that’s going thru your belongings. 9 times out of 10 they charge you a “fee” for your personal items. I moved to Mexico and mentioned about their program “Bienvenido Paisano” so that they wouldn’t charge me and they still did!
    Moved back to the States and constantly visit family in Mexico so I cross the border once a year and it never fails, they charge me a fee for my personal belongings. That’s just my experience.

    • Getting government agencies to follow their own rules/laws in Mexico can often be a challenge. We have certainly found that to be true in the years we’ve lived here.

  23. Rosario Monsivais | October 5, 2019 at 7:42 am | Reply

    Great info Paul…I travel alone to visit my husband in Cd. Acuña and take him some of his personal belongings from Texas and get charged each time because they said I we are not allowed to take used clothing, much less if its not mine. Hes will be there for three years before he can come back but now I want to move over there. Its cheaper to live in MX.

    • They are very strict about used clothing. I even wrote a post about that awhile back. As far as the cost of living down here, it’s true that your money can go a lot further in Mexico. Are you seriously considering a move down?

  24. I’m a U.S. Citizen I just recently traveled to Mexico and they charged me $320 for personal Jewelry I just purchased before my trip that was in my carry on backpack. I normally remove all my jewelry while going through security at airports. Never had problems before but now I would be nervous to travel wearing a wedding ring or bringing any jewelry with me while traveling to Mexico. I told them repeatedly the jewelry will return with me to United States and they did not care they said if value is over $500 I need to pay 16% taxes.

  25. Marty Bischoff | October 5, 2019 at 10:59 am | Reply

    We came on a tourist visa, in an SUV crammed to the roof with our personal belongings, and driven by a SMA travel agent. We also brought our 2 dogs and 4 cats (because you said only 3 pets) with all of their documentation which cost us a small fortune at the Houston vet’s. At the border, we slowed down, but did not stop or get out. The driver handed all the paperwork to the border agent, they walked along the SUV and handed it back to him a couple of minutes later. Couldn’t have been smoother. I gave the SMA travel agent all the credit for that. They either know him at the border, or it’s witchcraft :-), but we’ll be sure to use him again. Just in case it’s not witchcraft.

  26. I need to bring my flux capacitor to Mexico to power my DeLorean hidden in the cenotes in Q-roo. How do they determine the value of my capacitor to figure out how much to charge me the correct amount? All kidding aside, how do they compute a cost basis for my ‘stuff’ to know how much to charge me? Joe B. from Kent Island MD

    • That’s the million dollar question. In speaking with people who have dealt with Mexican Customs in these situations, they often “ballpark the figure” or they look for higher priced items among all of the other “stuff” and tax based on those (e.g. jewelry).

  27. Excellent info yall! Note that when bringing pet food, you may bring foods made from poultry, liver, grains, or fish but you cannot bring anything containing beef.

    Also, regarding the alcohol limits, they will only allow you to pay the tax in CASH. We brought canned craft beers which exceeded the 3 liters and paid in PESOS (it was very cheap). There was a Mexican citizen who also had to pay a tariff (who was not in our party) waiting on a relative to bring her cash because she only had a debit card and there were not any atms in customs.

    Leave jewelry at home if you live part time anywhere else other than Mexico.if you live full time in Mexico, invest in a safe and store your jewelry. There are hundreds of cheap cubic zirconia rings online. Find alternative jewelry or clothing that fit your tastes and wear that to/from and during your stay in Mexico. I live here full time and wear a fake ring all times and wear zero jewelry and inexpensive local clothing while traveling in Mexico. It is not worth getting robbed or risking your life to look fancy. No one cares about your status here anyway.

    My advice to residents bringing items from the states is to have receipts, as Paul and others recommended, and when asked to enter the customs area for the search, have a smile on your face, explain that you live here, and know exactly what items you have in each suitcase. They will ask what you are bringing before they open your luggage and you need to answer with confidence if you are or not bringing anything that needs declared. Have any new items out of its original boxes or packaging, but keep any consumables sealed. I label everything before we leave for Mexico with a permanent marker in Spanish such as “salsa” for sauces and pack items that are in bulk to save the customs agent’s time. Explain why you have the iems (such as, “me gusta cocinar” when bringing kitchen items o “yo tomar bebidas o comida especiales” when bringing specialty foods). Most things you can find here… Seriously. Soriana, Chedraui, H. E. B, WALMART, Superama, Costco and Sam’s all have websites where you can search for thousands of items (in Spanish). Many of these stores deliver or can be ordered to pick up in store.

    Be smart, prepared, and gracious that we can be a welcomed guest in this extrodinarily beautiful country and culture.

  28. Thanks for this list. I flew in July to Mexico City from LA. My first time arriving in Mexico. Have travelled all over the world, never had problems with customs. I work in the music industry and I dj often. I was carrying around 30 LPs and 150 45s with me. Obviously they picked me out. I told them I am a tourist and just traveling through. All used personal items. I did not do my research because I never had to worry about being charged for bringing vinyl records in my suitcase. Some were recently acquired items in LA, so I could have shown a receipt, but I didn’t know at the time. So after arguing back and forth. I got pissed off at one of the guys for throwing my clothes out of my suitcase and suddenly leaving. I had to pay a fine of 300 pesos which I guess I was lucky it was not 300 USD. But they keep saying only 30 compacto discos…well I speak Spanish fluently. I was explaining to them that vinyl records are not CDs…but for them there is no difference. If you don’t pay you won’t get allowed entry into Mexico. It’s that simple. Or worse they will take your belongings away and throw it in the garbage. Now I am going back to the States and will keep my receipts with me. Knowing I will buy some items I will try to stay below the 500 USD threshold. Hopefully they won’t screw me over again.

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