Planning on Bringing Something to Mexico to Donate? Take This Common Item Off Your List

Readers of the blog often ask me for recommendations about what they can bring with them to Mexico on their next trip to donate to charitable organizations, schools or churches.

My standard response it to make contact with the organization that they want to donate to prior to coming down in order to determine their specific needs. That’s the best way to ensure that their donation will have the most positive impact.

I then follow up that advice by cautioning them not to bring a very common item that people like to donate: used clothing and shoes.

The reason is that the importation of used clothing and shoes to Mexico is strictly prohibited by law. Not only are the items subject to seizure when you arrive, you can also be fined. That certainly reminds me of that old saying, no good deed goes unpunished.

Of course, they aren’t referring to your personal clothing items in your luggage. Those are the ones you plan to wear during your trip, and hopefully take back home with you.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The Mexican government cites health reasons for the ban on the importation of used clothing and shoes; however, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find used clothing from the U.S. in Mexico — it’s literally everywhere. That’s because it is being illegally smuggled into the country, many times, by the same criminal organizations that are involved in more newsworthy illegal endeavors like drug trafficking and fuel thefts.

Don’t let this little setback dissuade you from donating items that aren’t prohibited. And, if you’re really dead set on donating clothing, you can always bring new clothes and/or shoes.

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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 ( to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

13 Comments on "Planning on Bringing Something to Mexico to Donate? Take This Common Item Off Your List"

  1. This is so helpful. People don’t know. And, though I’ve never heard of someone being busted at customs, it’s an example of know before you go. Back in the day, we had a habit of packing clothes we didn’t love, new electronics, and other things we’d use on the trip but then not bring home. Back then having a nice boom box on Isla Mujeres was a big deal and it was a gift we could give. Times change. 🙂 Thank you for the alert on this. Love your blog.

  2. If you are bringing in used computers, monitors, etc. for donation to a school in Mexico, be sure you have a letter from the school on their stationery describing the items. The 30 mile checkpoint outside of Laredo wanted me to pay over $600 in import taxes on 10 used systems. Fortunately, I was able to get the school on the phone and let them talk it out. I ended up only having to pay $100 on importation fees, etc. It would have been zero if I’d done my homework first.

  3. I have often heard of visitors leaving clothes and items behind with notes that the hotel staff is welcome to them. Would this be illegal too? Thank you

  4. Marien Kaifesh | January 30, 2019 at 11:30 am |

    Yup! Saw a woman tied up in MEX Customs for over an hour because she was bringing used clothing in. I was also tied up in Customs at the same time she was because I was bringing medical supplies which did not match my receipts. The letter I had from the Mexican charitable organization had a value that didn’t match either! (My fault, I should have checked all of this in advance.) I was told at Customs that you have to declare these charitable donations, and since I had not, I was in violation of the law. It was a $72 USD fine for “lying on the Customs form” but at least I was able to still bring the supplies through. It’s a shame that the government is so strict; it only hurts their own people. So, if you’re bringing anything down, you better have a receipt in case you’re stopped.

  5. I just read somewhere the other day – that if you plan on donating to a cause, why not shop there and help out their economy even more.

  6. We used to receive lots of donations of used clothes at Hekab Be in Akumal. Now we keep a supplies wishlist on our webpage: where people flying in can look to see what we need most urgently. I don’t know of other local charities that do this, but it works great for us. 🙂

  7. I’ve been doing mission work in Mexico for 30 years. Used clothing is on the “no-no” list but Méxican customs knows me, know what I do, and turn a blind eye when I bring a bag or two of clothing to give to the children in the mountains of Michoacan and the jungles of San Luis Potosi state, and elsewhere. I just don’t abuse the privilege. I’ve shown them photos of the church groups I gave clothing to, showing the children wearing or holding the clothes. However, I don’t recommend it for the novice. This trip (to my house in central México) is my 52nd trip into México in 30 years. When bringing donated items from sister churches in the USA, I always get a letter on church letterhead detailing what is in my vehicle. One particular officer greets me as “Hermano” and she only asks if what I’m bringing is for personal use. I always say yes, I have a personal use for the stuff. And she passes me right through. Others make me pay taxes of which they overcharge me and keep part of the taxes for themselves. I don’t pay mordidas or bribes. Ever. But they know how to get them from me as I pay taxes.
    The best way to go about helping people in Mexico is to visit the church group, find out their needs, and appeal to your sponsors with a written list. They will supply money, you buy the things they need or pay bills for them, purchasing items IN MEXICO. You’ll find it’s much cheaper in the long run to buy things for them HERE than to bring it in from the USA.
    My experience with Mexican customs has been quite positive, because I never lie to them and tell them exactly what I’m doing, as a Gospel minister trying to help the poor.
    It has nothing to do with potential health problems, it has to do with the same reason that it’s so expensive to import autos from the US: Mexico is trying to keep their fragile economy operating by sales of new and used goods and clothing, cars, etc from within Mexico.
    Once you’re a resident like me, they don’t look as hard at what you bring in.
    But I’d take Paul’s advice, especially if you’re a novice or not a Mexican resident. Don’t bring in clothing except for your personal use.

  8. Don’t leave American coins as a tip. I know you’re feeling generous but, there is no where to exchange them to pesos. (This incidentally applies to all foreign coins.) Bills yes, coins no.
    I know Mexican families, who have jars upon jars of US coins waiting for the next friend or family member, who is going to the states to exchange them.

    Funny story: Last time I was in San Antonio and on my way to the airport, I had $10 and a 500 peso bill. I asked how far $10 would get me? ‘To the freeway entrance.’ Oh, oh.
    ‘Well, I do have pesos.’ Fortunately, for me, he was Mexican.
    ‘No problem. My wife goes to Mexico twice a month to visit her family. I’ll give it to her.”
    I was so grateful, I gave him the 500 peso bill.

  9. English Children’s (Elementary and Middle School) Books. Check with your local school to see, if they teach English there (they do) and if they need fiction and non-fiction books (kid magazines are a big hit, too). Anything but the dreaded text book.

    My home base is in Denver and every trip I bring back a suitcase full of children’s books. I plan my visits around the semi-annual Denver Public Library Used Book Sale.

    You’ve probably noticed that books are very expensive in Mexico and English books are a treasure hunt trying to find them. Multiply that by ten to find English Children’s Books.

    Full disclosure, I write Children’s Books and have a front-row seat to this important gap in Mexican Children’s education. They are not going to read or speak English, if you don’t give them something interesting to read. And why is this so important to them? In Mexico you can get a much better job, if you are bi-lingual.

    • We were detained at customs in Guadalajara when we took a box full of English books with us to be donated to an Elementary school in the Chapala region. I too, had purchased them at our local library sale and the airline allowed them at no charge. I declared the box upon entry, and although each book was stamped Edmonton Public Library, the customs agents were very reluctant to allow the shipment in to the country, as they were certain we intended to sell them. After some pleading, we managed to have them released with a warning about having some type of importation pre-approval document for the next time. Oddly, they were completely fine with the diving knife in my husbands’ checked bag!

  10. To Susan: These last two trips i brought English text books and some children’s English books. My Mexican wife is fully bilingual and she takes time to teach kids English and helps them learn math and science as well. She reads the English children’s books to them and they comprehend.
    I agree with you… English children’s books are a treasure, and God will bless you for bringing such items in to them.
    I moved a long way, from the eastern United States, to live in Texas where I could be closer to my Mexican base. It makes things much easier, and I find Texans are much more willing to help Mexican missions than elsewhere in the USA, though I don’t accept donations. I’m fully self-funded, being retired from the US government. I just ask for their prayers only.

  11. kam yuen Leung | January 30, 2019 at 6:02 pm |

    As usually your blogs are pretty good. Most of the comments are useful

  12. If you want to bring in used clothing, pack it in suitcases. We get a free piece of luggage on various airlines by having their co-branded credit card, so for each trip we normally bring our own clothes in the carry-on and donations in the suitcases. It all looks like our personal items, and over the years have brought dozens of suitcases of gently used clothing and shoes without incurring any duty charges. We fly to Arizona, then drive across the border and have never once had customs ask us if they were our clothes. As long as you’re not bringing donations in boxes or Hefty bags, and a reasonable 2 large suitcases per person, you won’t raise an eyebrow.

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