Alfredo García and Nadia Cantú | Arizona Republic
Are you planning to travel by car this summer to México? You’ll need to process your permit for the temporary importation of a foreign vehicle if you plan on driving farther than the designated free zone — 12 to 16 miles from the U.S.-México border.
In México, there is a free zone that extends through the states of Baja California Norte and Sur, where motorists can travel without a permit.
In Sonora, motorists can also travel freely through the northwest of the state. A permit is needed if driving further south once reaching the town of Empalme.
If you plan to travel beyond these zones, it is necessary to obtain a permit.
Both for Mexican citizens living in the U.S., and tourists traveling to México, there are three ways to obtain the permit: in the Banjercito modules at the border; in 11 of the Mexican consulates located in the states of Arizona, California, Illinois, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico; and online.
This last option, however, despite being promoted as one of the simplest methods, has turned out to be a tedious one for many since the site itself is not accessible to everyone. According to officials, if you do not have an updated device, you could experience some difficulty accessing the site, making it almost impossible to carry out the procedure online.
Although the site to process your permit has been functioning for more than 10 years, the interest in this service has been growing gradually, more so in the last year due to the pandemic.
And more so now that a digital permit is accepted by Mexican authorities, no longer obligating travelers to obtain a physical permit.
“Before, you had to put a home, apartment or business address, where once the procedure was approved, the documents were sent by normal mail. Now, the same data is entered, but an email is requested, making the entire process digital,” said Beatríz Cano Flores, the Banjercito official who operates out of the Consulate General of México in Phoenix. Banjercito is the Mexican government entity that grants permits for the importation of foreign vehicles.
However, as with any government procedure, if you choose to process online, it is advisable to do it at least 10 days in advance for two reasons: It takes time for Mexican border officials to review the documentation you’ve submitted, and you could very well not be able to access the site at all, which would require you to prepare for an in-person visit.
Processing online can be ‘cumbersome’
Mexicans legally residing in the United States typically head back to their hometowns in México using their own vehicles during three important seasons: during the Catholic celebration of Holy Week, summer vacation and the holiday season — the latter being the busiest.
“In 2019, 575,691 permits were requested at the national level, something that dropped to 408,512 in 2020 during the most active part of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Arizona, approximately 3,000 permits are requested per year, and in 2020 less than 2,000 were requested,” Cano Flores said.
According to Cano Flores, the permit is valid for a period of six months. Paisanos, those who are “legal residents of the United States and citizens who have maintained their Mexican nationality,” can use their permit all at once or in intervals of months or weeks at a time within a year of having obtained it, as long as they do not exceed those 180 days.
Foreigners are granted a six-month permit as well, but this must be used up all at once — they would either have to stay in México for the duration of the permit or cancel it upon their early return to the U.S.
If you try to process the permit in person at any of the consulate general offices in the U.S. or Banjercito offices in México, it should take an average time of six minutes, Cano Flores said. But the entire process has been known to take up to 20 hours or more during the busy travel seasons.
It is estimated that with the new digital option, the online process can take less than 10 minutes, allowing at least 10 days before you travel to get approval via email.
“The novelty is that now the information on the importation of vehicles can be shown to the Mexican authority on any electronic device, without having to stick a sticker on the windshield of the car,” said Cano Flores, adding that the applicant can choose to print out the permit, but is not required to.
“The process is easy. Some people complain that the site is low or that they cannot access the website, which often has more to do with the incompatibility of their own operating systems (Android or iOS) that makes it a bit cumbersome,” Cano Flores said.
If you want to process the permit through the site, you will have to try several times since the page sometimes does not respond. Cano Flores recommended trying to access it from multiple devices.
“If someone is having problems accessing the site, the recommendation is to clear ‘cookies’ and ‘cache’ from the browser, since apparently the page was or is undergoing maintenance and causing issues for many,” said Julio Ortiz, director of Lead One, a software consulting company in Phoenix.
Aside from going through these possible workarounds, the only other option is to obtain a permit in person.
However, if you are able to access the site, you will need to fill out the application and submit the required documents online, which the agency will need to verify before approving your permit. Click here to see what documentation is required.
Once the corresponding documentation has been uploaded and verified, Banjercito will send you the temporary importation permit via email, which you must keep with you at all times when driving in México.
How to process in person
Online option didn’t work out? You can always head to a consulate general office or a Banjercito branch once you’ve crossed the border.
If you plan on obtaining your permit in the U.S. at a consulate general office, you must make an appointment through their website. Additionally, be sure to print out the appointment confirmation and carry it with you. No appointment is needed to process at a Banjercito location in Mexican territory.
If you plan on only visiting the state of Sonora, you can choose to obtain the Only Sonora permit, which is less expensive but confines you to state lines. This is the only kind of temporary importation permit that the Consulate General of México in Phoenix processes.
If you wish to travel to other states, you can either make an appointment within the U.S. at other consulate offices — located in California, Texas and New Mexico, to name a few — or head out to the Banjercito ones upon crossing the U.S.-México border.
Before heading out, be sure to carry with you the requested documents — both originals and copies.
“When going through the process, people have to present their proof of legal residence in the U.S. and documents that prove ownership of the vehicle. It can also be done if the owner is a direct relative, but not if the owner is a cousin or a friend,” Cano Flores said. “Apart from the temporary permit, there is a security deposit that varies depending on the year of the vehicle, which is returned to the applicant once the permit is canceled.”
The actual permit, however, may be delivered to you electronically, even if you process it in person.
“The permit is only delivered to you on a sheet of paper or as an electronic record (QR Code) that people can show when required,” Cano Flores said.
Once the permit is obtained, it is recommended that the permit holder always travels in the imported vehicle. They don’t, however, have to be the driver.
What happens if the permit is not canceled?
Upon your return to the U.S., you can cancel or “pause” the permit by presenting your vehicle and permit at the border.
If you choose to pause it, the days will not continue counting until you reactivate it again upon reentry to México. If you decide to cancel it, the security deposit will be refunded.
“If you forget to cancel your permit, in addition to your deposit being lost, this goes in the record as you having left the vehicle in México,” Cano Flores said.
Without canceling or pausing the permit, Mexican authorities have no way to verify that the vehicle did in fact return to the United States. When this happens, a permit will not be granted again — neither for the car that entered Mexican territory nor for the person who processed the permit, Cano Flores explained.
In the event that a person suffers an accident or has their vehicle stolen from them in Mexican territory, and cannot return in their vehicle to their residence abroad, customs officials will be tasked with providing the permit holder their deposit — as long as they are able to provide proof in the form of a report of the accident or theft.
The permit is also specific to the person who processed it; is specific to two per year and cannot simply be transferred from one vehicle to another.
“The import permits for a vehicle are granted per person and you have 180 days to use it. … If you traveled in a car for 10 days and now you want to return in a van, you have to first cancel the permit of the car and a new one would have to be processed for the van, but the person would now have 170 days to use it,” Cano Flores said.
What if you don’t obtain a permit?
According to Cano Flores, any authority at any level of government can request information on the vehicle’s import permit. The National Guard, state and municipal police and foreign trade officials can stop the driver to check the authenticity of the digital permit.
“The immediate consequences if one does not show proof of having obtained that permit are the confiscation of the vehicle and the possibility of arresting the owner or driver, and making an accusation for bringing a vehicle into the country illegally will depend on the official,” Cano Flores added.
Where to process it?
To do the procedure online, click here.
- Internet procedure (not including taxes), $45.
- Processing through Mexican consulates in the United States and at the border (not including taxes), $51.
- Only Sonora permit: $26.62 dollars in the Banjercito module in Empalme; $29.09 in the Banjercito modules in Agua Prieta and Cananea; $52.19 on the website.
Documents required for the procedure:
Mexicans with legal residence in the United States must present at least one of the following documents:
- Permanent Residence Card (Resident Alien).
- Passport (Not Mexican).
- Work visa.
A foreigner must present one of the following documents:
- Valid passport or passport card.
- Official document issued by the National Institute of Migration (INM).
To prove ownership of the vehicle, one of the following must be presented:
- Property title.
- Current license plate registration.
- Credit contract with a validity of no more than three months.
- Current lease agreement.
For more information, contact the following:
Consulate General of Mexico in Phoenix
- Address: 320 E. McDowell Road, No. 105, Phoenix, AZ 85004.
- To make an appointment: https://www.banjercito.com.mx/citasconsulares/.
- Telephone: 011-52-559-689-8006.
For general information on the permit, you would have to call Mexican authorities:
- From the United States of America and Canada: 1-877-448-8728, option 7 and 8.
- From Mexico City: 55-627-22-728, option 7 and 8.
- From the rest of the country: 55-627-22-728, option 7 and 8.