Mexican Customs

Many Americans coming into Mexico are fearful about the exchange of money at the border, and either feel they must bribe their way through or refuse to hand over any money at all. In recent years there has been a “clean up” of corruption at the border crossing, and currently we are seeing a great deal of forthrightness and integrity practiced on the part of the border officials.

When bringing supplies across the border, it is important to declare non-personal items. Personal items are those things that individuals will be using during the trip such as personal clothing, personal effects (such as soap, deoderant, etc.), personal prescription medicine (We recommend taking your prescription with you.), personal CDs and DVDs (There is a limit per person.), a camera, a video camera, a personal laptop, etc. These do not need to be declared.

To declare items at the border, you must use the Declaration Lane. It is advised to have an itemized list of everything you want to declare with a stated value for each item and a total of all items. If you can, bring the original receipts, otherwise you can write a letter on a church or business letterhead with an itemized list of the things you want to declare and what their value is. This letter can be in English.

The importation tax is calculated using the following formula:

  1. Add up the total value of everything you are declaring in the vehicle. Each vehicle is calculated separately.
  2. Subtract $50 per person in the vehicle from the total value calculated in Step 1. This is your adjusted value.
  3. The import tax is 15% of the adjusted value calculated in Step 2. Please note that when you pay the import tax it may vary slightly from this 15% because of the exchange rate.

The border agents will either sign your list and send you to a window to get the paperwork done, or they may do the paperwork on a triplicate and hand it to you. Once you get the paperwork, you will be asked to sign it. Once you sign the paperwork, you will be instructed to take the paperwork to the bank, which is in that same area. They will point it out to you. You pay the import tax at the bank and the bank will stamp the paperwork. Take the paperwork back to the official and you will either be instructed to return to your vehicle and press a button at the exit, or you will be asked to press the button at the exit before going back to your vehicle. In either case, if you receive a green light the official will stamp your paperwork green and give you a copy. You will be free to leave without an inspection. If you receive a red light the official will inspect your vehicle. Once the inspection is complete you will be given your copy of the paperwork with a red stamp on it and you will be free to leave.

Honesty is the key. Answer all questions, be willing to let the officials inspect your vehicles, and never offer a bribe. Offering a bribe will only encourage corruption, while paying taxes will help the Mexican economy. Besides, paying taxes is the law!

We understand that declaring items is an inconvenience. Many people tell us that they have been able to cross items without declaring them by simply driving through the “Nothing to Declare” lanes. We strongly encourage you to not attempt this. If you are caught driving through with items that must be declared your vehicle may be impounded and in some cases the driver and passengers may be arrested.

Personal items usually are never a problem. If an individual needs prescription medication, it is best to have the original container with the prescription on it. Drugs and armed weapons are illegal in Mexico. It is the leaders’ responsibility to see that no one is trying to bring in either of these.

Major Imports

When bringing items across the border, please keep in mind that the San Ysidro/Tijuana border is for tourists. Major imports are not allowed through this border. If you are bringing bulk supplies, you may be turned away. If you drive through the Declaration Lane and declare bulk supplies you may be told to go back to the United States. If you drive through the “Nothing to Declare” lane with bulk supplies and are caught, your vehicle may be impounded and you may be imprisoned. Please do not attempt to cross the border with supplies without driving through the Declaration Lane.

Major imports are handled at the Otay Mesa border crossing. If you believe that you may need to use this border crossing, or if you are not sure, please contact Agua Viva Ministries. We will discuss with you what your particular situation warrants. If you need to cross the Otay Mesa border we will arrange to meet you to be with you during the importation. Please contact us by phone at (619) 330-2224 (voicemail) or 011-52-646-171-9402 (programming office) or email us at

Medication for clinics requires documentation from the government. It is vital that you begin the process 2 months before you arrive. It is possible that your medical supplies will need to arrive two days before you actually cross the border to allow time for inspection of the supplies. Again, it is important that you cross only the items that are on the list. Last minute items cannot be added to a pre-approved amount. It is best and it will save time if every box contains a list of exactly what is inside the box. A separate copy of each list should also be made. Each box should be clearly marked to identify it. Expired medication will be denied crossing.

Lumber may also need special documentation so that taxes may not be imposed on it, which can be extremely costly. Again, begin the process of obtaining this documentation two months before your arrival. If the documentation is not approved, let Agua Viva Ministries run a price comparison to see if it cheaper to purchase the lumber here in Ensenada. Lumber may be less expensive in the US, but consider the possible taxes involved and the extra handling and gas.

If you have any questions about declaring items, paying the importation tax, or need help deciding what needs to be declared, please contact us. We are ready to help!