We wanted to do so much in Mexico, after all it is three times the size of Texas and has so much to offer. We had plans to visit Palenque, Oaxaca, Merida, Izamal, and stay until the Day of the Dead festival. But there was a bit of a problem, our tourist visa cards (FMM) were set to expire in less than a week.
“Just 30 days, please”
After making the spontaneous decision to purchase a one way ticket to Cancun, Mexico, we only asked for 30 days (instead of the legally allowed 180 days) on our tourist visa card.
Stupid right? I know, but we had a “good” reason for it, at least so we thought.
We feared that if we asked for more than 30 days, the immigration officer would ask for proof of onward travel, i.e. a return ticket. That is why we opted to just take the 30 days and not risk getting turned away at the border. However, after she wrote down 30 days on our cards, we realized we made a huge mistake. She didn’t even seem like she had a care in the world, let alone if we stayed in Mexico for 2 days or for the rest of our lives.
After being in Cancun for a few days, we did some research online and found out that we could renew our tourist visa card at the immigration office in Downtown, Cancun for $25 USD each. So, we didn’t really sweat the issue until our visa cards where about to expire.
Renewing the Mexican Tourist Visa Card
Let me start of by saying that contrary to the popular belief, you cannot renew your tourist visa card (aka. FMM) at the immigration office. At least that’s what were told from the officers working there.
I know your probably thinking, we did something wrong, or that our Spanish wasn’t good enough and the immigration officer had no idea what we were talking about but that was not the case.
Once at the immigration office we found someone that spoke a little bit of English and we had our trusty google translator app just in case she didn’t know what we were saying.
She took one look at our cards and said we couldn’t renew them, and that we have to leave the country and come back.
Wait what? But it said we can renew it online, and we were pretty sure we read it on your website as well.
She continued to say, “that our best option was to go to Belize and get a new tourist card with 180 days.”
Unable to convince them to renew our cards, we left the office.
We figured we would simply go back two days later (enough time for them to forget us) and ask a different person and see what they say. We had it all planned out. We even had a plan B, which was to take a colectivo to Playa del Carmen and go to the immigration office there.
But no matter what we tried to do the answer was still “no, you have to leave the country and come back.” All our hopes of renewing our visa card was shattered twice in one day. In Playa del Carmen, we even had someone translating for us and the officer there spoke pretty good English so the language barrier wasn’t the issue.
It is simply not possible to get the Mexican Tourist Card (FMM) renewed.
So now we had two choices, do a visa run to Belize and come back 3 days later, or forget about Mexico and continue our journey down south. Both options would cost us money we could have saved if we just said, “180 days please.”
We had two days to figure out what we wanted to do and that was barely enough time. In the end, we decided to take an overnight bus to Chetumal, a Mexican city bordering Belize, and catch a chicken bus into Belize City from there.
We took a 2nd class bus, Mayab, from the ADO bus station in Downtown Cancun for $220 pesos (~20 USD) per person to Chetumal at 4:00am. The ride from Cancun to Chetumal was about 6 hours.
Once we got to Chetumal, we opted out of taking a taxi from the Chetumal bus station to the Nuevo Mercado (where the chicken buses to Belize where waiting) and just walked the 5-7 minutes. At the Nuevo Mercado, we saw an array of chicken buses (old American school buses) waiting and all we had to do is look for the bus that was going to our destination, Belize City. The four hour ride cost us $120 pesos (~$12USD) per person.
All that was left to do now was to cross the Mexican border.
Crossing the Border and the Exit Fee Scam
In our research we couldn’t find anything about Belize’s entrance and exit fee however, we found plenty on the Mexico exit fee scam.
Apparently, the officers at the Mexico border will ask tourists leaving the country to pay an exit fee of $300 pesos (~27 USD) but what they don’t tell people is that if they flew into the country, the exit fee is usually included in your flight ticket. All you have to do is show them proof of paying the fee with an itemized receipt from your airline and they shut right up and let you pass.
But unfortunately for us, we didn’t have time to call our airline and ask for an itemized receipt for our flight tickets. We thought that our regular receipt and proof of our one way ticket would be enough.
We got to the border, and as expected the immigration officer asked us for $320 pesos per person. We quickly responded by saying that we didn’t have to pay because we payed the fee when we bought our tickets. But he didn’t care, so we gave him the fee. When we gave him $700 pesos because we didn’t have the exact amount of $640, he gave us back one hundred and only took the $600 pesos for the both of us. (umm, that has scam written all over it)
Yet again, we messed up and we were literally paying the price for it. We were relieved to find out that there was at least no entrance fee to Belize, only an exit fee of $37.50BZ (~$19USD) per person.
So the moral of the story is don’t do the same mistake we did. Avoid having to do a visa run to Belize and save money by just asking for 180 days on your visa regardless if you plan on staying in Mexico for that long or not. You never know.