Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing / All You need to Know

Crossing the Land Border from Guatemala to Mexico ( Panajachel/San Cristobal Edition)

This article talks about my experience of Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing and all the recent changes when it comes to granting tourist visas for travel to Mexico, what you need to know (and prepare) before you go.

Disclaimer – Below Mexico entry information is aimed at citizens from countries who do not require a visa and are eligible for a visitor’s permit. For example, the US, Canada or EU countries. This is not legal visa advice, and you can find out if your country requires a visa here. 

As I was preparing myself for my first ever land border crossing in Latin America, I was trying to get as prepared as possible. I read all possible articles, researched endless online guides and asked annoying questions on travel forums and FB travel groups. However, most of the articles I found online described land border crossing from Mexico to Guatemala – I couldn’t find many guides for Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing.

Unfortunately, some of the info I found was also slightly outdated. In the face of recent changes and my general experience, I decided to write this article to spare you unnecessary surprises.

There are some significant changes when it comes to granting tourist visas for visitors to Mexico, which came to life sometime in November 2021. So, unfortunately, getting a 180 days visa and flowless crossing the Mexican border isn’t the case anymore. Unfortunately, I was one of the first travellers affected by these changes, so I have learnt the hard way.

As of November 2021, travellers to Mexico are not being granted 180 days tourist visa as a default. In fact, several visitors have only received a week or 30 days visa. If you are planning to visit for a short vacation and have your outward journey ticket and accommodation booked – most likely, you do need to worry. But If you are planning to stay in Mexico for an undefined period of time or you are a slow or long term traveller – things can get complicated.

Below, I will outline all you need to prepare to successfully cross the Mexico border and land yourself a chance of getting a longer visa.

But before that, let me tell you about my personal experience of Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing. Namely, Panajachel to San Cristobal de la Casa via shuttle service.

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Guatemala to Mexico Land Border Crossing (Panajachel to San Cristobal de las Casas)

Please note – I have no experience crossing between Flores and Palenque, yet I would assume this wouldn’t be much different.

A shuttle from Panajachel to San Cristobal costs between  Q450 ($50 to$85) – depending on where you buy You can also opt to take a shuttle from Quetzaltenango – the price should be roughly the same. The price offered by the majority of travel agencies in town is usually similar. As always, it is worth asking around, though. I managed to get my shuttle cheaper via the homestay owner I lodged in while in Panajachel.

You can also book online with companies like GuateGo or other online tour operators. 

I was picked up by my shuttle at crazy 5:30 in the morning. It was actually an incredible start to the journey. We left in the darkness of early morning, but as the bus continued towards mountain roads surrounding Lake Atitlan, the sun started rising, and we left behind spectacular views. It was an emotional farewell for me – the magic of Atitlan in all its glory was revealing itself.

I was picked up by my shuttle at crazy 5:30 in the morning. It was actually an incredible start to the journey. We left in the darkness of early morning, but as the bus continued towards mountain roads surrounding Lake Atitlan, the sun started rising, and we left behind spectacular views. It was an emotional farewell for me – the magic of Atitlan in all its glory was revealing itself.

We stopped for a coffee at the gas station up in the mountains, and it was freezing! I was so glad I was wearing my closed shoes, and grateful for the pashmina, I always keep in my travel day bag! I checked the temperature, and it was 8 degrees! After hot Atitlan weather, it was a shock for my sleepy body.

Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing / All You need to Know
Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing / All You need to Know

We continued after this all the way to the Guatemala/Mexico border in La Mesilla. In total, this part of the journey took around 5 hours.

The way the shuttle works is – there are two parts of the company – the Guatemalan and the Mexican. Once you arrive on the Guatemalan side, they let you out so you can get your Guatemalan exit stamp. Once everyone gets their stamps, you will be taken to another car – this time with a Mexican number plate and a different driver. The same happens on the other side – so we ended up waiting for around 2 hours as there were some delays on both sides. I guess they try to coordinate the sides – but this doesn’t always work well.

Don’t worry, they will communicate with you all the way, but just in case, it’s a good idea to stick to the people that were with you on the same van. There will be many vans like yours at the border at the same time.

Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing / All You need to Know

It is a pretty hectic place.

It is nothing like the organized borders of Europe. Just a street full of shops and markets, people selling all sorts, including Pesos and Quetzales and a gate stating Welcome to Mexico.

Is that it? I thought to myself. I could probably just cross it and continue walking without anyone checking anything. No migration office, no checkpoint – just people, sellers and drivers, crossing there and back.

The actual migration office is located around a 10-minute drive away from the border. So if you decided to take the journey independently, you would probably have to take local colectivo to get there.

I got my exit stamp. And I sat along with others, waiting for the next part of the journey soaking in the surrounding reality.

So far, so good, I thought at this point.

I knew that to enter Mexico, I will have to fill in and pay a fee for the FMM card. I also found out that this can be paid by card however, to the last minute, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible. Given I had no Pesos or USD’s on me, I was a bit anxious. I didn’t want to purchase Mexican Pesos on the Guatemalan side, and as an EU citizen, I don’t carry USD on me either.

A couple of hours have passed, and we eventually got picked up by the Mexican car, and we were driven to the INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE MIGRACION in Cuauhtémoc. And this is where the ‘fun’ began.

On arrival, I was asked for PRINTED proof of my onward journey and booked accommodation in Mexico. This was new to all of us. No information that this will be required was given in any articles I have read prior to my departure.

For me, it wasn’t a problem as I had my Madrid flight booked already and I always book my accommodation a few days upfront. Yet all those documents were on my phone. I have not printed anything as I wasn’t aware it would be needed.

But the majority of my fellow travellers didn’t have any proof of outward journey, so some had to book it on the spot.

The migration office doesn’t offer printing services. Surprise! We had to cross to the other side of the street to find a printing shop. But my Guatemalan sim card obviously stopped working, and there was no way I could send my details to the shop for them to print it out. And we were all in the same situation. The shop wouldn’t offer wifi, and I even tried purchasing a brand new sim card with data but guess what – I couldn’t pay by card, and I had no pesos.

So I was stuck. I couldn’t believe it.

To top it up, I had no Mexican Pesos to pay for the print if, by some miracle, I managed to sort it out. But miracles, and kind people, happen.

One person in our group switched on roaming services and shared data with us so we could all send the files by email to the shop. And I bought 20 Pesos from the driver. He, of course, made a good deal – but I wasn’t in the place to complain.

After around an hour of running back and forth, stressing and panicking, I finally had all the documents printed. I returned to the Migration Office.

I filled out my FMM form and paid the fee by card. The cost of FMM card is $594.00 Mexican Pesos (appx U.S. $30) .

My flight from Cancun to Madrid was in 20 days. The lady at the Migracion took the calendar and started counting the days. I had to ask for a couple of extra days – just in case of delays. I was given 25 days visa. So even if I wanted to change my plans and stay longer – I wouldn’t be able to.

The bus driver was patiently waiting for me to sort everything out. From there, everything went smoothly, and within 4 hours, we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas.

I was in Mexico!

Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing / All You need to Know

The 25 days visa came as a surprise. Although I have came across some posts on FB Mexico travel group stating that this is now happening more often – I knew that minimum of 90 days visa should be a default. Wrong! Not anymore. 

Recently Mexico changed its tourist visa policies.


Although, in theory, you are still eligible for regular 180 days tourist visa – they give it away very reluctantly.

The reason behind it is because many ex-pats would get their six months visitor permit, live in Mexico and, upon the end of the visa, travel across the border (often to Guatemala) for a few days and enter again with brand new 180 days visa. Some would stay in Mexico this way for years. Mexican government want to change it and force people to apply for residency.

You can find out more information in this article. 

This, unfortunately, will affect travellers like me – those preferring to stay in one place for longer. Slow travellers and, of course, digital nomads. The best policy here is just, to tell the truth. When I will be returning to Mexico (and I will!) I admit I am a slow traveller and write articles about my destination; therefore, I need more time. I will update you on the results once this has happened.

I have done some additional research, so here is all the information and tips I can offer for your next Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing.

Important things to remember when crossing the land border from Guatemala to Mexico (2021/22)

 

  • Purchase and print out proof of your outward journey. It can also be a return shuttle ticket to Guatemala – but it has to be official. Make sure you print it out! You can also book a refundable flight ticket and cancel it within 24 hours. Or ensure your ticket is amendable, and you will be able to change the date free of charge.
  • Print out proof of accomodation in Mexico. This can be just for a few days, and booking.com or Hostelworld printed confirmation is enough. If you decide to book just for the first few days – make sure you can answer all the questions if you want to stay for longer than this.
  • FMM card need to be purchased. You will be asked to fill out the form and pay $594.00 Mexican Pesos (appx U.S. $30). This can be paid by debit or Credit card. Keep the card safe and intact. Also, keep it on you at all times! As from now on, any immigration official can stop you on the street and ask for proof that you are staying in Mexico legally. If you aren’t able to prove it on the spot, you might be deported immediately. Please remember this!
  • If you are planning a longer stay in Mexico – make sure you can say why and book your outward journey as far as you can. I have heard that when you apply for an extension, you will be given the same amount as your original visa. So if you received a 30-day visitor permit – your extension would be for 30 days. However, this is what I have heard through the grapevine, so if you have more legit info, please make a comment below.
  • Apparently, it really depends on the person that you deal with at the Migration. Some travellers told me they were not asked for anything and were given 180 days visa with no problems. But it wasn’t the case for me or any other travellers on my shuttle – so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Suppose all the above conditions are met – the journey from Guatemala to Mexico is not too bad. Interesting for sure – but not too bad at all. The vans are comfortable and airconditioned. You will stop for refreshments. in our case, we didn’t stop anywhere we could have actual lunch – so pack some sandwiches just in case. And don’t forget the jumper and socks.

Altogether, Guatemala to Mexico land border crossing took just under 12 hours, including the wait at the border and all the paperwork shenanigans.

You are now in Mexico and the magical town of San Cristobal – you will enjoy it immensely.

I hope this helped and if I missed any information or you have anything to add – please leave a comment below. I would like this post to be as helpful as possible. Also, did you by any chance take this route without a private shuttle? Share your story too!

Exploring more of Mexico?

If you are heading to San Cristobal de las Casas,  be sure you read my comprehensive guide. If you are wondering if Merida is worth visiting, click here to find out! 

Considering a trip to the yellow town of Izamal? Check out this guide for a perfect day trip guide.

While in San Cristobal you should definitely visit Chamula, the strangest town in Mexico. If you are heading towards Palenque don’t miss my comprehensive guide here!

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10 Comments

  1. This article was super helpful, tell me more about safety, that’s something everyone is worried about.
    I’m planning to travel in my own truck, do you know anything about private transportation and safety? Heading all the way North.

    1. Hello Humberto, I am glad you found this post useful! I have a separate article about safety in Guatemala, it might be helpful for you! Unfortunately I don’t know much about traveling with your own vehicle as I have only used public transport throughout my travels but you will definitely be able to find some safety tips in the mentioned article. Have a great and safe journey!

  2. Thank you so much for this post!!! I plan to travel this route (Pana to San Cristobal) next month and have been challenged with finding out the specific requirements for the FMM at a land border heading north (versus from the US). I’m not much for just winging it as a solo female traveler so you have definitely helped ease my mind!

    1. Hello Katherine! I am very happy you found this post useful. Please make sure you have all the documents printed and add a bank statement and outgoing flight too as I have heard they might ask for that as well! Have a great trip!!

  3. We crossed the same border yesterday. The shuttle driver asked us if we have prints of 1. outgoing flight,2. Hotel reservation and 3. Bank account. Apparently they can ask for this as well. In our case they didn’t ask for any of these documents, but maybe someone else can be saved a lot of trouble by having this printed out as well. Thanks for the blog, it was really helpful!

    1. Thank you for that update! Drivers were not asking for those documents when I was travelling but that was a few months ago and things change so quickly! And just like you mentioned, it’s important to be prepared for a smooth crossing. I believe it largely depends on the border official you will come across lol Thanks again and have great travels!

  4. Hi, how easy was is to find a shuttle in Panajachel? Would you recommend booking online or are you fine to just find one when there?

    1. Hi Ellie, it was very easy to find a shuttle there. I looked online before I arrived but it seemed a bit expensive. When I arrived at the dock in Pana I found a shop right at the front and later on, few in town as well. Prices are mainly the same. I also asked at my accommodation and they managed to get me one with a discount so I suggest you do the same. But please be aware those shuttles don’t go every day so allow yourself at least a couple of days in Pana to get this sorted 🙂 Hope this helps, have a great time!

  5. Did you have to show proof of a negative COVID test whilst crossing the land border as you do with arriving by air?

    In March 2022, I’m thinking of back-packing through Guatemala and Mexico with friends after visiting Costa Rica, so any tips are appreciated!

    1. No, I didn’t have to. But please keep in mind that it was in November it wasn’t at all required when entering Mexico. I am not sure what is the situation right now, but I suggest you join the FB group ‘Mexico Travel Community’. This topic is often discussed there. If you don’t find it in the past thread, you can always ask a question yourself. So many things can change until March so I would say it is better to check up on up to date info around couple of weeks before your travel 🙂 Nevertheless, enjoy your trip!

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