If you want to visit San Felipe and you are not a Mexican citizen or the holder of a Mexican residents visa, you must now get a Tourist Card (FMM) when you cross the border into Mexico. This has been a requirement for air travel for many years but land crossings had some “unofficial” exemptions for tourists visiting in the “border region” for a few days.
As of September 2015, there is no longer a “free zone” for FMMs. Every non-Mexican citizen entering Baja will need to obtain an FMM regardless of length or location of visit. Also as of September 2015, visitors are no longer required to return their FMM to the Mexican government when exiting the country.
When you cross the border you will find an office of the Mexican Immigration service immediately adjacent (for example on the extreme left hand side of the crossing from downtown Calexico to Mexicali). Present your passport at that office and pay the 332 peso fee for each person’s card at the bank next door and you will be good for 180 days of unlimited visits to Mexico. If you are going to San Felipe for only a few days (less than 7) the immigration office will issue you a free FMM for this one-time trip. However, you and all the passengers in your vehicle MUST get the card.
Your Mexican car insurance will may also only be valid if the driver can show his or her FMM card when required by the authorities in the event of an accident. This may depend upon the policies of the insurance company that you deal with. If you have concerns because you fail to buy the FMM, you should talk to the company and get a written statement from them that they will cover you in the event of a claim. See update below.
Update 28 October:
Immigration is NOT presently stopping vehicles to check if occupants have the FMM cards, but this policy could change at any time. You should decide for yourself if you wish to ignore the law and drive to San Felipe without getting an FMM card. People crossing the border on foot at some ports-of-entry are already subject to FMM check and are required to obtain the card to proceed into Mexico.
The Mexican Immigration Service is setting up a website to enable visitors to obtain the FMM Tourist Card online and pay by credit card for the fees involved. It is likely that this website will not be operating until sometime in November.
See more details in our Immigration section.
Relevant FMM online application website (in Spanish): INM
Update 18 November 2015 – I have had confirmation from three different insurance agents that tourists who buy Mexican vehicle insurance for their trip to San Felipe, but do not get an FMM card, will be covered in the event that they are involved in an accident.
Visitors that buy their FMM online using the link to the Mexican immigration website above will still have to stop at the border to get the paper printout validated at the immigration office. You will show your passport or passport card to the official along with the printout to receive the validation seal. Note that ONLY a passport or passport card will be accepted for the validation process.
This is the time of year in northern Baja that we can get a lot of rain from hurricanes and tropical storms in the Pacific. This weekend we have a large tropical depression that is located just to the west of the tip of the Baja peninsular. It has a 70% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 24 hours and moving north to inundate all of the peninsular, northwest Mexico and the southwest USA with heavy rain.
The current forecast for the San Felipe region shown above indicates a 50% probability of rain and thunderstorms starting tonight, increasing to 100% probability on Monday and a 20% probability on Tuesday. Total rainfall is predicted to be around 3 inches! This will be the most rainfall that we have seen in several years. Clean out your storm drains and remove garbage from the road that will block drainage.
The relatively dark skies of the northern Gulf of California make this an excellent place to see astronomical events. Tonight (Saturday 22nd. August) there will be a spectacular view of the International Space Station traveling almost directly over San Felipe between 7:50 and 7:51 p.m.
Go outside and look up to the northwest starting at 7:49 pm and you will see a brilliant object moving high in the sky (79 degrees) from northwest to the southeast over the coastline of Sonora. The ISS will disappear from view at 7:53pm when it is about as far south as the tip of Baja. Note that the times are precise, if you are a minute late you will miss it. A map of the track, as seen on the ground, is shown below. Don’t forget to wave at the crew as they go by!
The era of laissez-faire crossing of the land borders into Mexico appears to be finally coming to an end.
The Government of Mexico has announced that it is phasing in the process of checking the passports of visitors crossing the border by foot or vehicle from the USA. Passport/visa checks of travelers arriving by air and sea have, of course, been the norm for years.
A pilot program conducted over the past few months has resulted in random road travelers (including a group that I was with) being sent to immigration to check their passports and to issue them with tourist visas if they indicated that they would be going beyond the 25 km border zone. When travelers insisted that they would be spending less than 72 hours in San Felipe, they were issued complimentary tourist documents.
Part of the motivation for this enhanced security obviously comes from the need to control who actually comes into the country. Anyone who watches the Southern California TV news programs is aware of the number of high speed chases on the freeways where the driver heads for the border and disappears into Tijuana. Another aspect is the need to stop the physical transportation of “contraband” (think guns and drug money) coming into Mexico.
Initially, these will be small, random, checks at each border crossing point but the plan is to eventually require all travelers to show valid documents and purchase visas when necessary.
Undoubtedly, the system will likely resemble that used by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency with booths on each crossing lane with the latest technology for remotely reading passport and visa card chips and for determining what the vehicle is carrying.
As the system is increasingly enforced, we can expect to see lines of traffic become similar on both sides of the border with 2-4 hour delays going south at busy times of the day.
A Mexican equivalent of the U.S. SENTRI frequent border crossing pass has already been announced and it will make sense for residents of the retirement communities in northern Baja to consider applying for membership and undergoing the required background checks as the crossing lines get longer.
Of course, all of this means that the demand for air travel to and from San Felipe will boom in the future as people get fed up with the obstacles being put in the way of driving cars across the border.
The threatened storm has passed away. The moisture-laden clouds from Blanca passed over San Felipe this morning and are headed into Arizona and California, You can see the remnants to the north of town in this 2:30 p.m. picture from our webcam.
The radar echoes from Yuma and San Diego show where the rain is heading – certainly it will be welcome if there is any significant precipitation this week.
We had only about 0.1 inch of rain in San Felipe, Gonzaga had 0.25 inches, Bahia de los Angeles 1.5 inches and Loreto 8 inches. There are no reports of any roads being damaged.
A new tropical disturbance is forming off the coast of Guatemala and we shall watch how it develops in the next 5 days.
Hurricane Blanca made landfall on the Baja peninsular and has been downgraded to a tropical depression. This depression is expected to continue northwards along the backbone of the peninsular as shown in the graphic below.
Potentially heavy rains could fall over northern Baja and continue into the southwest USA in the next three days. About 8 inches fell in Loreto overnight and traces of precipitation are occurring in Bahia de los Angeles.
Currently, strong radar echoes are seen over the northern Gulf but no rain is seen yet in San Felipe.
We have very muggy conditions in the region with temperatures in the mid-80’s and the forecast is for 0.25 to 0.5 inches of rain by midnight with an additional 0.5 to 1.0 inch on Tuesday.
Seaport Airlines has reduced its service between San Diego and San Felipe to three days/week. You can now fly Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. The schedule is shown below. It is also important to note that the commuter terminal at San Diego International (SAN) has closed down effective 4th.June so the Seaport flights will depart instead from Terminal 1, Gate 11 (next to Frontier Airlines).
The current round-trip fare between San Diego and San Felipe is $289.78 and an additional fee of $25 (cash only) may be required to purchase a tourist card on arrival in San Felipe if you do not hold a Mexican immigrant visa. To book a flight, it is best to call the airline’s toll free number 1 888-573-2767 as the booking engine on their website is an exercise in frustration to use (it cannot tell you what dates flights have seats available).