Mexico and passports and emergencies...

I am having a profound dental emergency. I cannot afford American dentists. I cannot tolerate waiting a month for a passport.

My Mexican dentist tells me that if I go see him without a passport but I bring my birth certificate and my ID I will have no problem coming back.

What do the dopers KNOW (not guess or speculate - what do you know either from experience or about the law and how it is applied in real life) about this? My dentist says lots of his patients have done this.

I’m in a lot of pain, so I’m ready to give it a try. But I’d like more information if I can get it.

I don’t know about getting* into* Mexico, but I do know that you can’t be detained legally in another country for lack of a passport.

I wouldn’t even hesitate really, except that I changed my name in 1988, my last name, and while my first name is extremely unusual and my California ID matches my first and my birthdate, I’d hate to have that hold me up.

Also… how much of a holdup could their be? I’m an american citizen…if they said no I cant’ come home, what would my recourse be? The American consulate? Is there one in Tijuana?


What do you mean, Alice, can you be more specific, so I can look it up?

They will let you back into the USA. It may take some time and questioning, but you’ll get back in.

Having lived here near the border for 15 years, I’d always been told that Mexico can’t legally detain you and keep you from coming back to the US because of a lack of passport. However, it does seem that the US may keep you from coming back for lack of one- that apparently started in June 2009. You might look into getting a passcard, though, which is quicker and cheaper than a passport.

No, the U.S. absolutely may not refuse entry to a U.S. citizen regardless of what documentation she does or doesn’t have. However, there can be a certain amount of hassle, questioning and even (rarely) a fine for not having the proper docs.

The change in June 2009 was that a US citizen is legally obliged to travel with a passport or other WHTI-compliant document. But if you don’t have one, they must still let you in. These aren’t incompatible laws.

The law generally requires US citizens to travel with a passport abroad, subject to various regulations. Currently, the Code of Federal Regulations states, among many other things:

Sec. 53.1 Passport requirement; definitions.

(a) It is unlawful for a citizen of the United States, unless 

excepted under 22 CFR 53.2, to enter or depart, or attempt to enter or
depart, the United States, without a valid U.S. passport.

Sec. 53.3 Attempt of a citizen to enter without a valid passport.

The appropriate officer at the port of entry shall report to the 

Department of State any citizen of the United States who attempts to
enter the United States contrary to the provisions of this part, so that
the Department of State may apply the waiver provisions of Sec. 53.2(h)
and Sec. 53.2(i) to such citizen, if appropriate.
Those sections refer to emergencies that would be of grander scale than a person’s medical visits. I am not able to determine through glancing at the CFR or the US Code what penalties you may be subject to if a CIS agent wished to apply the full extent of the law.

I KNOW I have crossed the Canadian border numerous (10-15) times since 2009 without a passport. I have a driver’s license and birth certificate and have never had more than a sideways glance, and they have asked if I am “working on” getting a passport, but that’s it. The border agent told me that they “cannot refuse entry” to a US citizen.
I would imagine the Mexican border might be a little tougher, with a few more questions asked, but they still work for the same agency under the same laws.

They can’t refuse entry to a US citizen who can prove in some legal way that they are a US citizen. The OP’s question is if a birth certificate and ID card showing different last names will suffice. They are reportedly pretty lenient about it still, at least in cases where the birth certificate and drivers license both match. At the same time this law took effect the state department was under a record backlog of passport applications. They were running 3 to 6 months behind schedule on passports that should have been delivered within 30 days. People needed to keep traveling to Canada and Mexico but they were unable to get their passports after applying, paying, and waiting for months. So some leniency was required at the borders but they will probably be less and less lenient as enough time passes for everyone to have gotten a passport. That isn’t to say you won’t get back in without a passport, you will eventually if you are a citizen, but you might experience a mini-vacation of quite a few hours in a little room at the border while they sort everything out and collect all the fines you owe them.

Technically, an American citizen does not need to have a passport to drive into the United States. What you are legally required to have is a identifying document that is complaint with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. A passport is the most common of these but a passport card, NEXUS card, enhanced tribal card, or an enhanced drivers license are also valid. (Also active members of the armed forces and children under 16 can enter with any valid document that identifies them as American citizens.)

But I’m assuming none of the above applies to the OP. At this point I’ll make the standard disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer. My speculation is that you’ll be stopped at the border and required to apply for a limited-validity emergency passport. If you’re lucky they’ll issue you one at the border (It’ll take a few hours). But technically, they’re supposed to be issued at American embassies and consulates so they might make you report to the closest consulate (which would apparently be Tijuana).

That is a way too generalised statement to be accurate. It obviously depends on each country’s law to decide what they do there to a foreigner (such as an American) without a passport. It’s not a question governed by American law.

Can’t you just apply for a rush passport? I’gve known people to get one within a couple of days. The surest way to get one issued quickly is to be able to show a departing ticket coming up very soon, and make an appointment at the closest regional passport agency to go in person. Warning: it may take a few hours of waiting in line. I imagine a letter from your Mexican dentist about the nature of the emergency wouldn’t hurt.

I have no idea whence your encyclopedic knowledge of the identification laws of all 195-odd countries comes from, but it appears to be lacking. There are many national jurisdictions where both tourists and nationals are required by law to carry their passports at all time. Police officers can and do conduct random ID checks on the streets, and if you fail to produce your passport, you will be detained, and possibly charged.

Yep, to give one example that I’m familiar with, Hungary (an EU country no less), requires visitors by law to carry your passport. Failure to do so may result in a fine or detainment. And a cite from the US Department of State.

I had to look this up for my stepson. According to the State Department, you are SOL. However, I know that many Californians do travel to Mexico and back with just their driver’s licence and birth certificate. I think that traveling without a passport would create more trouble getting into Mexico than the US. My impression is that the US only uses the passport to verify citizenship upon entry.

That’s a good point. The Embassy of Mexico has issued this statement:

So, it sounds like Mexico’s rules are different for Americans living within 20 miles of the border vs. those who do not.

By requesting expedited service and including a $60 fee (IIRC) you can get your passport in around a week. I did this recently and it took 6 days.

I’ve had clients in the past year do it in as little as 2 - 3 days by going to a regional passport office.

Eva Luna, Immigration Paralegal

It’s been about five years since I’ve traveled overland into my Mexico, but in a lot of border towns you can just walk right in, and in fact aren’t required to show anything unless you’re traveling 27 kilometers, I believe, into the country.

Though as other people have mentioned it’ll probably be hassle trying to get back into the U.S. without a passport.