Crossing the Border at Chetumal: Mexico To Belize & Buying A SIM Card in Mexico

This post covers two topics:  Crossing the Border from Belize to Mexico (and from Mexico to Belize) and Buying and Using a SIM Card in Mexico so you can use the internet (and the phone if needed)

Let’s get to it.

Now that the Mexico/Belize border is fully open – and both Mexico and Belize have dropped almost all COVID protocols – AND I just did the border crossing myself – I thought I’d write it all down.  For something done SO often – hundreds if not thousands of people a day – there is shockingly little good comprehensive information on crossing the Mexico-Belize Border online.  I’m going to compile my own experience – and add in some that I gathered from friends.

How I Crossed the Belize to Mexico Border And Then Mexico To Belize

Last week, I traveled from San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), Belize to Merida, Mexico.  You can see my larger blog about how I did it (and what I did in my quick trip to Merida) but here is the actual crossing of the border.

You are basically going from Corozal, Belize to Chetumal, Mexico.  Less than 10 miles but…nothing is simple when you are crossing a border.

I used a van service – and the total price was $60USD.  Belize VIP Transfers.  For that price, they pick you up at any location in Corozal (I was at the local airstrip) – take you across the border and walk you thru all of the steps – and then take you to your location in Chetumal.  The price is the same for 1-3 people and there is an additional fee for more.  I was in a large air-conditioned SUV.

Here was the process.

My pick-up point – the Tropic Air building at Corozal Airstrip.

We drove thru Corozal town and then the 5 or so miles of sugar cane field to the border.  First, Belize Customs and Immigration.  There are a bunch of money changers here – and it doesn’t hurt to check the rates…especially if you have Belize cash that you won’t need again.  (Though make sure you have enough for your exit fees- if needed)

A good thing to have throughout this process – A PEN!

These prices are in Belize dollars.  And will need to be paid.  According to this site, you pay the $30bzd departure fee no matter how long you have been in Belize – the additional fees are only paid if you have been in the country for over 24 hours.  A total of $40bzd or $20US.

You show your passport, with proof that you were in Belize legally, pay the fee and go thru.  I am a Belize legal resident – so there is no fee for leaving the country.

Load back into van and drive across the border to the Mexican side.  Get online for an immigration form.

Sit down and fill it out.  Estimate how many days you will be in Mexico.  If you are in Mexico for a week or more, you will pay an exit fee to leave Mexico.

Go thru Immigration and…voile.  You are in Mexico.

My van service drove me to Chetumal  – and my next stop – the ADO bus station for a ticket to Merida.

The Way Back From Mexico to Belize

I had planned to take the cheaper way across the border on my way back – taking a Mexican taxi to the border but…I got lazy.  And used WhatsApp to message my van service again to take me across the border.   VIP Transfers picked me up at my hotel in Chetumal.

We headed to the Mexican border, pulled over and waited in line for immigration.  Since I had been in Mexico for just under 4 days – 2 nights in Merida, 1 night in Chetumal – I did not have to pay the DNI.

The DNI or Derecho de No-Inmigrante is NOT a departure tax or exit fee.  It is a “tourism tax” and if you have arrived by air, you probably already paid it.

If you haven’t paid it and you were in Mexico for a week or more, the fee is $638 pesos.  (Just about $32US)  There is a bank inside where you can go pay the fee and get a receipt.  Or they will ask you for the money right there…and often not give you a receipt.  It seems to be purposefully murky.

A good rule of thumb is to stay even and calm with border officials of any country.

Note:  This amount ($638 pesos) is not posted anywhere online that I can find.  Read this post for additional information on tips/potential scams at the Mexican border.

My opinion:  This is where having a van service & driver pays off.  I think there is much less wiggle room for shenanigans if you have an escort that the border officials know/have seen before.   I was not charged – as is proper – but one never knows…

We jumped in the van and headed over to the Belize side.

The first stop is run by the Ministry of Health – and checks your COVID vaccination card.  If you are vaccinated, you must now pay for (or show your receipt for) the Required Travel Insurance to enter Belize.

If you are not vaccinated, you need to show a negative test – either within 72-hours for PCR or 48-hours for a rapid test.  If you have not taken a test, you can take one here, at the border, for $50US.  It should take about 15-20 mins.  If negative, you now pay for the Insurance.

I imagine, if you are positive, you head back to Mexico and quarantine until you are positive.  They are not checking any COVID information on entry.

You can check all COVID update from the Belize Tourism Board here.

Since I am a resident of Belize, I did not pay the Travel Insurance fee.

Again, in van and to the next stop:  Immigration where passports checked for the proper stamps and then to Customs.    Belize Customs is quite serious about bringing in Mexican items to Belize.  If you just bought a 5lb bag of Walnuts at Chetumal’s Sam’s Club, it is possible they will charge you duty on it.

I brought in something much more sinister.  Contraband.  Diet Pepsis.  I was told by the Customs official that you “need a permit to import these” but since it was just 4, he’d let me have them.

I was glad. The thought of having to gulp them all down, warm, in one sitting was a bit off-putting

Additional Notes:

  • Bring a pen in addition to all of your documentation (passports, residency information, Vaccine documentation, Belize Travel Insurance receipt (if you paid online), receipt if you paid DNI when flying into Mexico)
  • We had no lines at all in Belize and short lines in Mexico.  This can be different on weekends and especially on holidays (when many Belizeans go over to Mexico), add the extra time
  • This is not the time to have your hurried, harried, frustrated face on…smiling and easygoing is the way to tackle border crossings (even though there is something about the floodlights, razor wire, and 18-year-olds in uniform with semi-automatic rifles that makes even a saint feel nervous)

Alternative Ways to Cross from Mexico to Belize

Mexico to Belize City – The Overnight ADO Bus

This option has NOT resumed since COVID.  Before COVID there were two buses that left each evening from Belize City to Mexico.  One with the final stop of Cancun and one Merida.

Here is the last time I took that bus from Belize City to Cancun.  It is…and I don’t throw this word around lightly…it is grueling.  Freezing cold.  Hard to sleep with the movies blasting…you are dumped off in Cancun just as the sun is rising.  Jarring.

Mexico to Ambergris Caye and/or Caye Caulker

This option has NOT resumed since COVID….though I have heard that it is set to start this summer.  It is a water taxi from the Municipal Dock in Chetumal, Mexico to Ambergris Caye.  Pre-pandemic there were two companies making the run on alternative days.  San Pedro Belize Express – and Water Jets International.  The price was about $50US from Chetumal to San Pedro when it closed down a few years ago.

Taxis and buses

You can take taxis and buses…buses and taxis to connect you from Chetumal to Corozal.

I’ve heard that a Chetumal taxi to the border will run about few hundred pesos – from 200 to 400.  $10 to 20USD.  I was quoted $30US by a taxi driver on the other side – to take me from Belize Immigration to Corozal town (which seems insanely high)

I wanted to find the cheapest way possible when I returned…but but but…the idea of dragging my bag down to a bus station and…aye.  I just wanted to be home.

Buying a Mexican SIM Card

Another benefit of traveling with my van driver was making stops that I wanted to make.  On the way to Chetumal, I wanted to stop and buy a Mexican SIM card so that I could use data (without having to constantly seek Wi-Fi spots) while on the bus and in Merida.  It was particularly useful for using Google Maps (though careful…this app eats up data) and Google Translate and for calling Ubers.  During my 1.5 days in Merida, I used Uber 8 times.  And each trip averaged about 50 pesos (or about $2.50USD)  – no trip was over $80 pesos including those out to the hospital from the town center (20-25 mins)

Note:  Chetumal does not have Uber but I found taxis were always available when I was walking around the city.

Just as we crossed the border into Mexico, I asked my van driver to stop at the first OXXO store.  OXXO is a convenience store very similar to 7-11 and has about 20,000 branches around Mexico.

(To put that into perspective, the US has 2.5x the popular of Mexico and only 13,355 McDonald’s Restaurants)

The SIM card cost 29 pesos.  (About $1.50US)  It requires no personal information.  And comes with a bit of data.  I put an extra 100 pesos on it just in case.

Here’s my Mexican phone # from Telcel

Mexico SIM card

(I could not install it until I got to Merida.  This is a GREAT time to have a paper clip or earring with you so that you can pop out your old card – DON’T LOSE IT!!!! – and insert the new one)

Insert the card and you’ve got data.  You can top-up the card at all OXXO stores.  I had to do it once while I was out and about in Merida.

Note:  Me saying “SIM” or “data” to the folks at OXXO meant nothing to them…”recarga” means refill and…pointing at your phone always works.

ESim “Card”

Or…if you have a more modern phone than I do, you can use an app called AirAlo.  Digital SIM card.  You can download the App and buy data right there.  While it does not give you a phone number, it gives you DATA.  Pricier than buying a physical SIM card but OH so convenient to just top-up online and live in fear of losing your SIM card.

AirAlo does not support my IPhone X but you can use it on the more recent models.

Whew!  That’s a whirlwind of information…please send me messages or comment if you’ve had different experiences or know a great website that I didn’t find.  Or have any questions.

Just don’t call me on my Mexican phone.  🙂

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