Gulf of California

Legal aspects of mounting fieldwork and oceanographic cruises
within the territory of México: Some guidelines

This information is provided to aid scientists intending to do fieldwork or organize oceanographic cruises in México or in Mexican waters. The information was kindly provided by Dr. Francisco Suarez Vidal, which is gratefully acknowledged.


  Until now, most foreign colleagues who conduct field work in México are doing so under the auspices of a tourist visa when the work is carried out on mainland México or on the peninsula of Baja California. Under Mexican law, they are necessarily entering México as a regular person who is visiting for pleasure. However, they really should have an appropriate immigration permit, granted by the Mexican immigration authorities. To obtain this visa one has to do the following:
1. Obtain a letter of invitation from a Mexican university or research institute with a research profile similar to the field of interest of the foreign researcher.
  In this letter it is necessary to mention the kind of relationship between the foreign and national collaborator, and also give a short description of the project as planned, as well as the benefit of the project to México. It is important to mention that while the foreign researchers are in México, they will not receive any salary from any Mexican organization.
2. With the letter of invitation and a valid passport, the next step is to go to the nearest Mexican embassy or consulate and request immigration form FM-3 to be a visiting professor.
  The consulate should grant this request, although you need to be aware that some nationalities are restricted under Mexican immigration law. In those cases, the person has to ask for a special permit that is granted only by the Secretarìa de Gobernación (Interior Department) in México City. This special permit usually takes several weeks to obtain if it is requested directly at their office in México City, aided by a Mexican research institute or university. However, it can take many months if the process is done through a Mexican Embassy or consulate without any help from a Mexican institution.
  There are areas within the country that are protected, such as national parks, biosphere reserves and the islands, where anyone (national or foreigner) who wishes to do any kind of field work has to have a permit by at least two federal secretaries, such as the Secretarìa del Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca (Secretary of Environment, Natural Resources and Fishery) and the Secretarìa de Gobernación (Dept of Interior).

When work is to be done on an island, the Secretarìa de Marina (Mexican Navy) also has to be notified. When the planned fieldwork is to be done within a restricted area (national parks, biosphere reserves and islands), a Mexican counterpart is strongly recommended.

It is also very important to be aware that it takes several months (three to six) to obtain the official permit.

  It is very important to have the appropriate Mexican visa and special permit when working in reserved areas and Mexican islands.
  These areas are guarded by either the Mexican Army or Navy.
3. When there is not a Mexican counterpart who can help obtain the appropriate visa and permits, then the foreign researcher has to go through their Secretary of State or foreign secretary, and ask them to request an official permit from the Mexican Federal Authorities to grant the appropriate immigration documents that will allow the researcher to conduct a specific research project within México.

The Mexican authorities will receive such requests through the foreign embassy in México City. The request has to be accompanied by a complete description of the project, such as project objectives, where the project is going to be done, how many weeks of field work are planned, and if the field work is going to be done in one trip or several trips, etc. Other items to include are, how you are planning to travel within México, for example, whether by airplane or driving official cars owned by the foreign institution. Then the Secretarìa de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE-Secretary of Foreign Affairs) will circulate the foreign proposal among universities, research institutions and other secretaries asking for their opinion, and also if any Mexican researcher is interested in participating as a counterpart of the foreign investigator.

Usually it takes several months to receive an official answer from the Mexican SRE. This will occur once the Mexican SRE has the opinion of every secretary where the request was sent, as well as from each research institute. Only then will the secretary send an official letter to the foreign embassy granting or denying the request for official permit.

  Be aware that this request for an official permit can take up to a year or more.
4. There is a bilateral agreement between México and United States of America and other countries regarding removal and importing of minerals, rock, fossils and artifacts from or to México.
  When planning to remove samples such as the items mentioned above, it is necessary to have a letter from a Mexican institution mentioning that the samples are being taken out of México because they are going to be analyzed in a special laboratory, and they are part of a joint project between the Mexican institution and a foreign institution.
  Otherwise, when crossing the border or arriving in the foreign country by airplane, those samples discovered by customs or immigration officers can be confiscated and the person fined. Be aware of this to avoid any problems with your own authorities.


1. Once the proposal is formally approved, an official permit has to be requested from the Mexican government through the foreign embassy in México City.
Accompanying the proposal and the official request should be the name of the oceanographic vessel, the captain's name, all the vessel's specifications and the scientific equipment that is going to be used. It is very important to mention how many available spaces there will be for Mexican scientists, and how the information, data and results are going to be shared with Mexican participants.
2. The foreign embassy in México City will send an official petition to the Secretarìa de Relaciones Exteriores (Secretary of Foreign Affairs), who will then send the petition to the different Mexican government agencies asking for their opinion of whether or not to grant the permit.
3. If at the time the Secretarìa de Relaciones Exteriores receives the petition from the foreign embassy there are no Mexican scientists involved in the project, then the same secretary will circulate among universities and research institutions asking for opinion concerning the viability of the project as well as for people who may be interested in the cruise.
4. Once the Secretarìa de Relaciones Exteriores receives the opinion from the federal agencies, universities and research institutions, and if they are favorable, then an official letter will be sent to the foreign embassy letting them know the outcome of the petition.
Be aware that it can take up to a year or more to receive an official answer from the SRE.
5. To reduce the amount of time between the start and the end of the process, it is recommended that the proposal has a Mexican counterpart who can help with some of the bureaucratic work in México City.
6. If the vessel is to enter a Mexican port, it is recommended that the participants obtain a Mexican visa, especially if some of the foreign people will return to their country by airplane. They will have to show the airport migration officer that they entered the country legally and are going back by plane.
7. If equipment is to be brought into México, temporary importation papers will be necessary.
This is the case where equipment is to be imported into México by land or air or is to be loaded onto a ship docked in a Mexican port. For temporary importation, it is necessary to send in advance to a customs broker a detailed list of the equipment to be imported, specifying name (e.g., geodesic GPS, seismograph, gravity meter, computers etc), serial number, value, quantity, where the equipment was made and how long it will be in México. Some fees and importation taxes will be charged, calculated upon the declared value. It is recommended to insure all equipment with the actual (replacement value).
It is recommended to start this process at least one month prior to the beginning of the fieldwork or the oceanographic cruise.


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Last updated Thursday, July 19, 2007