Through a simple miscalculation of days, I overstayed my 180 day tourist visa in Mexico by two days. I exited the country on Continental Airlines on a flight bound for Houston out of Mexico City. I was not fined or penalized for the transgression; in fact, I did not even have to go through any exit immigration protocol to go through at the airport. I debated publishing this entry for the adverse effects that it could potentially hold for me, but, in the spirit of travel, I determined that it would ultimately be irresponsible to abscond such a base error in the name of status — perhaps a traveler’s main social responsibility is to leave notes of the road ahead for other travelers. The story follows.
I have unwittingly become some sort of authority on visa overstays and have counseled hundreds of travelers on what to do in the event of staying longer than their official welcome in countries all around the world. My mantra has often been Don’t overstay your visa, no matter what. Imagine my surprise when I counted up the days I had been in Mexico and found myself to be two days over my visa. The irony. I too had just done what so many other travelers have claimed to me to have done: I accidentally overstayed my visa.
How did this happen?
[adsense]Some visas are issued for a certain about of months, while others are issued for a certain about of days, and knowing which you receive is of absolute pertinence to avoid a visa overstay situation. A typical tourist visa to Mexico is valid for 180 days, but many travelers erroneously refer to it as a 6 month visa. 6 months is not 180 days, it is 182 to 185 days, but when you are at the beginning of such a long stay visa, you do not tend to think of it in exact terms — you let it slide, knowing that you need to be out of the country in around six months’ time. I entered Mexico on the 25th of August so I figured that I would need to be out of the country around the 25th of February. When I purchased my plane ticket out of the country I made the mistake of not giving myself enough leeway to allow for the variation between 6 months and 180 days: I did not count the days, I just estimated the date my visa was up.
My estimation proved to be off by two days. I did not do the math until the night before my flight out. Nothing I can do about it now.
I went to the airport with an additional supply of “fine” money stashed in my pocket, I checked into my flight, and before I knew it I was in the terminal waiting to get on my plane. Where was exit immigration?
There was none.
The airline, apparently, ran the exit immigration check for Mexico — or as much of an inspection as they could. The airline was the only party to take possession of my passport the entire time I was in the airport and they also claimed my tourist card at the gate (of which I did not need to pay the 270 peso tourism fee it demanded). I do not remember immigration being run like this the last time I flew from Cancun, Mexico to the USA a few years ago, and I project that the situation could have been different depending on which airport and terminal my flight departed from as well as its destination.
This is simply the record of my experience, this is not advice that should be depended upon. As with most everything to do with the world’s immigration systems, expect extreme inconsistencies: I overstayed my Mexican visa by two days and did not have any problems THIS time, but this is not a sure shot indicator that next time won’t be completely different. Officially, I believe a fine should have been in order for a short term overstay of a Mexican tourist visa, and I feel as if I somehow cheated my way out of the country.
I must admit that I was relieve to not of had to stare into the mustached face of a tubby immigration inspector with oily skin, a khaki hat, and — potentially — an outstretched palm, but I do feel a tinge of reticence as to the unrequited outcome of my violation.
I have stated before that travel tips often come out of travel mistakes, and the value of a mistake is often worth far more than the consequence. In this instance, my mistake was not overstaying my visa — visas are easy to not violate, there is no lesson learned from overstaying one, it is just too stupid of a thing to do to learn anything from — but in the deeper cause that put me in this situation: I have become nonchalant in travel. My mistake is that I have taken an expert’s arrogance on traveling to the point where I did not even bother looking at my passport and counting the squares on a calendar up to 180 — a task that would have taken five minutes. After 11 years of travel, the care and attention that I once put into every aspect of the profession began to wane and nonchalance started to wax. This overstay event was good for me — although the irony is a little embarrassing — as it snapped me back to attention. This time, my arrogance lead to me overstaying a visa in Mexico — a country that is pretty lax in most aspects of immigration — but it could easily have happened in Europe, where the same overstay may have led to me being given a three year ban to the entire western half of the continent, or another country where a recorded immigration violation could have had pernicious ramifications in the future.
Don’t overstay your travel visa.
Additional pages about overstaying travel visas
Schengen visa questions
Travel Help visa questions