With good preparation, flights into and out of Mexico are no problem. The first time is always a bit unfamiliar, but much easier on future trips. The following is a description of general procedures and regulations, with a chronological checklist of how many pilots plan for the trip. Planning ahead makes the process smooth and helps ease any unexpected changes that may occur shortly before the clinic date without causing a crisis. While this information is believed to be correct, it is not fully inclusive of all rules and regulations. Because changes may occur before this website can be updated, pilots are encouraged to review the current conditions listed by other organizations under the “Links” tab, such as AOPA and the Baja Bush Pilots Association. The following outline assumes a route from an airport in the US to Mexicali, MX to Rancho La Magana or Los Pinos (San Quintin area), back to Mexicali, and then to Calexico, CA.
General: Months Before Clinic
- Check with U.S. State Department for safety alerts and decide if you are comfortable making the flight.
- Review requirements at such websites as AOPA, Flying Samaritans, Liga International, Baja Bush Pilots Association, AOPA, EAPISfile.com, EAPIS Tutorial, & CALO (see “Links” tab in this website).
- Obtain pesos for fuel and entry/exit fees. Many airports accept U.S. currency for fuel, but having pesos is advisable in the event U.S. dollars are not accepted.
- Consider updating your immunizations and check local health department recommendations for visiting Mexico.
- Confirm your passport will be current for the clinic flight dates. Obtain key passport information for all your passengers (if not already provided by CALO) at least a week prior to departure.
- Confirm your health insurance coverage is valid in Mexico or buy trip insurance.
For the Plane and Flight: Months Before Clinic
- Plan destination, consider flying as a flight of two, and make hotel reservations.
- Plan route. The first airport after crossing the border either north or south must be an Airport of Entry (AOE). For most of our flights this is Mexicali, MX (MMML) southbound, and Calexico, CA (KCXL) or Yuma (KNYL) northbound.
- Obtain airport information. Non-official publications (for useful airport information, especially for non-towered fields), membership, and ordering information can be obtained from the Baja Bush Pilots Association website (see “Links” tab).
- Make sure your aircraft has temporary (taped) or permanent 12” high registration numbers. These are required in Mexico.
- Confirm your aircraft insurance policy definitions for “territories” includes Mexico and has a minimum of $300,000 liability coverage.
- Order U.S. Customs Sticker online at https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov . It is about $30/year (January-December). Stickers can be placed on the inside of the baggage compartment door, if desired.
- If the airplane is not registered in your proper name, obtain a notarized letter of permission from the registered owner/entity to fly the airplane in Mexico.
- A minor child (under 18) must be accompanied by parents. If only one or both parents are not available to travel with the child, a notarized permission letter must be obtained from the absent parent(s) and available if requested by Mexican officials.
- Order charts or extend subscription to include digital chart coverage as appropriate.
- Purchase some kind of tie down/chock system. Some strips (Rancho Magana and have paved parking areas without tie downs, and a set of non-skid chocks is a good option. Los Pinos has some tie downs.
- Purchase one or two security devices: Canopy cover or internal window covers, prop lock, throttle lock, and/or wheel lock to discourage potential theft.
- Perform aircraft mini-annual to your satisfaction to eliminate obvious deficiencies. Most worn alternator drive belts, fuel drain leaks, rough running spark plugs or magnetos, noisy wheel bearings, or excessive tire wear are warnings that need to be heeded to avoid a failure in the field. If you have a breakdown, it will be inconvenient for all.
- Pack survival kit – no guns or ammo!
- The current requirement is to have a 406 MHz ELT installed by June 30, 2018 for privately owned piston-powered aircraft.
After this date, check for updates, as this requirement has been deferred several times.
- Confirm Mode C or ADS-B transponder is installed and operational. A squawk code will be assigned by U.S. Flight Service prior to crossing from Mexico into the U.S.
- Confirm Aircraft ID data plate is in place. Mexican military authorities will refer to this when you land in Mexico.
Week Before Clinic
- Inspect under a aircraft engine cowl for obvious irregularities prior to clinic mission flight.
- Call Prescott FSS at 928-778-0314 to file border crossing flight plans (also called Defense VFR Flight Plan or Flight Notification Flight Plan). These follow the conventional flight plan format. When filing, request adding “Advise Customs” under the “Remarks” portion of the flight plan.
- Enroll for EAPIS account online. See “Links” tab for website. Some pilots choose to pay a service to handle EAPIS, such as EAPISfile.com or Baja Bush Pilots.
- File EAPIS Notice of Departure and Notice of Arrival Manifests as soon as trip and crew are certain. Important -Don’t wait until the last day!
- EAPIS Tips – Save Recently Filed Manifests and use them for templates later. Carry copies of manifest confirmation emails with you on trip. Take your time and double check dates, times, N-number, and passport data. Give yourself 2 to 3 hours the first time you encounter EAPIS.
- Update aircraft and handheld GPS electronic data bases for international coverage as appropriate.
- Monitor current and forecast weather along route.
- Check and charge batteries in handheld transceiver.
- If you own a Personal Locator Beacon, check and pack it.
- Call your credit card company and advise them of potential trip charges.
- Assemble Mexico Notebook/File to show to Mexican and U.S. Border Patrol authorities:
Copies of Airworthiness Certificate, Permanent Registration (no temporary reg.), Pilots Certificate, Medical Certificate, Insurance Certificate, Radio License (normally ignored by all), EAPIS filing confirmation email, permission-to-fly notarized letter from aircraft owner/entity, and permission letter from parents if a minor is traveling with only one or no parents.
Day Before Trip
- File Mexican APIS 24 hours before departure. Confirm current requirements through AOPA. We recommend joining other organizations, such as Baja Bush Pilots (http://www.bajabushpilots.com) for complementary and current Mexican APIS and U.S. EAPIS filing through their website. EAPISfile.com offers Mexican APIS and U.S. EAPIS filing service for the least cost ($25/year at the time of this writing).
- Communicate with passengers: confirm they are going and that the trip is on schedule. Remind them of baggage weight limitations, to pack a lunch and water, and to have their passport in hand.
- Confirm method of notifying Mexico APIS from airport. Will need data service activated in Mexico and electronic device to send if you are doing this without an outside service provider.
- Confirm survival kit onboard and provide some water for each passenger.
Day of Trip South
- Get Standard Briefing. Limited aviation WX information will be available in Baja south of the border where there may be an ATIS at towered airports, but no AWAS or equivalent to the U.S. Flight Watch or Flight Service Station.
- Confirm pilots and passengers all have passports and pesos on persons.
- Confirm common in-flight communication frequency, typically 122.75 typical, or 122.85 or 123.45 as alternates.
- Notify Mexico APIS through outside service provider or by emailing Excel spreadsheet (from Caribbean Sky Tours website) to them 30 minutes before departure. Confirm this requirement, as it is dynamic.
- Activate flight plan to MMML.
- At least 30 minutes before landing MMML, confirm with Flight Service Station that your flight plan from MMML to Calexico (KCXL) or Yuma (KNYL) is on file for Sunday morning return trip. This will save a lot of anxiety Sunday when the U.S. Flight Service frequency is busy with aircraft returning to the U.S.
- Pick up flight following/traffic advisories.
- Heads up for Restricted Areas north of MMML and SE of Blythe VOR.
- Listen to MMML ATIS a few times. It broadcasts in both Spanish and English.
- Expect Yuma Approach to cancel flight following at International border. Request to remain with flight following until border if they want to cancel prior.
- Contact MMML Tower:
Pilot: “Mexicali Tower, Centurion N6202K” – give them time to get to their mic.
Tower: “Go ahead N6202K.”
Pilot: “Mexicali Tower, 6202K is 8 miles north, 4,500’, for landing, with information Delta, departed MTJ, Montrose, Colorado, 4 U.S. citizens aboard.”
Tower: “Report right downwind, Runway 28, abeam the tower.”
At MMML (Airport of Entry, MX)
- Have mental attitude to graciously accept and relax about the long and inefficient documentation process that is about to occur. Plan 90 minutes on the ground when entering, and 45 minutes leaving Mexico, and be hopeful it’s less. Remember, you are a guest in their country.
- Expect armed young soldiers to “greet” you immediately upon landing.
- Walk to customs/immigration building.
- Pilot requests fuel quantity in liters (3.785 L/gallon) from fuel shed or fuel truck on ramp. As of the time of this writing, the fuel truck operator will prefer to handle payment for fuel using your credit card at the truck. Sometimes the card transaction is not approved, and you need to be prepared to pay in pesos or dollars.
- Passengers complete forms for Mexican Customs and Immigration and pay for a Mexican Tourist Permit for entering Mexico. The combined fees for both entering and leaving Mexico will be about $50, currently payable is small US bills, with no change offered.
- Pilot completes flight plan with flight planning office. Unlike the U.S., flight plans in Mexico are filed at towered (controlled) airports only, and such flight plans are filed with authorities in person, on the ground. Mexican authorities theoretically close the U.S. flight plan into MMML automatically.
- Pilot applies for Multi-Entrance Authorization annual pass (about $100, same cost as Single Entrance Authorization) at the airport office, which allows entrance during the balance of the calendar year without additional cost. This must be paid by credit card and the amount is subject to change.
- Some pilots who make frequent trips obtain blank Mexican forms to complete at home to speed up the process. The populated forms are printable from EAPISfile.com, for those who subscribe for their service, which saves considerable time at MMML.
- Pilot goes through Mexican Customs and Immigration, back to flight plan office, then back to the airport office. If you do not follow the correct sequence, authorities are normally quite patient providing directions to the next station.
- Some suggest not providing any tips to government employees doing their jobs, but tipping others that serve you as would be done in the States.
- Pilot pays for fuel. If you pay in cash, change will be made in pesos, so carry some smaller U.S. bills to avoid a lot of change. Credit cards are normally the easiest and offer the best exchange rate, if the transaction is electronically approved.
- Depart as you would any other towered airport. Expect tower to ask you to report 25 miles south.
- Your flight plan will basically be ignored after you depart, and there is no closing the flight plan southbound from the Airport of Entry airport into a non-towered airport. There are no flight plans filed between non-towered airports, nor for flights originating at non-towered airports and ending at controlled airports.
- There are no automatic search and rescue services for late arrivals, since there is no equivalent to the U.S. Flight Service Station system to monitor aircraft movement. Traveling as a flight and communicating with other aircraft regularly (at least hourly) on a common advisory frequency (often 122.75) is recommended.
MMML to San Quintin Valley (Rancho La Magana, XMAG or Los Pinos, XPIN)
- Rancho La Magana Airstrip (XMAG, ForeFlight MX0299) is comprised of Runway 29/11 (90’ x 4000’ hard- packed sand) at elevation 62′, Lat. 30 deg. 38.397 min. N; Long. 115 deg. 57.90 min. W., SQN VOR, 352 deg. radial, 5.5 miles.
- Los Pinos Airstrip (XPIN, ForeFlight MX0372) is comprised of Runway 28/10 (50′ x 3,725′, concrete) at elevation 48′, Lat. 30 deg. 24.70 min. N; Long. 115 deg. 52.13 min. W., SQN VOR, 141 deg. radial, 9.2 miles.
- Flight plan for extra fuel for some circling over airport due to coastal fog or marine layer and for the possible need to return to MMML.
- Stay in communication with other pilots on 122.75.
- CTAF = 122.8 with lots of exceptions; 123.3 and 122.8 are undocumented, locally-used frequencies at Rancho Magana and Los Pinos. We have been advised by a local King Air pilot to transmit on 123.3, but monitor 122.8 within 10 miles of the airport. Be extra alert for traffic possibly not on your frequency.
- Fly a low pass if you are uncertain about wind or runway conditions.
- Normally land toward the west, Runway 29 (Magana)/28(Pinos), anticipating wind from the west.
- Watch your GPS ground speed on final and compare it with your indicated airspeed to approximate headwind/tailwind, and change landing direction if needed.
- Land at airport, watching for kids, rocks, tractors, and dogs.
- Taxi with wind and dust in mind on the dirt strip at Rancho Magana. Keep rolling and avoid high power settings while taxiing to protect propeller. Shut down and push back, rather than taxiing around and eating your own dust.
- Expect armed security guards to ask to see your pilot’s certificate and flight plan.
- Secure plane and confirm someone will provide security oversight.
- Install security devices. Some pilots place best headset in baggage compartment and lock it.
Return to Airport of Entry Northbound to MMML
- May need to delay departure if marine layer is present, which normally breaks up before 11:00am.
- Confirm adequate fuel is still in your airplane.
- Be nice to armed security guards.
- Listen and announce on CTAF.
- To avoid prop wash dust during run-up, complete warm up and most of check list items before moving. Once moving, don’t stop unless you can do so on concrete pad at departure end. Consider doing magneto and prop check while taxiing to departure end.
- Contact San Diego Radio about 50 miles/30 minutes south of MMML, 122.6/122.5:
Pilot: “San Diego Radio, Centurion N6202K” – expect to be given a number in lineup for 5-10 minutes on Sunday mornings.
San Diego Radio- “Centurion 6202K go ahead”
Pilot: “Centurion 6202K is 40 miles south of MMML for landing MMML. Request to verify my flight plan is on file from MMML to KCXL and need to amend arrival time into KCXL.”
Hopefully they confirm the flight plan and ask you for amended arrival time.
Pilot: “Centurion 6202K estimates arriving at KCXL at 1900Z*. Please advise customs.” U.S. FSS will assign a squawk code to activate upon taking off from MMML.
*Be sure you know Zulu time now and amend arrival time to at least 1 hour thereafter to comply with notification requirements. This is really important to avoid $5,000 fine! No early arrivals! U.S. FSS expects you to arrive at KCXL at the time you notified.
7) Listen to ATIS, report to MMML tower, and land as you would a typical towered airport.
8) To check out of country, the passengers will need to pay exit fees with Immigration and Customs.
9) Pilot will file a Mexican flight plan at flight plan office. Additionally, 30 minutes before departure, file Mexican APIS online if you have not arranged this through a service provider (highly recommended).
MMML to KCXL
- Contact Tower and depart MMML as you would any towered airport.
- Immediately squawk code assigned by FSS the hour before. This activates your flight plan.
- Land at KCXL as you would any other non-towered airport.
- The pilot is responsible to close the U.S. flight plan with FSS upon arriving at KCXL. By doing this you are closing the flight plan you filed days earlier and amended at least an hour earlier. This flight plan is essential to allow legal reentry into the U.S. You do not have to try to close the Mexican flight plan filed from MMML to KCXL, as that is not a requirement for aircraft landing outside of Mexico.
- Pull up to the U.S. Customs area and wait for an officer.
- The officer will ask the pilot to identify himself, and the plane will be “sniffed” and “Geiger countered”. The officer will then release the pilot and passengers to leave the plane and go to their office for document review.
- Move plane and fuel up as needed.
- Eat lunch at Rose’s Plane Restaurant and return home.
- If El Rancho Magana Airport at San Quintin Closed – Fly to Los Pinos Rancho Airstrip located about 9 miles southeast of El Rancho Magana, or vice versa, or fly back to MMML.
- In case of Illness: Find local hospital or doctor or evacuate person to U.S.
- If EAPIS changes needed: Have laptop, iPad, or smart phone with internet access available. You can drop a passenger, but you must file a new Manifest if you add a passenger to a previously filed Manifest.
- In case of Aircraft Accident: Contact local police, report to Federal authorities at Ensenada Airport, and your insurance company. Pay someone to guard plane if needed. Follow same procedure if aircraft is stolen.
- If Aircraft Disabled: If at a towered airport, there is almost always a mechanic nearby. All work must be done by a MX mechanic. You may need to shuttle passengers, parts, or mechanics as needed between U.S. and Mexico.
- If Airport of Entry Closed Upon Arrival: Divert to other AOE and be prepared to explain reason for diversion on the ground.
- If Airport Runs Out of Fuel (this does happen): Prepare ahead of time to have enough fuel to fly to another field that has fuel.
- If Airport of Arrival Under Coastal Layer: Circle, look inland for big holes and adequate ceilings (be careful of “sucker” holes). If necessary, return to airport of origin or divert to another airport in the area with better weather.
- AOPA – http://www.aopa.org/Flight-Planning/Mexico
- EAPISfile.com (US and MX EAPIS filing service provider) – https://www.eapisfile.com
- Liga – https://www.ligainternational.org/web/Liga/default.asp
- Flying Samaritans – http://www.flyingsamaritans.com
- EAPIS – USA – https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov
- U.S. Customs Stickers – https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov
- Baja Bush Pilots Association – http://www.bajabushpilots.com