Navigating the Mexico City Airport

There are two terminals at the Mexico City airport.  Terminal One is known as the international terminal, but there are some international flights that go into Terminal Two.  Additionally, some airlines sell flights to Mexico City that actually fly into the nearby city of Toluca.  Check to make sure you know which airport your flight will land at.  To find out the terminal, check the website for the Mexico City airport.

Terminal One

  • There are three levels if you include the bus station.  The bus station is the lowest level, customs and taxis are at ground level, and check-in/security is at the top level.
  • Since customs was my first experience with this airport, I think of most things relative to the doors where you exit customs.  To get check-in, find the food court, which is upstairs and to the right of customs (though the stairs to get there are to the left) and walk past it to get to the booking counters.
  • If your gate is not clear when you check in you can wait to go through security, but I recommend going in immediately since the lines can be long–especially if you have an FM2 or FM3.
  • Once you are behind security, I recommend finding your gate and then exploring the area directly around it.  The area behind security is vast and you may not realize how far you have wandered until you are running to get back to board.
  • The biggest problem that I have encountered in terminal one is that there are not a lot of screens letting you know the gates where flights will board.  I usually go behind security before the gate is known and then search for a screen that is close to interesting shops; this way I can occupy myself while still being able to frequently check for my gate.  The last time I went home, security took longer than expected and my friend and I walked for over ten minutes trying to find a screen with our gate listed and we felt panicked and rushed by the time we learned of our gate number.

No advice on terminal two.  Only used it twice.

When flying into Mexico City

  • Bring a pen with you and fill out your immigration card and customs forms while on the plane.  Place them somewhere easily accessible in case you are able to get to the front of immigration quickly.  Have these forms and your passport ready.  I recommend a passport wallet for organizing these things.
  • To reach immigration, follow signs and other passengers when getting off the plane.  The signs are fairly clear, but if you are confused, trust whatever the largest group from your plane is doing; if there are many people doing the same thing—especially if they are moving quickly—chances are they know what they are doing.  No matter what, you cannot really get lost—the only option from an international flight is to get to immigration unless you plan to just stay in the airport.
  • There are two lines in immigration—one for Mexicans and one for everyone else.  Sometimes, when the Mexican side is not busy, they will call foreigners over for processing.
  • Exit to the left after immigration.  There will be some shops tempting you to take advantage of your last chance for duty free shopping to your right, but I just like to get out of the airport.  Once you are in customs, find your baggage carousel and retrieve your stuff.  There are carts to help you if you have lots of bags.
  • After getting my bags, I go to the casa de cambio that is inside customs to change my dollars to pesos.  They give good rates and I do not need to worry about my luggage as much as I would outside the secure area.  There is the added bonus of not pulling all your money out in front of everyone as well.
  • After loading up your bags and maybe changing your money, get in line for your bags to be checked.  You will need to run all bags through a scanner.  If using a cart, you will unload the cart then load it again after they go through the scanner; move fast on this part because your bags will pile up and annoy the workers.  After scanning, you must press a button.  If it is green, you are good to go.  If it is red, you get to unload and open all your bags for inspection.  I have only had this happen once—on the day I was traveling with six pieces of luggage.
  • The doors to exit are directly in front of you once you reach the scanners.  After you are cleared, head on through them; if you have a cart, you can take that outside up until the point that you reach the concrete columns.
  • If traveling with lots of bags—or if you are just confused–use a porter.  They will take you to bus station or to cab.  Provide them with a tip once they have dropped your bags off where they belong.

Questions for my Readers

What is your preferred airline?

What stores or restaurants do you recommend for passing the time behind the secure line?  In front of the secure line?

Any specific tips regarding flying?

Are there activities in the DF airport that are good for kids?

Any experience with the Toluca airport?

What airports to you like best to fly into in the US?


4 responses »

  1. I am a newbie here to Mexico with similar situation as to why I came. My husband and I just tired of trying to legalize him with various lawyers and decided to move and not worry about legalization for a while. I don’t regret our choice. I teach English online and he tutors English. We eat well and have a decent (nice in comparison to others) home in a small town off the beaten path. Of course I stand out but that doesn’t bother me as I’d enjoyed a lot of travel in my single life and enjoy the attention and the opportunities it offers me to get to know the people of my town. OK here’s my question. I will be taking a trip back to USA and want to carry an empty suitcase to buy and fill up with things that are way too expensive here such as medium quality towels, a few kitchen supplies and my favorite health nut products like Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar and some random seasonings like curry. Maybe even a decent set of knives (that might be too much to ask for). Can I pack all of that in my checked luggage and be OK to enter Mexico City airport? If you have some tips and first hand knowledge please let me know. Thanks in advance if you can respond to this request. This will be my first trip back to my other home and I want to of course see my many friends and relatives, but I’m thinking why not take advantage to stock up as well. We came here with just our laptop,suitcase and a few books each.

    • You should be able to take all of it in your checked luggage. The vinegar might get confiscated if you get the red light but there is no guarantee. Make sure the knives are well protected so that they cannot accidentally cut the screeners. I bought mine at Chicago Cutlery and kept them in their vacuum packaging until I got to Pachuca.

  2. Thanks for responding so quickly. I hope it all works out great and looking forward to going and coming back. Thanks so much for your excellent blog. It is on my must read list for when I’m online for work ( I try to only surf the web when it is work time because there is so much to discover and do in Mexico even in our small town.) One more question but only if you have time, do you order things from home online? Most company’s that I see say you have to use a third party shipping company as they don’t deliver directly to Mexico (strange since we are so close). What’s your experience or experiences you have heard ? Whether you can respond or not. Thanks for this information and I will continue to read your blog. Very fun and informative.

    • I have had items shipped to me from Amazon without needing to go through a secondary company. I have also ordered many items off of eBay, often with free shipping. When you look at many websites while in Mexico, they will give you the option to shop in Pesos and ship to Mexico directly. Some that I know off the top of my head: Babies r Us, Torrid, JcPenny, OneStopPlus, Lane Bryant and partners, and Carter’s. Many of these did not ship to Mexico when I moved here, so it is clear that more stores will begin shipping to Mexico. There is also an online store that ships spices and some food items, but I forget the name. One thing to keep in mind, even if the stores themselves will ship products to Mexico, much of the inventory will be restricted from shipping due to customs regulations and other issues. For example, I wanted to ship a quality car seat to Mexico for the baby but this is restricted. I can, however, bring it on the plane with me. Same with a baby gate (I am going to have one hand made). I was able to ship in a memory foam mattress pad via Amazon back in August of 2011.

      Amazon International Shipping Search Page

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