For many citizens of Mexico, a Border Crossing Card (BCC) offers a handy way to regularly enter the United States. However, the BCC is often misunderstood. As explained below, it is not the equivalent of a U.S. green card, and it comes with many restrictions.
Overview of Border Crossing Card Benefits and Restrictions
The BCC itself is a laminated card that authorizes its holders to cross the U.S.-Mexico border as a visitor with B-1 or B-2 status (meaning you can visit the U.S. for business, pleasure, or both). It looks like a driver’s license and is the size of a credit card.
The BCC is good for an unlimited number of U.S. entries during a ten-year period, but the holder can stay for only a short period of time (30 days) and travel only within a certain area after each entry. Just as with one-time visitor visas, the BCC does not allow you to work in the United States.
Who Qualifies for a BCC
You can apply for a BCC only if you are both a Mexican citizen and resident, meaning you are a Mexican citizen who is living in Mexico. Other than this, the eligibility rules are the same as if you were applying for a one-time visa as a visitor, which is known as B-1 for a business visitor, or B-2 for a tourist visitor.
These requirements include:
- having significant ties to Mexico, such as owning land or a business, and
- having financial resources to pay for your visit and travel.
You can read about the requirements for a tourist visitor visa in Nolo’s article, “A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify?”
The application process for a BCC is the same as a one-time visitor visa. To read about this, go to Nolo’s article, “Application Process for a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa.”
How Far You Can Travel Within the U.S. on a BCC
A BCC allows you to travel up to 25 miles beyond the border into California and Texas. In New Mexico, you can travel up to 55 miles from the border, and up to 75 miles into Arizona.
If you want to stay longer or travel farther, you need to request an I-94 at the U.S. port of entry from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer there. You may have to pay a small fee for this.
The I-94 will tell you how long you can stay in the U.S. and the type of status you have. In the case of a BCC, you will get B-1/B-2 status.
Although I-94s were once issued in the form of cards, they are now issued electronically at air and sea ports. However, if you enter by land, you will be issued your I-94 in paper form. You are expected to look up electronic I-94s and download them after your U.S. entry, online. Go to the CBP website “Admission (I-94) Number Retrieval” and put in your name, birth date, passport information, date of entry, and type of status.
When the BCC Expires
The ten-year validity of the BCC card refers only to the period during which you can cross the border, not the amount of time you can spend in the United States after having entered. Many people mistakenly believe that a BCC allows them to stay in the U.S. for ten years, which is not the case.
If you stay in the U.S. past the amount of time allowed by the BCC, you will begin to accrue what’s called “unlawful presence,” which can have serious consequences for the next time you try to enter the United States, as described in “Consequences of Unlawful Presence in the U.S. – Three- and Ten-Year Time Bars.”
When to Also Bring a Passport for Travel With a BCC
You can enter the U.S. with just the BCC from Mexico over land or by pleasure vessel (a cruise ship or ferry). You do not need any other travel documents in such a case.
If you wish to travel to the U.S. by any other means, however (such as by air, or sea), or through any other port of entry (including through the Canadian border) you will also need to bring a valid Mexican passport.