How to Obtain and Use a Border Crossing Card to Enter the U.S. From Mexico

A border crossing card can be handy, if you realize that it is not like a green card, and allows only short visits to the U.S. with no employment privileges.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

For many citizens of Mexico, a Border Crossing Card (BCC) offers a handy way to regularly enter the United States by land or sea, particularly if they live near the U.S. border (near the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas). 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 by land or to enter the U.S. on a boat from Mexico as a visitor with B-1 or B-2 status. That means the purpose of your visit to the United States can lawfully include business, pleasure, medical treatment, or a combination. The BCC looks like a driver's license and is the size of a credit card.

It 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 accept employment or work in the United States.

Who Qualifies for a Border Crossing Card

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
  • having financial resources to pay for your visit and travel, and
  • intending to return to Mexico (your permanent home) at the end of your permitted visits.

You can read about the requirements for a tourist visitor visa in 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 for a one-time visitor visa. To read about this, go to Application Process for a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa.

How Far You Can Travel Within the U.S. on a Border Crossing Card

A BCC is truly meant to foster activities around the U.S. border zone. Thus it allows you to travel only 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 will need to request an I-94 at the U.S. port of entry from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer there. You might 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. You are expected to look up your electronic I-94 and download it after your U.S. entry, online. Go to the CBP's I-94 website and put in your name, birth date, passport information, date of entry, and type of status. Or, you can download and use the CBP One™ mobile app on your phone or device.

When the Border Crossing Card 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. If you ever home to obtain U.S. permanent residence, overstaying a BCC could severely jeopardize that.

When to Also Bring a Passport for Travel With a Border Crossing Card

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.

Getting Legal Help

If you encounter issues getting a BCC or have questions about your rights to visit or stay longer in the United States, consider hiring an experienced immigration attorney to analyze the situation and represent you before U.S. immigration authorities.

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