What happens when you arrive at Cancun Airport – complete guide

In MEXICO, CANCUN, TRAVEL HACKS by Isabella18 Comments

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You are all excited about your vacation in the “oh so famous!” Cancun, or the Riviera Maya, the entire region is a jewel, all ready for you to discover. In this complete guide to Cancun Airport, I will tell you everything that happens once you land, until you get to your accommodation.

But first, you need to pass through the Cancun airport, which, if you don’t know what to expect can be quite a trip in itself!

It looks like the authorities decided that you have to earn your vacation in some way and have thought about creating this kind of a riddle for you to resolve before getting out of the airport!

Worry not! because in this post I will guide you through every step that you will encounter when you arrive at Cancun airport so that your experience will be smooth and easy.

Especially if you are traveling alone for the first time, please do not get traumatized by this airport. It’s only in Cancun. Airports are usually much less complicated.

I have also created a great guide on what to pack for Mexico if you wish. 


First thing first, let’s go quickly through a checklist of the things you have to do before getting to Cancun

  • Check if your passport is expired or will be expiring soon. It needs to have the validity of a minimum of 6 months from the day you depart. In case your realize last minute that your passport has expired, check out this site to see if you qualify for an emergency passport.
  • In planes or at the airport it can be cold, so bring something warm to cover up, like a sweater or a pareo.
  • Make sure you know your airline baggage policy so that you don’ t risk to be charged for extra weight at the airport.
  • Bring your prescription medicine and the prescription itself, just in case you are asked at immigration in Mexico.
  • Take some small cash
  • Get a photocopy of your passport to carry around
  • Bring a tablet or ebook to keep you entertained on the flight
  • Remember headphones. Your neighbor is probably not interested.
  • Double-check on the TSA web site what’s approved or not in order to avoid tedious lines or worse

On this thorough guide on What to pack for Mexico I am explaining all about the above it in detail and much more. I promise you will love my outfit suggestions.

OK, now that we know everything we should take to Mexico we jump on our flight and we can’t wait to get to Cancun. The beach the archeological sites, the Mexican food, and what not are waiting for you…but there is one more step Cancun Airport!

Here is what happens when you arrive at Cancun Airport.


On the plane they will give you two forms, one is this one in the below picture. Mind that in this picture you see 2 forms, but it’s actually a long one.

You will need to fill out the parts that I have highlighted in red. They have the same information but it’s important to fill them both out for a reason.

Once you pass through immigration, they will keep the first part and leave you the second. VERY IMPORTANT: you must keep the remaining form in your passport, or wherever it’s safe, for when you leave. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fine to get a new one, not to mention the tedious lines at immigration and all those annoying procedures.

Immigration photo source

Here is the other form for customs

Please note the forms are just samples, you cannot download and use them. They will give you the original to fill out.


  1. Fill all the forms on the plane before landing otherwise you will need to let those with the completed form pass and you will have a long wait on the line at immigration, and trust me, sometimes is never-ending.
  2. Keep passport and forms handy so when it’s your turn you show them to the immigration officer and they’ll do the rest.


You have gone through immigration and saved somewhere safe in the second part of the immigration form.

Now it’s time to collect your checked bags.

You can grab one of those carts to carry your bags, but you cannot take them out of the airport.

Once you have collected your checked bags it’s time to play “red or green”.. just kidding. I need to prepare you with this one because it can seem the weirdest thing on earth. And yet it’s real.

There are 1 to 3 lines at customs, where a smiling agent will be waiting for you at a sort of stand with a big red bottom. You are invited to press the bottom which is connected to a green and a red light on top of it.

If after you press the bottom, the green light turns on you are free! you can now exit the airport.

If the red light will turn on, you will be inspected, meaning that you are asked to open all your bags on a table so that the agents will check all your belongings.

I really hate it. Not that I have anything to hide, but I just feel somebody just broke into my home or something like that.

Even worse when I travel with my backpack and they ask me to pull everything out.

It takes forever to put everything back.


There have been several cases, also reported in the comments where officers with unethical and abusive behavior. The best way to avoid it is by not giving them any reasons to do so. Therefore, read the example form I am sharing with you here and follow the rules and you’ll be just fine.


You haven’t left the airport yet. You will need to go through another test!

You thought it was that easy, uh!

In this area, it’s like purgatory, the last step before paradise.

Don’t get tempted to change your US in the money exchange office that you find there. They have ridiculous exchange rates, and anywhere else will give you a better deal.

Then you will see some guys dressed in beige, don’t even bother chatting with them. They approach you with the intention to help you and will try to sell you a timeshare apartment. Waste of time.

Just proceed to the exit to find your transfer to your hotel. (see #6)


You have 3 options here:

  •  Transfer from Cancun Airport By ADO bus

It’s quite convenient, as the busses are comfortable and with A/C.

Prices: Cancun airport to Cancun town 5 USD –  Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen 10 USD – Cancun airport to Tulum 13 USD approx.

You can check the schedule on their site.

Now, if you are staying in one of the hotels in the Hotel Zone, this is not recommended to get the bus, because the bus will take you to Down Town and from there you will need a taxi. You will waste a lot of time and save a little money. I would rather go for option 2.

  •  Pre-book a transfer from Cancun Airport to your hotel

You can book your transfer with an authorized company or with the same hotel where you are staying. Some of them offer the service.

There are two options, shared transfer and private.

With the share transfer, you might need to wait longer if your hotel happens to be the last in the bus itinerary, depending on where other passengers go.

But you will be in any case on a comfortable seat that will take you straight to your hotel without having to change transport

This company that I am partnering with charge only 10 USD for a shared shuttle, while this private transfer in SUV cost 79 USD at the time I checked. This is just to give you a couple of examples. But there are many companies that offer the service.

If you purchase a transfer, you need to pay attention to the signs when you exit the airport, right after the automatic doors you will need to have your voucher in your hand and look for the service provider name and/ or your name on one of those signs.

In case you don’t find it just ask one of the other companies’ representatives. They all know each other and will help you.

  •  TAXI

Another option is just to get a taxi. There is a taxi company right after you come out of customs. I believe they charge around 50 USD to any of the hotels in Cancun, probably double to Playa and around 150 to Tulum, but this is an approx rate. Remember to ask before boarding.

  • At the airport, you can also find many different car rentals that you can book in advance if you planned to drive around the Yucatan peninsula. That’s actually my favorite option because you have the freedom to move around and find the best places where local busses won’t go.

If renting a car is your choice you should read these two posts first. They will be very helpful:


Now it’s time to have fun! Click on this link on the complete Cancun guide to know more information about the city and surroundings. I have written tons of posts to help you have a blast!!


Find out the best Airbnb in Cancun personally selected for you!

For Further Reading


  1. I had my luggage searched. I had 1 pack of cigarettes over the 10 pack limit. My passport was taken and I was ordered by 1 guy to follow him. He said you must pay 600% tax on every pack. I said no problem keep the cigarettes. He said you don’t have a choice you have to pay. He had my passport and I’m in a foreign country travelling alone so I had no choice! I tried to use my phone but he said “Do not use your phone in this area! There will be a penalty!” (Not gonna lie I was scared and intimidated) He said $600 USD then it went up to $900 USD then he showed me a script on his phone that said “Let me help you. If you pay cash it will be $400 USD” I refused to pay cash as I wanted proof…plus I had maybe $110.00 USD on me for travelling. $1200 CAD later I was free to go. Never going back!

    1. Author

      Hello Sue, thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry this happened to you. Even though I have never experienced anything like that, I am not surprised to hear that. Some people are really corrupted and, especially if they find a little excuse to hold on to, such as the extra packet of cigaret, they would use it at their personal advantage.I wonder what would have happened if you refused to pay or asked to speak to his superiors. I can only say that this is not a good example on how Mexicans are and I am sorry that this episode will stop you from visiting again such a beautiful country with amazing human beings.Just keep in mind that evil people are everywhere, unfortunately. I wish you safe and happy travels.

  2. Same thing happened to me. I was travelling with interjet Who did not provide any type of custom forms at all. the information that I saw online must’ve been outdated because it said you could up two cartons of cigarettes. Got pulled over by customs had to pay 2600 pesos. They took my passport and told me that I was smuggling even though when the girl asked me if I had cigarettes I said yes I have two cartons. She called the guy over they took me into a payment area and would not let me leave until they were on the credit card. When I told them why can’t you just keep the cigarettes they threatened to charge me an additional 18% if I didn’t pay up.. She kept pointing to a sign that you definitely could not see when you were going in to get checked. I mean seriously who charges over 600% duty on anything. Cancon

    1. Author

      Hello Donna, I am so sorry to hear that. But thank you for sharing your experience as well. I am sure this is useful for other readers to understand that it’s very important to know the rules and respect them in order to avoid creating an opportunity to take advantage of you. What I would like to make clear, though, is that these episodes, are not representative of how Mexico is and how Mexicans are, in the least.Cancun itself is a very peculiar place. I talk a lot about it because it’s a spectacular destination, but we don’t have to forget that it has been create for tourisms and everything rotates around money and it’s easier to find corruption and evil in such places versus more laid back and less touristic areas. I always say that Cancun is not Mexico and in order to get to know the Mexican culture you need to leave Cancun and explore farther. I hope your bad experience is not the only thing you took with you when you left.

  3. Avoid Cancún, there are so many other nice destinations where they behave well with tourist.
    to go from one terminal to another get ripped-off

    The douane police treated me like a dealer because I had mazeca (corn flour) in my suitcase. Then for my connecting flight, I needed to go to another terminal and I was already late because of the douane guy. But the airport transport would come in 30 minutes and the taxi costed 20 dollars. In fact, the “taxi people” only foul me to get me in a cab. Horrible place

    1. Author

      Hello Luis,
      thank you for your comment. I wouldn’t consider Cancun a horrible place, honestly. In 2018 Cancun airport received something like 25,202,016 visitors. And the number keeps increasing. That’s because people love Cancun and the Riviera Maya and I don’t think it’s fair that just because you had one unpleasant experience, the entire destination becomes “horrible”. I am sorry for what happened to you. But we all come across nasty people some time in our life, but they should not be a representation of the entire place and, in this case, of all the workers in Cancun airport. I have been through that airport about 10 times every year for the past 7 years and I assure you that it all went smoothly. So it really depends on the people you meet. I hope you will go through Cancun airport again and will have a much better experience! Cheers! Happy travels.

  4. I have a question. Last year we went to Cancun for the first time. We were shocked by the long customs lines. Seriously like 2 hours on line. But right next to this enormous line was a bank of shiny “entry” machines that were clearly on. But *hardly* anyone used them. We watched a few people go to the machines, then they turned around and got on the main 2 hour line. We also watched some people (clearly not Mexican locals) who did something on the machine and then went to a very, very short line (like 5 people) where it looks like someone helped them right through.

    Do you have any idea what these machines are for? And should we skip the 2 hour line and try them? The line was so long we didn’t see them until we were already on line for 30 minutes.


    1. Author

      Hi Sam, Thanks for your message. To be honest, I have no idea. I have just arrived in Cancun last week at terminal 2 and I haven’t seen those machines. Only 3 lines, one for Mexicans and two for No-Mexican. The lines can be really long if more flights happen to arrive at the same time, which is really frustrating, I know, especially if they don’t have enough agents at the counters. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to change that. Maybe they are trying those machines out and they will be fully operating soon. I do hope so. Cheers!

  5. Hi,
    Hope you can help me.
    How can I find out how many cigars I can take into Cancun.
    I have tried to google this question but get different answers ( some say 25 some say 50 ).
    I will be traveling early March.

    Thanks for your help

      1. Hi,
        Thank you for your swift reply to my inquiry about the quantity of cigars I can bring into Mexico.
        I have a follow up question. I have not seen this customs form before- is it for land crossings? I usually travel to Mexico via air and we are given the two part form
        Is this form still being used as far as your know?

        Many thanks for your help.

        1. Author

          Hello James,
          My pleasure. This is for when you arrive at the airport. Do not download it. It’s just a sample form. You will be given one on the plane. There are 2 forms. One for immigration and this one for Customs. It’s always been like that, at least since I have been in Mexico, for the past 10 years. 😉

  6. Hello. We rented a couple of cars. Do you have any advice For us.
    Thanks in advance

    1. Author

      Hello JoAnn,
      Happy to give you advice. Could you be more specific on what kind of advice you need? on safety, places to go, things to see? let me know and I will address you to the right page. I have written a lot about all of it. I am about to publish a new itinerary post as well. Let me know how I can help you.

  7. Hubs &I been to Cancun about 10 – 13 x’s the past 15 yrs. Never had any problems, but you need to do your research before going (anywhere), about what you can and can’t take wit you. Only had once or twice that either of us had a red light. But we pack carefully, hubs is folded neatly, I use packing cubes (bras/underwear in one, t shirts, shorts, swimsuits all get own cubes). Also to James Langdon re cigars – you can get Cuban cigars in Cancun. But once you get through the airport the worst is over, enjoy your vacation. But be prepared when you get back to states, unless you have the global re entry you will encounter long lines again.

    1. Author

      Hey there! Thanks a lot for your input. I really appreciate it. About the packing cubes, depending on whom you find, if you get the red light they might ask you to open them as well.

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