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What happens when you arrive at Cancun Airport – complete guide

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In this complete guide to Cancun Airport, I share everything that happens from when you land in Cancun until you get to your accommodation. The post is packed with practical tips and useful info to go through Cancun Arrival Terminal in a breeze.


Passing through the Cancun airport arrival terminal can be quite a trip in itself, no matter which one.

It looks like the authorities decided that you have to earn your vacation in some way and have thought about creating this kind of 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, even in Mexico City.

I have also created a great guide on what to pack for Mexico in case you are not sure what to put in your suitcase. 

PRE-DEPARTURE CHECK LIST

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 being charged for extra weight at the airport.
  • Bring your prescription medicine and the prescription itself, just in case Mexican Immigration asks you.
  • Take some small cash with you.
  • Get a photocopy of your passport to carry around so that you can keep the original in a safe place.
  • Bring a tablet or ebook to keep you entertained on the flight
  • Remember headphones. Your neighbor is probably not interested in what you are listening to.
  • Double-check on the TSA web site what’s approved or not in order to avoid tedious lines or worse

In this thorough guide on What to pack for Mexico, I am explaining all about the above in detail and much more.

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 to go through before landing.

FILLING OUT THE FORMS ON THE PLANE

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 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.

TWO IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER

  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.

GOING THROUGH IMMIGRATION AT CANCUN AIRPORT

The first thing that happens at Cancun Arrival Terminal is the Immigration line. This step is very simple although sometimes tedious as lines can be long and boring.

Here you are not supposed to use your phone.

At immigration check, you can approach the counter with all the family members you are traveling with. But if you are only friends or colleagues you must go separately.

At this point, you will only show your passport and the immigration form that hopefully, you had previously filled out on the plane. (Always travel with a good old pen in your bag).

You have gone through immigration and saved the second part of the immigration form somewhere where you cannot lose it.

COLLECT YOUR CHECKED BAGS

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.

GOING THROUGH THE CUSTOMS AT CANCUN ARRIVAL TERMINAL

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 button. You are invited to press the button which is connected to a green and a red light on top of it.

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

If the red light will be 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 and touched my stuff.

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

It takes forever to put everything back.

WARNING

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 sample form I have shared with you here and follow the rules about what you can take to Mexico or not and you’ll be just fine.

AFTER CUSTOMS – SCAMS TO AVOID

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.

A couple of things:

  1. 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.
  2. You will see some guys dressed in a beige uniform, 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 below)

HOW TO GET TO YOUR HOTEL FROM CANCUN AIRPORT

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.

ADO Bus 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.

  • CAR RENTAL – 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.

INSIDER TIP – Keep in mind that renting a car from the airport it will cost slightly more than renting it from an office located in town, because of Airport taxes

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

WELCOME TO CANCUN!

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!!

PSST!! LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO STAY IN CANCUN? 

HOTELS NEAR CANCUN AIRPORT

If you are just passing through and need a nice comfortable hotel for the night, here a few interesting options.

Villa Oasis BnB Cancun Airport – Lovely budget hotel with spacious rooms and nicely decorates – transfer to airport NOT included Check price and availability

Comfort Inn – Impeccable business hotel at only 5 minutes drive from the Airport – shuttle bus included – Check Price and Availability

Cancun Blue Airport – At about 15 minutes drive from the Airport, this cozy cute place is like a home away from home. They offer fully furnished apartments in a tranquil area just outside Cancun Airport. Check out price and availability.

Also, you can read about the best Airbnb in Cancun personally selected for you! Or pick one in your favorite location following the map below.


For Further Reading


Travel packing tips
Guide to the perfect packing list for Mexico
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Pam Holland

Friday 26th of February 2021

Re the red/green light- this is another reason to make best use of packing cubes, that way content of suitcase won’t be on display for everyone to see. Use them for carry on also.

Isabella

Friday 26th of February 2021

Hey Pam! Thanks a lot for your input! That's true. Although if they want, they can ask to open the cubes as we'll. :) But definitely a good idea.

Tammy

Friday 29th of January 2021

Hi. We are planning on going to Hotel Xcaret in June 2021. So many new rules with covid. Curious, my husband dips copenhagen do you know how many cans are allowed to bring? What all documentation is needed for the airports?

Isabella

Friday 29th of January 2021

Hello Tammy, unfortunately, I cannot take the responsibility to advise on the covid related entry requirements. Things can change so quickly that what I tell you now might not be working tomorrow. At the moment there is no particular COVID-related documentation needed, to enter Mexico, but I suggest you should always check with your airline as they are the ones who are ultimately deciding whether you can board the plane or not. I am sorry I can't be of more help. With luck and I hope you'll enjoy Mexico.

P Holland

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

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.

Isabella Biava

Wednesday 26th of August 2020

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.

JoAnn

Monday 17th of February 2020

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

Isabella Biava

Tuesday 18th of February 2020

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.

James Langdon

Saturday 15th of February 2020

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

Isabella Biava

Sunday 16th of February 2020

Hey James, thanks for writing in. Yes of course I am happy to help. You can bring to Mexico up to 25 cigars. Here is the link to the copy of the customs forms which includes this information.

Hope this helps! Happy travels

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