Cancun Airport: Where Immigration Takes Longer Than The Flight

Filed Under: Travel

As I wrote about earlier, Ford and I are spending the weekend in Mexico, as we booked a last minute trip.

Well, I think for the first time that I can ever recall, immigration took longer than the flight — our flight time was 82 minutes, and it took about 90 minutes to clear immigration.

Mexico & the US are terrible for airport immigration

In my experience, the US and Mexico are the two all around worst countries when it comes to the airport immigration experience:

  • Both countries don’t allow sterile international transit, so if you’re just transiting via either country between two other countries you still have to clear immigration
  • Whether in transit or not, I’ve consistently had outrageously long immigration queues in Mexico, especially in Mexico City
  • I fully acknowledge the US is awful in this regard, though fortunately since I have a US passport and Global Entry, I’m not subjected to this; but it frustrates the heck out of me that this is how the US chooses to “welcome” visitors

Cancun Airport immigration mess

For whatever reason I hadn’t really thought of immigration wait times in Cancun until we landed, even though I remember hearing horrible things about them.

That’s probably because it was such a last minute trip, so I didn’t have time to really think of any aspect of it. We booked flights and hotels, packed our bags, and left for the airport.

But when we pulled into our gate at Cancun Airport, I sure felt like I was at Chicago O’Hare, or something, based on the planes.

Lineup of airplanes at Cancun Airport

As we exited the plane the situation was even worse than I was expecting. We couldn’t even walk towards the immigration facility, but rather had to walk the other way, as there was a line snaking throughout the entire arrivals facility.

They even had to rearrange the line so that they could clear everyone out of the jet bridge and board the plane back to Miami, because otherwise there just wasn’t enough room.

Cancun Airport arrivals hall

After a while we were in the arrivals facility, where the scene was as bad as you’d expect.

Cancun Airport immigration hall

The airport has these pretty automated machines, but they don’t seem to use them.

Cancun Airport automated immigration kiosks

Go figure that the line we were in was intended for 10 different immigration “stations,” but only two of them were staffed (as one would expect in peak season on a Friday afternoon).

Cancun Airport immigration kiosks

Passengers responded as you’d expect

Passengers in the arrivals hall were saying the predictable things:

  • “Ugh, I’m never coming back here.”
  • “They need American tourists and their economy isn’t good, why can’t they increase staffing?”

While I don’t necessarily disagree, there’s not really any benefit to taking that viewpoint. Of course I was annoyed, but the way I viewed it:

  • I reflected on how I don’t remember the last time I actually had a long wait at arrival immigration (departure immigration in Beirut is a different story)
  • I remembered it was peak season during a peak time of day
  • While I think it’s ridiculous that they don’t increase staffing, the reality is that most governments are really bad at this, so this isn’t specifically a Mexico problem
  • Clearly the threat of people not returning isn’t going very far, based on the fact that the airport more or less seems to be at capacity, and US airlines are even flying wide body planes on these routes to increase capacity further

Bottom line

If you’re flying into Cancun, be ready to be patient. Use the bathroom before your flight lands, and bring bottled water and snacks if you’re hungry. 😉

In the end, immigration took about 90 minutes for us. Frankly given how poorly staffed the facility was, I was shocked it “only” took us 90 minutes to get through.

I’m not sure if we were just unlucky, or if this is normal during peak times. I’ve heard horrible things about Cancun immigration, so I’d guess this wasn’t an isolated incident.

As we waited in line I searched online if there was any immigration arrivals fast track service for the airport. There does seem to be one, but best I could tell it costs 1,000EUR+ for two people. Ouch.

If you’ve flown into Cancun, what was your immigration experience like?

  1. Didn’t have an issue with immigration in Mexico last year. Arrived at MEX from LHR and was out of there in no time. In Cancun it was a breeze as it was a domestic flight from MEX.

  2. Lucky, to be honest I’m quite surprised that given your travel history this seemed to be the first time you experienced this.
    Ever landed in Dubai during rush-hour? I had waiting times exceeding 2 hours there. Or certain West African airports landing on an Air France or Brussels widebody and being at the back of the line.. Preferably after another widebody just landed in front of you.

    While I agree 90 minutes are completely unacceptable it’s quite the norm in many parts of the world sadly.

  3. I avoid Friday or Saturday arrivals, particularly in the afternoon. Also, don’t go December to February. You kind of chose the perfect storm.

  4. Take the earlier flights in. We arrived at noon on a Saturday on a packed United 772 and were through in 5 minutes…

  5. Coming off a MIA-MEX flight connecting to GRU (or maybe the opposite), MEX has a machine like Mobile Passport. When I was there a year ago, got in a huge line with mostly US people then saw machines no one was using. Asked who could use them and told US (plus maybe a few other countries). One other person was in that line. Took two minutes for machine to scan and see agent. Off I went.

    I always scout out the entire immigration area to see what might be available.

  6. Seems like you’re a bit unlucky. I’ve been thru Cancun a half dozen times and never waited more than 30 minutes. (Maybe I’m Lucky?!)

    Been to Cozumel once and it was super easy. 10 minutes total.

  7. It all depends on the time of arrival and if there are other incoming flights at the same time.
    In Mexico, GDL and MEX are usually fast for me, though if one is reconnecting, it is a drag to get one’s luggage just to drop them again past customs on the coveyor belt (when it is working), just like in the US.
    In the US per se, that also depends on the airport, I usually keep off third world airports like LAX or JFK to enter via say PDX or SMF.

    On a side note, US airlines have Anschlußed ( annexed) all of Mexico by applying all flights there the same rules as flying US-domestic, no frills & charging for luggage. Not to mention that DL owns 49% of AM ( and 20% of LA ). If I were ABB, before I take over IAG ( now at 25% ), I’d be looking at buying my way into DL ( since OW AA does not want QR in bed with them ).

  8. Long lines at US immigration is just the beginning. It is followed by a surly immigration officer, and then the Customs guy with the same questions. And I used to live in the US many years ago, something that these folks know. I hate to admit it, but sometimes, it does feel good when American citizens face the same thing elsewhere and I can just walk past them.

  9. @ Ben — The one time we went to Cancun was during a swine flu outbreak. It was like a ghost town. I literally think the InterCon was below 10% occupancy. it was an awesome stay, with a massive suite, private hot tub on our ocean-view balcony, free breakfast, free dinner, and free minibar of full-sized liquor bottles.

  10. Just went the MEX, 5 min line (albeit 6 am), 2 days later flew to pvr. Security was a breeze and nice centurion lounge( better than seattle). Pvr is packed so I guess everyone is going to mex!

  11. In the US, JFK T7 is the overall worst. The waiting time there is always around 2-3 hours for non-US passport holders. Many US airports let returning ESTA passengers to use the same line as US citizens, but some still doesn’t, including T7 at JFK.
    For me MEX was never more than 25 minutes.
    Have you ever been to KLIA 2? (the one that Air Asia and other lowcosts use). Thats my overall worst experience by far.

  12. @e30st T7 at JFK is diabolical. I waited over four hours there last week (on an Irish passport). MCO was also horrendous when i went there, that was also over four hours. 90 minutes is long but is by absolutely no means outrageous.

  13. Been through CUN many times. The new terminal is nice and efficient. Even in peak seasons, Dec and Mar visits, average immigration wait has been 15 minutes and sometimes much less. Of course it takes forever for the bags to come out

  14. I work a lot in Lebanon and agree with you about Beirut. The place is a hot mess in the summer, particularly for departing passengers. Last summer you couldn’t even get through the terminal doors for crowds. The check in area was absolute bedlam. You get used to this kind of chaos in third world countries but I still have cold sweats about that particular journey.

    On a different note I often wonder the U.K. has automated passport control for North American citizens but in my admittedly limited experience of travelling Stateside, we aren’t afforded the same and are consigned to enormous queues.

  15. Welcome to how Europeans without Global Entry feel when they visit the US… except they probably had an 8 hour flight in economy

  16. SGN is horrendous. I have never seen CUN this bad on arrivals, although I have on departure which is worrisome with a flight to catch.

    I’m surprised Andaz doesn’t offer a nominal meet and greet / express immigration service. I know Rosewood Mayakoba offers this. It’s worth 50-70 bucks, especially for a quick weekend vacation..

    There are a few airports (JNB, SGN, CUN off the top of my head) where it is so useful to have express immigration.

  17. I’ve flown into CUN a couple dozen times and it’s ranged from no wait to 90 minutes. Maybe the machines are for Mexican Nationals?

    Can’t wait for the hotel review.

  18. I count myself very lucky to live in southern California and to be able to use the CBX facility to fly domestic Mexican flights out of TIJ. At a cost of $15 each way, we not only save the US and Mexico customs fees from the ticket price – which are often up to $80 one way – but also don’t have to worry about immigration on arrival. It’s made it possible to visit a ton of Mexican destinations including Cancun and Los Cabos quicker and cheaper.
    Although, CUN is certainly a much longer flight from the west coast!

  19. I’ve waited over 90 min in LHR, EDI and MAD. I’ve sailed through immigration in MEX many times (and also waited over 60 min one time). The posted story about CUN has NO general implications, it is just an anecdote.

  20. In all my experiences MAN & LHR are the worst then PEK T3 but I had to get a TWOV so that added to the delay; all other Asian airports I experienced ie GMP, HAN, KUL, and SIN were a breeze but HND, NGO & KIX take the prize of the quickest and that includes having to go through Customs screening a few times.

  21. We passed you then as we departed CUN Friday afternoon. The traffic leaving the airport looked just like your picture of the immigration arrival hall.

    If you’re staying at the the Andaz, highly recommend Sotavento. Ask for table 31, it’s the far corner table for two closest to the beach! The food is decent, and the view is amazing!

  22. Got married there in 2018 over Presidents Day Weekend and we made the mistake of arriving mid-day. Took over 2 hours. Pro-Tip: next time take the first fight of the morning from MIA, you’ll walk through in 5 min.

  23. All worse:
    India, anywhere during the midnight long-haul rush
    Bangkok, either airport
    UK LCC terminals when the last bank of flights arrives from mainland Europe
    Istanbul, particularly SAW

  24. You should also mention the taxi scam at the airport – basically a bunch of fake overpriced taxis run by criminals try and lure tourists and trap them on the wrong side of the airport exit area with nobody doing anything to stop this practice even though it’s completely obvious.

    They also have the terrible US tipping culture with open demands for excessive tips constantly.

  25. I am so glad I have a US passport and Global Entry. Lets me clear immigration in a couple of minutes and then wait and wait for bags to show up (I usually have priority tags on my bags but it still takes a while). I have seen the other side of US CBP too when traveling with extended family and friends. Just horrible from every angle. Many foreign countries do a much better job with sterile international connections and much faster and friendlier immigration/customs.

  26. Same in Puerto Vallarta. CDMX is a different story I was just there and it is relatively painless also if you had flown to Cancun domestically it would have been much easier but that’s a moot point who wants to make a connecting flight thru CDMX when you can fly direct. Tho at 90 minutes it almost would have been quicker ‍♂️‍♂️

  27. Easy experience in Cancun this past Presidents day weekend. 15 minutes! In my 30 years of travel, worst for me was in Miami 5 years ago with a Canadian passport . 2 hours, herded like cattle and being yelled at and threatened for looking at our phones. Americans have no clue how their immigration officials treat internation travellers. Welcome to America!

  28. Make sure you keep the immigration slip (sometimes they staple it to your passport), otherwise you’ll have to pay to get it replaced in case you lose it at departure time. And there’s a big line to get it replaced!! Enjoy the sun!

  29. Had a similarly awful immigration experience in Oaxaca. Was about 9pm, the line was just completely stopped and not moving for some reason, and it snaked all around the baggage claim. It was a mess. No one had any idea what was going on.

    Luckily everything after that was absolutely amazing and I want to go back.

    I’ve never seen it this bad at CUN, but there is always a big line.

  30. I traveled to Cancun in 2015 and had a similar experience. I am going again on Thursday so this article was a great reminder to have extra drinks on me during this wait. Thanks Lucky!

  31. I had a ticket that mixed airlines that are not partners. (IAD-CUN-BOG) (bad idea) The first leg was United and I had to pick up my luggage and pass through immigration (10 minutes or so). Then I had to take a shuttle (mini bus) to another terminal which was a good 10 minute drive. The second leg was LATAM so I basically had to check in again because of my bag and when I arrived the counter was not open. I had to wait 2 hours or so for the counter to open and check in my bag again to go to the Priority Pass lounge (Mera Business Lounge) in Terminal 2. Then downstairs to the madhouse of cheap international flights and took a bus to the airplane. I would never use Cancun as a transit city again.

    In fact, I only visited Cancun again because my wife wanted to go and Delta had a flash sale. Because it is so loaded with gringos, the prices for many things are inflated and many service workers have an attitude. Better to visit a resort in Colombia where the dollar is high and they love Americans (despite the political situation in the USA).

  32. Before US passport holders could use the E-gates in the UK, I definitely had lines longer than my flight. In 2018 I waited in line for about 80-90 minutes after a flight from AMS-LHR on KLM getting into terminal 4 (that flight is about 225 miles). The last time I flew AMS-LHR, with the E-gates, it took less than 2 minutes.

    One time, at CDG, when the lines were horrendous, I heard a woman ask where the TSA PreCheck lines were.

  33. EGLL – KSEA with Virgin 2019-12-04 and it was done in 15 min. Me and wife and two kids i think that was very good.

  34. Looks like any US airport, e.g JFK, IAD or LAX. Except in the US you have people screaming at you at all times.
    Sorry to say but happy to see Mexico can return the favour to US visitors. Clean up your own mess before jumping on others

  35. 90 minutes is pretty standard at a US airport for non-US passport holders. I once stood more than 4 hours in line at ATL…

  36. Aruba has been my worst experience! You sit outside for 1-2 hours at 90+ degrees weather for most of the time and 1 person processes 1000 people 🙂

  37. Arrived in Cancun on Monday and wait was 5 minutes if that. Never check bags so can’t speak to the wait for that, but I landed and was In a car on my way to the hotel in under 10 minutes.

    I’ve not been traveling to Mexico much lately as I’m 1K and had to chase PQM every year. With changes I’ll explore my own backyard for a change. I’ve got GE and Nexus and might go for the Mexican program. From Houston this was quick and convenient holiday.

  38. Bros. You shoulda stayed put and swing up on fl turnpike and meet me for dinner and libations at country club of Florida. We’d talk aviation and the Nevada caucus. And you’d help me perfect my German. And that insipid mar a lago trash up a1a.

  39. The automated kiosks are part of México’s trusted traveler program ‘Viajero Confiable’. It’s available in MEX, CUN, SJD and I’m not sure which other airport.

    It’s free and available for all Mexicans and to US and Canada citizens that are part of Global Entry.

    You sign up online and must present at an office of the INM (Mexico’s immigration institute) for an interview and biometric capture.

  40. Mexico bashing is so en vogue right now. I fly into Cancun every six months, and I have for years. I have never had a problem like this. I flew from Guatemala to Cancun just two weeks ago. I was off the plane and through customs in less than 15 minutes. It literally took you longer to whine about it by writing this blog post than the experience itself.

  41. 1.5 hrs is just typical for the LHR Non-EU passport Arrival during the peak time (thank god they open e-gates for the Americans/Aussies/Kiwis/Canadians etc. so even I am not from these countries my queue is shorter as well), you won’t understand this because you are always flying Biz with fast-track / frequent traveller programme.

  42. The irony of Americans complaining about immigration. Lol
    That said, I’ve always been lucky and never had a long wait on arrival in the US with around 100 trips. My last visit arriving at LAX/ Tom Bradley Terminal at peak time took me around an hour – deplaning , immigration, bag claim and customs

    On a side note , Americans should not be allowed to use e-gates in Europe
    Europeans have to pay for an ESTA , can use the self services machines but still have to line up and wait to see an officer

    Americans can visit Europe without a fee ( although it will change in about 2 years ) and pass through e- gates

  43. Fiji (NAN) is very similar and with no air conditioning.

    Also, why would Mexico be pricing an expedited service in Euros??

  44. I’ve waited for 90+ plus every time I’ve been to Vancouver (YVR). And Toronto is generally not so great either. At major airports, their system doesn’t seem to be any better than the US (I’ve never had a line in Winnipeg).

  45. I landed in Cancun at about 7:30pm on Feb 2, 2020. There were no other simultaneous arrivals as far as I could tell. It literally took me less than 5 minutes from deplaning to standing in the baggage lobby past immigration. I was first off the plane, so no one in front of me, but there were 4 lines open and so even the last person off would have only had perhaps a 10-15 minute queue.
    I guess I got lucky.

  46. It seems that the airports treat immigration and customs operations as something that is not of their concern. I acknowledge more and more opt for automated gates or apps to speed up the process, but it’s still not enough. I can understand the incoming/outgoing passenger traffic flow may fluctuate over the length of the day, but there is enough algorithm power to estimate the volumes of the passengers landing live, have enough immigration officers in the back office on stand by and move them around stations in the anticipation of the crunch.
    Some airports are victims of their own success. I am looking at you, SEA… I was flying DL on AMS-SEA-YVR. The late morning arrival time at SEA assures you to witness a bedlam unfolding… I was shocked that the people weren’t really moving to clear the aircraft at landing. Queue didn’t seem to move at all. I thought there was a technical issue with the gangway, or something. It wasn’t… There were several lineups from various international flights converging… A staff member was advising US and CAN citizens loudly to download an immigration app. It took me a while to get it over a slow wifi. I did the declaration on a CAN passport and bypassed a VEEERY long lineup of other travellers. It wasn’t super fast but it helped a lot. The connecting flight was delayed, but still, the immigration debacle made some Dutch passengers miss it, a 3.5 hr window notwithstanding.
    It pays to land at secondary or smaller airports, like Nagoya, Taipei Songshan, when applicable

  47. LCY is always crowded. Last time I was faster by going to the manual line since the majority of the people where UK and EU citizens which meant to be faster at the E-Gates. But they where wrong, I was able to slip through in about 30mins.

  48. As Lucky and many others have noted, US immigration is often awful for us non-US citizens. I mostly travel to LAX, SFO, DEN, IAH, IAD, BOS, MIA and ORD and am pretty used to waiting in line for about 60-90 minutes at immigration, although it only takes five minutes every 10th arrival or so. I am yet to experience anything like this in Asia, but I’ve also never arrived in Asia without flying F/C and Asian airports tend to have fast tracks, which US airports don’t (for some strange reason).

  49. Hilarious to see American complaining about the wait at immigration while non-US citizens spending a lot more time than that is totally normal at any US airport. It’s also kinda funny to see other countries returning the favor to US citizens lol.

    I’ve been in the line for a lot more than 90 mins at JFK, EWR, SFO and SJC and I use to live in Buffalo, NY. I’ve always been flying into YYZ and back to Buffalo by land, just because I hate dealing with ridiculously long queue at any US airport CBPs.

  50. Incompetent pax processing. It’s a north/central American ‘thing’, like apple pie and tacos. Expect it and just deal with it.

  51. 90 minutes immigration is totally standard at most of the US airports I fly into from Europe: SFO, LAX, ORD, IAD, EWR, MIA are all hopelessly bad for immigration waiting times. When I have connecting flights, I try to have these in Europe so I don’t have to stress about a 3h connection in the US.

  52. I commented on Cancun in your post about your Manila transfer ordeal. I was intl/intl transiting there on New Year’s Day this year and it wasn’t too bad. The immigration part of the mess was only about 20-30 minutes.

  53. im sorry but you should know what MIA customs is like no matter the time of day. 2 global entry people working, 1 or 2 for automatic passport, 1 for visitors. it’s the worst in the US

  54. Try flying from AUS to NYC via LAX. Not only is it a 15 hour flight but we have to leave a minimum of 3 hours between landing and a connecting flight because it takes at least 2 hours to queue and be greeted by surly immigration officials. I usually leave 4 hours because you never know… and there’s always the experience a friend had where she was marched down a corridor to be dumped in a room with 40 other people for 2 hours and then simply handed her passport and sent on her way with no explanation. Cancun sounds like a walk in the park by comparison.

  55. There is supposedly a Mexican counterpart to Global Entry available to US citizens with same. This is the CBP page with the link.

    However …. I have tried applying 3 times and the application seems to just go into a black hole – no response at all. Has anyone had any luck with this? Any advice?

  56. I live in Chicago and have a condo rental business in Playa del Carmen, so I’ve been flying into Cancun once every 6 weeks for 15 years and have only had 1 or 2 experiences like you have described. It’s usually less than 20 minutes. We usually land late morning/early afternoon. One thing that causes delays are people who don’t fill out their forms on the plane or don’t fill them out correctly. Drives me crazy

  57. Nothing is worst that US airports! At leat for foreigns. Couple of weeks ago I waited 4h15min to clear customs at FLL. Last year 3h iat JFK. The only Us Airports I got luck flying from south america was Atlanta and Detroit. At FLL in last week of january there was 2 officers working and several cabin empty.

    Told my wife never more I wll take a red eye to USA. next time only AZUL day service arrivel in the evening in Florida or COPA and Avianca that normally land mid afternoon.

  58. Anyone can use the automated machines. We use them all the time and we’re not enrolled in any trusted traveler program. They are programmed in just about every Lenguaje. They’re self explanatory and you’re done in a minute.

    The trusted traveler program use a different looking kiosk. Can’t miss it.

  59. “Try flying from AUS to NYC via LAX. Not only is it a 15 hour flight but we have to leave a minimum of 3 hours between landing and a connecting flight because it takes at least 2 hours to queue and be greeted by surly immigration officials.” LOL what? that should be a domestic connection and you shouldn’t be going west …

  60. When we arrived in Cancun a couple weeks ago the line was all the way through the immigration hall, up the escalators and all the way down the upstairs hall. It was well staffed and moved faster than we expected. We got through in 45 minutes. I was shocked at how ridiculous and inefficient the whole operation was.

  61. I breezed through CUN in 15 mins, and checked into Playa Del Carmen hotel about 90 mins upon landing April 2017 (I took the bus and walked from station to hotel as well). I refuse to believe this to be a daily problem and this must be a multi-vectored problem.

    (1) New flight schedule timing not optimized yet? A single airline would probably cluster all their arrivals from multiple points in the USA to a 2 hr bank. That way, their contracted staff would be optimized for a 6 continuous hr workday to process all the outbound and inbound flights.

    (2) Seeing that winter break is in full gear (USA’s President’s Day weekend, plus upcoming Carnival/Mardi Gras), the airlines are probably upgauging their aircraft to widebody planes serving transPacific flights (Corona virus). This will also account for the extra passengers.

    (3) Perhaps a weather delay over a large swath of land in the US prompted all the flights to arrive CUN at the same time? The immigration staff are not expecting the convergence of such a surge in volume of passengers. Perhaps they are on their break/shift switch?

    (4) Political retaliation in the form of a harrassment? This is a sort of soft opposition to foreign powers, in an indirect way. Trump is not known to be friendly to Mexicans and his choice of vocabulary to describe them is derogatory at its kindest moments.

    (5) Whaddabout fighting the crowds arriving from Europe? What the US carriers serve with frequency of flights, the European carriers make up in volume. A high capacity B747 or A330 can take as many passengers as 2 or 3 B737 or A320. So, perhaps they arrived a bit late from Europe and thus created the backlog for other passengers arriving from regional flights.

  62. Kiosks are for Viejero Confiable or whatever their Trusted Traveller programme is called. That is one reason I invested in my “pass card”. No disgusting queues.

  63. US immigration routinely treat non Americans like criminals with queues of over 90 minutes very normal. I’m completely in favour of Americans enduring the same treatment wherever possible (although in fairness the Americans who probably deserve it are the ones who rarely leave the country).

  64. Been to Cancun 6 times the past three years and never have see a line that insanely long. I would say the longest we’ve ever waited was maybe 30 mins.

  65. Next time get flight to Mexico City, clear customs there and catch a connecting flight on to Cancun. Or simply forget Cancun and take a quick trip to PVR where there are some wonderful hotels in the Punta de Mita area that need reviewing.

  66. @juan ramirez

    You won’t get an email, the pdf that Results from the application is what you need to go to the INM office in the airports where there is Viajero Confiable and get your membership set up.

  67. Always thought that the whole concept of immigration needs to be looked at. No doubt in future it will. But the key to it, using whatever technology and resources are available, will be to clear immigration on departure rather than arrival, as an international standard. This already exists in some cases.

  68. @Marcy Kent

    Yes, just print the pdf confirmation with the barcode. Check on the Viajero Confiable website where you can find the offices. There’s one in each terminal in MEX.

  69. Been there tons. Only one time the line was really long. Guy came around with a wheelchair, motioned to my gf at the time: “sit down, 5 minutes”. I said no thanks, she sat right down though. So off we went to the front of the line around everyone. Paid him $20 once we got clear.

  70. The worst line I’ve ever experienced was entering Bali (DPS), Indonesia. 2+ hours just waiting in line, and based on Jamie’s comment and others I’ve talked to while I was there, it’s fairly typical for DPS.

  71. @M – thanks for the info! I have the pdf but haven’t been asked for any payment. I assume there is a fee. Would I pay at the INM office?

  72. Well it looks like a mess. CUN is on my list for this year so I will study arrivals before booking a flight.
    Having said that, it gives some perverse satisfaction to see americans in long lines.
    This is why we as not US citizens encounter in virtually all US airports. On top of the waiting we are also subjected to (mostly super fat) thugs in uniform, shouting and yelling for no clear reason.

    My only pleasant exception was a LAX arrival where I was first off the plane, there were no lines, and luggage was on the belt when I got there. From plane to limousine in less than 15 mts. That experience restored some faith in US capabilities.

  73. No one mentioned secondary Japanese airports.
    Land in Kagoshima, Nagasaki, Sapporo, Fukuoka and the likes behind ONE(!) plane and you are doomed to an hour proccessing time.
    Immigration halls of these airports are the size of a room with 2-3 counters only.

  74. landed at Cancun on Thanksgiving day 2019, and had the exact same experience. I have never it seen it this bad at all. I was shocked. Normally I’m out within 10 mins… They need to increase staffing. When I went through, they had maybe 10 immigration officials working. it took me about 45 minutes.

  75. Travelling on an Australian passport arriving from the US I had no problem and no delay entering Cancun.

    Entering the US at JFK, now that’s an experience worth complaining about!

  76. I’ve flown into Cancun 13 times over the last 10 year and have NEVER experienced anything remotely like that. Maybe 30ish minutes once and usually a totally forgettable wait. Maybe a failed attempt at rolling out those automated kiosks is messing them up?

  77. Stop complaining!! MOST NEVER get to travel anywhere close to many of us. Some of us go to more places in a year than others will in a lifetime.

    Be grateful!

    Yes these lines suck, but at least you get to be in one on your way to somewhere nice. 😉

  78. Osaka customs was the worst, with the queue far exceeding the flight from Shanghai. I had a stroller-less 3-year old in my arms the entire time, and there was no help, accomodation, or information to be had anywhere. Another tired racist stereotype about Japanese efficiency bites the dust.

    Chinese customs at PVG Shanghai are consistently the best: I’ve never had to wait more than 20 minutes in Shanghai, are often through in less than 5, and staff proactively help in all sorts of thoughtful ways if you are traveling with young children.

  79. @marcy Kent

    AFAIK, there is no fee (but I’m a Mexican national) if there is a fee, I would think you can pay it there.

  80. Skip Cancun and go to Puerto Vallarta

    No line more than about 10 minutes for the last 4 years landing in late November. More staff than passengers (almost).

    Worst ever queue was arriving into Miami from the UK with a Canadian passport. Made us que up with all the South Americans etc whom they were checking, fingerprinting and entering manually all their passport data. US citizen line had zero zero wait and 3 agents. Refused to allow anyone from the other line to pass. Took over 4 hours and we missed 3 connecting flights to Bermuda. Luckily the flights were all on one ticket so we eventually arrived. Have spent days over the years waiting in LAX and other wonderful environments. Thank God we have Nexus/Global ENtry now.

  81. About a year ago, immigration lines in Bangkok were regularly two hours and one night, even four hours. People were not allowed out of the line to use the toilet, lest the go to the end. The excuse, two immigration officers on duty, had no idea so many flights were arriving at the same time and of course, slow computers. Lately, with Coronavirus it’s been very fast everywhere in Asia.

  82. Was in Cancun last week of January. Waited about 40 minutes for immigration, and another 15 for customs. At least 8 booths were staffed.

  83. I had very similar experiences in CUN and once it was after midnight. Someone actually fainted and it resulted into a minor riot before they sent out more sleepy emigration agents.

  84. To be fair to non – Americans, most of us Americans don’t like our immigration folks either which is why we get global entry.

    I can not use E-gates and immigration lines in the EU – especially FCO/MXP/CDG aren’t unicorns and rainbows.

    I agree that I usually have the quickest and easiest time in China (US passport with 10 year visa)

  85. I go every year. Arrived 1/4/20 from Frankfurt 7pm. Immigration was 70 minutes and baggage took another 60 minutes. Then got stopped for full luggage search. Total time 2:40 hours to reach the curb.

    Love Cancun but hate starting my vacation this way after an 11 hour flight. I actually started in Moscow. Makes for a long day.

  86. My approach is simple for travelling. Survey the internet re waiting time at target airport of holiday destination. If queues check for available fast track solutions (fly business or better, VIP exit etc). If affordable choose that solution. If not LOOK FOR ANOTHER DESTINATION.
    Simple as that I will never travel to any of these places privately if I can’t get a smooth solution. US is off my list for that reason. Fast track costs are ouch to paraphrase Lucky.
    For BKK no issue, for example just fly in on Business and you automatically get fast track.

  87. Took me 2 hours 2o minutes to clear immigration at JFK last October with a German passport. Visiting the US as a foreigner you better get used to be treated like cattle.
    A couple of years ago Immigration ran a campaign “One Face at the Border”. After another one of those long waits standing in line with just one or two windows open for hundreds of foreign visitors (the smaller number of Americans returning home was quickly taken care of with several open windows) I sent a complaint letter and wrote that I didn’t expect that the campaign slogan had to be taken literally. Never received a response of course.

  88. The huge lines at Mexico City were supposed to be fixed by the new airport. But since that got canned we’re going to be stuck with huge lines for the foreseeable future.

  89. Sounds like you just like to complain. I’ve been through there 4 times and it was a breeze.
    This articles serve no purpose other than to make you appear to be steering people away from Mexico.
    If you were my child, I’d give you a bottle put you down for a nap. Try to enjoy life, bud. Don’t give yourself an aneurism.

  90. Huh. Sorry you waited so long – been to CUN 2x in the past 3 years, both Christmas week Saturday arrivals, and immigration was a breeze both times. Flying economy with no special status, we were out with bags in <30m. YMMV apparently.

  91. I was just passing through CUN 3 weeks ago coming from PHL – no issues. Short wait of less than 10 minutes. What happens quite frequently is that after 11am, the combination of late and early flights can result in the customs area being jammed, as you experienced. It’s happened to us on 2 other trips. Fortunately for us, we were further up the line when several flights arrived at once.

  92. I don’t mind immigration in the USA, it does help keep out some of the riff raff…
    Was at CUN in June 2019 immigration line was a non issue.

  93. DFW is by far the best airport in US, one hour for bridge-immigration-baggage claim-custom-TSA-skylink-domestic gate without global entry.

  94. Reminds me of Tel Aviv, where I kept wondering if I was the only one who wondered if the easy access to the packed arrivals hall, through the unguarded exits, was a security threat.


    im sorry but i dont feel sorry for you at ALL.

    welcome to the unfortunate world of what non-US citizens go through at US airports, but add on the fat lazy airport staff greeting you after a 12 hour red eye by yelling and shouting at you for no reason whatsoever.

    i can only breathe in and relax once im out the arrivals terminal door with my luggage and whats left of my sanity in tow.

  96. @Creditian I agree, ive only had great experiences at DFW, always reasonably “empty”, quick immigration lines, polite staff, fast skylink, clean and modern. DFW, i love you.

  97. The best way to get in US is to fly to Kona from NRT by JL or Hawaiian on bus class. You have nobody 100% in front of you waiting at immigration. Officers are welcoming too.

  98. You Americans have nothing to complain about, finally you know how it is to clear immigration to your great US of A. At least they didn’t yell at you in Mexico, can’t say the same thing about US immigration officers. Fun fact, though, anytime I’m in ORD the officer seems to be Latino. One should think they would behave better, nope.

  99. We used to live on Isla Mujeres and fly in and out of Cancun 1-2 times a month. During peak times (currently Carnival which is a busy week) it can be really nuts. But, we’ve also made it through immigration and to our shuttle in 20 minutes so it really varies. Time of year, time of day, local events… same as any airport.

  100. Tsk, tsk! Photos and cell phone usage are NOT permitted in the Immigration arrival hall!

    You arrived at T3, which is almost exclusively for international travel, so it’s not at all strange to the the liveries shown. Also know that there is a restroom in the arrivals hall along the back wall. (T3 serves US legacy carriers; T4 serves second-tier US carriers, but the immigration experience will be similar in both).

    As others have noted, timing is everything. Heaven forbid you arrive after a weather delay closed the airport. It *used* to be that we could use the Mexican nationals line with our Mexican residence visas, which greatly reduced the wait, but I believe there are so many resident expats now that we have to wait in line with the hoi polloi.

    Long story short – if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Cancun airport!

  101. Had the exact same experience except after waiting for ages at the baggage carousel, mine never showed up so that added more time once I got to the Customs officers. Plus I had the extra excitement of having to press a giant button on pole that set off a flashing lights. WTF? No idea what that was about even tho I asked. I travel to Canada frequently and have never encountered anything like this, even at the holidays tho JFK and Miami looked insane for non-US travelers last time we came back from abroad. Departing Cancun was a little better. Security went smoothly but planes weren’t assigned gates until close to boarding. This meant a lot of people wandering aimlessly until their gate showed up on the main departure board.

  102. I had the same experience or rather worse last year in July when I traveled to Cancun with my 2 little kids. Took us almost 3hrs to get out of Immigration and customs. Fortunately, I had snacks and enough water packed for my kids in my backpack.

    Cancun is a beautiful place to visit. I just hope the airport improves the arrival experience at Immigration.

  103. Every airport outside the US should have a single special immigration line for US citizens. It should move at not more than 30% of the slowest other line and be staffed by an officer who has been specially trained to be as surly and aggressive as possible to each person in line.

    Then US citizens will know what it’s like for the rest of us wanting to travel to the US.

    Sort out your own mess before uttering a word about other places because US immigration is worse than any third world country I’ve been to where usually the staff are just inefficient but not openly hostile.

  104. We were just there last weekend with 7 immigration stations. Not a brisk, but not terrible. The flight back was with Southwest without the queue station, but everybody was orderly and wait until their number, checking each other boarding pass, no cutting line ( I am with her reasoning) that was quite common in the states.

  105. I dont know. I think your mileage will vary.

    While 90 minutes is a pain, I have had far worse experiences in ATL, LAX, LHR, SYD, YYZ, MEX, DXB, and others. LHR (and the UK in general) have been helped immensely in my experience by their new automated immigration gates. While they are limited to certain nationalities (30 of them, I think), they do make the immigration process go quicker – and that is even waiting for 10 minutes because someone is having issues with the machines because they havent taken off their glasses. The last time I went through JFK, the machines they have installed to help travelers all went down, which meant the three flights trying to make it through immigration instantly swamped the two immigrations officers at the regular booths.

  106. @ BB — that button on a pole, with flashing light, is how they make random selection for additional baggage inspection. The old method was to inspect bags of those who offered smaller bribes.

  107. Had the same thing happen in June (not exactly “winter bird” season). Except they had about 6 “lanes” open and it took us 2 hours to get through CUN. Friday, Sat. Sund and if you arrive after 11:00 a.m., you’re toast.

    PVR was bad, but coming from NorthEast, the earliest I could get in was like 1:30 p.m. so it was “peak” time. Although that took about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Some lady was behind us in line and lives in PV and said it’s always like this (long lines) on Friday/Sat from around 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. due to the flight arrivals.

  108. “They even had to rearrange the line so that they could clear everyone out of the jet bridge and board the plane back to Miami, because otherwise there just wasn’t enough room.”


    I cant even imagine hahahaha

  109. We went in October and it was slow but organised. Took 45 mins or so. I would say Miami or JFK are worse. The main problem was the lack of air con (or at least meaningful air con!). It was rather warm.

  110. Somewhat unrelated, but flew PHX – LHR last week. Was one of the last to board and after passing through the departure gate there were two CBP officers standing on the jet bridge. They asked to see my passport (U.S.), asked if I was carrying over $10K in cash (I laughed), and then got a lecture that it was legal to carry as much cash as I wanted but had to declare over $10K. That was a new one for me. On the upside, landed at LHR and was able to use the e-gates with my US passport for the first time. Breezed right through. Was faster than even Global Entry upon return.

    RE: Mexico, agree with an earlier commenter that the best “hack” for all of this for us Californians is to take the foot bridge at Tijuana and fly in as a domestic flight.

  111. I was there a month ago and didn’t have any issues, I flew in from Houston, TX. Line wait was about 20 minutes but it moved quickly. I traveled there with 2 other parties on other airlines and we all landed within 30 minutes. There are peaks and lulls. But never had a wait similar to what you have shown.

  112. @kiwi – Ben could probably justify the trip as business (writing a review of a property and Immigration hall 🙂 ). Ford would need a card as well as family/friends can’t usually tag along. I say usually because I was able to have co-workers tag along in SGN in the past.

    Have you used the card in CUN? I ask because I believe the sign just said ‘Crew’ and not ‘Crew / APEC’ as in some places.

  113. Went in the middle of January…no line at all. Of course, we travelled on Thursday and got up at 4am to make an 8am flight out of ATL on Delta. ‍♂️

  114. Wow… great article and commentary. I have cancelled 2 flights this year after my Delta international-to-domestic connection woes in Atlanta coming from Amsterdam, and then on a separate trip returning from Puerto Vallarta. Reasons: ATL returning US citizens ‘no longer’ can use Mobile Passport (often faster than Global Entry) as everyone was forced to use the ‘beta’ facial recognition. Hence long lines. Then more lines to see an agent, shift the bags to the belt; and then a bait-and-switch with TSA Pre, Global Entry and no Clear; all the same arrow leading to a single line for the underground domestic check-in .. that was the worst. Shame on Delta for not pressing Atlanta Airport and TSA and CBP to improve this horrible bottleneck. Delta worked with TSA on the ‘originating’ security; so they can get involved while claiming not. I’m older, fly First due to my health, as well and this is just ridiculous.

    As to Mexico; I found arriving at MEX from LAX (on AM’s wonderful 787) terrific; and easier for a connection to PVR than flying direct. One glitch: it was Delta code-share and while sitting in the Premier Lounge I got multiple texts telling me to pick up my bad to recheck at the carousel. No bag there. Why? Only when boarding the connecting flight did I learn that Delta has an agreement with Mexico so that IF you are on AeroMexico ‘metal’ (or carbon fiber in this case lol) your bags get checked-thru to PVR. If you are on Delta ‘metal’ they do not. So the software needs to be updated by Delta to recognize when a flight is on AM metal to prevent that very annoying problem which had be worried until the gate agent and the text to say my bag was ‘on’ the flight to PVR. As to PVR, I was checked thru so no prolbem. Prior flight direct to PVR encountered horrible long lines with only 2 agents on duty (and yes, push the red button).

    Again worst situation is the ATL international-to-domestic, and sure, London is a fiasco unless you’re up-front and have FastTrack.

  115. I’ve been to Cancun several times and never waited longer than 20 minutes. We always take an early flight, so maybe that is why. The lines at our local airports coming back into the country always take longer. Not to mention the 2 hour long waits to get through security in Newark and JFK on the way out!!

  116. Lucky, this post may have been read by someone in power.

    We flew into Cancun this Friday arriving at 11:00 AM and every station was staffed and immigration took less than 5 minutes to clear.

    We were pleasantly surprised.

  117. been there done that MEX and Cancun both long long lines!! I must say Edinburgh ,scotland ..took over 2 hours and the line was not long but only 2 agents and they took turns leaving…

  118. It depends what terminal that you fly into at Cancun. Terminal 3 is probably the worst for customs and security delays. Terminal 4 is new and both Frontier and Southwest use it as do a few other international airlines. We have never had to wait more than 15-20 minutes in Terminal 4 to clear customs. Back when Southwest used to use Terminal 2 customs clearance there used to take 5 minutes or less. Flying back to Denver customs clearance at DIA usually only takes 20 minutes or so. Just avoid Terminal 3 at Cancun and your customs wait time will be greatly reduced.

  119. I fly in and out of Cancun frequently and to a lesser extent Mexico City. If you come to Mexico a lot – or even once a year – it’s probably worth it to sign up for Viajero Confiable, the Mexican equivalent of Global Entry. It’s only available to Mexican citizens and US citizens who already have Global Entry, but they might have expanded it to other countries by now. You can apply and pay online and the price is comparable to GE, but the catch is you have to schedule an interview with the INM (Mexican immigration) and their offices are in the terminal but outside of security so you’re going to have to wait in the lines one more time. Also you can’t schedule your appointment more than 30 days in advance and it may take them a few weeks to process and approve your application before you can schedule it so you should start the application well in advance but don’t book your flight more than a month ahead because you won’t know if there are appointments available on the day you arrive.

    One other drawback with VC is that when they first installed the kiosks They were great, but in the last 2 years or so they either don’t work at all or you’ll get through the whole process onscreen only to find it’s out of paper and then it freezes or shuts off. If that happens, just go directly to the nearest agent and explain the situation. I’ve had several agents say that if you have VC and the kiosks aren’t working you can go to the Mexican citizens line – but in any event you should make sure you have a hard copy of the confirmation/welcome letter from VC. Some agents ask for it, some don’t, some may argue with you and say you shouldn’t be in the line for Mexicans but then they’ll grumble, give you a dirty look and stamp your passport and immigration form just to get rid of you. The bottom line is that You paid for the privilege of priority access and you deserve to use that access even if the kiosks aren’t working.

    On one occasion I arrived in Cancun and the immigration hall looked like your picture (albeit without the line snaking all the way upstairs and down the hall to the jet bridges). It was so packed that I couldn’t easily get over to the kiosks and I tried to make my way through the crowd – unfortunately some people were snotty and entitled and didn’t budge even when I asked politely – so I had to push my way through the crowd. Of course they thought *I* was the one being rude and yelled at me where do you think you’re going? I shot back “I know where I’m going and it’s none of your business! If you had let me through when I asked nicely I wouldn’t have had to shove you out of the way!”

    Also bear in mind that they only have the kiosks in major tourist destinations like Mexico City, Cancun, Cabo and Puerta Vallarta so if you’re flying into Guadalajara or Merida or another smaller city, you can’t use VC. But then again, the lines are usually so short it doesn’t really matter.

    I have used the new kiosks a couple times even though they’re roped off. They do work and will print out your immigration form (also know as the FMM) and you don’t need to have VC. I’m told that they’re supposed to be for flights where passengers weren’t given forms onboard and that eventually they’re going to have everybody use them.

    Another thing you can do to help the process is fill out your FMM online and print it out at home before you leave. You’ll still have to wait in the normal lines but at least you won’t have to try to find a pen and fill out the form on the plane while it’s bumping around lol. You can find the online form here:

    INM recently reorganized the immigration hall at Cancun’s terminal 3 (where most flights from the US and Europe arrive) so instead of having one huge line for non-Mexicans, they’ve created several smaller lines that each feed into two immigration desks. It seems to be working more smoothly but you run into the same problem you do at the grocery store – if you pick the “wrong” line you could be standing waiting while other people who came in after you are zipping through other lines. Such is life.

    Now with the Covid situation, ALL flights at Cancun are operating out of terminal 4 and the other terminals are unoccupied. And ironically even though it’s newer than terminal 3, they’re still using one big line. But fortunately when I arrived this Sunday, there was only one person ahead of me – our flight from Miami was the only international arrival that morning and I was in first class so I was able to hustle down to immigration and beat the rush. I was concerned about how they would handle large crowds in light of social distancing, but they have big signs and tape marks on the floor that should help remind people. And one final point – make sure you keep your face covered EVERYWHERE you go. Otherwise you could face fines, arrest or even being deported. Mexico is taking the situation much more seriously than many parts of the US. The health department has a checkpoint after you go through immigration where they’re presumably checking temperatures and asking where you came from, if you have any symptoms, etc. But I was waved right through so maybe they’re just spot checking people. I found it a little ironic that went I went to the mall, almost every store was checking everybody’s temperatures (36 Celsius is normal) while the airport was not. They all have mandatory hand sanitizer to the point I think I got a little buzzed inhaling all the fumes lol. One department store even has a full-on walk-through “sanitizing booth” which is actually quite refreshing. I joked with the security guard that I might just have to exit and enter several times lol.

    Cancun is reopen for business and they really want tourists to come – but be aware that not all hotels, restaurants and shops are open yet and you’re going to have to follow face coverings, social distancing and sanitizing EVERYWHERE – supposedly they’ve even spaced out the lounge chairs on the beach. But it’s a small price to pay.

  120. @Jonathan O – I have tried MULTIPLE times to sign up for VC (all pre-COVID) with no luck. Actually got to the interview point once several years ago (maybe Cancun?), but when I arrived neither their copier nor their fingerprint scanner was working and we couldn’t proceed! I didn’t even think about trying to get my money back. In subsequent attempts I have never gotten that far – the online app just seems to disappear into a black hole. Any hints or tips would be welcome !

  121. Marcy – omg that’s terrible and yet sadly doesn’t surprise me. If your app is still valid (and their website is working) you should see if you can get an appointment in another city. When I first got mine I did it in Mexico City and it went fine but then when I renewed it in Cancun last year, even though I had an appointment for a specific time, the woman who did the VC applications was out to lunch and apparently none of the other agents could do it so I had to wait close to an hour for her to come back, but at least the machine worked.

    Now trying to get a refund from the Mexican government is almost hopeless. When we did my husband’s VC application, they charged my card twice. I was actually able to get a hold of a real person, I think by using the name of the person who was on the welcome letter and guessing what her direct email was. She responded and said sure, come to our headquarters in Polanco and I’ll give you a letter you can take to the SAT (their equivalent of the IRS) and they’ll issue you a refund. Why she could mail me that letter (or scan and email it to me) is beyond me. So we went to the INM HQ in Polanco and explained we were looking for Señorita XYZ and they asked what department she was in. I said VC and they said oh you have to do that at the airport so I said noooo she specifically told me she works in this office and to come here. The information desk agent had to go in the back and ask somebody else where Señorita XYZ worked because apparently nobody thought about giving the agent at the info desk a computer with access to the directory to look people up. Agent comes back and says okay she’s in the other building around the corner on the Nth floor. We get over to the other building but you need to have an ID or a visitor pass to get through the turnstile. He calls upstairs looking for Señorita X, but she’s not there. He asks what we need help with and then decides maybe the head of IT can help us. The head of IT says sure send them up. We explain the situation again and the head of IT (really nice guy) basically says yeah you would think we would have a way to do refunds automatically, we get this problem a lot, but don’t have any way to do it so we do it the way we do it with the letter. He calls Señorita XYZ who is apparently now available and sends her assistant out to us with the letter. Okay, letter in hand, we now head over to the closest SAT office, which is all the way downtown, only to find out they’re closed for the day. And it’s Friday. And we were leaving Mexico City early Monday morning. So we held onto the letter and the next time we went to Cancun a few months later, we went to the SAT office there. After going through the same procedure at INM – explaining the whole story to several different agents, finally we got to some sort of manager and he explained ohhh so sorry, refunds can only be issued at the office in Mexico City and you have to do it within 30 days. I guess I just made a $100 donation to the Mexican treasury. Don’t get me wrong – I love Mexico – but their bureaucracy can be mind boggling!

  122. LOL – that just made me laugh! I have long since given up on the money, but I wish I could get the VC accreditation. There is apparently no longer an English language form so I had a friend help with the Spanish filing – several times – to no avail. I have never gotten another response and the applications just disappear …. I have basically given up unless anyone has any good ideas. I suppose one day when I am in an airport with an office and I have time to spare, I will try in person, otherwise I think it is a hopeless task!

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